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Antarctica is Cold? Yeah, We Knew That

Filed under: — group @ 12 February 2008 - (Español)

Guest commentary from Spencer Weart, science historian

Despite the recent announcement that the discharge from some Antarctic glaciers is accelerating, we often hear people remarking that parts of Antarctica are getting colder, and indeed the ice pack in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica has actually been getting bigger. Doesn’t this contradict the calculations that greenhouse gases are warming the globe? Not at all, because a cold Antarctica is just what calculations predict… and have predicted for the past quarter century.

It’s not just that Antarctica is covered with a gazillion tons of ice, although that certainly helps keep it cold. The ocean also plays a role, which is doubly important because of the way it has delayed the world’s recognition of global warming.

When the first rudimentary models of climate change were developed in the early 1970s, some modelers pointed out that as the increase of greenhouse gases added heat to the atmosphere, much of the energy would be absorbed into the upper layer of the oceans. While the water was warming up, the world’s perception of climate change would be delayed. Up to this point most calculations had started with a doubled CO2 level and figured out how the world’s temperature would look in equilibrium. But in the real world, when the rising level of gas reached that point the system would still be a long way from equilibrium. “We may not be given a warning until the CO2 loading is such that an appreciable climate change is inevitable,” a National Academy of Sciences panel warned in 1979.(1)

Modelers took a closer look and noticed some complications. As greenhouse gases increase, the heat seeps gradually deeper and deeper into the oceans. But when larger volumes of water are brought into play, they bring a larger heat capacity. Thus as the years passed, the atmospheric warming would increasingly lag behind what would happen if there were no oceans. In 1980 a New York University group reported that “the influence of deep sea thermal storage could delay the full value of temperature increment predicted by equilibrium models by 10 to 20 years” just between 1980 and 2000 A.D. (2)

The delay would not be the same everywhere. After all, the Southern Hemisphere is mostly ocean, whereas land occupies a good part of the Northern Hemisphere. A model constructed by Stephen Schneider and Thompson, highly simplified in modern terms but sophisticated for its time, suggested that the Southern Hemisphere would experience delays decades longer than the Northern. Schneider and Thompson warned that if people compared observations with what would be expected from a simple equilibrium model, “we may still be misled… in the decade A.D. 2000-2010.” (3)

The pioneer climate modelers Kirk Bryan and Syukuro Manabe took up the question with a more detailed model that revealed an additional effect. In the Southern Ocean around Antarctica the mixing of water went deeper than in Northern waters, so more volumes of water were brought into play earlier. In their model, around Antarctica “there is no warming at the sea surface, and even a slight cooling over the 50-year duration of the experiment.” (4) In the twenty years since, computer models have improved by orders of magnitude, but they continue to show that Antarctica cannot be expected to warm up very significantly until long after the rest of the world’s climate is radically changed.

Bottom line: A cold Antarctica and Southern Ocean do not contradict our models of global warming. For a long time the models have predicted just that.

(1) National Academy of Sciences, Climate Research Board (1979). Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment (Jule Charney, Chair). Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.

(2) Martin I. Hoffert, et al. (1980) J. Geophysical Research 85: 6667-6679.

(3) Stephen H. Schneider and S.L. Thompson (1981) J. Geophysical Research 86: 3135-3147.

(4) Kirk Bryan et al. (1988). J. Physical Oceanography 18: 851-67. For the story overall see Syukuro Manabe and Ronald J. Stouffer (2007) Journal of the Meteorological Society of Japan 85B: 385-403.

449 Responses to “Antarctica is Cold? Yeah, We Knew That”

  1. 101
    Leon Palmer says:

    Regarding Roger Pielkes request for “What behavior of the climate system would contradict models of global warming? Specifically what behavior of what variables over what time scales?”

    The proffered lists do not distingish between AGW models and natural warming and include “evidences” that are more likely due to non-warming causes(e.g., tropical diseases and their vectors moving into temperate zones is more due to global air travel than global warming).

    Will the proffers please pare their lists down to just those items that are clearly pertient (e.g., stratsopheric vs tropospheric warming trends divergence)?

  2. 102
    Magnus says:

    Cobblyworlds (87): “I don’t know about that, GW wasn’t on my radar then, I was a sceptic until around 4 years ago. Currently (as per usual) it’s the denialists who’re trying to use one outlier to state a false case – GW stopped in 1998 a la Monckton et al.”

    My impression is that everything in the news papers can be described as a catastrophe due to GW. E.g. yesterday in the largest Swedish paper a new spieces of an insect in the southern of Sweden was extrapolated to mass extinction of “native” insects. I suggest we skip these childish accusations and discuss facts instead.

    Cobblyworlds: “The reason you can’t consider weather is that weather will not be the same even between different runs of the same model. If we had multiple earths then you’d find the same effect.”

    Okay, but I still say that in the weather has implications on the climate. Is it correct to describe your definition of climate as a statistical range for a “final state” (the model has a target, e.g. 2020-2029 or 2090-2099) of the global mean temperature? So if one target is totally fails in reality, we have to abandon the model. Right? There also has to be ways to check if the model is within *some* limits. Especially since the climate system is supposed to be kid of an unstable system.

    Back to “weather”:
    Rules in the models do count on weather phenomenon. E.g. you can’t deny that the present record snow layer on the northern hemisphere since 1966 change the aldebo which makes the earth cooler. This phenomenon interconnects with other phenomenon, and actually it also do that in the model. If the climate system is an unstable this is actually an NP problem of such a comlexity that it will not be able to solve; not at least since there is huge uncertainties on the temperature- or climate effects for many of the most important factors. In this respect — and in other respects due to the definition of a model — the reality can be seen as a large scale instance of a model and its set of rules.

    Any far-in-the-future-model with uncertainties about important factors is weak and useless, and here we have “big-time-uncertainties” for a great majority of the important factors:

    It’s well worth to mention, also, that IPCC and the models don’t include the cosmic ray cloud connection in the models despite Palle, Butler and O’Brian 2004 secured they are obvious on a 99.5 significance level (pdf):

    A powerful argument against the climate models is also that no one has yet succeeded in staying within the limits of the model, but totally failed on the development of the temperature in different areas (both for latitude and altitude). See comment 76.

    Cobblyworlds: “Needless to say I don’t accept that on the relevant timescales the projections are overshooting, that’s because I see no evidence for that, IMHO it’s too close to call right now. However the situation in the Arctic alone implies current projections will be more likely to undershoot for the northern hemisphere.”

    Okay. But I don’t agree with you, mostly because of the climate history. I posted an amswer for David B. Benson (#55) with the latest graph on climate history, but Real Climate seems to sensor it. It clearly shows that the global mean temperature in the last 1000 years has changed with higher speed than today as well as it has been warmer than today. Also the history for the Arctic region prove that people in the Medieval times lived in areas now covered by glaciers. The graph is Loehle’s (but I better not link it now; it might cause Real Climate to censor this comment).

  3. 103
    David B. Benson says:

    The map provided within

    shows that even the Southern Ocean has been impacted by human activities.

  4. 104
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Re #101

    Regarding Roger Pielkes request for “What behavior of the climate
    system would contradict models of global warming? Specifically what
    behavior of what variables over what time scales?”

    Well, that’s easy: the past, current and future observed behaviour :-) . Always will, for any model constructed by mere mortals. But, you only reject a model for a better model, one that does a better modelling job. Do you have one on offer?

  5. 105
    Dell says:

    Gavin: “Yes. These claims are ridiculous. There is so far nothing exceptional about this solar minimum.”

    Other than it is a year overdue, and some strange things going on with the solar magnetic fields as well as other factors. We are in uncharted territory, as far as this type of event happening with the current technology to monitor it.

    Gavin: “Depending on the composite TSI you look at it is either slightly below, slightly above or the same as the last solar minimum. No other index shows anything extraordinary. Plus the idea that there is some instant response of the whole planet to a tiny change in irradiance is silly.”

    While TSI fluctuates only slightly with solar cycles, it is particle radiation from solar flares, coronal holes, solar winds, Coronal Mass Ejections, etc, that fluctuates many fold with the solar cycle. These forms of radiation are what cause the Aurora, and many significant documented changes occur in Earth’s Ionosphere and Magnetosphere during periods of high solar actitivity compared to low solar activity. What effect this has on climate, has really not been studied much. We know that temps dropped significantly, at least in the northern high lattitudes, during the Maunder and Dalton Minimums. The fact that this particle radiation from the Sun is magnetically charged, and drawn towards the poles (as evidenced by the Aurora and other documented changes in the Ionosphere, might signify that whatever effect it were to have on Earth, would be more concentrated closer to the poles.

    Gavin: “And frankly, anyone who makes a climate trend statement based on the presence of a single large La Nina pattern is going to look rather foolish in 12 months time.”

    I’m glad to see that you agree that in 12 months time, we will better understand what is going on. However never in the past has a single La Nina event had such a huge sudden dramatic affect on entire global temps. While there might be a temperature redistribution, with some places warming, and others cooling, the net effect has never been so dramatic.

    It will be interesting as time will tell.

  6. 106
    rick says:

    Re #98
    Right on, Gavin.
    …and who the hell is saying the Winter in N America has been unusually cold??? I live in upstate NY, and most of Jan. 08 was way above normal, especially the overnight lows!

  7. 107
    Peter Thompson says:


    Actually you reject models if they’re wrong, period. You don’t need a better model to reject a bad one, you just say “I don’t know”. Take Hansen’s scenarios A & B, for example. They predict the greatest warming in the anarctic, the exact opposite of what actually happened. You don’t a better model to throw out that garbage, you just toss it.
    Spencer, you aren’t ncluding Hansen in we, are you?

    [Response: That’s exactly Spencer’s point. Models did improve once they had dynamic oceans (which the Hansen 1988 runs did not). And the predictions for the Antarctic dropped. But that happened a while back. – gavin]

  8. 108
    Patrick Hadley says:

    Re #104 “You only reject a model for a better model.” Really? Who made that rule?

    There have been various attempts to predict the future of the stock market based on computer models. If a model proves to be an unreliable guide for investors it is rejected based on its own failures, whether or not an alternative has been produced. In fact after losing money by following a poor model one is unlikely to use any model in future.

    It does not seem to be an unreasonable position to be sceptical of the whole idea of predicting the climate for 30 to 80 years into the future by climate modelling – or at any rate to ask for good evidence that the models work. Simply to ask for criteria by which to judge whether or not the models are working seems more than reasonable.

  9. 109
    lucia says:

    Models did improve once they had dynamic oceans (which the Hansen 1988 runs did not).
    Gavin, Could you clarify the definition of ‘dynamic ocean model’? Hansen 1988 et al (JGR vol 93, no D8) has a multilayer layer ocean model described in appendix A. It’s either 9 or 10 layers; diffusivity is discussed. (The paper point s to ‘paper 2’ for more details, but I haven’t read that.)

    But basically, what makes an ocean model ‘dynamic’?

    Is a dynamic ocean model different from an ocean model?

    [Response: The original Hansen model had a diffusive ocean. That is one step above a simple mixed layer (where you just have a heat capacity essentially), by including some vertical diffusion of heat into the deeper ocean. A dynamic ocean is one in which there are prognostic ocean currents, and the mixed layer depth is calculated as a function of the winds, stratification etc. You get a lot more physics with a dynamic ocean – changes in the stratification alter the mixing and therefore the heat uptake, You get changes in the thermohaline circulaltion, the possibility of ENSO-like variability, advective changes in sea ice etc. – gavin]

  10. 110
    Pascal says:


    I think that you might insist with, if possible, an article, concerning the correlation between this temporary “coldness” and the current strong La Niña.
    We had the same situation in 1999-2000-2001 (maybe 2006 but less).
    From an other side, what do you think about the slight negative trend of ENSO (nino3-4 SST anomaly) since three decades?
    Is it possible that global warming involves more ocean mixing (afterall La Niña is the consequence of more water upwelling from trade winds) or is it, for you, only the manifestation of the famous climate variability?

    [Response: Well, we did one on El Nino a year or so back – the content would be identical after a sign change. However, your question is interesting – is there an impact of radiative forcing on ENSO? There are some hints that for instance, big volcanic eruptions might lead to an increased incidence of El Nino the year after the eruption (Adams et al, 2003), and Mark Cane and others have suggested a La Nina-like response (in the long term mean) for increased GHGs. That isn’t particularly relevant for one exceptional event like this one though. It is still very much an open question what impacts (if any) there will be on ENSO frequency and/or intensity. – gavin]

  11. 111
    Rick Brown says:

    Re: #100 Tom Mckissic: “Re #97 According to the Oceanic Niño Index as published by the NOAA it has been 6 years since the last La Nina event . . .”

    NOAA February 11, 2008:

    • Strong La Niña conditions are now present across the tropical Pacific Ocean.
    • Equatorial SSTs in the Pacific Ocean remain below average from west of the Date Line eastward to 100ºW.
    • Recent equatorial Pacific SST trends and model forecasts indicate La Niña will continue through the Northern Hemisphere Spring 2008.
    • Thereafter, there is considerable spread in the models, with approximately one-half indicating La Niña could continue well into the Northern Hemisphere summer.


    ScienceDaily (Feb. 11, 2008) — The current La Niña event, characterized by a cooling of the sea surface in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific, has strengthened slightly in recent months and is expected to continue through the first quarter of 2008, with a likelihood of persisting through to the middle of the year.
    The ongoing La Niña event started in the third quarter of 2007 and has already influenced climate patterns during the last six months across many parts of the globe . . .

  12. 112
    Ray Ladbury says:

    There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about falsification/verification of theories and rejection/replacement of models. If you have a theory that gives a definitive prediction of an event, and that event does not occur, then that model is falsified. However, most models give statistical predictions, and statistical tools for model verification are mostly comparative–it’s a question of which model is more likely to have produced the result. In classical frequentist statistics this manifests in terms of comparison between a hypothesis and a null hypothesis. The likelihood ratio is another tool, as are comparisons between the Bayesian prior and posterior distribution.
    In the case of climate models, you really don’t have a credible rival to models that feature a significant CO2 sensitivity. This sensitivity is constrained by multiple, independent lines of evidence, so if the sensitivity in the models were to be wrong, ALL of these other data would cease to make sense and have to be reinterpreted. Much more likely would be a hard look at other forcers–especially aerosols, clouds, etc. So if the predictions of models started to be drastically different from reality over an extended period of time, the models would likely be modified slightly, with little change in CO2 forcing. In this sense the situation is very close to that of evolution.

  13. 113
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Another little something to consider in future models:

    Ocean dead zones off Oregon coast “not normal,” scientists find
    By Sandi Doughton
    Seattle Times science reporter

    Dead zones off Oregon’s coast that have threatened sea life for the past six summers are unprecedented in the historical record, say scientists at Oregon State University (OSU).

    The researchers combed through more than 50 years of ocean data to see if the extremely low oxygen levels measured recently also occurred in the past.

    “The answer was no,” said OSU marine ecologist Francis Chan, lead author of a report published in today’s issue of the journal Science. “It’s not normal to have oxygen levels this low and this close to shore.”

    In 2006, the dead zone spread over 1,000 square miles. Oxygen levels plummeted to zero in some places. Using a remotely-operated submersible, Chan and his colleagues took pictures and video that showed a wasteland littered with dead crabs.

    When he revisited the areas the following year, some species had returned, but the diversity of invertebrates remained low.

    “We used to see seven species of starfish on the reefs,” Chan said. “Now we saw one or two.”

    While it’s impossible to link any one event to global climate change, the researchers say the dead zones are caused by wind shifts of the type expected as the planet’s temperature rises.

    “In this part of the marine environment, we may have crossed a tipping point,” said OSU marine biologist Jane Lubchenco.

  14. 114
    dhogaza says:

    E.g. yesterday in the largest Swedish paper a new spieces of an insect in the southern of Sweden was extrapolated to mass extinction of “native” insects. I suggest we skip these childish accusations

    What is childish about this? The introduction of a single european species of bird – house sparrow – nearly wiped out western bluebirds throughout much of their range on the west coast of the US, with much of the remaining population being maintained through active intervention (artificial nest boxes patrolled by volunteers who kick out intruding house sparrows).

    Starlings have nearly wiped out Lewis’ woodpecker in much of its range in the western US.

    Introduced fish, many escapees from tropical fish farms that raise fish for hobbyists, have wreaked havoc on florida freshwater ecosystems.

    There’s nothing “childish” about concerns such as the one you’ve brought up. Though your making the claim does help one decide whether or not your posts about AGW are credible…

  15. 115
    S. Molnar says:

    Speaking of the ridiculous, it took me a few seconds to realize spilgard’s comment #93 is satire. With some of our more colorful commenters engaging in what appears to be self-parody, the bar for effective satire is being raised.

  16. 116
    lucia says:

    Thanks Gavin– I thought that must be the distinction since I saw only turbulent diffusion discussed.

    and who the hell is saying the Winter in N America has been unusually cold???
    I am. Near Chicago. I hate La Nina in winter. I shovel snow the low-carbon foot-print way: manually. So, this weather makes me want to move back to El Salvador.

  17. 117
    steven mosher says:

    re 112:

    “There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about falsification/verification of theories and rejection/replacement of models. If you have a theory that gives a definitive prediction of an event, and that event does not occur, then that model is falsified”

    No its not. The observation data can always be tweaked.
    See gavin’s comments on adjusting or correcting data to fit models. This is SOP. If a Theory is useful, data can always be tweaked to match the theory. All data is theory laden anyways.

    The best thing to do is dozens and dozens of predictions. Then focus on those that come true.
    When people ask about the other predictions that are not so close, then say “we are refining our understanding”

    [Response: BS. The data are being adjusted because they were found to be flawed. The corrections will be made based on understandings of those flaws, not on some aspiration to match the models. When CLIMAP was redone to produce MARGO (look it up) – it was a better fit to the models, but the corrections were all made on the basis of flaws within the original methodology. When the UAH error was found, it improved the match to the models, but it was based on correcting their coding. I could go on, but what’s the point? – gavin]

  18. 118
    per says:

    Re 111

    Why does not la nina forecasts mention anything about the cold currents that feed the La Nina phenomenon from below. Something like: Since global warming will put the global conveyor belt into overdrive and increase the supply of cold fresh antarctic water, La Nina is here to stay.

  19. 119
    Magnus says:

    dhogaza (114): “What is childish about this? The introduction of a single european species of bird – house sparrow – nearly wiped out western bluebirds throughout much of their range on the west coast of the US, with much of the remaining population being maintained through active intervention (artificial nest boxes patrolled by volunteers who kick out intruding house sparrows).”

    I agree! The childish thing is not this in particular, but the discussion which side in the AGW-debate that uses different phenomenon in nature to defend their claims.

    Let me here say that an analysis of the sea bottom in southern Sweden (the baltic Sea) showed that in the last 1000 years it had been many tropical insects in southern Sweden which no one expect to be there now, not even if the temperature rise half a degere or something. The temperature hars varied so mmuch in history that the current climate change is not an extraordinary event. For instance check out the Loehle global mean temperature recoonstruction, here at World Climate Report:

    dhogaza: “Starlings have nearly wiped out Lewis’ woodpecker in much of its range in the western US.”

    But have they moved or falled down drop dead? We always have local (and global) climate changes and spieces that moves. (I dislike studies which use the definition “locally extinguished” spieces. These are not faire, but they has been input to studies on threaten animal spieces due to AGW. If there’s a local decrease and no one is sure where the animals has moved the number of moved animals is considered to be extinguished.)

    I know very well that new introduced spieces can cause a catastrophe for the native spieces. Tell the Swedish crayfish (outboosted by Yankee crayfish :-( ).

    dhogaza: “There’s nothing “childish” about concerns such as the one you’ve brought up. Though your making the claim does help one decide whether or not your posts about AGW are credible…”

    I didn’t make a claim that having these concerns are childish. Please, öearn to read! I said that it was no idea to be alarmistic about either El Nino or La Nina. I havn’t been that, but I suggested… well, it was a little war about who was most alarmistic, and then i mentioned that the news paper say all problems (or even all changes) is a catastrophe due to GW. But let us not discuss what pro- and anti-AGW claims about these phenomenon here, I said. That is only childish in this forum, I think.

    Got it?

  20. 120
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steven Mosher, Wow, what color is the sky on your planet? Do you realize that you have just accused the entire scientific community of fraud? Have you ever even met a scientist? Has it really gotten to the point where denialists can only offer paranoia and delusion?

  21. 121
    Amateur thinker says:

    Is there any good reason to think that La nina conditions might become stronger as more heat is incorporated into Earth`s climate? Are the cool and warm phases related to a response towards climate equilibrium?

    I know wiki probably isn’t a very good resource, at least not for those in the field, but the article on El nino there states that a La nina or El nino is any time when the temperature anomaly is +/- 0.5°C. So I guess my question is, does the current departure from the temperature anomaly a year ago(-0.6 was it?) fall within natural variability?

  22. 122

    RC staff: Are you saying that the ice on Antarctica will not postpone our doom? Will we have H2S bubbling out of the tropical ocean killing everybody while a glacier remains on Antarctica? I have already concluded that moving north is useless as a survival move, but would lower my air conditioning bill. I think you are saying that the earth is WAY out of equilibrium. Equilibrium thermodynamics does not come close to applying due to the speed of AGW, complicating the problem beyond human ability to cope.

    102 Magnus and others: 1. Don’t believe stuff posted by coal companies on “front” web sites. Get a degree in Physics so that you can tell who the fakes are, and so that you will be able to understand what this is all about.
    2. Live longer or study history better before you comment on the past. I have seen and experienced significant GW in my 61 years. I know of even more significant GW in the past 150 years. Again, any fool and liar can post nonsense on the Internet. RC is different because RC people are real scientists from whom you should be taking lessons. Science is about reality. Science is NOT a social construct.

    Ocean dead zone: That scares me. Read “Under a Green Sky” by Peter D. Ward. If the description of the End-Triassic on pages 138 – 140 doesn’t terrify you, WHAT are you? We don’t want to stop GW Global Warming for our amusement. We want to stop GW for the salvation of our species. We want to prevent the extinction of Homo Sap. This is not a joke. Our species’ survival is in serious jeopardy. Homo Sap is on the endangered list.

  23. 123

    Re #170

    Peter, “tossing” means reverting to one of those primitive, implicit “models” I was referring to: “nah, the climate won’t change”. Whether you want to call it that or not, that’s a model. A very poor one at that, ignoring essential physics and incapable of producing credible uncertainty metrics, to just give two of the more obvious flaws. Not one you want to base policy on.

  24. 124
    Jim Cripwell says:

    I dont know how many people on RC read Benny Peiser’s CCNet, but I hope to get some enlightenment from this latest effort.
    This is from The Standard in Hong Kong, and the headline is “Global warming blamed for unusual cold spell”. The article goes on “As Hong Kong shivers through its second-longest cold spell since 1885, scientists point to global warming to explain the abnormal cold weather phenomenon worldwide.” Unfortunately the reporter does not give the science behind this unusual phenomon. Can anyone explain to me how global warming made Hong KOng so unusually cold this winter?

    [Response: Unfortunately, there will always be people found to say silly things. That’s why you shouldn’t get your science from the back of cereal boxes or most of the mass media. Pop attributions of every last weather event have as much to do with science as a guy in bar watching the game has to do with professional sports. – gavin]

  25. 125

    About falsification, there is this general misconception that any theory, including well-established ones, can be overthrown by just one observation that is in conflict with it. But that is not how it works.

    Falsifiability is an important property of a theory that calls itself scientific. Few people are aware that even Newton’s theory of gravitation once suffered the fate of being falsified! When Newton realized for the first time that the same force that makes apples fall in Cambridge, also curves the Moon’s orbit around the Earth, he tried to calculate this force using the assumption of inverse-square distance behaviour. The serious mismatch he found made him keep the results to himself for many years — until a new radius of the Earth became available that removed the discrepancy.

    The inverse-square law itself follows inevitably from the Keplerian laws of planetary motion if one tries to model these mechanically. The centrality of the force causes the “law of areas” (conservation of angular momentum) to hold; the ellipticity of the orbit, with the Sun in one of the foci, as well as the Third Law, the relationship between periods and semi-major axes, follow from the inverse-square property. (And the Third Law still asserts that all this holds in the same way for different planets, possibly made of different materials.)

    Now, in Newton’s days, people still preferred to model planetary motion by them being carried around the Sun by eddies in a world aether; “action at a distance” was considered weird. So it isn’t really surprising that Newton wasn’t comfortable about his discrepancy. This is how it works for theories that aren’t well established, for which the scientific debate is still ongoing. However, as a theory becomes established and backed by a vast body of observational evidence, this changes. Now falsification requires not only one contradictory observation, but somehow explaining away this whole pre-existing body (or meta-body of multiple, methodologically separate, interlinking bodies) of evidence. For “textbook science”, like Newton’s gravitation, but also Darwin’s theory of evolution, and in fact the theory of anthropogenic climate change through heat radiation trapping by atmospheric gases, that’s a tall order — but then, it wouldn’t have become textbook science if it were easy.

    What happens today, and has for quite some time, if an apparent discrepancy is found, is that some influence is hypothesised that we are not aware of, the attraction of an invisible companion body, or “dark star”; and then its orbit and mass are computed. Sometimes, as in the case of Neptune or Sirius B, such a body is actually found. But even if it is not, Newton’s theory is not seriously in question. This has worked very well — with one famous exception.

    There is a way to look at gravitation which differs from the “action at a distance” viewpoint: it is the notion of a “field”, a property of empty space propagating from point to point. This is the way it is done in electromagnetism, Maxwell’s equations. In 1915, Einstein proposed an alternative field theory in which the field consists of the curvature tensor of a four-dimensional, intrinsically curved space-time continuum. As the responsible scientist he was, Einstein’s first exercise was to derive the weak-field approximation of his theory, to verify that it corresponded to Newton’s theory, and to derive the proper value for his field constant, inevitably containing Newton’s G. Thus, Einstein’s field theory remained backward compatible with the vast body of pre-existing material — but in addition managed to explain naturally the anomalous motion of Mercury, that had had astronomers head-scratching for quite a while by then.

    This is how scientific revolutions are made: you don’t throw the old away, you build on it. And you only falsify a theory in favour of a better theory, not in favour of “nothing” — usually designating the prejudices of the day.

    Having looked again at Dr Weart’s historical material I am impressed in the same melancholic fashion that one listens to Mozart: vaguely sad at not ever personally being capable of matching performance, yet immensely proud, in spite of everything, of belonging to the self-same human species and tree of life. Great stuff.

  26. 126

    Re #108

    Patrick, “not using a model” means for you “not using a computer model”, right? Your intuition plus informal analysis skills form a model too, you know… just not a very explicit one. On the stock market it may well be the better model, as there is no physics involved, just learning from past experience in a messy reality. The human brain is pretty good at that.

  27. 127
    Cobblyworlds says:

    #102 Magnus,

    As was the case with the supposed Ice Age claims in the 1970s, the issue is whether the issue is represented in the primary peer reviewed scientific literature, not whether journalists create an issue.

    The fact remains Weather is NOT Climate.

    Of course weather processes create climate. But weather is connected with short term variance. Climate is the emergent order on long-term scales (according to the WMO – 30 years). This may help you understand: notably the part entitled “Order and Chaos in the same system”, although the whole page bears studying (ideally with a spreadsheet to hand – lots of ideas to play with). A good example of the weather/climate issue was last year’s Arctic Melt, as explained on the NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News Fall 2007. Here a weather event lead to the reduction of the ice, it’s only because the ice-cap has a “memory” by virtue of it’s physical nature that such a weather event can have long term consequences. Normally a spell of hot dry weather, such as in Europe 2003 does not have long-term climatological consequence by itself.

    Strictly speaking I suppose we’d need to wait until 2030 to see if any post 2000 weather trends actually become climate trends. However when I look at the droughts in the Mediterranean and Australia with regards IPCC projections, I am forced to accept that these seem to be the start of the projected changes. There are numerous other such examples, and my working assumption is that we are seeing the start of key projected changes. As with the media it must be kept clear, what the science shows and what an individual’s opinion is.

    As for model usefulness in projecting change: Last night I was playing around comparing the GISS dataset mapping page with the Model E transient simulation page.
    Model E page
    GISS dataset page:
    Impressive agreement in temperature even over short periods like 2000-2007 – watch out for the differnces in scale.

    I use models in electronics. For a DC signal I can use a very simple model, with AC I use more complex models, as the frequency components of an AC signal go up into the GHz region I even have to treat my printed circuit board tracks as waveguides. This does not mean I have 3 model regimes that are wrong. It means I have 3 model regimes that demand I understand them enough to apply the appropriate caveats. Where information is not available I sometimes must do my best to model with what I have, that does not mean I cannot say things with some confidence about the future, it means what I can say is qualified by caveats, they are a crucial part of the message. Likewise when a climate model projects to 2100 it has to be born in mind that the projection is based on the assumed forcings provided, it is not a map of the territory, more like a set of directions. If people do not bear that in mind it is their fault, not the fault of the modelling community!

    Loehle’s paper was printed in Energy and Environment (a publication which has a very poor track record), there’s a copy here…
    As I am not a professional climatologist I tend to discount E&E publications as a matter of course, unless I see that they are used favourably by scientists who are not in the tiny clique of denialist favourites (don’t think I’ve seen that yet). Furthermore “Loehle” is an outlier when compared to the numerous other studies, and Realclimate examines that study here:

    Was the MWP warmer than now? I suspect not from the paper’s I’ve read (including the RC post above), but in truth I don’t really care. We’ve only gone through around 1/10 of the available fossil fuels. It’s a bit like someone saying “I’ve drunk a bottle of Vodka a day for the last week and I’m not dead yet – the doctors are wrong”. All they need to do is carry on in that manner and they’ll see that the doctors are correct.

    Either way, with the current situation in the Arctic we’ll soon see – do you have evidence of a seasonally ice free arctic in the middle ages? ;)

    By the way, as is repeatedly stated here: Cosmic Rays – no trend, so how could they be involved in the warming since the 1970s???

  28. 128
    Tom Mckissic says:

    Re #111 Rick – Pages 25 and 26 of your first link contain the data to which I was referring. The SST data I referenced from:

    The point being there has been a 7 year downward trend in SST even during a period when the conditions should be supporting warming. I don’t propose to understand the reasons or have any prediction for the future. I simply pointed out there are conditions outside of the recent La Nina which merit questioning without ridicule.

  29. 129
    steven mosher says:

    re 120 ray I think you read too much into my comment. Just for the record, it is getting warmer, and AGW is the best explaination of that.

  30. 130

    Re 129 where steven mosher Says:

    “ray I think you read too much into my comment. Just for the record, it is getting warmer, and AGW is the best explaination of that.”

    Yes, I agree with steven but, ray, that does not mean that the models are correct. The are using the wrong paradigm. The problems is that the scientsts will fight tooth and nail to preserve an old paradigm rather than accept a new one.

    Gavin admitted yet another failure by the models where they have a double ITCZ. (I had already noticed that the Hadley model used in the project had no ITCZ!) Add that to the tropical lapse rate problem, the energy balance closure problem, problems with modeling the atmospheres of Venus and Mars, the “low gradient” problem, the length and amount of PETM warmth, the impossibly high levels of CO2 needed for the exit from Snowball Earth and for early protozoic life.

    The sceptics have explained away each succeeding weather catastrophe, and argue that AGW is not happening. Katrina and New Orleans or the French heat wave are good examples. The scientists do the same when their models are attacked, treating each problem as a small inconsistency rather than seeing them together as due to a fundamental flaw.

    But I am wasting my time preaching to the unconvertable. :-(
    To paraphrase Max Planck “Old theories never die, only the professors who teach them.” :-)

  31. 131
    Dan says:

    re: 128. According to that data set, there has not been a negative anomaly since 1976.

  32. 132
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 129. Steve, given the amount of hysteria that precipitates from the denialosphere, satire is redundant.

  33. 133
    Jack Roesler says:

    After watching “Dimming the Sun”, in which Dr. James Hansen revealed the amazing information that aerosols and particulate pollution are blocking significant amounts of incoming sunlight, I wonder if the figures he quoted are incorporated into the climate models discussed here?

  34. 134
    Lawrence Brown says:

    “One swallow does not make a summer.” said Aristotle. His Earth-centric theory of astronomy was wrong but he’s on the mark with this comment both regarding seasonal change and certainly as far as climate is concerned. One very cold winter in China or one cold January throughout our planet doesn’t make for climate change.
    As has been stated many times before in this site, the key is to look at trends over decades and even centuries.

  35. 135
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Thanks to CobblyWorlds for the thoughtful post in 127. One quibble: it’s more likely that we’ve gone through about half of the world’s cheap fossil fuels. See, for example, today’s post at The Oil Drum:

    World Oil Forecasts Including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE – Update Feb 2008

    World total liquids production (Fig 1) remains on a peak plateau since 2006 and is forecast to fall off this peak plateau in 2009. Increasing numbers of oil experts are forecasting impending peak production plateaus. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the current peak production of 87.2 mbd occurred on January 2008. As long as demand continues increasing then prices will continue increasing.

  36. 136
    dhogaza says:

    re 120 ray I think you read too much into my comment. Just for the record, it is getting warmer, and AGW is the best explaination of that.


    Your statement about data being tweaked to fit models is, as Gavin said, BS. For a self-proclaimed expert climate auditor, you should know htis. If true, the implication would be just as Ray read it … scientific misconduct.

    Given your frequent accusations of this sort, I think people can be forgiven for assuming you meant exactly what you said in your comment.

  37. 137
    Kurt Cagle says:

    RE # 128 Tom

    Unbelievable. How many times does this type of comment have to be responded to? The point being is that there has NOT been a 7 year downward trend in SST. You cannot cherry-pick a starting point or short term period and say anything meaningful about GW. GW is a long-term event. From that same data, you could say that it warmed from ’99/’00 thru ’05/’06. In fact, ’03,’05 and ’06, next to 1998, have the three highest temp anomalies in that entire record. Unbelievable. Do a regression analysis on the last 30 – 50 years.

  38. 138
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 117
    Steven, you claimed fraud.
    Why? This isn’t a trivial accusation you make.

  39. 139
    tom says:

    “We want to stop GW for the salvation of our species. We want to prevent the extinction of Homo Sap. This is not a joke. Our species’ survival is in serious jeopardy. Homo Sap is on the endangered list.”

    FCOL, no we aren’t, and it never will be, from global warming. At the very worst, the extremely unlikely catastrophic scenarios would kill lareg amounts of people which would, ipso facto, mitigate carbon emissions.
    Nobody’s interests are served by such irrational, illogical statements.

  40. 140
    Walt Bennett says:

    If I missed this point in the above 129 comments, please excuse me. I did my best to read them all.

    My question regards the step-down in SH oceanic anomaly as expressed in the NOAA data. Since the 1998 peak, there have been two distinct step-downs, including the current one. My eyes tell me that this means the surface layer is losing heat.

    Where has it gone? Was it dispersed back into the atmosphere? Was it circulated into deeper water?

    If the heat has been transferred to deeper layers, how well stored is it? Is it “permanently” removed from the climate cycle, or are there circumstances where it would re-heat the upper layer and eventually warm the atmosphere?

  41. 141
    Gareth says:

    Jim Cripwell at #124:

    Can anyone explain to me how global warming made Hong KOng so unusually cold this winter?

    With all due deference to Gavin, it is at least plausible to connect the weather patterns that have created the unusual Asian cold spell with the effects of global warming. Take a look at the NCDC’s climate summary for January, and then look at the plot of temperature anomalies in the global discussion here. Then look at the plot of 500mb height anomalies here.

    Basically, the cold pool of air over central Asia lies to the south east of a major warm anomaly over northwestern Eurasia. A warm Arctic is having its impacts on northern hemisphere weather patterns. In this case, it’s possible to argue that the climate signal is being seen in the synoptics. Stu Ostro at the Weather Channel has focussed on the 500mb anomalies as a signal of warming’s impact on weather patterns. His most recent post on the subject is here.

  42. 142
    Aaron Lewis says:

    RE 106
    A cold winter in North America? In my part of California, we did have many more “fruit chill hours” than in many previous years, but this was the first year since John Muir started keeping his diary, that a native daffodil could bloom through January. They tried in 2005, but suffered frost damage on several nights.

    Fruit tree bloom is a day or two behind what I expected from bud swell, but still 6 standard deviations ahead of my 1997-2000 baseline. As of today, the warm weather that integrates into global warming persists at a 6-sigma level of confidence.

    They grow fruit in Colorado. People should get out of the office, observe nature, and talk to their neighbors.

    I would bet that now, one can grow peaches in Boulder, Colorado. That was not possible when I was a kid in Boulder. The flip side of that wager is that I would also bet that some native species have disapeared from the NCAR campus.

  43. 143
    Docmartyn says:

    Why do you keep using the term “equilibrium” when what you are attempting to describe is a steady state?
    Do you actually know the difference between a steady state and an equilibrium, and why they are very different?

  44. 144
    Eli Rabett says:

    Cobblyworlds (#127) is right. All science can be described as a set of nested models. On the outside are the simplest ones that are the most useful for learning and basic understanding but have the most exceptions. On the inside the models are complex, full of detail, offering insights to an expert who has worked through the subject over years. Those models have the fewest exceptions. OTOH, the complex models are a stupid trap for the naive and foolhardy especially the know it alls.

  45. 145
    Walt Bennett says:

    Pursuant to my question above, while researching the source for the measured increase in ocean heat content from 1993 to 2003 (the supposed “smoking gun”, naturally buried behind a subscription), I came across a paper titled “Correction to “Recent Cooling of the Upper Ocean” which stated:

    Most of the rapid decrease in globally integrated upper (0–750 m) ocean heat content anomalies (OHCA) between 2003 and 2005 reported by Lyman et al. [2006] appears to be an artifact resulting from the combination of two different instrument biases recently discovered in the in situ profile data. Although Lyman et al. [2006] carefully estimated sampling errors, they did not investigate potential biases among different instrument types. One such bias has been identified in a subset of Argo float profiles. This error will ultimately be corrected. However, until corrections have been made these data can be easily excluded from OHCA estimates (see for more details). Another bias was caused by eXpendable BathyThermograph (XBT) data that are systematically warm compared to other instruments [Gouretski and Koltermann, 2007]. Both biases appear to have contributed equally to the spurious cooling.

    This brings to light a question that I have: after recovering from the plunge following the 1998 spike, southern hemisphere ocean temperatures as reported by NOAA plunged again in 2003, before falling sharply again in 2005. My question is, are there any bias problems in that record? The Lyman correction seems to reveal such potential in the year to year record.

    Does anybody know if this has been addressed?

  46. 146
    zualufg says:

    Could someone please commment on the recent findings that infer that volcanic activity could also be a factor in the warming of the Southern Oceans:

  47. 147
    Rod B says:

    re Martin, Hank, et al (78, 84, 95 et al), thanks for your help. I’m trying to educate myself on ocean flow and such, but in the meantime I still have some follow-up questions about the whole process which relates to the cooling of the Antarctic and warming of the Arctic, as I gather.

    Solar radiation would seem not to be involved since that would not increase as a result from global/atmospheric warming. Solar incidence on the sea would be constant (other than insignificant changes due to changing cloud albedo maybe) no matter what global warming might or might not be doing. Am I correct here?

    It doesn’t seem that the dispersion of dissolved or chemically attached oxygen has the same mechanism as heat transport. Oxygen dissolved at the surface would, for the most part, simply migrate per standard chemical migration/diffusion. Heat is limited by its tendency to rise, not drop, and by the strange thermocline. Even if the heat/temp disperses downward (there would be a tendency to do this also, contrary to the heat rising thing, in the heat flow from higher temps to lower temps along with general stirring/mixing) there is this funny barrier around 100 meters that inhibits further heat/temp migration.

    The basic upwelling, downwelling and lateral currents are not a local phenomena but occur with close to ocean wide patterns. There does seem to be tendency for the thermohaline circulation to deliver warmer surface waters in the north and cooler surface waters in the south, at least with the Atlantic “pole-to-pole”-like meridonal loop. (Though there are significant warmer surface streams hitting Antarctica from the Pacific.) Is this the fundemental process behind this thread? A difficulty or two: Thermohaline circulation is still not well understood and modeled, with knowledge and modelling of northern/arctic waters better than southern oceans. All of this seems to make the conclusions described in this thread tentative if not tenuous. Any comments or insights?

  48. 148
    Jifferdale says:

    Yes, this has been done before, and yes, it will be done again. But I’m trying to support this petition to Congress assuaging them to act now.

    We need effective legislation; we can’t do this on our own. Big business will never conform to what is right without laws telling them to do so.

    So please, sign my petition. Cliche? Maybe. But it only takes a minute of your time. It’s not much. But it’s something.

  49. 149
    P. Lewis says:

    Re Tom Mckissic

    Tom, might I suggest you plot the data you link to in your favourite spreadsheet (say from 1970 to 2007 — a few years either way isn’t going to change anything much), calculate the overall trend for that 38-year period and then calculate how many complete 7-year periods in that that 38-year period have either negative or zero trends (never mind for now whether the latter are statistically significant or not).

    I make the trend over that 38-year period to be about +0.1°C per decade (r ~ 0.9). And I make it eight 7-year periods of negative or nominally zero trends (to 2 or 3 DP) in that 38-year period.

    Does this suggest anything to you about whether or not in this instance it’s a good idea to form an opinion on the basis of the latest 7-year period? It certainly doesn’t to me.

    It’s the first time for this 38-year period that the anomaly value has dropped below that calculated trend line in 6 years. And even if this current year’s value were to remain below the trend line (which indeed it might if La Nina persists through to late in the year), things would not change much.

  50. 150
    Ray Ladbury says:

    zualufg, Nowhere in the account do I see any indication that they posit that any significant amount of ice, continent wide, is or has been affected. Volcanos have huge effects locally, but they remain local unless they launch a lot of sulfates high into the atmosphere. So, while this is interesting geologically, it does not pertain to climate change.