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Live (almost) from AGU–Dispatch #4

Filed under: — raypierre @ 13 December 2007

Ptarmigans are Back! Fans of the Sheep Albedo Feedback will remember these little fellows over on the right (photo credit: Ken Tape) from the immortal paper by Squeak and Diddlesworth on the influence of ptarmigan populations on the Laurentide Ice Sheet. In Session C33A on Wednesday, Ken Tape of the University of Alaska presented a paper on the influence of ptarmigan grazing on shrubbification of the Alaskan tundra. It seems that when there is deep snow cover, ptarmigan browsing is concentrated on those few willows that stick up above the snow. They eat the buds, which inhibits willow growth. These tall willows are the ones that have managed to benefit most by climate warming, but the ptarmigan provide a stabilizing feedback, up to a point. An interesting thing is the ptarmigan don’t like to perch. 98% of the winter buds within a half meter of the snow surface get eaten, but only 48% of the buds above that browse level. So, if the shrubs grow fast enough to get above the browse level, they can beat the ptarmigans. This seems to be happening more and more.

In between thinking about things like ptarmigans, I have been keeping up with the Mars sessions. Truly spectacular images are coming back from the HiRise instrument flown on Mars Recon Orbiter. A. S. McEwan gave the Shoemaker lecture today, on that topic. Among other things, they have provided a whole new picture of the geology of the ancient crust of Mars.

There was also a talk on Mars that has some peripheral bearing on Earth global warming, though a rather peculiar one. Regular RealClimate readers may remember the
brouhaha over global warming on Mars. This idea has appeared in a few different flavors, mostly in conjunction with a claim that if the climate on Mars is warming, it must be the Sun or something like that, not CO2. One of the flavors of brouhaha (inflamed by this paper, with no fault implied to the authors) has to do with evidence that Mars had systematically darkened between the Viking era (1977) and the Mars Global Surveyor era (circa 2000). Darker Mars = more solar absorption = warmer. Now, since the change was supposedly due to changes in dust distribution on the surface, it’s hard to see how that climate forcing tells us anything about what should be happening on Earth. In any event, Mark Richardson, in a talk archly entitled “Some coolness on Martian global warming” showed that even the supposed albedo trend is spurious. Examining the time course of albedo patterns, he found that they varied rapidly on a yearly basis, and showed in essence that the appearance of a long-term albedo trend came from connecting two points of a more or less random time series, the second of which by chance happened to be lower. Altogether, more revealing about Mars than about Earth, but interesting nonetheless. The fact that the “global warming on Mars” argument was used at all by climate contrarians (Lindzen included) only shows how desperate they have become for arguments, and how unconstrained by reality.

Without naming names, I want to also point out a lot of really fine work in atmospheric dynamics in today’s poster session on idealized general circulation models. There’s a lot of interesting work coming out of Tapio Schneider’s guys at Caltech, on things related to synoptic eddies and the Hadley circulation. There is a lot of consistent picture building towards the idea that in a warm climate, the Hadley cell gets weaker, the cell gets wider, and the jets and storm tracks penetrate further poleward. This all goes under the general rubric of “expansion of the tropics,” and at least the thermal signature has been observed in the real world. It is in line with theoretical concepts of how the atmosphere works. Chalk up one more aspect of climate change which we can say we pretty much understand.

With a bit of time to spare, I sauntered by the Princeton University Press booth to catch up on the offerings. They have a very fine list in Earth science, including Richard Alley’s book, “The Two Mile Time Machine,” and Andy Knoll’s excellent book on the first three billion years of life. Soon they will have Dave Archer’s new book on the long term effects of global warming, which is still in search of a good title. Suggestions welcome.

Moving along, Susan Solomon gave the Bjerknes lecture. This was mostly a review of the history of science and science policy concerning the ozone hole. She contrasted the challenges of controlling CFCs with those of controlling CO2, and showed some similarities and differences. A common thread between the two is that scientific assessments (like IPCC) have played a central role in treaty milestones. It is also worth noting, as she pointed out, that the Montreal Protocol has contributed significantly to climate change mitigation, because CFCs are good greenhouse gases. At the time of peak CFC emission, the CO2 equivalent of CFC emission was equivalent to a third of the actual CO2 emissions. Without Montreal, CFC emissions today would be much higher. By some estimates, Montreal has contributed more to global warming mitigation than Kyoto, and can do more in the future by promoting CFC replacements that are climate-friendly. This is not to say that a Kyoto follow-on is unnecessary. It’s just a reminder that in some areas, we have made some progress in greenhouse gas mitigation.

Moving from high up right down to the surface of the planet, we get back to an issue that was much in evidence in our previous dispatches: climate change in the Arctic. Hansen and Nazarenko (PNAS 2004) resurrected interest in the effect of soot on snow albedo, suggesting that it might account for a good deal of rapid Arctic warming. There was, however, a need for much more data on snow albedo. Steve Warren presented new data from his ongoing snow albedo project (see his project page here ). This involved snow samples from an impressive network of volunteers, including one 4000 km snowmobile trek across the Canadian Arctic, and the first snow samples in restricted areas of the Russian North. Except for the Russian North (where earlier data isn’t available), the soot contents seem to have gone down substantially since the 1980′s, which is in accord with the general cleaning of air samples. Greenland is very clean, but there is some concentration of soot in melting snow, which may accelerate the Spring snowmelt. While emphasizing that soot is still important and needs to be understood better, Steve suggested that insofar as soot forcing seems to be decreasing, it is not a good candidate for accounting for the acceleration of Arctic warming in the past two decades.

Aside from the fact that it’s 2AM and I’m writing this at the end of the AGU honors banquet, I won’t belabor Lonnie Thompson’s Frontiers in Geophysics lecture since it was webcast and I imagine that all of you who were interested have already had a look at it. As one expects from a Frontiers lecture, there wasn’t much new for the folks who were already in the thick of the subject (since it’s for a more broad audience) but it was a great lecture nonetheless. Lonnie gave a general overview of the climate change problem, with particular emphasis on what has been learned from tropical ice core investigations. He had a number of great pictures of the field work, including some indication of the size of the herd of yaks needed to get a 600m ice core down from the Himalayas in insulated core boxes. Some take home points are that 98% of the named Alaska glaciers are retreating, 95% of 612 studied Tibet glaciers are retreating, and 98% of monitored Alpine glaciers are retreating. He also had incontrovertible evidence that there has been massive melt on Kilimanjaro. This included ice cores that showed characteristic elongated air bubbles in the past few decades, whereas earlier parts of the core show intact bubbles. There is obvious ocular proof of melting on Kilimanjaro, and it is baffling that the likes of Georg Kaser and Philip Mote can’t seem to believe the obvious evidence there for anybody to see. It’s not sublimation. There’s lots of melt. Lonnie also pointed out, that with regard to tropical mountain glacier retreat in general, the rapid retreat supports the vertical amplification with height seen in GCMs and in the moist adiabat, suggesting that evidence to the contrary from radiosondes may be more a data problem than a physics problem.

Tonight was the AGU Honors ceremony. Congratulations especially to all of those who have contributed so much to advancing the state of understanding of climate: to Susan Solomon (who was awarded the Bowie Medal), Richard Alley (who was awarded the Revelle Medal) and Amy Clement (who was awarded the Macelwane medal). These and other medalists were feted at a very fine banquet, and needless to say, once more, a good time was had by all. Susan Solomon gave an especially inspiring acceptance speech. “The Nobel prize awarded to the IPCC recognizes unselfish cooperation at its best.” “Never before has there been such a need for society to make good collective decisions [about climate change],
informed by good science.” Susan, needless to say, was chair of the IPCC Working Group I.

Overheard at the banquet: “Richard Alley is a C-Span Rock star!” (referring to Richard’s indefatigable efforts to educate Congress of the reality of global warming)

The Honors Evening was another real inspiration. Look, guys and gals, this is a really, really talented crew. How could you not believe them when they say global warming is a real problem?

A certain V. Courtillot and C. Allegre were also in evidence,though not encountered. What can I say, but that it is fortunate that the custom of throwing down the gauntlet and challenging to duels has fallen out of fashion. Magnetic fields vs. CO2 at 20 paces!

More tomorrow.


141 Responses to “Live (almost) from AGU–Dispatch #4”

  1. 1
    Richard Sycamore says:

    “Look, guys and gals, this is a really, really talented crew. How could you not believe them when they say global warming is a real problem?”

    Does anyone seriously dispute this? I *think* what’s disputed is the degree to which we are confident that CO2/GHGs are the primary driver. And in that regard, “how could you not believe them when they say” that nature is potentially more complex than humans are ingenious. The oceans are a mystery. The GCMs are fallible, however wonderful their creators are.

    What’s with pushing the “belief” thing, anyways? Can we not just stick with the facts?

  2. 2
    Chris says:

    Thank goodness someone is dealing with the important ptarmagan-feasting-on-willow issue!

    Actually here in Scotland we have a more serious potential problem with the ptarmigan. The ptarmigan population (like the mountain hare) is restricted to the relatively small areas of mountain regions that retain an “Arctic-like” environment (the Cairngorm plateau and the parts of the NW Highlands). Since Scotland is rather Northerly and is feeling the effects of global warming quite significantly (the rather rudimentary Scottish skiing “industry” is more or less dying on it’s feet (or skis)), there is considerable concern for the creatures like the ptarmigan who are starting to find conditions unfavourable. At the very least it looks like they may have to learn not to turn white in the winter…

  3. 3
    stuart says:

    A. S. McEwan gave the Shoemaker lecture today, on that topic.

    Was it all cobblers?

  4. 4
    Vinod Gupta says:

    I am sending this comment, but I have never received an acknowledgement or reply to my prvious such messages.

    My questions are:

    Has there been any modelling to suggest what can be sustainable human energy use (and corresponding life-style)from the point of view of CO2 sink?

    How can we presume that a new equilibrium can be sustained in terms of average global temperature, when an equilibrium is just not possible with use of fossil fuels, as CO2 will just keep on increasing ad-infinitum in the absence of any expansion in the CO2 sink?

    I would look forward to receiving reply/comments on the above questions

    Best Regards

    Vinod Gupta
    New Delhi
    India

  5. 5
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Hi Vinod,
    I’m not a commentator, but I’ll take a stab at your question. First, the question of sustainability and energy use is not simple. I suspect that a lot depends on the source of the energy–that is, you’d probably get a very different answer if you depend on solar or wind than you would if you depend on coal. The type of development is also important: India has developed via an information economy, making possible some improvement in environmental concerns, but failing to provide employment for a vast underclass. China’s decision to emphasize manufacturing has provided large-scale employment, but led to an ever worsening environmental crisis.
    Equilibrium occurs when the radiation escaping Earth equals incoming energy from the Sun–we’ll eventually reach equilibrium. The question is whether the new equilibrium will be conducive to maintaining the agriculture and infrastructure neeeded to maintain a civilized world with 9-12 billion people in it.

    Richard Sycamore, by all means, let’s stick to facts, and the fact is that there is no way you can explain the current warming without a significant contribution from anthropogenic greenhouse gasses. That fact is not dependent on models, and it is robust with respect to the uncertainties we have about oceans, aerosols and clouds. If you accept that warming is occurring, the energy driving that warming must come from somewhere, and an increased greenhouse effect is the only explanation that reproduces the observed trends. Fact!

  6. 6

    I have gotten nowhere trying to change Scotland’s winter albedo shooting partridge on Boxing Day , but inspired by raypierre’s fete de Noel will try switching to ptarmigan.

    Since GG forcing seems to be rising by about 3 microwatts / m2 per day , a days bag of 100 ptarmigan should offset the daily climate forcing of about as many humans assuming the birds are hit cleanly causing 1 square meter of white feathers to land on the ground and remain reflective till next season.

    I realize it would be better to do this at a lower latitude, but equatorial Boxing Day shoots seldom feature ptarmigan

  7. 7
    Harold Ford says:

    #4 Sustainable CO2 sinks
    Hi Vinod,
    I’ve yet to hear of a tested model for a sustainable CO2 sink. However I do know of a natural one: plants. They devour CO2 and grow with this absorption. The problem with plants is that they eventually get old and die, giving off methane. Solution: grow plants, collect them when they start giving off too much methane. Capture the methane, use it for fuel as methane has a higher greenhouse effect than CO2, grow more plants etc.

    We could also send up weather balloons which collect greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. There is a great deal of gas up there so send quite a few. How many? Enough to collect a half terra ton? The simple fact of this is that it seems unavoidable that we must repair the natural systems that keep our world in balance.

  8. 8
    Don says:

    for Richard Sycamore.

    Any candidate “primary drivers” for GW other than green house gases?

  9. 9

    Excellent post! This is what blogs were invented for… to give a direct look into real life. Besides giving a welcome glimpse of new research, it shows how climate science is actually done, which is a good way to educate everyone. It would be better still if you would take note of some of the ongoing disagreements, not make it seem as if everyone was marching, as the critics say, in lockstep.

  10. 10
    Thomas Lee Elifritz says:

    Shrubification. I like that word.

    Is that one or two b’s?

  11. 11
    James says:

    Re #1: [I *think* what’s disputed is the degree to which we are confident that CO2/GHGs are the primary driver.]

    I’m not a climate scientist, so I’ll welcome corrections from those who are, but I think you’ve got this exactly backwards. There is much more certainty of the fact the CO2 is the primary driver than there is of the exact amount of actual warming. The GHG effect is (comparatively) simple physics: measure the amount of CO2 and do the math. Coming up with a firm figure for warming requires integrating all sorts of measurements from around the world, each one having uncertainties & possible errors, and then taking into consideration all sorts of natural variation.

  12. 12
    Gaelan Clark says:

    #5 Ray, The observed trends do not fit the models—FACT. You cannot simply say the models are consistent with the observations, for if they were, then you would see the troposphere warming at a higher rate than the surface, in fact the models indicate that the troposhere will heat at a rate 2-3 times more than what the observations show. Please explain this inconsistency.
    And, there are many ways to illustrate current warming trends without anthropogenic causes, one simply has to turn the knobs on the models to illustrate this. Just because one accepts that warming is occuring, which undoubtedly it is, this does not mean that one HAS to accept that humans are causing it, or that the current warming is unprecedented.
    Now, since the models are wrong, and the only way that they could be correct about CO2 driving temperature would be to observe the troposphere heating in ways that it is absolutely not, should we not try to look to where “the energy driving that warming” is really coming from?

    [Response: This has as much logic as someone in a fog bank declaring that because they can't see where the road goes, it must curve right. Weather noise obscures climate; observational inaccuracies obscure climate; model imperfections obscure climate. Sometimes a signal is clear, but not in this case. Insisting that it is - even when there are models that even less tropospheric warming over this period than the obs is foolish. - gavin]

  13. 13
    BrianMcL says:

    Ray Ladbury states in post 5

    “If you accept that warming is occurring, the energy driving that warming must come from somewhere, and an increased greenhouse effect is the only explanation that reproduces the observed trends. Fact!”

    Fact? – Not quite! Surely the energy responsible for almost all warmth comes from the Sun and that it’s rather more likely that CO2 simply traps some of this energy as heat.

    [edit -OT]

  14. 14
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #1 & “What’s with pushing the “belief” thing, anyways? Can we not just stick with the facts?”

    Well, see, the situation is this: There are those who believe the facts, and there are those who don’t believe the facts.

    And you’re right about the models — they don’t EXACTLY replicate reality (that’s why they’re called models). And from what I’ve been reading they seem in general to be underestimating effects of global warming — like Arctic & Greenland ice & glacier melt. And I understand it’s hard to incorporate some of the slow positive feedbacks (melting permafrost, hydrates), which we can conceive of via scientific understanding of physics. In fact, it doesn’t even take a Ph.D. to understand that heat eventually tends to melt ice. However, it may be hard to quantify these processes and concomitant GHG releases with some equation. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist and could make global warming a entirely more dangerous ball game than what we are able to quantify and model right now.

    As people living in the world, concerned about life, we need to be focused on the high end scientific projections and possibilities, and work to avoid them turning into facts.

    We can certainly hope for the best, but should be working to avoid the worst.

  15. 15
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Gee Gaelan, the world is so simple when you don’t understand it, isn’t it? First, as Gavin has pointed out, you are looking for a signal in very noisy data. Second, some of the knobs on your little model have very little wiggle room, because they are constrained by multiple independent lines of evidence. Greenhouse forcine is among the most constrained parameters. Do yourself a favor and actually learn a little bit about global climate models. Start with the AIP history
    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.html
    and then read
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/04/learning-from-a-simple-model/
    I also recommend:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/08/the-co2-problem-in-6-easy-steps/

    Y’all come back, hear?

  16. 16
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 13, Uh, Brian, that’s how the greenhouse effect works–absorbing outgoing IR.

  17. 17
    Jim Redden says:

    Thanks for posting! Yes, Rock Stars!

    Of course, I am sure I am not alone to hearing how the upcoming talks of Thu Aft and Fri AM with James Hansen, et al, are received. Rest up… :-)

    16:00h GC44A-01 Tipping Points,
    08:00h U51B-01 Climate Sensitivity

  18. 18
    Gaelan Clark says:

    Ray, Thank you for putting me into my place. I do deserve it.
    Have you had a chance to read the following? Please, do afford me your comments.

    “http://www.vulnerabilitynet.org/OPMS/view.php?site=seiproject&bn=seiproject_hotel&key=1140130266″

  19. 19

    Ray,

    You wrote: “Lonnie also pointed out, that with regard to tropical mountain glacier retreat in general, the rapid retreat supports the vertical amplification with height seen in GCM’s and in the moist adiabat, suggesting that evidence to the contrary from radiosondes may be more a data problem than a physics problem.”

    But what Lonnie said is a step too far. What the radiosondes are saying is that the warming is happening mainly close to the surface. Therefore, the melting of the glaciers at high altitude does not prove that the radiosondes are wrong because the mountain glacier melt is also at a surface. That evidence neither proves nor disproves whether the radiosonde data is right or the computer model theory is correct. The radiosonde data may be ugly, but to quote Thomas Huxley “That’s the ugly fact, which slays a beautiful hypothesis, the great tragedy of science.”

    Moreover, the melting of the Arctic sea ice is another surface melt. Since it is greater than that modeled fits with the radiosonde data. In other words the models are wrong, and the enhanced warming from carbon dioxide operates at the surface and not high in the troposphere!

    Karl Angstrom showed that Arrhenius’ greenhouse theory of ice ages based on radiation was wrong because the absorption is saturated in the CO2 band (667 microns). Later in 1927 G.C.Sipmpson, confirmed this by showing that the radiative balance is maintained by clouds altering the incoming shortwave radiation (ISR) rather than by the surface temperature altering the outgoing longwave radiation, which is also saturated.

    The greenhouse gas theory, originally proposed by Tyndall, works by carbon dioxide affecting the surface temperature and acts like a blanket preventing it freezing and formation of ice sheets. Carbon dioxide, by absorbing infrared radiation warms the air close to the surface. This prevents the surface losing heat by convection and so melts the marginal ice. The ice albedo effect provides a positive feedback.

    The greenhouse theory of Arrhenius is dead, long live the greenhouse theory of John Tyndall.

  20. 20

    Don writes:

    [[Any candidate “primary drivers” for GW other than green house gases?]]

    Several, mostly involving the sun, but none of them have worked out when examined closely.

  21. 21

    Alastair writes:

    [[Karl Angstrom showed that Arrhenius’ greenhouse theory of ice ages based on radiation was wrong because the absorption is saturated in the CO2 band (667 microns). Later in 1927 G.C.Sipmpson, confirmed this by showing that the radiative balance is maintained by clouds altering the incoming shortwave radiation (ISR) rather than by the surface temperature altering the outgoing longwave radiation, which is also saturated.]]

    CO2 absorption near the surface isn’t all that matters. A lot of it takes place in the upper atmosphere where the lines are NOT saturated. This was shown in the 1940s, and I think it was Gilbert Plass who finally put the saturation argument to bed in 1956. Even at low levels it doesn’t entirely work since CO2 has line wings way outside the saturated areas.

    [Response: Yes indeed. In fact Angstrom just did the experiments wrong. There is no saturation, and even if CO2 were saturated in the way Angstrom argued it wouldn't prevent CO2 increases from warming the atmosphere. Search for the RC posts "A Saturated Gassy Argument" and "What Angstrom Didn't Know" --raypierre]

  22. 22

    Alastair also writes:

    [[Carbon dioxide, by absorbing infrared radiation warms the air close to the surface. This prevents the surface losing heat by convection and so melts the marginal ice.]]

    Alastair, the surface does lose heat by convection. You can see it in desert mirages. Air is turbulent way up into the troposphere. And the measured lapse rates conform to what is expected from moist convection.

  23. 23

    I had to laugh at the thought of Raypierre writing this post at 2am, I imagine fairly tipsy. I wish I could write half as lucidly and with good humour when I am wide awake and sober. Well done :-)

  24. 24
    S. Molnar says:

    Re #6: I’m concerned that the atmospheric release of carbon contained in the gunpowder may offset the increased albedo, particularly if Russell Seitz is a poor shot (which, I hasten to add, I am not asserting as fact). I wonder if he has modelled this adequately?

  25. 25
    Richard Sycamore says:

    #14 Lynne V:
    “Well, see, the situation is this: There are those who believe the facts, and there are those who don’t believe the facts.”

    Well, see, the situation is also this: there are those who believe the fiction, and there are those who don’t question what passes for “facts”.

    Models are fiction. And in this case the models happen to be failing in several small ways, which suggests their parameters may be slightly off. Perfectly reasonable proposition given the amount of uncertainty in the parameter estimates. Which parameters are off, and by how much? The question, see, is how much total error there is, as estimated in out-of-sample model tests. Because this error is being incorrectly attributed to forcing processes for which there is insufficient data to ensure an accurate parameterization.

    I’m not here to undermine the credibility of the models. I’m here to suggest there needs to be a better accounting for how error propagates through the inference chain, from the model itself to humans who reason about the model. This is how science works.

  26. 26
    Hank Roberts says:

    I’m sure he’s using a crossbow or a boomerang.

  27. 27
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Gaelan, I’m not sure what you are asking me to comment on. The reply you link to is >4 years old. A more recent work by the same authors was the subject of a recent commentary here on RC. Soon et al. and others try to appeal to uncertainties, but the thing is we know the effect of adding CO2 to the atmosphere. It is constrained by several independent lines of evidence. So, regardless of how many other causes are identified, you still have the fact that in order for climate scientists to be wrong about CO2, they have to be wrong about many, many other things as well. So, yes, you may have a cause involving geomagnetic/heliomagnetic/GCR variations. And yes, aerosols may not be well understood. That doesn’t change the fact that we do understand ghg physics and that we’ve constrained its contribution pretty well.

  28. 28
    James says:

    Re #24: [... the atmospheric release of carbon contained in the gunpowder...]

    But classically the carbon in gunpowder is obtained from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels: charcoal in the case of black powder, cotton in the case of smokeless powder (guncotton). Thus it should not present a problem – though I wonder if there might be a market for certified organic gunpowder.

    Of course, if one really wanted his/her participation in this to be as low-carbon as possible, there’s always the atlatl.

  29. 29

    4 Vinod Gupta: We really can’t sink the CO2. We have to not make the CO2 in the first place. There are many things we can do, each of which makes a contribution, called a “wedge.” The number 1 wedge is: Replace all coal fired power plants with nuclear power plants worldwide. Coal fired power plants produce 34% of our CO2 output, the largest single wedge. Please read the book: “Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy”, by B. Comby
    English edition, 2001, 345 pp. (soft cover), 38 Euros
    TNR Editions, 266 avenue Daumesnil, 75012 Paris, France;
    ISBN 2-914190-02-6
    order from: http://www.comby.org/livres/livresen.htm
    Read a review of this book by the American Health Physics Society at:
    http://www.comby.org/media/articles/articles.in.english/HealthPhysics-NUC-July2002.htm

    Fossil fuels such as coal oil, and gas, massively pollute the Earth’s atmosphere (CO, CO2, SOX, NOX…), provoking acid rains and changing the global climate by increasing the greenhouse effect, while nuclear energy does not participate in these pollutions and presents well-founded environmental benefits.

    Renewable energies (solar, wind) not being able to deliver the amount of energy required by populations in developing and developed countries, nuclear energy is in fact the only clean and safe energy available to protect the planet during the XXI st century.

    This book answers essential questions about nuclear safety, the Chernobyl accident, the public health problems our society has to face, viable solutions for nuclear waste, the benefits of clean nuclear energy for the environment, and important information about the future of our planet.

    4 Vinod Gupta: Lifestyle is not the problem. Fossil fuel use is. We need to do research to find new ways to propel vehicles, but a combination of nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal and hydro electric power can provide sufficient energy. The problem is one of convenience to vehicles. Please everybody, read the review of this book by the American Health Physics Society and the book before making negative comments about nuclear power. The book will answer all of your questions and objections.

    http://www.ecolo.org
    Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy [EFN]

  30. 30
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #29 [Edward Greisch] The IPCC does not agree with you with regard to the magical abilities of nuclear power to solve our problems. I quote from the WG III summary for policymakers:

    “Given costs relative to other supply options, nuclear power, which accounted for 16% of the electricity supply in 2005, can have an 18% share of the total electricity supply in 2030 at carbon prices up to 50 US$/tCO2-eq, but safety, weapons proliferation and waste remain as constraints.”

    On the whole, I put more trust in the IPCC’s WG III than in a bunch of nuclear enthusiasts. I notice that the review you cite begins “AT A TIME when most of the media and politicians seem to be brainwashed by antinuclear cults…”, which might suggest to some that the review itself comes from someone with a rather partisan stance.

    Moreover, there is no likelihood that China and India will turn from their abundant, cheap coal to import uranium, of which neither has much, on a large scale. Both are in fact expanding nuclear power, so they are clearly not fundamentally opposed to it, but at rates which hardly dent the rapid increase in their CO2 production – only CCS or economic collapse could do that.

    “Lifestyle is not the problem.” I look forward to your explanation of how nuclear power will enable the aviation industry to keep expanding at its planned rate without greatly increasing emissions over the next few decades, how nuclear power will make it possible to cut down Brazilian and south-east Asian rainforests for soya and palm oil without releasing vast quantities of CO2 and methane, etc.

  31. 31
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #29 [Edward Greisch]

    Incidentally, Edward, I’d be intrigued to know whether you are following Comby’s advice to live exclusively on raw food (certainly saves on the emissions produced by cooking!), including insects.

  32. 32

    Edward Greisch posts (typically):

    [[ nuclear energy does not participate in these pollutions and presents well-founded environmental benefits.]]

    Just look at the environmental benefits of Chernobyl, or Chelyabinsk, or Windscale, or Hansen…

    [[Renewable energies (solar, wind) not being able to deliver the amount of energy required by populations in developing and developed countries, nuclear energy is in fact the only clean and safe energy available to protect the planet during the XXI st century.]]

    Just plain false. Nuclear energy is constrained by the supply of uranium, solar energy is only constrained by the illumination at Earth’s surface — an average of 168 watts per square meter.

  33. 33
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Richard Sycamore #25, Wow, that’s about the most vague post I’ve seen lately. You tell us that models are “fiction” (Gee, I hope you can suspend disbelief when you got on board a plane or behind the wheel of a car.). Then we hear that the models are “failing in several small ways”. Of course you provide no specifics, as 1)that might actually require work on your part, and 2)you don’t understand the models well enough for specifics, anyway. Then you tell us that the “parameters” are off–do you even know anything about global climate models. Do you know how the “parameters” are determined? Do you know which “parameters” are well determined and which ones remain uncertain? Do you understand that some results from the models are quite robust regardless of the uncertainties in “parameters” like aerosols or clouds. Your discussion of error estimation and propagation is pure gobbledygook–even your vagueness can’t hide your ignorance here. Then you tell us, “That’s how science works.” Beautiful. So, Richard, ever do any actual science?

  34. 34
    Elery Fudge says:

    I am not a scientist but I enjoy reading the posts. Given the “consensus” here that CO2 is the driver for global warming, it is interesting to see one post in favor of nuclear power, by an environmentalist no less, being so quickly put down. So, anyone care to suggest a resonable alternative to burning fossil fuel.

    As long as I am posting, is there an a concentration of CO2 above which additional radiative forcing is zero.

  35. 35
    Richard Sycamore says:

    #32
    Ray Ladbury

    I didn’t realize vagueness is a crime. But if accusing me of ignorance based on two comments is your way of inviting dialogue, I would be happy to engage. Let me start by confriming my understanding your counter-argument. Are you asserting:

    (a) models are not hypothetical descriptions of reality
    (b) GCM/EBM parameters are known with certainty
    (c) error does not propagate
    (d) the models are not failing in several small ways
    (e) all of the above

    If you can outline your views on these points, I would be happy to show you that you don’t know everything. No apology necessary at this point. It can wait til later.

    Cheerio

    [Response: If you want to discuss issues, then do so, but setting up obvious strawman arguments to bat around is silly - this is directed at both of you. - gavin]

  36. 36
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #33 Elery Fudge “So, anyone care to suggest a resonable alternative to burning fossil fuel.”

    Largest rapid gains are available from energy efficiency and behavioural change – for example, insulating houses better and adjusting your clothing to the ambient temperature, flying and driving less, buying and running fewer power-hungry appliances (e.g. plasma TVs), eating less meat and dairy produce. In the slightly longer term, solar, wind, wave, tidal and geothermal power, depending on local conditions. Difficult and far from ideal, but essential because China and India are not going to stop burning coal any time soon, is the deployment of carbon capture and storage technology at fossil fuel power plants.

    “As long as I am posting, is there an a concentration of CO2 above which additional radiative forcing is zero.”

    No. It increases in proportion to the logarithm of CO2 concentration.

  37. 37
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Richard, perhaps I misconstrued your posts, but they seemed to imply that GCM were not up to snuff scientifically–and did so with no concrete objections that could actually be addressed. Since this is an ignorant attitude. If you would care to raise concrete objections, they can be addressed. Otherwise, why would we have any basis to assume you know what you are talking about.
    To your straw men:
    a)Models are indeed descriptions of reality–I’m not sure why you felt a need to insert the superfluous adjective “hypothetical”. I might suggest you follow Mark Twain’s dictum: “If you see an adjective, kill it.” Models are useful in elucidating the important contributors in a physical system. You seem to have listened to only half of what George Box said: “All models are wrong…” and ignored the other part: “Some models are useful.”
    b)If you actually read my post, you would see that I I actually dealt with uncertainties. I said some contributors are nailed down tight, while some remain uncertain. Uncertainty in a model does not (or in a theory) does not prevent one from drawing very robust conclusions that persist despite that uncertainty. When you have multiple independent lines of evidence all pointing to roughly the same range of magnitudes for CO2 forcing, you can be pretty sure that aspect of the model is right, regardles of other uncertainties that persist.
    c)Of course errors propagate. You seem to imply that this is not investigated. It is, and that is why there is a range of values given in the IPCC reports. Again, if you have specific issues, we can discuss them, but error analysis is done for all the models.
    d)Actually the models are remarkably successful. They predicted >20 years of warming. They nailed the effects of Mt Pinatubo. If anything they have been too conservative wrt ice melt.

    Again, if you want to discuss specifics, that’s fine. To date, you’ve given no indication that any of your criticisms are based on actually knowledge of climate science, physics, modeling or the scientific method in general.

  38. 38
    James says:

    Re #31: [Just look at the environmental benefits of Chernobyl, or Chelyabinsk, or Windscale, or Hansen…]

    I’d be interested in seeing facts as to environmental conditions at the last three of those. Chernobyl, from the reports I’ve seen, produced a net benefit to the surrounding environment.

    Too often this seems to be based on a circular argument: that radiation is bad for the environment is assumed, an increase in radiation is measured, therefore the environmental quality has degraded. It would be good if there were objective measurements, such as number & density of species.

  39. 39
    Richard Sycamore says:

    The accusation of setting up a “straw man” is understandable, but incorrect. In a scientific dialogue it is necessary to establish clear positions. But when the participants don’t know each other there is often a reluctance to be the first to strike, as an offensive strike can expose you to a counter-strike.

    If there is no editorial tolerance for open discussion, then fine; I will leave. If there is, then let us continue. My question has to do with the supposed “pipe” that the supposed additional warming is in. I want to understand the process by which the heat got in the pipe, and how the pipe itself warms. But I would prefer to anchor the discussion in reality, as opposed to the analogies we’re becoming accustomed to hearing.

    No more accusations of “straw men” please.

  40. 40
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #36 (James) “Chernobyl, from the reports I’ve seen, produced a net benefit to the surrounding environment.”

    James, it should surely be obvious that Chernobyl is a “wildlife haven” because there are no people there. This point has been raised before – are you really unable to grasp it?

    “It would be good if there were objective measurements, such as number & density of species.”

    There has been some. See for example:

    A.P. Møller, T.A. Mousseau (2007)
    “Birds prefer to breed in sites with low radioactivity in Chernobyl”
    Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274, 1443-1448
    DOI 10.1098/rspb.2007.0005

    and

    Møller, A.P., Hobson, K.A., Mousseau, T.A. & Peklo, A.M. 2006 Chernobyl as a population sink for barn swallows: tracking dispersal using stable isotope profiles. Ecol. Appl. 16, 1696–1705.

    (abstracts are freely available online)

    However, I don’t think you’ll like the answers!

  41. 41
    Hank Roberts says:

    Both strawman and distraction from climate discussion, there

    > Chernobyl, from the reports I’ve seen, produced a net benefit …
    > It would be good if there were objective measurements …

    There are. You need to look with Google Scholar, not Google.
    Cite your sources. Example, one of many:
    http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2656.2005.01009.x

    The area’s a roach motel for wildlife, animals move in and are more visible there, but reproduction isn’t working out well.

  42. 42

    James posts:

    [[Chernobyl, from the reports I’ve seen, produced a net benefit to the surrounding environment.]]

    Also, the city of New York really is going to go public on some of its infrastructure. Let me know how many shares in the Brooklyn Bridge you want to buy.

  43. 43
    James says:

    Re #38: [ it should surely be obvious that Chernobyl is a “wildlife haven” because there are no people there. This point has been raised before - are you really unable to grasp it?]

    Unable to grasp what I’ve been saying all along: the effects of a “worse than worst case” nuclear accident, whatever they may be, are evidently less detrimental to life than normal human activity? Remember that before the accident was hardly even a major metropolitan area, let alone something like a coal strip mine or tailings dump.

  44. 44
    James says:

    Re #39: [You need to look with Google Scholar, not Google.]

    The problem (in addition to the fact that I find it almost impossible to construct a Google search query which yields more relevant results than trash) is that almost everything Google Scholar finds is an abstract on some journal publisher’s web site, where I’d need to pay to download the full articles.

  45. 45
    Hank Roberts says:

    James, you said “from the reports I’ve seen” you formed your belief. Where did you see these reports? Who are you relying on for the misinformation?

    Okay, I agree with you about having to work at searching Google!

    I pasted your direct quote into Google with a question mark to invoke their natural language text search, exactly like this:

    “Chernobyl, from the reports I’ve seen, produced a net benefit to the surrounding environment”

    And you’re right, you get a load of crap, right at the top:

    The first two hits are Michael Crichton’s personal site. Bunk.
    Then bunk from a UK newspaper and an Australian TV station.
    Then bunk from SEPP.org

    So — the answer is to focus at least slightly instead of make the widest possible generalization.

    Seriously, a good reference librarian at any public library can help you learn how to do this. Since you say that’s the problem you’re having, you know you need to learn how to focus your queries.

    And the same reference librarian can help you enormously in how to read the abstracts you find with Scholar. Many of the links do actually lead to articles, or reference lists containing available text. With some help from a good librarian you can learn how to take the relevant strings out of the paywalled abstracts, and put those into further searches.

    Almost anything available lately for pay through Scholar will be available for free with some carefully crafted searching elsewhere.

    If you want help, though, how about asking for it rather than just posting what you believe and awaiting correction? It’d be kinder to you and to the rest of us. Just ask. We all get help here all the time. I’m just an amateur, but I’ve been reading for 55 years now and working hard at getting information the whole time.

    You can do it.

    But don’t blow off help — did you look at the one abstract I did provide? It surely gives you a start informing yourself.

    ——excerpt from abstract—-
    Barn swallows, compared to control area:
    ….The fraction of nonreproducing adults was on average 23% in Chernobyl compared with close to zero in Kanev and other European populations.
    3. … laying date did not differ significantly between the two regions, clutch was reduced by 7%, brood size by 14% and hatching success by 5% in the Chernobyl region relative to the control area.
    4. Annual adult survival, estimated from mark–recapture analyses, was on average 28% in the Chernobyl region, but 40% in Kanev.
    5. The relationships [measured] were generally confirmed [related to] ambient radiation levels in different colonies.
    6. The overall findings are consistent with the hypothesis that radioactive contamination in the Chernobyl region has significant negative impact on rates of reproduction and survival of the barn swallow.
    ——-end excerpt from abstract—–

    Thus my comment, this ‘roach motel’ result shows up in a lot of studies. You can find them. There’s lots of fascinating science coming out of this.

    None I’ve seen — NONE — supports what you believed. So I suspect your source fooled you and you fell for it. Lies are free. People will push them at you, to support their PR or political beliefs.

    But if you think education is expensive, try ignorance, as the bumper sticker says.

    You can learn to educate yourself. Learn to be skeptical.
    Learn to ask good questions from people like reference librarians.
    Learn.

  46. 46

    James writes:

    [[The problem (in addition to the fact that I find it almost impossible to construct a Google search query which yields more relevant results than trash) is that almost everything Google Scholar finds is an abstract on some journal publisher’s web site, where I’d need to pay to download the full articles.]]

    Sad but true. It used to be that science journals were freely available in science libraries, but now most of them take only the “electronic version,” and you have to have a student password, at the least, to get in. I haven’t read a copy of Icarus in at least two years.

    Science is more and more being restricted to professional scientists, which, in my opinion, is not a smart thing to do. Science is not magic and should not be restricted to a small professional elite.

  47. 47

    #33 Elery Fudge:

    … So, anyone care to suggest a resonable alternative to burning fossil fuel.

    Hmmm… energy saving? (lots of low hanging fruit there) Solar thermal energy in desert areas, with thermal storage and long distance transport to consumer areas? Ocean thermal energy conversion (same transport challenge)? Equipping fossil fuel plants with capturing and underground storage (after all, that’s where the stuff came from)? Nuclear fusion (hard, but suitable for baseload, not retargetable for weapons, unlimited fuel supply)? Space solar energy (hard…)? …

    Some of these are available now, others require technology development. They will all lead to more expensive energy than what we have today, but affordable solutions exist. See the IPCC AR4 WG3 report (sorry for not giving links, typing this on a PDA)

    As long as I am posting, is there an a concentration of CO2 above which additional radiative forcing is zero.

    Interesting question… and the umpteenth time I come across it. Somebody is working hard to plant this meme. The answer is no: the forcing by a greenhouse gas, and the equilibrium temperature increase caused by it, is a logarithmic function of concentration. Like:

    Dt = k log(c/c0),

    where k is a constant, c0 the pre-industrial (or reference) concentration, and c current concentration. So every doubling produces the same increase in temperature. This relationship is remarkably robust, kmown to Arrhenius and reproduced by the physics in current models.

  48. 48
    dhogaza says:

    My question has to do with the supposed “pipe” that the supposed additional warming is in. I want to understand the process by which the heat got in the pipe, and how the pipe itself warms.

    Then start reading, rather than expect people to take the time to educate you.

    This stuff ain’t stamped “TOP SECRET” and hidden in the bowels of the NSA or nuthin’, you know?

    The accusation of setting up a “straw man” is understandable, but incorrect. In a scientific dialogue it is necessary to establish clear positions.

    And you’ve established your position. To put it kindly, you should be working on filling in gaps of your knowledge, rather than saying things like

    If there is no editorial tolerance for open discussion, then fine; I will leave. If there is, then let us continue.

    Which implies you want to continue trumpeting your beliefs, even if your knowledge of the subject doesn’t even extend to the above-mentioned basic piece of knowledge.

    if accusing me of ignorance based on two comments is your way of inviting dialogue, I would be happy to engage.

    Apparently the accusation of ignorance is correct, right? Why should anyone want to engage in debate with you when you don’t understand basics?

    Models are fiction.

    Well, that’s a convincing argument!

  49. 49
    Hank Roberts says:

    Wossname declaimed ignorance and demanded education
    >”supposed pipe”
    It helps to use the correct search term.
    This will tell you what you want to know about that:

    Geophysics — Contributions of past and present human generations to committed warming caused by carbon dioxide.

    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/102/31/10832.pdf (full text)

    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0504755102v1 (abstract)

    Wossname also declaimed
    > models are fiction
    Ray Bradbury, noted fiction writer, wrote:
    “People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it.”

    You’re not being taken personally here, I don’t even recall who posted this unoriginal stuff, I’m just doing the recreational typing, long form of the answer “use the Start Here button at the top of the page to check your assumptions”

    Another Ray Bradbury quote for you:
    “I’m working to prevent a future where there’s no education. The system we have has gone to hell ….”

  50. 50
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Richard, OK, a question–something concrete. The “pipeline” analogy is not exactly accurate, but basically, once you start perturbing the system, some of the system’s responses are delayed and contribute to subsequent warming. First, you have to look at the way the greenhouse effect works. Greenhouse gasses absorb the outgoing IR at low to mid altitudes, so in their absorption bands Earth effectively radiates at a higher altitude/lower temperature. The equilibrium doesn’t get restored until the atmosphere warms enough that outgoing IR balances incoming radiation again–that takes time. Second, in response to warming, environments change, ice melts, some vegetation dies to be replaced by different species, and this changes albedo in the long term. Anyway, those are some feedbacks that lead to greater warming down the pipe.


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