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Warm reception to Antarctic warming story

Filed under: — gavin @ 27 January 2009 - (Español) (English)

What determines how much coverage a climate study gets?

It probably goes without saying that it isn’t strongly related to the quality of the actual science, nor to the clarity of the writing. Appearing in one of the top journals does help (Nature, Science, PNAS and occasionally GRL), though that in itself is no guarantee. Instead, it most often depends on the ‘news’ value of the bottom line. Journalists and editors like stories that surprise, that give something ‘new’ to the subject and are therefore likely to be interesting enough to readers to make them read past the headline. It particularly helps if a new study runs counter to some generally perceived notion (whether that is rooted in fact or not). In such cases, the ‘news peg’ is clear.

And so it was for the Steig et al “Antarctic warming” study that appeared last week. Mainstream media coverage was widespread and generally did a good job of covering the essentials. The most prevalent peg was the fact that the study appeared to reverse the “Antarctic cooling” meme that has been a staple of disinformation efforts for a while now.

It’s worth remembering where that idea actually came from. Back in 2001, Peter Doran and colleagues wrote a paper about the Dry Valleys long term ecosystem responses to climate change, in which they had a section discussing temperature trends over the previous couple of decades (not the 50 years time scale being discussed this week). The “Antarctic cooling” was in their title and (unsurprisingly) dominated the media coverage of their paper as a counterpoint to “global warming”. (By the way, this is a great example to indicate that the biggest bias in the media is towards news, not any particular side of a story). Subsequent work indicated that the polar ozone hole (starting in the early 80s) was having an effect on polar winds and temperature patterns (Thompson and Solomon, 2002; Shindell and Schmidt, 2004), showing clearly that regional climate changes can sometimes be decoupled from the global picture. However, even then both the extent of any cooling and the longer term picture were more difficult to discern due to the sparse nature of the observations in the continental interior. In fact we discussed this way back in one of the first posts on RealClimate back in 2004.

This ambiguity was of course a gift to the propagandists. Thus for years the Doran et al study was trotted out whenever global warming was being questioned. It was of course a classic ‘cherry pick’ – find a region or time period when there is a cooling trend and imply that this contradicts warming trends on global scales over longer time periods. Given a complex dynamic system, such periods and regions will always be found, and so as a tactic it can always be relied on. However, judging from the take-no-prisoners response to the Steig et al paper from the contrarians, this important fact seems to have been forgotten (hey guys, don’t worry you’ll come up with something new soon!).

Actually, some of the pushback has been hilarious. It’s been a great example for showing how incoherent and opportunistic the ‘antis’ really are. Exhibit A is an email (and blog post) sent out by Senator Inhofe’s press staff (i.e. Marc Morano). Within this single email there are misrepresentations, untruths, unashamedly contradictory claims and a couple of absolutely classic quotes. Some highlights:

Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville slams new Antarctic study for using [the] “best estimate of the continent’s temperature”

Perhaps he’d prefer it if they used the worst estimate? ;)
[Update: It should go without saying that this is simply Morano making up stuff and doesn't reflect Christy's actual quotes or thinking. No-one is safe from Morano's misrepresentations!]
[Further update: They've now clarified it. Sigh....]

Morano has his ear to the ground of course, and in his blog piece dramatically highlights the words “estimated” and “deduced” as if that was some sign of nefarious purpose, rather than a fundamental component of scientific investigation.

Internal contradictions are par for the course. Morano has previously been convinced that “… the vast majority of Antarctica has cooled over the past 50 years.”, yet he now approvingly quotes Kevin Trenberth who says “It is hard to make data where none exist.” (It is indeed, which is why you need to combine as much data as you can find in order to produce a synthesis like this study). So which is it? If you think the data are clear enough to demonstrate strong cooling, you can’t also believe there is no data (on this side of the looking glass anyway).

It’s even more humourous, since even the more limited analysis available before this paper showed pretty much the same amount of Antarctic warming. Compare the IPCC report, with the same values from the new analysis (under various assumptions about the methodology).

(The different versions are the full reconstruction, a version that uses detrended satellite data for the co-variance, a version that uses AWS data instead of satelltes and one that use PCA instead of RegEM. All show positive trends over the last 50 years).

Further contradictions abound: Morano, who clearly wants it to have been cooling, hedges his bets with a “Volcano, Not Global Warming Effects, May be Melting an Antarctic Glacier” Hail Mary pass. Good luck with that!

It always helps if you haven’t actually read the study in question. That way you can just make up conclusions:

Scientist adjusts data — presto, Antarctic cooling disappears

Nope. It’s still there (as anyone reading the paper will see) – it’s just put into a larger scale and longer term context (see figure 3b).

Inappropriate personalisation is always good fodder. Many contrarians seemed disappointed that Mike was only the fourth author (the study would have been much easier to demonise if he’d been the lead). Some pretended he was anyway, and just for good measure accused him of being a ‘modeller’ as well (heaven forbid!).

Others also got in on the fun. A chap called Ross Hays posted a letter to Eric on multiple websites and on many comment threads. On Joe D’Aleo’s site, this letter was accompanied with this little bit of snark:

Icecap Note: Ross shown here with Antarctica’s Mount Erebus volcano in the background was a CNN forecast Meteorologist (a student of mine when I was a professor) who has spent numerous years with boots on the ground working for NASA in Antarctica, not sitting at a computer in an ivory tower in Pennsylvania or Washington State

This is meant as a slur against academics of course, but is particularly ironic, since the authors of the paper have collectively spent over 8 seasons on the ice in Antarctica, 6 seasons in Greenland and one on Baffin Island in support of multiple ice coring and climate measurement projects. Hays’ one or two summers there, his personal anecdotes and misreadings of the temperature record, don’t really cut it.

Neither do rather lame attempts to link these results with the evils of “computer modelling”. According to Booker (for it is he!) because a data analysis uses a computer, it must be a computer model – and probably the same one that the “hockey stick” was based on. Bad computer, bad!

The proprietor of the recently named “Best Science Blog”, also had a couple of choice comments:

In my opinion, this press release and subsequent media interviews were done for media attention.

This remarkable conclusion is followed by some conspiratorial gossip implying that a paper that was submitted over a year ago was deliberately timed to coincide with a speech in Congress from Al Gore that was announced last week. Gosh these scientists are good.

All in all, the critical commentary about this paper has been remarkably weak. Time will tell of course – confirming studies from ice cores and independent analyses are already published, with more rumoured to be on their way. In the meantime, floating ice shelves in the region continue to collapse (the Wilkins will be the tenth in the last decade or so) – each of them with their own unique volcano no doubt – and gravity measurements continue to show net ice loss over the Western part of the ice sheet.

Nonetheless, the loss of the Antarctic cooling meme is clearly bothering the contrarians much more than the loss of 10,000 year old ice. The poor level of their response is not surprising, but it does exemplify the tactics of the whole ‘bury ones head in the sand” movement – they’d much rather make noise than actually work out what is happening. It would be nice if this demonstration of intellectual bankruptcy got some media attention itself.

That’s unlikely though. It’s just not news.

231 Responses to “Warm reception to Antarctic warming story”

  1. 1
    thingsbreak says:

    It’s just not news.

    Too true. It doesn’t even rise to the level of “Dog bites man.” It’s “Dog messes carpet.”

  2. 2
    Colin A says:

    “reversing the “Antarctic cooling” meme that has been a staple of disinformation efforts for a while now.” That line strikes me as a bit incorrect and contradicts some of the other comments in the post. Obviously, the tone of the posts supports some exaggeration or sarcasm throughout (so maybe this is a pointless comment), but it’s not “disinformation” if “Antarctic cooling” was widely considered a valid statement prior to the most recent Steig et al paper. (perhaps misuse of information?).

  3. 3
    ScaredAmoeba says:

    Seems that the denialists want to ‘eat their cake and have it’, they were caught on the hop by this news (else they would have predicted it) and it was a scientific conspiracy that existed a year ago. Surely, it can only be one, not both.

    Isn’t it a shame that so much effort and money goes into dreaming up scientifically implausible explanations that can bamboozle the ignorant public and convince them falsely that scientists are:
    a) corrupt and b) stupid. Hence stirring the public up into fervent inaction, rather than educating the public about the immense efforts that go into unravelling the workings of the planet and increased understanding of what it all probably means for the living scum – us!

    Shame on the deceitful Ross Hays, Anthony Watts, Morono, Inhofe et al. I am concerned at the Christy quote, but he may have been misquoted.

    Well done Gavin for your article and naturally Eric, Mike and the other authors.

  4. 4
    Dany Bloom says:

    People like Inhofe and Morano are prime examples of human being at their best.
    That said, and that digested, here is some news coming soon to a newspaper
    near you, maybe even your local paper. The Associated Press bureau has finally agreed to to do
    a story on polar cities, and it will be appearing soon on the AP
    wire. Interviews this week, wire story early February. These things take
    time. A year ago, nobody had even heard of polar cities, and those who had,
    tried to laugh me off the face of the Earth. But I persisted, and despite
    all the angry posts and emails, the news will surface on AP wires soon enough.
    And go ahead and attack me now, you stat-ladened experts! SMILE. Kidding, kidding, I love you all!

  5. 5
    Calum says:

    Quote: Retired senior NASA atmospheric scientist, Dr. John S. Theon, 15th Jan 2009,”My own belief concerning anthropogenic climate change is that the models do not realistically simulate the climate system because there are many very important sub-grid scale processes that the models either replicate poorly or completely omit. Furthermore, some scientists have manipulated the observed data to justify their model results. In doing so, they neither explain what they have modified in the observations, nor explain how they did it. They have resisted making their work transparent so that it can be replicated independently by other scientists. This is clearly contrary to how science should be done. Thus there is no rational justification for using climate model forecasts to determine public policy.”

    Anyone at Real Climate care to comment?

    [Response: Dr. Theon appears to have retired from NASA in 1994, some 15 years ago. Until yesterday I had never heard of him (despite working with and for NASA for the last 13 years). His insights into both modelling and publicity appear to date from then, rather than any recent events. He was not Hansen's 'boss' (the director of GISS reports to the director of GSFC, who reports to the NASA Administrator). His "some scientists" quote is simply a smear - which scientists? where? what did they do? what data? what manipulation? This kind of thing plays well with Inhofe et al because it appears to add something to the 'debate', but in actual fact there is nothing here. Just vague, unsubstantiated accusations. - gavin]

  6. 6

    I am doing a masters thesis on how TV affects science understanding and this is a case in point. Most journalists do have any understanding of science or scientific method and always look for “story”. The science gets skewed and distorted as a result. Until journalists get some science background and there is responsibility inferred to them for the misinformation, scientists will always find it difficult to get the science in the media, especially TV.

  7. 7
    Alan Neale says:

    This must mean that real climate is closing down soon then, no more contrarians to bash over the head with rational thought and scientific work. Boo hooooo!!

  8. 8
    Tony Wildish says:

    this reminds me of the Asimov story, The Gods Themselves. What do you have to do to convince some people???

  9. 9
    Anne van der Bom says:

    Hay’s one or two summers there, his personal anecdotes and misreadings of the temperature record, don’t really cut it.

    Since the guy’s called ‘Ross Hays’, shouldn’t the first word be: Hays’

    [Response: Yes. - gavin]

    Actually, it should be “Hays’s”. See e.g. Chicago Manual of Style ;) –eric

    That just goes to show how overly prescriptive grammar manuals get caught up in themselves. Hays’ is perfectly acceptable. – gavin

  10. 10
    Alan says:

    “It would be nice if this demonstration of intellectual bankruptcy got some media attention itself”

    - You ARE the media and so far you have done a great job of mythbusting while at the same time explaining the basics of scientific philosophy to the X number of visitors the site has had. I particularly like the philosophical examples, stuff like “skepticisim is the heart of science” will indeed be news to a lot of people who come here. Regardless of wether they understand/believe it or not, the psuedo-skeptical columnists certainly aren’t going to explain that part of science in public.

    Dawkings may be blunt and humourless but he is correct in one thing, the vast majority of people simply do not know that science has a philosophy let alone how to use it. To most people science is like a dictonary of facts and in the main that’s the way it’s taught. Columnists are like preachers they summarise the “facts” and disseminate them to the laymen.

    I dropped out of HS at 16, in my late twenties I obtained a BSc, nowhere in HS or uni do I recall anyone even mentioning that science was a philosophy. Look at the big science sites like NASA, CSIRO, IPCC, ect, I rarely see it mentioned let alone explained. Just today on the BBC site I read a survey where IIRC 48% of people believed science will have “cured cancer in 30yrs” but only 3% believed science had a “large impact on their lives”.

    I was lucky enough to read a book about 30yrs ago. It was writen by a magician called “The Great Randi” (for those who don’t know this guy google his long standing challenge to anyone claiming paranormal abilities). I understood the philosophy, it’s so simple a magician had explained it to a HS drop out! Uri Geller, Eric Von Daneken and a whole slew of other rubbish collected from the “science” section of the newstand dissapeared in the proverbial “puff of logic”.

    I know “The enlightenment” is certainly not news but a wet-finger estimate says that 95% of mandkind have yet to hear about it.

  11. 11
    John Mason says:

    An excellent post, Gavin. It had me laughing out loud (something that is rare in the recession-torn UK these days)- thoroughly enjoyed it!

    Re#6: this is a very interesting field. I have said to anyone who will listen that, as well as science, the scientific method & philosophy should be compulsory teaching at schools. If more people understood how the whole thing works, there would be (hopefully, at least)a lot less public confusion regarding matters scientific – including climatology.

    All the best – John

  12. 12
    tamino says:

    Well done! And I too couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

  13. 13
    Axeld says:

    As a layperson, I’m a bit puzzled by this report. I seem to remember in the past that cooling in the Antarctic “was predicted by the models” or words to that effect. So doesn’t Steig’s warming trend invalidate the models on which all the forecasts are made?

    But, more worryingly, the report talks about “a classic cherry pick” in connection with the Antarctic cooling claims. To a layman’s eye, it looks like a classic cherry pick to select the 50 year time period for the data, when if the start date had been chosen as 1980, say, it looks by eyeballing as though the temperature is cooling rather than climbing. And if that’s true, what would dates earlier than 1958 show? And in any case, isn’t a trend of 0.1C/decade incredibly small in such a noisy dataset? I’m no statistician, obviously, but I’d like to know the degree of confidence in that trend, and for other time periods as well.

    [Response: The statistical significance is discussed in the paper, and the 50 year trends are indeed significant. The issue with the models depends enormously on what is being discussed. The first issue is that because of the large heat capacity of the southern oceans, warming trends are in general going to be smaller than in the northern hemisphere. That means that the potential for natural variability to be more dominant on shorter time scales is high - and indeed, Connolley and Bracegirdle show a lot of variance in the model output on those time scales. On top of that there is the influence of the ozone hole, which only comes into play from the 1980s onwards which seems to have influenced the wind patterns and led to consequent cooling in the interior. Some modelling supports this mechanism, but this forcing was not universally applied in the AR4 models (see Miller et al, 2006). However, the longer the time period used, the more the models expect Antarctica to warm and the clearer that warming should be. - gavin]
    [Allow me to say more here. This accusation of cherry-picking by me and my co-authors has come up more than once. We started in 1957 (not 1958) because THAT’s WHEN THE DATA START. The year 1957 is when most of the weather stations began to be installed, under funding under the umbrella of the International Geophysical Year. If you read the paper (or indeed, just the title) this would be obvious.–eric

  14. 14
    Tom M says:

    I have two questions.

    1) In the last few years the argument against Antarctic cooling squawkers has been that the situation fit the models. Now that a warming trend has been uncovered do the models still match the observations?

    [I think Gavin's post (and mine before it) fully answer this question. If not, then read this.]

    2) This post advocates that a 50 year trend trumps a 20 year trend in determining the direction of change. At what period can a current trend be generally accepted as being an indicator of a peak or trough being passed.

    [Response:I don't think the post is "advocating" anything, and you're misreading our results. We find that West Antarctica has been warming essentially monotonically, just like the Antarctic Peninsula. 20-year, 30-year, 50-year, you'll get the same answer. Still, your question does apply to some extent to East Antarctica and is reasonable if you frame it differently: How long does a change in the direction of a trend have to last for it be meaningful. The standard textbook answer is 30 years (not 20). See also several of our earlier posts on this topic, starting here. --eric]

  15. 15
    Lou Grinzo says:

    If the op-ed run by the Detroit News ( is any measure, it looks like the Denier Industrial Complex has chosen at least one line of attack on these latest results.

    I also strongly recommend Joe Romm’s post about Eric Pooley’s critique of the mass media’s coverage of climate change. Joe’s post is at (, and he links to Pooley’s work.

    [Response: Look out for a direct response to the Detroit News drive-by to appear sometime later today in google news search (this is a new feature google is trying out). -mike]

  16. 16
    ccpo says:

    Thanks, gents, for some great work and even better response to the jackals whose hackles you’ve raised.

    Query: once things are so bad it’s impossible for even the most uneducated among us to deny ACC (Anthropogenically-forced Climate Change/Chaos), can we march people such as Exxon and Inhofe off to the Hague for crimes against humanity?


  17. 17

    The next significant step is for Antarctican regulars to notice a substantial increase in brightness at greater lasting intervals during the long night daily twilights, as experienced by High Arctic habitants of this world. Its a phenomenon caused by refraction, when light gets trapped at the interface between a cold surface cooled by the long night and encroaching warmer Upper Air not readily disappearing after warm cyclonic incursions.
    This brightness is not new, but it use to be irregular, to the point of not being noticed, now given
    that the atmosphere as a whole is warmer, the interface periods last a great deal longer.
    I give a recent example on my website.

  18. 18
    Steve Case says:

    Any comments on this quote:

    “This looks like a pretty good analysis, but I have to say I remain somewhat skeptical,” Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said in an e-mail. “It is hard to make data where none exist.”


    [Response: See above. It is hard to know what's going on when you only have sparse information. People are trying to fill in data as best they can using as much of what's available as possible. In this case, they have the long records from the weather stations, and the relationship of the wider temperatures to those stations over the satellite period, and this is what you get when you put that together. - gavin]

    [I would add that Kevin's comment is careless, and belies a very hasty reading of the paper before talking to reporters (as he admitted to me in an email). I don't really blame him; the tempation to say something when reporters call is difficult to resist. But his statement -- while not only brushing over the details of the analysis we did -- ignores the fact that there is *NO* data infilling required for the most recent 25 years of the record. As shown e.g. here, the satellite data alone show the large warming in West Antarctica. (Quote: "The temperature increases were greater and more widespread in West Antarctica than in East Antarctica..."). That figure and statement were posted by NASA in November 2007]. No need to “make data”. The infilling calculations we did merely show that West Antarctica warming very likely persists further back in time, prior to the satellite era.–eric]

  19. 19
    pat neuman says:

    Based on the new info, NSIDC needs a correction on their faq page?

    Quote … “Antarctica is an example of regional cooling”. …

    [Response: Yes. And I will harass them about this. Note, though, that that same paragraph also (correctly) states: "Even our earliest climate models projected that Antarctica would be much slower in responding to rising greenhouse gas concentrations than the Arctic." They don't say anything about the "models predicting cooling" that Roger Pielke and others have blathered on about. In fact, a Swedish reporter I was talking the other day asked me if I knew of *any* published study either showing or predicting long-term cooling (other than for a limited time in East Antarctica). If there are any such papers, I'd definitely be interested in hearing about them.-eric]

  20. 20
    Dean says:

    One aspect I think you missed in determining what gets coverage – the abstract. If the abstract is too technical or describes results that a journalist cannot understand, they will not read the details. Only if the abstract has something stated in a way that the non-technical reader can understand and sees as newsworthy, will they pursue it further.

    So for you working climatologists – if you make your abstract contain enough techno-speak to scare journalists away – you’re probably safe from misinterpretations!

  21. 21
    Maya says:

    “can we march people such as Exxon and Inhofe off to the Hague for crimes against humanity?”

    That would be fine by me! The level of reprehensible irresponsibility seems criminal.

    Great post, Gavin! Thank you!

    Colin A.: Whether it was “widely considered a valid statement” depends on your sample. For the average member of the public who takes in scientific data only if it can be contained in a 30-second media soundbite, probably so. For the scientific community, the portion of the public that bothers to read books and papers on the subject, and for anyone who claims to be “edumacated” ;) on the subject, mmmm … not so much.

    [Response: I think it may be true that quite a number of people -- including some scientists that weren't paying close attention -- may have thought the "Antarctic cooling" myth was reality. Yes, even we scientists can be misled by reading the popular press. But I'm aware of no published paper that showed this, and the IPCC graph Gavin put up on this post makes it very clear that the idea of widespread cooling was never supported by any data.--eric]

  22. 22
    Swann says:

    Gavin, in your reply above to Axeld [28 January 2009 at 9:01 AM] you say “The statistical significance is discussed in the paper, and the 50 year trends are indeed significant.”

    Which trends do you mean exactly? The two straight lines in the graph in your original post are not, if I’ve understood correctly, both significant, only the one using non-detrended data (continent-wide mean trend 0.12 +/- 0.07 deg C per decade). From Steig et al. 2009 “In the reconstruction based on detrended T(IR) data … the continent-wide mean trend remains at 0.08 deg C per decade although it is no longer demonstrably different from zero (95% confidence).” I’d be interested to hear from Eric (or anyone) which type of reconstruction is better and why both are reported.

  23. 23
    Annabelle says:

    I’m confused. In February last year, you had an article titled “Antarctica is cold? Yeah we knew that”, (link In this you explained how the data (as it was represented at that time) was consistent with the climate models.

    Now s new study claims that Antarctica is a lot warmer than previously thought, and you are again saying that this is consistent with the climate models. Does this mean you were wrong before? Because it seems to me that you can’t have it both ways.

    [Response: Perhaps you should actually read the post you are pointing to. It discusses the only the impact of the ocean on rates of warming and how that reduced expected trends in Antarctica with respect to earlier simulations that did not include such effects. All of that is still valid. And, Antarctica is indeed still cold. If you want a discussion about specific comparisons of models and data over recent decades, go to our earlier post on the subject. - gavin]

  24. 24
    Bill DeMott says:

    When I write a scientific paper, I try to write in a way that will encourage citation but I have not thought about appealing to the general media. Of course a cover story in Nature is a good starting point and a catchy title should help with both the scientific community and the popular media. Is there any link between scientific citation and media appeal?

    My first climate change paper is under review and I am really excited about the data and the story. As a lake ecologist (limnologist) my study will not contribute to debates about the causes of climate warming but it will show that the indirect effects of warming on food chains (over the past 30 years)can be very substantial (even dramatic).

    I’ve only started reading this and other climate blogs in the last month and I am only just getting into the climate change literature in my own field. Right now I am in The Netherlands for a six month sabbatical from my position in the US. I really appreciate your efforts with this blog and recently read the long thaw.

    I think that it’s very unfortunate that the general public and even many undergraduate science majors do not understand how the peer review system works and the breadth and depth of the scientific literature. This is a topic that needs to be emphasized and described. The notion of conspiracy among reviewers of manuscripts and research proposals is difficult for scientists to comprehend.

    Comment by Bill DeMott — 28 January 2009 @ 1:59 PM

  25. 25
    David B. Benson says:

    I don’t find Morano at all funny. He is employed by the taxpayers.

  26. 26
    Michael Smith says:

    This issue illustrates why some of us don’t have a great deal of confidence in the models.

    Look at Figure 10.7 in Chapter 10 of AR4 WG1. This is the chapter on “Global Climate Predictions”. The document is here:

    Figure 10.7 is on page 765.

    Looking at the figure “a”, which covers the period from 2011 – 2030, the graph shows surface cooling from 70 degrees South on down (which is the great bulk of Antarctica).

    So here we have what is ostensibly the “official” ensemble of models predicting surface cooling in Antarctica for the next 21 years. Yet, in a comment left on Pielke’s site, Mr. Steig notes that his results are consistent with a group of 19 Antarctic models reviewed by Connolley and Bracegirdle in GRL, 2007. Apparently, THAT collection of models shows warming consistent with Mr. Steig’s study.

    It certainly seems, then, that the range of outputs from the models is broad enough to encompass many differing observations. This is the same thing that became evident when RealClimate used that broad range of outputs to explain why there are “no” clear model-data inconsistencies regarding the tropical troposphere temperature observations.

    [Response: There is a little cooling in the mean in that figure, but it is restricted to the ocean portion, and looking at the individual models (here) you can see that the continent has warmed in every case. The models looks at by C+B07 are basically these same models. But in one sense your are correct - where the models are noisy or don't give consistent results, it is very hard to make useful comparisons to data. That doesn't mean the models are right, but that that test isn't useful for determining whether they are or not. The answer is to find better tests. - gavin]

  27. 27
    Brian says:

    Dean #20 says: “If the abstract is too technical or describes results that a journalist cannot understand, they will not read the details. Only if the abstract has something stated in a way that the non-technical reader can understand and sees as newsworthy, will they pursue it further.”

    Abstracts are not written for journalists, nor should they be. They are supposed to contain technical information so others in the specific discipline know what the paper is about. They get right to the nitty-gritty. If abstracts were written for everybody to understand or written to ‘hook’ lay readers, they would become useless to those in that specific field. Press releases and other media releases (e.g., review articles in front part of Science or Nature) are meant to be non-technical.

  28. 28
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hey, you’re both right (grin).

    Chicago Manual 5.26
    Possessives of … names

    The possessive… is formed by adding ’s … even when the word ends in a sibilant {Dickens’s novels} …. But if a word ends in a sibilant, it is acceptable (especially in journalism) to use a final apostrophe without the additional s {Bill Gates’ testimony}. See also 7.19–23.


    5 : Grammar and Usage
    5.2 Schools of thought

    … Grammatical theories are in flux, and the more we learn, the less we seem to know: “An entirely adequate description of English grammar is still a distant target and at present seemingly an unreachable one ….”
    Thank you for invoking the Grammar Troll, it’s been a pleasure. Back to my box now.

  29. 29
    dhogaza says:

    Hey, you’re both right (grin).

    Joe Haldeman (“The Forever War” etc) at one time had lecture notes from his writing scifi course at MIT up, and discussed the issue somewhat endlessly in one lecture’s write-up.


    1. There’s no consensus on which is “right”

    2. Editors from different publishing houses/magazines fall on both sides of the issue.

    3. You’re writing science fiction. PICK NAMES THAT DON’T END IN “S”, DUMMY! :)

    Kinda funny in a practical way.

  30. 30
    EdnaMenschtein says:

    There is also a lot of forums involving the last 8 years cooling off. They point to a few graphs and say that global warming is over . They point to the new sea ice in Antarctica and say that global warming is over. Response from Gavin would be appreciated.

  31. 31
    Roger Pielke Jr. says:

    Eric writes (#19):

    “They [NSIDC] don’t say anything about the “models predicting cooling” that Roger Pielke and others have blathered on about.”

    Would Spencer Weart be among those “blathering on about” cooling?

    According to Eric Steig, Weart was talking about models predicting cooling:

    “I have to admit I cringed when guest writer Weart wrote the article on RealClimate, which I didn’t get a chance to read first. I’m not sure what models he was talking about that said Antarctica should be cooling.”

    If RC posts an article about models predicting cooling, and Eric acknowledges such, perhaps you might understand the confusion among your readers who may then blather about what you post here.

    [Response: Well, if the blatherers bothered to read the articles they were citing, they might understand the point. Spencer's article discussed why there is expected to be a lag in Antarctic temperature rise because of the large heat capacity of the Southern Ocean. Quote: "...the Southern Hemisphere would experience delays decades longer than the Northern." or "[models] continue to show that Antarctica cannot be expected to warm up very significantly until long after the rest of the world”. Indeed, given those reduced trends in the south, internal variability would be expected to sometimes “even [give] a slight cooling” (referencing Bryan et al, 1988). All of these statements are true and are important points within the historical development of this issue (and Spencer is a historian remember). However, is cooling a robust prediction over the last 50 years? No. Connolley and Bracegirdle (2007) show that expected trends in a much larger sample of models are very varied (though the ensemble mean warms at about the rate seen in the Steig et al paper). Is cooling over the short term related to ozone depletion a model prediction? Yes, at least in some models. Does this contradict anything that Spencer said? Not in the slightest – he didn’t mention ozone issues at all. Do ozone hole related trends contradict longer term warming trends? No. Different timescale, different response.

    So basically one has choice. One can either join the ranks of the misquoters and cherry-pickers and play sophmoric games trying to find supposed contradictions, or one can actually try thinking and clarify a complex situation for both oneself and any readers. Your call. – gavin]

  32. 32


    The reason the article got so much attention was that it was on the front cover of Nature magazine and was accompanied by comments to the press that indicated that it was a direct refutation of a skeptic allegation (also the timing probably helped a little—while the authors may not control the publication date, Nature’s staff surely does).

    [Chip, you're kidding right? Do you really think Nature timed this with respect to Gore? Really? Please tell me you're kidding so I don't go crazy!]

    While Eric claims not to know of any paper that describes continent-wide cooling (comment 21), there are in fact several—just none that describe the period 1957-2006. Throw in a collection of model results that are hard to interpret, and it is quite reasonable to understand why people (on both sides) are confused.

    [Find me such a study. Since you said "several", I'll ask you to find just two.]

    What caught a lot of people’s eye is the image on the front of Nature—it represents spatially the reconstructed trends from 1957-2006, but it is hard to verify because in locations where there are actual observed data, they don’t match that well. A situation which you describe in the paper (see Figures 3a, 3b, first full paragraph of page 461, that the reconstructed trends for the Peninsula are less than the global average and yet you describe is as one of the most rapidly warming places on earth, that your Figure 4e has spatial differences compared with Supplemental Figure 1c and 1d or the image you linked to in comment 18), and which renders that spatial detail of the cover image difficult to interpret. In fact, you wouldn’t put Figure 4e (your reconstruction from 1979-2003) on the cover of Nature because it is inferior to the actual data. And yet you allow the full period Nature cover when you know that it doesn’t spot check.

    [I submitted that figure because it is a beautiful rendition summarizing our results. Not only was it not intended to mislead anyone, I don't agree that it is misleading (except perhaps to those that want to make it so). It's a pretty picture for heaven's sake. Don't read more into it than that.]

    I understand the issue—that when considered as a whole, the data on the Nature cover may better capture the trends over time than any other method of determining the average trend over the continent—but that said, it is not accurate on the fine spatial scale that it is presented. Thus I would suggest that Figure 2 is a better summary of your findings. For the data contained in Figure 2 can be compared against all other determinations of Antarctica’s temperature history, over any subperiod of interest, and represents a spatial scale that you are comfortable with. Your spatial reconstructions (trend maps) help provide some insight as to why the trends in Figure 2 are different from others’ trends, but I would argue that, in terms of robustness, Figure 2 should be your highlighted result, not the image that appeared on the cover, which is really just a step along the way towards producing your ultimate result (Figure 2). But, clearly it is a lot less flashy and wouldn’t have made the cover and thus perhaps not draw the attention that it did. So it was good PR, but not the most robust piece of science in your well-done paper and part of what has led to the confusion (in my opinion, of course).

    -Chip Knappenberger

    [Response:I'm glad you think the paper is well done. The point of the cover is to entice people to read the paper, not to run with their first impressions of the findings from glancing at the cover. I think you have made a lot of good comments and asked some good questions. But (and I hope you don't take this wrong), you sure have a lot of suggestions. Next time, why don't you do the work, write the paper, and submit the cover figure?--eric]

  33. 33
    David B. Benson says:

    EdnaMenschtein (30) — Read

    and two or three closely related thread on Tamino’s Open Mind.

  34. 34
    Pat Neuman says:

    RC comment #30 says … “They point to the new sea ice in Antarctica and say that global warming is over”. … (comment #30)

    However, text at the NSIDC says … “Unlike Arctic sea ice, Antarctic sea ice disappears almost completely during the summer, and has since scientists have studied it”.

  35. 35
    Joel Shore says:

    Gavin, I was glad to see you take on the conspiracy theory regarding the timing of the press conference for this article. I tried to get Anthony Watts and company to flesh out exactly how, mechanistically, such a coincidence in timing could be arranged given that the press conference timing is dictated by Nature’s publication schedule (and Gore’s speech was announced only like the day of or day before the press conference occurred)…and never did really get any reasonable responses.

    Re #30 and 33: You might also want to look at this RealClimate post showing what sort of variations one sees for temperature trends in climate models forced with steadily-increasing levels of CO2 over such short time periods:

  36. 36
    Jim Cross says:

    When I look at the ups and downs in the graph of Antarctic temperature between 1957 and 2006, the highs and lows seem to correspond to the solar cycle.

    This isn’t based on any sophisticated analysis but it is more of observation that could be mistaken.

    Is it possible this study is simply showing that Antarctic temperature (or at least part of it) is extremely sensitive to the solar cycle? In other words, by including a weak solar cycle at the front end of the time series, have you biased the result in favor of warming?

    [Response: hmm.... correlation with annual sunspot numbers r=0.17, and with the low number of degrees of freedom in the solar timeseries, I doubt that is particularly significant. Even if you cut it off at 2000 (solar max), the trend is still up. - gavin]

  37. 37
    Anne says:


    Are you going to comment on your bosses former bosses,
    Dr. John S. Theon, recent comment?

    Theon declared “climate models are useless.” “My own belief concerning anthropogenic climate change is that the models do not realistically simulate the climate system because there are many very important sub-grid scale processes that the models either replicate poorly or completely omit,” Theon explained. “Furthermore, some scientists have manipulated the observed data to justify their model results. In doing so, they neither explain what they have modified in the observations, nor explain how they did it. They have resisted making their work transparent so that it can be replicated independently by other scientists. This is clearly contrary to how science should be done. Thus there is no rational justification for using climate model forecasts to determine public policy,” he added.


    [Response: He was not my boss's former boss. And what is there to comment on? What study is he alluding to? What papers does he reference? If this is just his opinion, how can it be refuted? Who are these scientists who do such terrible things? When did they do them? Where? As for sub-grid scale processes, we've just done two dense FAQ posts that address precisely those issues. His conclusion about climate models does not appear to be based on anything, and is patently false. Climate models have proved useful in myriad ways - for prediction (effects of Pinatubo, strat cooling), for assessment of data consistency (ice age tropical temperatures, MSU trends), as test beds for new instrumentation or methodologies, for explaining past climate changes, and indeed for being more skillful at future projections than any naive expectations of no change. Asking me to comment on Theon's remarks, is like asking me to duel a ghost. There is nothing there. - gavin]

  38. 38
    Deep Climate says:

    #31 Roger Pielke:
    I’m not sure why Eric Steig characterized Weart’s article in this way: “I’m not sure what models he was talking about that said Antarctica should be cooling.”

    But we do know what made him “cringe”: “I meant that I thought he wasn’t clear enough that he [Weart] was referring to the models show a slower warming in Antarctica than e.g. in the Arctic, which was and remains the correct assessment of what the model show. And I suspected that his article would be used in exactly the way Roger Piekle Jr. has used it; to give the impression that scientists are being careless and inconsistent. But as I said above, this is a red herring.”

    Obviously, the second statement is a lot clearer, and corrects what may well be a slight misremembering in the first statement. Yet Pielke continues to harp on the first Steig statement as if Steig had never corrected it.

    In the original post, Pielke quoted liberally from Weart before concluding : “So a warming Antarctica and a cooling Antarctica are both “consistent with” model projections of global warming.”

    And yet in passages quoted there is no reference to Antarctica cooling (as a whole). Not in the observations and not in the models. But now that Piekle has been set straight (great response, Gavin), will he correct the record? Not a chance.

  39. 39
    Swann says:

    My question above (28 Jan 1.34pm) wasn’t answered so I’d like to repeat it.

    According to the paper, the continent-wide warming is significant if the reconstruction is done using non-detrended data but not using detrended data.

    Eric, are both types of reconstruction equally valid? Can one say for sure that the reconstruction that leads to a significant warming trend is more valid than the one that does not?

    [Response: Using detrended data results is much poorer verification statistics -- large areas in both East and West Antarctica cannot be reproduced (RE scores <0) when using the detrended data. So the detrended results are demonstrably less valid. Having said that, we thought it important to include this because spurious trends in the satellite data could not be a priori ruled out. This is why we say the detrended results are a conservative lower bound on trend magnitude. As we point out, the significant warming in West Antarctica remains in either case.--eric]

  40. 40
    Calum says:

    Anyone at Real Climate like to comment on this submission?

    [Response: This is old news. We commented when they first did this - nothing has changed. - gavin]

  41. 41
    Don says:

    The idea of Global Warming or ‘area warming/cooling’ may also be directly linked to the polar shifts that occur periodically, could they not? Polar shifts (when the Earth slightly shifts on its’ axis) seem to be documented in studies and would also significantly contribute to the stronger area temperature changes in the northern and southern areas more than areas closer to the equator. I’m no rocket scientist, but it does raise more questions as to the data intake, whether it’s complete or incomplete, and whether its’ source is bias or unbias. There are so many modern discoveries, research and data that are standardly ‘denied’ if it doesn’t fit the ‘old school’ ways, ideals or chriteria, which in itself, is a crime against science, and moreover, against humanity as a whole (the general population), don’t you think? It seems as though this is just another story of ‘The Wolf Pulling The Wool Over The Sheeps’(Our) Eyes’. I would like to see a much broader and open-minded approach to science, even if it means changing the history books. Mistakes happen, that’s a given, but it is how we learn from our mistakes and move on to overcome our shortcomings that define us, as well as history itself, is it not?

  42. 42

    May writes:

    “can we march people such as Exxon and Inhofe off to the Hague for crimes against humanity?”

    That would be fine by me! The level of reprehensible irresponsibility seems criminal.

    This kind of talk makes our job much harder. It makes AGW defenders sound like people with a political agenda.

  43. 43
    rokdoc says:

    As a geologist I have seen the effect of climate change on the geologic record. These effects can be seen globally in the rock record and have occurred as far back as our rock record exits. These changes can be dramatic and appear to occur rather quickly(in geologic terms). My point is, there had to be something causing these sea level changes. Obviously, it wasn’t man, as mans time here on earth is miniscule when compared to our geologic time scale. The real driver to climate change(warming or cooling) is the sun and the cyclic nature of the suns solar activity. How else do you explain it?

    [Response: Sea level change? Most geologic sea level changes are related to tectonic processes (rates of ocean spreading, continental subduction etc.) or the waxing and waning of ice sheets (particularly over the last 2.5 million years). Those are paced by orbital variations, which have nothing to do with solar activity. - gavin]

  44. 44
    Matt says:

    Speaking of polar temperature changes (this is my lame attempt at looking like I’m staying on thread), does anyone here have some expertise they can share regarding the potential (or lack thereof) for tropospheric impact resulting from the ongoing sudden stratospheric warming event in the Arctic?

  45. 45

    Eric (re:32),

    Thanks again for your thoughts and reply. I appreciate your time.

    The only reason I commented on the timing of the paper appearing when it did was that Gavin brought it up in the main post with the implication that there is no manipulation of what is published when. I don’t believe this to be the case. Perhaps the authors don’t have much of a say, but Nature exists to make money and so they closely control their PR, which includes what to release when (probably not for all articles, but definitely on occasion). Whether this was one such occasion, I can’t say. I am just saying the timing (more with the new Administration than with Gore) perhaps helped explain some of the popularity.

    As far as papers that find cooling over Antarctica for some periods, how about:

    Doran et al. (2002):

    “Although previous reports suggest slight recent continental warming, our spatial analysis of Antarctic meteorological data demonstrates a net cooling on the Antarctic continent between 1966 and 2000, particularly during summer and autumn.”

    And, Chapman and Walsh (2007):

    “Linear temperature changes calculated using starting dates prior to 1965 [and ending in 2002] are positive for land only, ocean-only, and total area. Starting dates of 1966–82 have negative trends for the Antarctic land-only grid points with mixed results for ocean-only and total area. Interestingly, most of the recent literature has determined trends using starting dates from the 1966–82 period and therefore show negative trends of varying degrees over much of Antarctica.”

    My point here is that claims that there has been cooling over Antarctica are not simply figments of some skeptics’ imagination.

    [Response: I've never said that the idea of Antarctic cooling has no origin. Gavin's post gives an accurate summary of where the idea came from. But that is a far cry from the claim (and yes, that claim has been made, repeatedly, on skeptics blogs and public statements (e.g. Singer, Christy)) that Antarctic has been cooling in the long term. Most such claims use a single weather station (South Pole) to back up the claim, but conveniently ignore that most other weather stations show warming (as is clear in Figure 3.7 from IPCC, shown in Gavin's post). Both of the papers you suggest indicate overall warming in the long term, with some cooling over some areas in the short 1960s to ~2000 interval. Our paper shows that too (not a suprise, since we are using the same data). You have not found me a single paper showing average cooling over the long term. You won't because there isn't one (at least, not one I can find).--eric]

    I agree with you that the cover picture is pretty—and I think that it brought added attention to the article.

    And, truthfully, I wish that I had more opportunity to spend more time actually doing research than simply commenting upon it. But, that it not the situation that I currently find myself in. I do have a few things in the works (this for instance), but unfortunately, finding the resources to support even a minor research effort has proven difficult in recent years.


  46. 46
    Stuart Harmon says:

    [Response: Sea level change? Most geologic sea level changes are related to tectonic processes (rates of ocean spreading, continental subduction etc.) or the waxing and waning of ice sheets (particularly over the last 2.5 million years). Those are paced by orbital variations, which have nothing to do with solar activity. - gavin]


    I think you make it up as you go along. Ice ages end due to solar activity.
    Harlech Castle in North Wales constructed late 13 Century the sea is now 500 metres from the sea gate

    The Cinque ports granted thier royal Charter in 1155 were silted up by the 15 Century.

    Whenever you are presented with facts you either dismiss them or answer showing yourself to be out of your depth. Or of course you demean the critic as you have done above.


    [Response: Local sea level is much more complex than global changes which is what we were talking about. How Harlech Castle is relevant to the ice ages escapes me though (the last one ended 20,000 years ago). - gavin]

  47. 47
    SecularAnimist says:

    Barton Paul Levenson wrote: “It makes AGW defenders sound like people with a political agenda.”

    Any “agenda” for dealing with AGW will necessarily be, at least in part, “political”.

    Should those who, for purposes of personal and corporate profit, deliberately deceived the American people for more than two decades about the reality of anthropogenic global warming, be subject to some sort of legal penalty? I don’t know. Should tobacco company executives and others who deliberately deceived the American people about the reality of tobacco and cancer be subject to legal penalty? Their deceit arguably caused many deaths. The deceit of the AGW deniers will arguably cause many more deaths — perhaps billions of deaths that would have been preventable by early action to reduce emissions. Should the deceivers be held to account for that somehow? I think it’s not an outlandish suggestion.

  48. 48
    Jim Eager says:

    Don @41, look up Milankovic Cycles. Everyone here at Real Climate is well aware of them, and well aware that they operate over periods of 10s or thousands of years.

  49. 49
    dhogaza says:

    And, Don, Milankovich Cycles are measured with astronomical precision – orbital mechanics.

    Why do you think climate science is ignoring this? How do you think climate scientists model and otherwise study past ice ages if they ignore their cause?

    You need to read up on basic science, always best to understand a subject before you declare that it’s bull.

  50. 50
    dhogaza says:

    Stuart Harmon:

    The Cinque ports granted thier royal Charter in 1155 were silted up by the 15 Century.

    Siltation happens. Look up “river delta” in wikipeda. Has nothing to do with ice ages, especially the one that happened 20,000 years before the ports were built (as gavin points out above).

    In honor of the reference to ports, captcha says:

    “Warship calling”

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