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Impressions from the European Geophysical Union conference 2008

Filed under: — rasmus @ 22 April 2008

Vienna Last week, the European Geophysical Union held its annual general assembly, with thousands of geophysicists converging on the city of Vienna, Austria. It was time to take the pulse of the geophysical community.

When registering at the conference, we got a packet called ‘Planet Earth; Directions for Use’. As far as I know, this is a new feature apparently offered by the EGU. The box says ‘EGU cares…’ and it contains 4 sheets: Biosphere, Hydrosphere, Litho- and Pedosphere, and the Atmosphere. The Biosphere sheet is concerned about the biodiversity, the hydropshere discusses water shortage and loss of marshland issues, the litho- & pedosphere mentions the fact that fossil fuels are finite and soil erosion, and the atmosphere discusses AGW.

Of course this is a gimmick, and perhaps it is even aimed at the wrong target group. These issues are more or less taken as given by the majority of the EGU community by now, it seems. It’s more pressing, however, that the rest of the world population understand the problems.

Actually, it was refreshing arriving at the harbor of sanity in the EGU meeting, after the the insane climate-change debate circus in Norway at the moment – lead by a number of academics who start to look more and more like crack pots, and a right-wing populist political party taking after Inhofe.

Vienna conference centerWhat were the highlights? It’s impossible to cover everything, and I only sampled some talks which are most relevant to my own work. But one important talk was about setting the global climate models’ initial state (ocean) to describe the current climate. The intention was to capture subsequent slow natural variations (decadal variation) associated with the thermohaline circulation (THC, not to be confused with other meanings according to a recent article in Eos: VOLUME 89 NUMBER 11 11 March 2008).

Apparently, if the global climate model is initialized with the current state, then the global mean temperature may not rise much over the next decade or so, and then suddenly bounce up and converge with the current scenarios. But some critiques argue that forcing models to have a prescribed state, will trow them off balance, and that the model will try to recover its balance for the next few model years.

Another presentation discussed the possibility for slow climatic variations to be predicted 10 years in advance (potential decadal predictability), and concluded that there is a potential for over the North Atlantic regions – associated with the THC. But an increasing AGW may destroy this possibility, as the predictability reduces when the world gets warmer.

There are some interesting and newish data coming of age: radio occultation. This involves measuring the bending of GPS signal through the atmospheric limb, as measured between different satellites. The atmospheric temperature and humidity affect radio signals refractive index. But there is only short data series (~10 years), but so far the temperature trends are consistent with the models for similar intervals. But these are independent to the satellite MSU data, and do not suffer in the same way from differences between satellite instruments, etc.

My personal favourite this time was a talk on ‘recurrence based transition analysis’. The presentation was subtly slick and so nicely executed that it can only be done on a Mac. The talk was very clear, no excess number of words, and to the point.

There were many good talks, but some common mistakes. Well, at least I’m a bit slow when having attended a few dozen presentations, so presenters speaking fast or too crowded Powerpoint slides risk losing me. There is supposed to be a golden rule called ‘Seven by seven’: no more than seven bullet points, consisting of no more than 7 words! And one should speak slowly and repeat the important points.

So what did people talk about? What was ‘The buzz-word’? There was no obvious paradigm shift, and I didn’t catch one single theme that was the vogue of the day, but there were some issues that kept popping up: decadal predictability, cryosphere and the polar regions, model ensembles and probabilities, regional modelling and extremes.

What I find striking with such monster conferences is the sheer scale of diversity in terms of geo-subjects that people study. There were rows upon rows of posters in several large rooms, in addition to the talks.

There seems to be a great secret of Powerpointerism: the programmers at Microsoft designed a right mouse click option to show a presentation straight away without showing the subsequent page. There is a systematic neglect of this functionality, so that the Microsoft guys must have implemented this one in vain.

The best quote that i heard on this conference was: ‘A trend is a trend is a trend …’. In other words, there is no definite definition of a trend, at least not to statisticians who like to use more complex lagged correlation models. Something to bear in mind for those who fit linear lines to data points – in order to study trends – and then use the goodness of fit to say whether the trend is ‘significant’ or not.

Another bad habit is showing latitudinal profiles of zonal mean values as if the points at high latitudes are equal to those near the equator. What they really compare are oranges and apples, as the low latitude zonal means involve higher degrees of freedom than at high latitudes. I have explained this in more technical details in a GRL article from 2005, but such graphs can be found even the latest IPCC report. Though it may be a minor point, it makes models look worse than they actually are, as part of the spread towards the poles can be attributed increasing statistical fluctuations when the number of degrees becomes less. Thus, the results would stand stronger taking this aspect into account.

I was pleased to hear that some colleagues in the German weather service sometimes use RealClimate for inspiration to their monthly seminars. What was more unexpected, however, was being met with a slide showing ‘Naturally Trendy?‘ on a session that I had been invited to give a talk.

Furthermore, it turned out that Cohn and Koutsoyiannis, one of them the author of the very paper that I had criticized, sat down next to me. We nevertheless had a very civilized and friendly chat, deciding to disagree on the matter of natural trends.

But Dr. Koutsoyiannis commended us for being respectful in our reply to his comments. I think this is a very important issue – we have to be respectful, sincere, and show courtesy in our criticism, even when we argue why we think that a paper has flaws. This brings us back to the discussion on blogs and journals.

I think that we have built up a reputation only because we deliver relevant quality analysis. We are very much aware that we some day may be mistaken, so it’s important to be humble and check our drafts amongst ourselves. But when a question was asked about the importance of blogs like RealClimate in the session, the answer was that they were good entertainment.

Vienna is a pleasant city with many pretty sights. The only annoying thing is that one often has to breathe in local pollution from the next table when dining in restaurants. Austria is one of the few western European countries that has not introduced a smoking ban in restaurants it seems.


75 Responses to “Impressions from the European Geophysical Union conference 2008”

  1. 51
    Rod B says:

    Dan (37), the comments, all relating to the March 2008 increase, I was referring to are, e.g., Hank’s (quoting others) “… It must be noted that if the warming trend of 2008 continues for another 20 years, the oceans will boil….” And from his source’s source – the March anomaly was a staggering +0.67°C……. At this rate I’m afraid, we have only a couple of decades before the Earth becomes another Venus.”, quoting a “NASA scientist” [emphasis theirs]. Others predicting massive increases in violent storms and tornadoes (again derived from 3/08). SecularAnimist says, “…Who says that temperatures aren’t currently rising?…. Last month was the warmest March on record over land surfaces… Sounds pretty warm to me… ”

    Sounds like trumpeting one month to me. Though in a closer reading of your post, you didn’t as I first perceived. I was wrong. Sorry. BTW, I cite Hank and SecularA- only because they are right next door in this thread, not to single them out — both are respected posters here.

    I don’t recall special skeptic clamoring over the Jan08 drop, but then I wasn’t paying much attention either. There was a bunch of questioning of the entire year of 2007 (now including Jan08), which I think is proper and valid. And all those trumpeting Mar08, such as above and numerous others (though not you) were the ones flipping 2007 questions off with a fast wave , pooh-poohing as it were.

    I’m not sticking up for anyone abusing statistics. I am pointing out that the skeptics have nowhere near a monopoly on it, as you imply.

  2. 52
    Rod B says:

    pough (41), so you are saying, “they was just joshin’ “??

    I agree with you that 15 yrs. is probably the bare minimum for looking for trends in climate science. I don’t support anyone making earth shattering pronouncements with less. But, given the uncertainties, it’s also appropriate and even imperative to look at, question, be concerned about, and analyze annual and even monthly deviations. It is certainly inappropriate to simply wave them out of existence — seemingly because they might be going the “wrong way”.

  3. 53

    Nathan Stone writes:

    I think atmospheric temps are a poor indicator of warming/cooling.

    We live in the atmosphere, as it happens.

  4. 54
    Nathan Stone says:

    Ladbury 39
    “Nathan, I’m not sure what you mean when you say that the oceans “hold” the majority of “heat”.”

    What I mean is that the mass of the oceans is far, far greater than the mass of the atmosphere. The solid earth, the oceans, and the atmosphere obviously hold heat energy, else the dark side of the earth would plummet to near zero kelvin each night. The oceans hold much more of this heat energy than does the atmosphere. Pretty well accepted, I believe. Atmospheric temps fluctuate much more than ocean temps, which is an indication of the great amount of heat contained in the oceans. You go on to say

    “The temperature of the deep oceans is remarkably stable below the mixing layer, and the timescale for mixing is quite long compared to timescales of atmospheric circulation.”

    Which would lead one to believe that short term warming (say 100 years worth) would not show up readily in the deep oceans. Since the deep layers don’t easily mix, and heat doesn’t transfer well thru water except by convection, then any recent heat gains by the ocean should still be contained in the upper layers. In other words, the top layers would warm dramatically before the lower layers started to respond.

    Mr. Elifritz 38

    “Think it through, you can do it. It either has to be radiated away into space, or absorbed into the cold deep ocean,”

    Actually there are other options, a proportion of it could have been converted into mechanical energy thru increased winds or ocean currents.

    Mr. Roberts 44

    “Nathan, you’re confusing surface with volume; it’s the surface of the ocean that changes temperature so rapidly with ENSO, not “the ocean” that’s cooler.”

    No, no confusion here. A “surface” cannot hold heat energy, only a volume, which has a mass. The “surface” as you describe it, is actually a surface layer, which has a definite, easily calculated volume. This layer should show warming if it exists. See my response to Ladbury 39 above.

    Mr. Levenson 53

    I’m not sure what your comment means sir, please elaborate.

    Thanks for all your comments gentlemen.

  5. 55
    Nathan Stone says:

    To clarify one of my statements above, when I said heat doesn’t transfer well thru water, I should have said “heat doesn’t conduct well thru water”. And when I say convection, I mean convection or transfer which occurs during mixing.

  6. 56

    Actually there are other options, a proportion of it could have been converted into mechanical energy thru increased winds or ocean currents.

    Didn’t they teach you fundamental thermodynamics in your so called engineering school? Energy is conserved.

  7. 57
    Richard Ordway says:

    This might interest some readers. Recently a third peer-reviewed study in three years has been published concerning the poleward expansion of the tropics, jet stream, storm tracks, Hadley cells, desert areas, etc.

    Archer, C. L., and K. Caldeira 2008,
    Historical trends in the jet streams,
    Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L08803,
    doi:10.1029/2008GL033614
    18 April 2008

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2008GL033614.shtml

    Seidel, Fu, Nature Geoscience. 2007
    Nature Geoscience 1, 21 – 24 (2008) Published online: 2 December
    doi:10.1038/ngeo.2007.38
    http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v1/n1/abs/ngeo.2007.38.html

    Fu, et al,May 26 Journal Science. 2006
    Science 26 May 2006:
    Vol. 312. no. 5777, p. 1179
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1125566
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/312/5777/1179

  8. 58
    Nathan Stone says:

    Mr. Elifritz 56,

    Sir, just because energy changes form, doesn’t mean it isn’t conserved, it has simply changed from a thermal form to a mechanical form. It is indeed thermal energy which initiates and feeds such things as wind and currents. Typically a heat difference between two regions causes them.

    If coal is burned in a powerplant to make electricity which is then transmitted to an elevator motor somewhere which lifts people to an upper floor, then I’ve used energy which went through five changes. Chemical-heat-mechanical-electrical-mechanical-potential mechanical. The energy changed like this, potential-kinetic-kenetic-kinetic-kinetic-potential. And if you could go thru every process, every transfer, and gather up and quantify every loss no matter how trivial, then you would see that energy is conserved all the way through. Energy is irretrievably lost yes, but it is conserved.

  9. 59

    Energy is irretrievably lost yes, but it is conserved.

    Think it through, you can do it. They must at least attempted to train you in critical thinking at your engineering school. What is heat and how is it measured?

    Energy flows are numerous on the planet Earth, but there is only one place for the excess heat to go, to a colder reservoir, or radiated out to space. All everything else is encompassed in average temperature, everything that happens on Earth, stays on Earth, until it leaves Earth, either lost to gravity, on a rocket, or radiated out to space in the infrared. Your comment of mechanical work betrays a weak understanding of the physics involved. We absorb light, do some work, create heat, some but not all of which is radiated out to space on a nightly basis.

    Our colder reservoirs here are Earth are our polar ice caps, and the deep ocean. Everything else is a mish mash of energy flows, included in the concept of temperature.

  10. 60
    Richard Ordway says:

    58.

    Well, let’s work the carbon [dioxide] (CO2) energy cycle through. A medium-sized star (Sun) released energy millions of years ago through nuclear fusion reactions. Plants on a small planet took this energy for photosynthesis and stored it (absorbed it) as carbon (mainly in the carbon 12 isotope form, I believe). Mainly coal, but oil and gas too, were made as this carbon was buried, compressed, and heated to store the carbon.

    Coal, oil and gas were turned from mainly carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide as it was burned by a species- humans. Carbon dioxide gas now remains in the atmosphere of about 25% for 500 years and some for thousands of years until the oceans, land or plants aborb it.

    The CO2 now initiates a chemical/physical reaction that retains an extra ~ 1watt/meter2 in the Earth’s atmosphere that changes the Earth’s energy budget and helps to initiate an unnatural warming trend.

    Hmmm, and all because of an initial atomic-reaction from a medium-sized star of which the energy was already there from the time of the big bang.

  11. 61
  12. 62
    The Tuatara says:

    Re Duane @ #50 here

    I think the reference may be to the use of Apple’s Keynote presentation software, which does all the things Powerpoint does, but with a little more style

  13. 63
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Nathan, the mixing layer of the ocean has a mass of the same order of magnitude as the atmosphere, and the mixing time for the oceans (if you can narrow it to one time) is much longer than characteristic times of the atmosphere. If we start to warm the deep oceans we are in deep kimchee.

  14. 64
    Ron Taylor says:

    Re 51 – From Rod B – “SecularAnimist says, ‘…Who says that temperatures aren’t currently rising?…. Last month was the warmest March on record over land surfaces… Sounds pretty warm to me…

    Sounds like trumpeting one month to me.” ‘

    Well, why not? A data point that is consistent with a well-established trend is very different from a data point that is not and cannot be related to any established trend. About the latter, one can only say that it could possibly indicate a change in the established trend, but we will not know until we have many more data points. The former requires no such qualification, since it fits with the trend of preceeding data points, and is thus reinforced by its antecedents.

  15. 65

    Nathan Stone writes:

    The solid earth, the oceans, and the atmosphere obviously hold heat energy, else the dark side of the earth would plummet to near zero kelvin each night.

    The major thing preventing that is the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, as first pointed out by John Tyndal c. 1860. The heat capacity of the oceans doesn’t have all that much to do with it.

  16. 66
    SteamGeek says:

    Being familier with refractive index as a matter of bending light thru a particular (clear) substance, as used with a microspcope (and the old analogy of shooting an arrow at a fish as the light bends thru the water)….

    I had never heard of the term used with repspect to sound / radio waves.

    The GPS signals are line of sight, but not light.

    It’s interesting the distinction of bending / altering the communications signal by way of temperature and humidity property of air vs simply blocking it, for example via clouds and general overcast conditions.

  17. 67
    Hank Roberts says:

    > A data point that is consistent with a well-established trend is
    > very different from a data point that is not and cannot be …

    But all of the data points are consistent. There’s no difference between any of the one month data points in this regard, remember.

    Don’t forget the Deltoid post I quoted was mocking, not supporting , the notion that a month’s change meant something about boiling or freezing a few years later. The only appropriate response was to laugh, not take it seriously.

  18. 68

    I can regularly and accurately predict weather fronts and conditions by monitoring a variety of over the horizon VHF-FM transmissions from the states from the Bahamas.

    I’m not exactly sure what the propagation mode is myself.

  19. 69
    John Ludovicy says:

    Barton Paul Levenson Says:
    26 April 2008 at 6:22 AM
    Nathan Stone writes:

    The solid earth, the oceans, and the atmosphere obviously hold heat energy, else the dark side of the earth would plummet to near zero kelvin each night.

    The major thing preventing that is the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, as first pointed out by John Tyndal c. 1860. The heat capacity of the oceans doesn’t have all that much to do with it.

    Have you ever heard something about the difference of maritime and continental climat?

  20. 70
    Arch Stanton says:

    Abandalast (35),

    I hope you are still reading.

    Concerning the ethics of the folks at The Heartland Institute, Marc Moran, etc:

    “…DeSmogBlog manager Kevin Grandia emailed 122 of the scientists yesterday afternoon, calling their attention to the list. So far – in less than 24 hours – three dozen of those scientists had responded in outrage, denying that their research supports Avery’s conclusions and demanding that their names be removed…”

    http://www.desmogblog.com/500-scientists-with-documented-doubts-about-the-heartland-institute

    Sorry I misspelled your name last time.

  21. 71
    bruce albert says:

    Has anyone done an analysis on Ferenc Miskolczi’s new maths on Co2 increase in the atmosphere. Miklos Zagoni (physicist) one of Hungary’s most vocal supporters of Kyoto, has changed his opinions and believes that Miskolczi ( an atmospheric physicist) who was a former researcher at N.A.S.A has come up with a more accurate theory on the ” Greenhouse” equations done by Arthur Milne in 1922. Miskolczi has used a “finite” atmosphere instead of the “infinite” atmosphere used by Milne. The new theory points to an initial spike in warming followed by a long slow period of cooling. Given that this research has been out for about two years I am surprised that very little debate has taken place on it. I should point out that Miskolczi left N.A.S.A because they refused to publish his research. I would be interested in any unbiased scientific analysis of his equations that you have, regards Bruce Albert

    [Response: "New maths", indeed. He appears to have made at least two fundamental mistakes. First he assumes that Kirchoff's Law implies that absorbed radiation is equal to emitted radiation in the atmosphere (it is not - absorptivity and emittance are the same, but not the fluxes), he uses the virial theorem to calculate the KE of the atmosphere without any demonstration that it is valid (it is not), and has some obviously incorrect algebra (i.e. he equates E_u (the upward LW from the atmosphere, a flux) with the total internal energy of atmosphere (not a flux)). There have been a few people who've looked at this in more detail (google Miskolczi+Nick Stokes for instance), but no-one is impressed. - gavin]

  22. 72
    Chris Colose says:

    I still hope the Bowdoin undergraduate class will follow through with the Mislolczi rebuttal that Dr. Pierrehumbert said might be coming. :-)

    There are some other mistakes as well, like the idea that water vapor should decline with more CO2, without any justification. Interestingly, the paper is already falsified before it came out if you take a look next door to the planet that DID have a runaway greenhouse effect. Apparently Venus contradicts energy balance equations.

  23. 73
    Miskolczi says:

    This is to ‘gavin’ :

    Just slow down…one by one. You say:

    ‘First he assumes that Kirchoff’s Law implies that absorbed radiation is
    equal to emitted radiation in the atmosphere (it is not – absorptivity
    and emittance are the same, but not the fluxes’…

    I am almost sure that you are unable to compute the involved fluxes
    (very few LBL code can do, even NASA have problems with that), but I will
    appriciate if you comment the figure (where the related fluxes are shown)
    at this link:

    http://www.globalwarmingskeptics.info/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=331

    Perhaps you may question the accuracy of my computations. In this case you must
    come up with some numbers…On the other hand, it is not my responsibility to
    teach Nick Stokes to the atmospheric Kirchhoff’s law. He will understand if he wants to.

  24. 74
    Miskolczi says:

    This is to Chris Colose:

    You say:

    ‘There are some other mistakes as well, like the idea that water vapor
    should decline with more CO2, without any justification’….

    I wrote (page 23, last paragraph):

    ‘For example, in case the increased CO2 is compensated by reduced H2O,
    then the general circulation has to re-adjust itself to maintain the
    meridional energy flow with less water vapor available.’

    So you think what you wrote I stated is the same what I wrote in
    the paper? They look different. If the system has to maintain an
    equilibrium optical depth, it can do in many different ways, not the
    h2o is the only GHG, but it is the most efficient one…

    About Venus you wrote:

    …’the paper is already falsified before it came out if you take
    a look next door to the planet that DID have a runaway greenhouse
    effect’…

    I wrote on page 28:

    ‘At this time the Venusian atmosphere is not included in our study.
    The major problem with the Venusian atmosphere is the complete cloud
    cover and the lack of knowledge of the accurate surface SW and LW
    fluxes.’…

    Once I answered to such ‘falsication’ of the theory. I copy here
    my answer:

    —-
    I was surprised that people discussing the paper bring
    in Venus as an argument against the new theory.

    I did not say anything about Venus, although the new theory
    clearly explains it. In my original paper I dealt with the
    Venusian high surface temperature. Obviously the source
    of the high temperature is the Po term and the greenhouse
    effect is trivial above the cloud layer, where the atmosphere
    is in radiative equilibrium (controlled by Sc=olr/f, where Sc
    is the cloud top temperature).

    But I already have rejected papers from top journals,
    saying that the Kirchhoff law does not exist and the Po
    term is negligible on the Earth, on the Mars, and because
    of this, on the Venus it should also be negligible.

    I could not argue with the reviewers, I know nothing on
    the planetary evolution, and they taking the Kirchhoff’s
    law as a matter of religion.

    What I can do is to simulate realistic Venusian atmospheric
    fluxes based on observations (I use the profiles
    from the Magellan mission). An LBL (HARTCODE) simulation
    has to compute St,Eu,OLR,Ed,and Aa above the cloud layer
    and the similar fluxes below the cloud layer. These are
    the flux components you absolutely need in order to say
    something quantitative about Su. I am not ready with this yet.

    And there are many problems – for example, to get
    reliable information on laboratory measurements on CO2
    transmittances under extreme conditions. Also, no fully
    developed and tested line-mixing theory exists for the
    the hot, high pressure CO2. Especially for the weak bands
    which are becoming important in a thick purely CO2
    atmosphere.

    Without this, even with an accurate LBL code
    you can not tell anything realistic about how much
    radiation is transmitted toward the cloud layer from
    the hot Venusian surface.

    That much about Venus. I shall let you know when I am
    done with the related computations..

  25. 75

    To bruce albert, 17 May:

    You wrote:

    “The new theory points to an initial spike in warming followed by a long slow period of cooling.”
    Thanks for your comment, but this is not the case. The new theory says that there is no runaway greenhouse effect (no positive water vapor —> temperature feedback on global scale — while on local scales this feedback is apparent), and I just wanted to show a historical example.

    To Chris Colose:

    I think you can have any undergraduate class to dismantle the relativity theory,
    but this is not the kid’s problem; this is the teacher’s problem…

    To gavin:

    I hope you want to understand the theory; if this is the case, you may find useful the compendium on the link below.

    (I suggest to jump over the textual interpretations at the first time, just follow the logic of the equations and puzzle out the graphs… Imagine what would one understand from the ‘expalantions’ of quantum mechanics without the formulas …):

    http://hps.elte.hu/~zagoni/Proofs_of_the_Miskolczi_theory.htm

    [Response: Unfortunately, pretty graphs do not a theory make. We will have a full post on this at some point in the future - in the meanwhile it is pointless to bury discussions at the bottom of irrelevant threads. All further posts on this are OT. - gavin]


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