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Groundhog day

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 June 2009

Alert readers will have noticed the fewer-than-normal postings over the last couple of weeks. This is related mostly to pressures associated with real work (remember that we do have day jobs). In my case, it is because of the preparations for the next IPCC assessment and the need for our group to have a functioning and reasonably realistic climate model with which to start the new round of simulations. These all need to be up and running very quickly if we are going to make the early 2010 deadlines.

But, to be frank, there has been another reason. When we started this blog, there was a lot of ground to cover – how climate models worked, the difference between short term noise and long term signal, how the carbon cycle worked, connections between climate change and air quality, aerosol effects, the relevance of paleo-climate, the nature of rapid climate change etc. These things were/are fun to talk about and it was/is easy for us to share our enthusiasm for the science and, more importantly, the scientific process.

However, recently there has been more of a sense that the issues being discussed (in the media or online) have a bit of a groundhog day quality to them. The same nonsense, the same logical fallacies, the same confusions – all seem to be endlessly repeated. The same strawmen are being constructed and demolished as if they were part of a make-work scheme for the building industry attached to the stimulus proposal. Indeed, the enthusiastic recycling of talking points long thought to have been dead and buried has been given a huge boost by the publication of a new book by Ian Plimer who seems to have been collecting them for years. Given the number of simply made-up ‘facts’ in that tome, one soon realises that the concept of an objective reality against which one should measure claims and judge arguments is not something that is universally shared. This is troubling – and although there is certainly a role for some to point out the incoherence of such arguments (which in that case Tim Lambert and Ian Enting are doing very well), it isn’t something that requires much in the way of physical understanding or scientific background. (As an aside this is a good video description of the now-classic Dunning and Kruger papers on how the people who are most wrong are the least able to perceive it).

The Onion had a great piece last week that encapsulates the trajectory of these discussions very well. This will of course be familiar to anyone who has followed a comment thread too far into the weeds, and is one of the main reasons why people with actual, constructive things to add to a discourse get discouraged from wading into wikipedia, blogs or the media. One has to hope that there is the possibility of progress before one engages.

However there is still cause to engage – not out of the hope that the people who make idiotic statements can be educated – but because bystanders deserve to know where better information can be found. Still, it can sometimes be hard to find the enthusiasm. A case in point is a 100+ comment thread criticising my recent book in which it was clear that not a single critic had read a word of it (you can find the thread easily enough if you need to – it’s too stupid to link to). Not only had no-one read it, none of the commenters even seemed to think they needed to – most found it easier to imagine what was contained within and criticise that instead. It is vaguely amusing in a somewhat uncomfortable way.

Communicating with people who won’t open the book, read the blog post or watch the program because they already ‘know’ what must be in it, is tough and probably not worth one’s time. But communication in general is worthwhile and finding ways to get even a few people to turn the page and allow themselves to be engaged by what is actually a fantastic human and scientific story, is something worth a lot of our time.

Along those lines, Randy Olson (a scientist-turned-filmmaker-and-author) has a new book coming out called “Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style” which could potentially be a useful addition to that discussion. There is a nice post over at Chris Mooney’s blog here, though read Bob Grumbine’s comments as well. (For those of you unfamiliar the Bob’s name, he was one of the stalwarts of the Usenet sci.environment discussions back in the ‘old’ days, along with Michael Tobis, Eli Rabett and our own William Connolley. He too has his own blog now).

All of this is really just an introduction to these questions: What is it that you feel needs more explaining? What interesting bits of the science would you like to know more about? Is there really anything new under the contrarian sun that needs addressing? Let us know in the comments and we’ll take a look. Thanks.


1,071 Responses to “Groundhog day”

  1. 201

    Jim N writes:

    Gore, Hansen and MIT all predict dire consequences in the future if we (Humanity) don’t cut our use of carbon fuels by some thing like 80% in the next 30 to 40 years. Most of you who contribute to this blog are intelligent but I have yet to see any viable solutions proposed to replace the energy supply.

    Conservation, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass.

    CAPTCHA: “21c incurs”

  2. 202

    truth writes:

    Why should we not wonder about accuracy, when so many of the surface temperature measurement stations are located in unsuitable situations like airport tarmacs, next to tarred roads and large buildings, and airconditioning exhausts etc—-with orientation, maintenance and monitoring problems added to that?

    Because statistical analysis shows that urban heat island bias is well accounted for, and in any case is not large enough to make a significant difference. See:

    Hansen, J., Ruedy, R., Sato, M., Imhoff, M., Lawrence, W., Easterling, D., Peterson, T., and Karl, T. 2001. “A closer look at United States and global surface temperature change.” J. Geophys. Res. 106, 23947–23963.

    Peterson, Thomas C. 2003. “Assessment of Urban Versus Rural In Situ Surface Temperatures in the Contiguous United States: No Difference Found.” J. Clim. 16(18), 2941-2959.

    Peterson T., Gallo K., Lawrimore J., Owen T., Huang A., McKittrick D. 1999. “Global rural temperature trends.” Geophys. Res. Lett. 26(3), 329.

    And because HIGH temperatures are not necessarily RISING temperatures.

    Why should we not wonder about the integrity of global measurements when many countries have suffered wars , cultural revolutions, genocides etc, during the period, with accurate temperature measurement and the precise recording of it , surely of low priority?

    Because we have adequate samples.

    Why should we not think that all the other impacts over the time in question, like huge population increases, land use changes, unprecedented deforestation, massive building programs where once it was rural, and black carbon from the burning of forests and industry—-might have more impact on global temperatures anyway, than CO2 ?

    Because there’s no empirical evidence that that’s the case.

    The phrase ‘since records began’ sounds apocalyptic, but the most accurate records only began in the late 1970s—surely not a not a long enough time frame for such dire comparisons.

    We have accurate temperature records back to the 19th century and good proxies for before that.

  3. 203

    ilajd writes:

    Gavin I look forward to your in-depth review of Plimer’s book. That is of course when you get around to actually reading it.

    Say, ilajd, do you agree with Plimer’s apparent belief that the Sun is made of iron? How do you think that reflects on his expertise outside his own field of geology?

  4. 204
    Pilot says:

    I am looking forward to the review of Plimers book.

    Would it also be possible to publish a line by line rebuttal of Joanna Nova’s “The Skeptics Handbook”

    This pesky document is causing a lot of trouble in schools and should be dealt with asap.

  5. 205
    Anne van der Bom says:

    Jim
    9 June 2009 at 8:30 PM

    Most of you who contribute to this blog are intelligent but I have yet to see any viable solutions proposed to replace the energy supply.

    I get the feeling, correct me if I’m wrong, that you’re expecting a ‘miracle cure’. Stop looking. There is none. Whatever path we choose (nuclear, ccs, renewables), it will be full of uncertainties and hard work.

  6. 206
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Gavin (#197),

    Your position is probably clear but you’ve not made it clear here. I am guilty of the same so let me try again.

    Yes, Hansen is taking a rather long view. But, so far as I know, an actual runaway greenhouse effect on this planet is usually discussed with an even longer view: that of stellar evolution. So I am surprised to see it raised as a real possibility with regards to CO2 from fossil fuels.

    What you have made clear in the post you link to is that the current climate is not prone to a runaway effect.
    What I gather from Hansen’s presentation is that, sometime in a BAU future, a massive CO2 forcing from fossil fuels might well trigger a total boiling of the oceans. That this scenario would not unfold in the next century does not make such a prospect any less alarming in my view.
    You make clear that the current forcing from emissions is much lower but it’s not clear whether you’re implying it’s conceivable that a much larger forcing might be a game-changer that would somehow invalidate the Kombayashi-Ingersoll limit or otherwise trigger a runaway greenhouse.

  7. 207
    Chris Dudley says:

    Nigel (#173),

    Prinn’s study has been mentioned and Andy’s Dot Earth blog and he plans to look at it more: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/20/high-odds-of-hot-times/
    I’m not sure if that counts as muted.

  8. 208

    Take heart RC- Some things are changing and by your own account – Don’t forget, a not insignificant ” ..remarkable shift in attitudes by policy makers, the corporate community, and the general public….” (Chapter 10 of Gavin’s book ) There’s a long way to go but it’s not all groundhog day.

    Unsurprisingly, those reviewers, who have read this book have a much more reasonable take on it. . A review given by William Hewitt is right on the mark.
    http://www.nature.com/climate/2009/0906/full/climate.2009.45.html
    A couple of brief excerpts are as follows:
    (1) “…… In enabling the average reader to grasp some reasonably difficult concepts, Picturing the Science measures up well to (Elizabeth) Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe….”
    And:
    (2) “On the issue of policy, the book holds up well. There is a particularly clear and concise discussion of cap and trade and other mechanisms. The authors are perfectly correct in their assessment that there has been “a remarkable shift in attitudes” in the last few years. This bodes well, certainly, but the consensus for action needs to be deepened and broadened. That is this book’s raison d’etre, and to that end it will be an important contribution.”

  9. 209
    bobberger says:

    dhogaza 191
    I have seen John V’s work – and lets be honest. Had he come to a different conclusion, people like yourself would probably have eaten him alive for jumping to unwarrented conclusions from few samplings, let alone methodology. Again: I do NOT claim that Watts’ work will change the world by scientific merit. But its graphic and therefore far better media fodder than oxygen isotopes or aerosol properties and I think it’ll get some serious coverage and an old blogpost from an amateur who calls himself John V will probably not suffice to put it into perspective. (and anyway… if this thread was meant to be the search for a topic “under the contrarian sun” that couldn’t be countered, it’d be rather short, wouldn’t it?)

  10. 210

    Have you folks discussed the article about diminishing wind speeds that appeared in Yahoo this morning?
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090610/ap_on_sc/us_sci_diminishing_winds

    In particular they mention that Gavin is skeptical about the reports. Admittedly the data is sketchy at this time. However, I hope Gavin will be watching for more data and, if necessary, update his climate model.

    [Response: Um, well they quote me too and I note that the trends are likely real. As I explained to the journalist (Seth Borenstein of the AP-he’s quite good), this does not mean that they can be related to anthropogenic climate change. that would require further work, e.g. application of standard detection + attribution approaches to the problem. Seth indeed makes that point in the article. I also pointed out to him that, if there is a climate change connection (and that’s an important if), the irony is that climate change could actually be counteracting the efficacy of alternative energy sources that might be necessary to move to a non-fossil fuel intensive energy economy. That point is made in the first sentence of the article. I was disappointed to see Gavin and me quoted as if we’re in opposition in our views on the study. We’re not–I agree w/ Gavin that there isn’t yet a demonstrated climate change linkage. That of course in no way means that such a linkage does not exist. – mike]

  11. 211
    Mark says:

    “bobberger Says:
    10 June 2009 at 9:40 AM

    dhogaza 191
    I have seen John V’s work – and lets be honest. Had he come to a different conclusion, people like yourself would probably have eaten him alive…”

    Uh, that is an assumption based on what would have to happen for you to defend your position.

    No evidence that it would happen.

    Did you see JohnV’s work and SEE IF HE WAS RIGHT????

    Ah, no, because you can’t control all sides of that situation and may be found wrong…

  12. 212
    Mark says:

    re 206: “So I am surprised to see it raised as a real possibility with regards to CO2 from fossil fuels.”

    Uh, where? As you point out, not here. Not in Gavin’s linked discussion. Not in Hansen’s discussion either (where he’s talking about millions of years, more likely billions).

    E.g. if the sun were 25% hotter (which could happen in ~2-3 billion years) then all our available CO2 is enough to give a runaway greenhouse effect THEN (figures made up, 25% may be right or wrong, but the current output of the sun isn’t enough, so we either need more artificial Carbon and Oxygen to combine or more Sun).

  13. 213
    Chris Dudley says:

    Gavin (in #197),

    I agree with #206 that you have not been all that clear on the possibility of a Venus-type runaway. The question is not about when we burn all the tar sands but if that really causes the end of life on Earth. With the price of oil above $60/barrel, we will burn all the tar sands.

    My own view is that Hansen’s reliance on the the idea that slow negative feedbacks are not a help needs a closer look. The atmosphere cannot support the entire world’s oceans as vapor regardless of the surface temperature and so one must wait for hydrogen to be lost from the top of the atmosphere to space, a process that takes some time. I would suggest that this bottleneck provides time for the slow feedbacks to work and one needs a detailed model that would include, for example, erosion and weathering of exposed contenental shelf, before drawing conclusions about the ultimate chances of a Venus-like runaway.

    It is an interesting (and proabably relevant) question and I hope you have time at some point to give it some thought.

  14. 214
    dhogaza says:

    Had he come to a different conclusion, people like yourself would probably have eaten him alive for jumping to unwarrented conclusions from few samplings, let alone methodology.

    Let’s be honest – you don’t know me.

    And, be he right or wrong, the point here is that JohnV understood the need for analysis, Watts doesn’t even acknowledge the need.

    He’s already on record on his blog, his “paper”, and his recent presentation at the Heartland Institute conference that he’s proven that the GISS temp record is biased upwards and that bias explains much of, if not all of, supposed warming. Proven it w/o analysis.

  15. 215
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Mark (#212),

    Read the whole document Lynn (#36) linked to! I have not verified myself that Hansen actually wrote this but I’ll quote anyway:
    “Given the solar constant that we have today, how large a forcing must be maintained to cause runaway global warming? Our model blows up before the oceans boil, but it suggests that perhaps runaway conditions could occur with added forcing as small as 10-20 W/m2.
    There may have been times in the Earth’s history when CO2 was as high as 4000 ppm without causing a runaway greenhouse effect. But the solar irradiance was less at that time.
    What is different about the human-made forcing is the rapidity at which we are increasing it, on the time scale of a century or a few centuries. It does not provide enough time for negative feedbacks, such as changes in the weathering rate, to be a major factor.
    There is also a danger that humans could cause the release of methane hydrates, perhaps more rapidly than in some of the cases in the geologic record.
    In my opinion, if we burn all the coal, there is a good chance that we will initiate the runaway greenhouse effect. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale (a.k.a. oil shale), I think it is a dead certainty.”

    My understanding is that the amount of CO2 would only marginally affect the runaway threshold. The strong greenhouse effect would be from the high H20 pressure in the atmosphere so, given enough incoming radiation, no C02 would be required.
    But it seems Hansen has a different view. I wouldn’t presume to know better than him which is why I brought it up. I was hoping someone could provide an authoritative rebuttal to Hansen’s extraordinarily alarming belief.

  16. 216
    John Mashey says:

    re: #198, #204

    I am *not* looking forward to having Gavin, Mike, or anyone else from RC review Plimer’s book.

    This is *exactly* the sort of thing that RC folks shouldn’t waste any time doing, especially since various competent Australians have already done a fine job on it (Ian Enting is already up to 35 pages).

    The RC Wiki already has a reasonable list, and there’s a Wikipedia entry on the book.
    Why on Earth should RC folks spend another minute on it?

    We need our good scientists to spend *much* of their time doing real science, and (if we’re lucky), *some* of their time communicating real science to a broader audience.

    Most of the routine debunking can be done by interested others, especially when (as in Plimer’s case) there is a quite capable local community to whom it is especially relevant.

    The rest of us have to pitch in and help as we can.

  17. 217
    Mark says:

    “Given the solar constant that we have today, how large a forcing must be maintained to cause runaway global warming? Our model blows up before the oceans boil, but it suggests that perhaps runaway conditions could occur with added forcing as small as 10-20 W/m2.”

    And, AFAIR, there isn’t enough CO2 available to get to a forcing of 10-20W/m2.

    Now, when there’s more sunlight, you won’t need so much of a CO2 forcing since the amount of energy it has available to play with is more. And then a 10-20W/m2 could be possible with much lower CO2. Maybe low enough to be caused by the CO2 the earth has to emit.

    Venus, being closer, has a higher solar constant.

  18. 218

    The problem with deja-vue is mainly with a few media organizations running like Radio Moscow during the Soviet days. They are the ones giving air time to the Lindzen’s and fellow “not in the oil business” contrarians. I find this amusing more than depressing, they dare rarely to venture away from a friendly “Murdoch” paid reporter questions.

    I credit RC for being the prime absolutely best online University class room on climate, but RC hits not hard enough on certain topics like Arctic ice volume loss, which is the ultimate metric, contrarians always flunk explaining this phenomena,
    I have not read one which did remotely make sense on the subject.

    Its also time for the RC class room to expand, allow a special guest, someone like Lindzen to write something here, and answer questions. But that of course would be, if they have, no fear in their stance, but especially working for free like RC moderators! Rather than using the media as a pulpit, why not a forum loaded with people having expertise in the field. I guess that sending an invite to a contrarian would seem perverse, but if they refuse to give us a lecture and answer questions, they have no merit to elaborate their views and theories to the larger public. Having a guess contrarian might boost everyones prestige at the expense at getting to know the subject better.

  19. 219
    James says:

    Chris Dudley Says (10 juin 2009 at 10:20 AM):

    “The atmosphere cannot support the entire world’s oceans as vapor regardless of the surface temperature…”

    Could you expand on this? If I’m understanding correctly, you’re saying that (given sufficient forcing) the extra water vapor would increase atmospheric pressure, thus increasing the boiling point? So that instead of a “Venus Effect” where the oceans all boil away, the Earth develops its own “pressure cooker effect” (can I copyright that?) with a hot ocean and an atmosphere that’s mostly steam?

  20. 220
    dhogaza says:

    I am *not* looking forward to having Gavin, Mike, or anyone else from RC review Plimer’s book.

    This is *exactly* the sort of thing that RC folks shouldn’t waste any time doing, especially since various competent Australians have already done a fine job on it (Ian Enting is already up to 35 pages).

    What John says …

  21. 221
    Mark says:

    If Pilmer thinks that catastrophic change is inevitable, why does he bother?

    If it ruins the economy, the inevitable change in climate will do it anyway.

    If children die because they are given no care, the inevitable climate change will do it anyway.

    If he’s going to be inconvenienced, the inevitable climate change will do it anyway.

    If it’s all inevitable and we’re doomed no matter what, why hang about in this dreary existence?

    Hope?

  22. 222
    Rod B says:

    Aaron (168), an interesting thought, but if you think “selling truth” is a slam dunk in the marketing world, you know very little about it.

  23. 223
    MarkB says:

    Another story that gives contrasting quotes from Mann and Schmidt might be worth covering…

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hTDEhuJEga5TgzmbnWtYF1Y5Gm7gD98NNON81

    Ironically, the same crowd that denies global warming will probably be promoting this story.

  24. 224
    Christopher Hogan says:

    Bought your book and found it to be thorough, fair, and very well written. The pictures were just a bonus. And I wanted to say what many have already said — you are providing an invaluable resource here.

    As with many others, I’d like to see more discussion of mitigation strategies that are plausibly large enough to matter. I realize from prior comments that you (probably correctly) think we should focus foremost on reducing emissions, not mitigation. But I would like more coverage of (e.g.) proposals to increase mid-ocean cloud cover, proposal to distribute finely ground rock to absorb C02 through weathering, biochar, whatever seems plausible to you. Particularly those that promise long-term carbon storage. Thanks.

  25. 225
    RichardC says:

    There aren’t that many groundhogs. Perhaps six permanent threads could handle the denialist debate. The threads could be HEAVILY moderated so they have SHORT comment sections which exemplify the best of both sides’ arguments as they evolve. It would be a good addition to the Start Here section.

    Or, we can wait a few months for the Arctic sea ice to crack up. It’s interesting when the speed of debate no longer keeps up with the physical processes driving the debate.

  26. 226
    bobberger says:

    #214
    >”He’s already on record on his blog, his “paper”, and his recent presentation at the Heartland Institute conference that he’s proven that the GISS temp record is biased upwards and that bias explains much of, if not all of, supposed warming. Proven it w/o analysis.”

    Believe it or not. I really didn’t propose the surfacestations.org project as a topic (on realclimate, no less) in order to find myself almost immediately pressured to defend it. Anyway – here we go. I just listened to the audio of Watts’ presentation at the Heartland Institute (yes, all 27 minutes of it) and he said absolutely nothing of that sort.

  27. 227

    There is quite a good review of Plimer’s book by his fellow Australian academic Mike Sandiford. It was brought to my attention by John Rawnsley in post #192. The article is entitled:
    Geology points to dangers ahead
    .

    This excerpt caught my attention

    The last time there was so much CO2 in the atmosphere was during the Pliocene epoch about five million years ago. The rhythms of that Pliocene world were fundamentally different and less extreme than those of the ice-age world of the past few million years. The Pliocene world was warmer, less windy and less variable than today

    [my emphasis]

    Then I read the post by Bill Hamilton #210

    Have you folks discussed the article about diminishing wind speeds that appeared in Yahoo this morning?
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090610/ap_on_sc/us_sci_diminishing_winds

    Putting two and two together, it does look as if global warming could be making the world not just “warmer” but also “less windy and less variable.”

    Cheers, Alastair.

  28. 228
    Mark says:

    Now, re 227, check you haven’t added two apples to two weeks…

  29. 229
    Hank Roberts says:

    MarkB, that story’s misrepresented what they said; already corrected above — see Mike’s inline reply to Bill Hamilton at 10 June 2009 at 9:57 AM

  30. 230

    #227, Greetings Alastair, less winds means less mixing of ocean surface, means less clouds, and hot spots all over the world. It is perhaps a necessity for warm drought periods to be more wind free.
    http://rredc.nrel.gov/wind/pubs/atlas/chp2.html
    “Seasonal Variations of the Wind Resource

    Because there is considerable seasonal variation in the wind energy resource, with maxima in winter and spring and minima in summer and autumn throughout most of the contiguous United States”

    But you do not need to go back in time to figure this out…

  31. 231
    MarkB says:

    Re: #229

    Thanks. I missed the response.

  32. 232
    Chris Colose says:

    Just a question– would a reduced pole-to-equator temperature gradient be a reasonable candidate for a less windy planet?

    [Response: It’s not so simple. First off, you need to think of wind as a complex field. Under no reasonable circumstances do winds globally increase or decrease. Factors that set windiness in different regions are different. The tropics are different from the mid-latitudes and are different to coastal or monsoonal regions. In the southern ocean, there has been a very strong increase in winds mainly because of the ozone hole changing upper trop/lower strat temperature gradients, while the surface gradients haven’t changed much. There is a similar effect in the winter in the Northern Hemisphere after volcanic eruptions and possibly as a function of increasing CO2. Winds in tropical situations respond to the convection (at the local scale) and the Hadley Circulation regionally etc. All other things being equal, a reduced equator-pole surface temperature gradient will reduce baroclinic instability and thus storminess in the mid-latitudes, but that is not the same as mean wind speed, and in any case, all else is not equal! You can see what our model suggest for the A1B IPCC scenario at 2090-2099 here (derivable from here) – it’s a complex pattern (strong changes in the southern ocean and tropics), but very little expected change over the US. That is not definitive of course – I haven’t looked at other models or seasons – but it should suffice to demonstrate that simple answers are not going to be very applicable. – gavin]

    [Response: In the free atmosphere, wind is essentially ‘geostrophic’ which means that its driven by the (predominantly north-south) gradients in air pressure, and occurs along contours of constant pressure (‘isobars’). Near the surface, this isn’t quite true. Friction slows the winds, and causes them to cross the isobars from high to low pressure (hence we get ‘convergence’ in the center of surface low pressure regions such as the ‘intertropical convergence zone’ (ITCZ) located near the equator. Nonetheless, we can reason that the changes in surface winds will follow approximately from the associated change in the surface pressure field. The IPCC/CMIP3 projections (e.g. as shown for the ‘A1B’ scenario) show a general poleward shift of the current subtropical surface high pressure belt into the mid-latitudes, especially during summer (the well-known poleward shift of the descending branch of the so-called “Hadley Cell”). The high pressure belt is a region of low pressure gradient, and hence low wind. This in essence displaces the region of maximum westerly surface winds poleward, from the U.S. into, say, southern Canada. A decrease in the mean strength of the surface westerlies over the U.S. would therefore appear to be consistent with projected changes in large-scale circulation. However, its not quite that simple. The average wind speed depends as much on the day-to-day variance as it does on the mean strength of the climatological westerly surface winds. As Gavin notes above, the decreased poleward temperature gradient implies less baroclinicity in the atmosphere, less storminess, and therefore lower day-to-day wind variance. Both factors do therefore seem to work in the direction of decreasing wind in mid-latitudes. But even this reasoning is somewhat questionable, as wind anomalies over a region as small as the U.S. are unlikely to be representative of the trend for the entire latitude band on the whole. Factors such as El Nino, and the “Northern Annular Mode” have an important role on wind patterns over the U.S., and changes in the behavior of these phenomena could easily overwhelm the average trend for the mid-latitude band. So in short, the observation of decreasing wind speeds over the U.S. is in a rough sense consistent with the large-scale projections, but given the uncertainties in factors that are important in determining wind patterns over the scale of the U.S. continent (e.g. El Nino), its hard to say precisely what would be expected. What is needed is a careful detection/attribution analysis to see if the observed changes in wind speeds is consistent with climate change projections. This has been done for surface temperature, precipitation, and sea level pressure changes, and there is no obvious reason it can’t be done for wind speeds. It will be interesting to see if there are any efforts in the community to pursue this, now that this intriguing suggestion of a trend in wind speed is on the table. By the way, the usual sources of disinformation are predictably already trying to distort the conclusions of this study. At least one disinformation outlet has tried to confuse the conclusions of this study with conclusions about tropical storms and hurricanes. The trends observed in this study have nothing to do whatsoever with the behavior of tropical cyclones, and in no conceivable way do they have a bearing on the issue of whether or not tropical cyclones are becoming more intense in our warming climate. Any attempts to argue otherwise reflect either ignorance or mendacity. -mike]

  33. 233
    Ike Solem says:

    On Alastair’s excerpt:

    The rhythms of that Pliocene world were fundamentally different and less extreme than those of the ice-age world of the past few million years. The Pliocene world was warmer, less windy and less variable than today

    The basic error in Alastair’s use of this quote to portray climate responses is the failure to discriminate between the transient climate response (the period during which the atmosphere and oceans are warming) and the equilibrium response (which occurs once atmospheric gases and global temperatures have both stabilized at a new level).

    Practically, global warming over the next 50-100 years is all about the transient response, not the equilibrium response.

    This distinction between the transient and equilibrium response needs to be emphasized because so many prominent media climate commentators are unaware of it. It also applies to El Nino:

    It suggests that we shall see an elevated level of ENSO activity in the initial stages of global warming, but a reduced level of ENSO activity (or even a permanent El Nino state) when global warming is full-blown.

    Response of ENSO to global warming: A perspective from the global heat balance, Sun, 2008

    This is also the reason that the NYT headline claiming “Study halves sea level projections” was so misleading. Changes in estimates of the absolute volume of the West Antarctic Ice have little or no effect on estimates of sea level rise over the next century – just over the estimates of maximum sea level rise assuming total ice melt.

    The study didn’t even halve the global equilibrium projections, however, since East Antarctica is where most of the ice is – and the Revkin article was a weird mismash of notions related to transient and equilibrium responses – displaying either gross ignorance of the topic, or a deliberate deception.

    So, the transient response is not the same as the equilibrium response – and that also applies to projections of winds, drought, precipitaion, Hadley cell expansion, etc. The transient response is what we are experiencing, and will continue to experience, probably until some 50-100 years after atmospheric long-lived greenhouse gas levels stabilize, when a new ‘open equilibrium state’ will set in.

    How will you know when we get there? Well, at that point the Earth would be in steady state, absorbing as much energy as it was emitting (neglecting any heat exchange with the hot interior, which is minimal). That can be seen from a suitably distant satellite positioned at L1.

    However, since the satellite budget was sabotaged, TRIANA has been sitting in mothballs for a decade, and that leaves nothing but simulations of what TRIANA might have told us:

    Simulation and Correction Of Triana-Viewed Earth Radiation Budget with ERBE/ISCCP Data

    If you cover up your eyes, you won’t see the scary monsters… Oh dear…

  34. 234
    dhogaza says:

    Believe it or not. I really didn’t propose the surfacestations.org project as a topic (on realclimate, no less) in order to find myself almost immediately pressured to defend it. Anyway – here we go. I just listened to the audio of Watts’ presentation at the Heartland Institute (yes, all 27 minutes of it) and he said absolutely nothing of that sort.

    OK, sorry, I *assumed* his presentation at the Heartland Institution was on his “paper”, which he self-published a week or so ago.

    If not, I apologize.

    However, I’ve read the actual document that is his summary, and it says exactly what I claim:

    This report, by meteorologist Anthony Watts, presents the results of the first-ever comprehensive
    review of the quality of data coming from the National Weather Service’s network
    of temperature stations. Watts and a team of volunteers visually inspected and took pictures
    of more than 850 of these stations. What they found will shock you:

    We found stations located next to the exhaust fans of air conditioning units,
    surrounded by asphalt parking lots and roads, on blistering-hot rooftops, and
    near sidewalks and buildings that absorb and radiate heat. We found 68 stations
    located at wastewater treatment plants, where the process of waste digestion
    causes temperatures to be higher than in surrounding areas.
    In fact, we found that 89 percent of the stations – nearly 9 of every 10 – fail
    to meet the National Weather Service’s own siting requirements that stations
    must be 30 meters (about 100 feet) or more away from an artificial heating
    or reflecting source.

    The conclusion is inescapable: The U.S. temperature record is unreliable.

    No analysis required. Based on the photos alone, without making any effort at all to determine whether the GISS algorithm(s) applied to the raw data suffices to build a robust product.

  35. 235

    Re #290

    Hi Wayne,

    Since the Arctic will warm more than elsewhere due to polar amplification, then there will be less of a zonal temperature differential leading to less storminess. OTOH, with warmer tropical seas there will be more hurricanes.

    But I then read that Earth vibrations indicate increased storminess so what to believe!

    BTW, if the Arctic sea ice decreases by the same amount it did 06 to 07 during 08 to 09 then this September we will see a minimum of around 3 M sq km.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  36. 236
    dhogaza says:

    Apparently I messed up the blockquotes.

    This:

    The conclusion is inescapable: The U.S. temperature record is unreliable.

    is Anthony’s conclusion in his paper.

    The following paragraph are my words.

    Maybe reCaptcha has the answer to Watts not reporting on his report at the conference:

    “no lecturn” :)

    (seriously!)

  37. 237
    Mark says:

    “We found stations located next to the exhaust fans of air conditioning units,
    surrounded by asphalt parking lots and roads, on blistering-hot rooftops,”

    And unless these stations were standing in midair or were placed on a building that was torn down and replaced to the same height, those stations on the rooftops (or on roads, parking lots, etc) would have been in that situation for their lifetime.

    A net change of WHAT over the site for its lifetime (which is where you get your trend from)?

  38. 238
    Ike Solem says:

    One other point on wind speeds and global warming – the continental U.S. study is hardly the first to focus on the issue, it has in fact been a hot topic for Southern Ocean carbon cycling, which in turn is thought to be the central player during glacial-to-interglacial transitions:

    Wind-Driven Upwelling in the Southern Ocean and the Deglacial Rise in Atmospheric CO2, Anderson et al. 2009

    ScienceDaily (Mar. 13, 2009) …”The faster the ocean turns over, the more deep water rises to the surface to release CO2,” said lead author Robert Anderson, a geochemist at Lamont-Doherty. “It’s this rate of overturning that regulates CO2 in the atmosphere.”

    We can add, “over the glacial-interglacial scale” to that. What proportion of fossil CO2 will be eventually taken up the ocean is still a very uncertain matter (on a thousand-year timescale, i.e. the ocean mixing timescale – and recall the last deglaciation took about ten thousand years) – but the winds play a key role.

    Now, one modern uncertainty is how the winds and the Southern Ocean will respond to warming, especially as it relates to CO2 uptake:

    Ocean Less Effective At Absorbing Carbon Dioxide Emitted By Human Activity

    ScienceDaily (Feb. 23, 2009) — In the Southern Indian Ocean, climate change is leading to stronger winds, which mix waters, bringing CO2 up from the ocean depths to the surface. This is the conclusion of researchers who have studied the latest field measurements carried out by CNRS’s INSU, IPEV and IPSL. As a result, the Southern Ocean can no longer absorb as much atmospheric CO2 as before.

    This leads to one of the big issues, atmospheric-oceanic coupling and how ocean currents and circulation respond to wind pattern shifts. This is a key issue in El Nino predictions, etc. For example, see these news releases:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081219172037.htm

    “Stronger Coastal Winds Due To Climate Change May Have Far-reaching Effects, Dec 2008″

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081123222842.htm

    “Ocean Currents Surprisingly Resistant To Intensifying Winds, Dec 2008″

    Notice also that if the data on reduced windspeeds indicates a real trend, then that has the opposite impact on hurricanes than this other AP story relates:

    Study: Warming May Cut US Hurricane Hits, Tuesday, January 22, 2008
    By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer

    WASHINGTON — Global warming could reduce how many hurricanes hit the United States, according to a new federal study that clashes with other research…

    In it, researchers link warming waters, especially in the Indian and Pacific oceans, to increased vertical wind shear in the Atlantic Ocean near the United States…

    So that means “global warming may decrease the likelihood of hurricanes making landfall in the United States,” according to researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Miami Lab and the University of Miami.

    Perhaps a side-by-side retrospective is in order. It’s not impossible for ocean and land wind trends to move in different directions, of course – but it seems a little odd. We do expect the regional responses to vary quite a bit from place to place, though.

    Recall also that wind patterns, like ocean currents, are at least partially controlled by geographical features and physical effects (Coriolis, etc.) that are completely independent of global warming (thus, the Gulf Stream will not shut down, etc.). On the other hand, you could see severely negative effects on soil moisture and other drought-related variables, which seems to be among the biggest concerns.

    (Runaway Venusian greenhouse warming seems about as implausible as coal carbon capture, by the way).

  39. 239
    Jim Bishop says:

    It is common for folks to be confused or to discount current climate change by referring to paleoclimate events…Medieval warm spell, CO2 lagging temperature-increase in ice cores, Little Ice age, etc. The inference seems to be that all sorts of things cause climate change, and CO2 has not been the primary cause of past changes, so current changes and the role of CO2 don’t look all that convincing.

    You have described the role of paleoclimate in indicating climate connections and as a testbed for climate models. But it would be helpful if you discussed in one place the following.
    1. The limited coverage and accuracy of paleoclimate indicators, compared to what we have now, such as: paleotemperature proxies vs. thermometers, sunspot counts and isotopes vs. satellite measurements of solar irradiance, etc.
    2. The relevance and unprecedented nature of today’s rapid and large rise of CO2 and other greenhouse gases as a primary driver of climate change, and the much more complete and accurate record based on weather instruments and satellite observations.

    In short, provide a perspective that can help make clear the limited relevance and accuracy of paleoclimate data compared to current conditions and instrumental observations, so that folks don’t so easily discount industrial-age events just because there is evidence of past climate change without greenhouse gases.

    Thank you, Jim B.

  40. 240
    awickens says:

    I appreciate RC’s discussion of current events – new research, significant discoveries, etc. I come to RC to find out your (climate scientists) take on things. I’m sure journalists try to get it right, for the most part, but I like how you at RC will flesh out a topic in more detail, and with more nuance.

  41. 241
    Peter Houlihan says:

    What needs coverage? Please get someone on board who is qualified to blog about the biological aspects of climate change.

  42. 242
    Chris Colose says:

    gavin and Dr. Mann,

    Thanks for the detailed replies.

  43. 243
    Hank Roberts says:

    > biological aspects
    I resemble that remark.

    Perhaps there are topics that would deserve a sidebar or guest week? Under the umbrella here, with participation from the RC Contributors — I guess I”m saying once again that ‘listening’ to you all ‘talk’ is really the best learning, among yourselves and with your scientist guests.

    Another ‘sidebar’ I’d like to see would be one on mathematical reasoning, along these lines:

    “… There’s an astonishingly huge quantity of totally bogus rubbish out there, where the authors are clueless folks who sincerely believe … because they’ve heard the basic idea, and believed that they understood it. It’s a wonderful example of my old mantra: the worst math is no math. If you take a simple mathematical concept, and render it into informal non-mathematical words, and then try to reason from the informal stuff, what you get is garbage.” — Mark Chu-Carroll
    http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2009/06/chaos.php

  44. 244
    Ellis says:

    Dr. Schmidt,

    If you need a subject why not just return to your worst post ever (your words). I know that you revisited the subject in the update, http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/11/the-sky-is-falling/ however, that just seems to be you kicking the can to ESPERE. There of course is nothing wrong with that as I am sure the scientists at ESPERE are top notch, I just happen to enjoy your writing style, besides their explanation,

    The second effect is more complicated. Greenhouse gases (CO2, O3, CFC) absorb infra-red radiation from the surface of the Earth and trap the heat in the troposphere. If this absorption is really strong, the greenhouse gas blocks most of the outgoing infra-red radiation close to the Earth’s surface. This means that only a small amount of outgoing infra-red radiation reaches carbon dioxide in the upper troposphere and the lower stratosphere. On the other hand, carbon dioxide emits heat radiation, which is lost from the stratosphere into space. In the stratosphere, this emission of heat becomes larger than the energy received from below by absorption and, as a result, there is a net energy loss from the stratosphere and a resulting cooling.

    would seem to a novice, such as myself, to violate the first law of thermodynamics. Now, I am sure that I am merely misunderstanding the point the scientists at ESPERE are trying to make, but if at some point you could clarify exactly why CO2 cools the stratosphere and disabuse my ignorance it would be much appreciated.

    [Response: My understanding of this point is much better now than it was (hopefully). The key insight is that the effect is a function of the spectral changes in absorption. Looking down from the stratosphere, you do not see very much radiation at the strong CO2 bands coming up. Most of the surface radiation in those bands is absorbed by the CO2 in the troposphere, transfered to heat and then emitted over the other bands by water vapour, clouds etc. An increase in CO2 in the stratosphere would absorb more of the upwelling radiation in that band if it could, but there is very little to absorb. Instead, it becomes a more effective emitter, increasing the upward radiation to space in the CO2 bands and cooling the stratosphere. This doesn’t violate conservation or anything because the blocked radiation from the troposphere is coming up in the other wavelengths which don’t intersect with the CO2. This explanation has nothing to do with ozone or the temperature structure of the stratosphere, and indeed since it needs to also explain the mesopheric cooling, that’s just as well! – gavin]

  45. 245
    The Wonderer says:

    I suggest that you periodically have a “contrarian roundup” to encapsulate and limit the amount of time you invest in that sort. Spend the remaining posts to let us know what is topical and of interest to you.

  46. 246
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Bob Berger, the Surface Station project is a joke. First, the Surface stations’ main purpose is measuring weather, not climate, and the purpose of the guidelines was to improve Weather data. Of course, it would be easier to use data from well sited stations, but ease of use is less important for climate purposes than the length of the record, location of the station in relation to others, etc.
    Second, there are about 4 times as many stations as would be needed for a reliable temperature estimate. This opens up a lot of possibilities for filtering the data, censoring incorect readings, correcting for biases, diagnosing changes/problems and so on. As someone who deals with sparse data in my day job, having 4 times more data than I need is something I dream about.
    Third and most important, Watt’s little science project was conducted with zero understanding of the processing algorithms used for the data. He has no way of knowing whether any of the issues he has documented have any effect on the record. Indeed, any ANALYSIS of the data omitting the “bad” stations gives the same answer. Adding the “bad” stations gives additional information, and with a proper processing algorithm can’t hurt, as a single garbage reading will likely be censored and an erroneous trend corrected.

    This was covered at the time on RC. Watt’s project wouldn’t even merit a passing grade in a third grade science fair.

  47. 247
    Hank Roberts says:

    http://www.dlsc.ca/

    ” DLSC is heated by a district system designed to store abundant solar energy underground during the summer months and distribute the energy to each home for space heating needs during winter months…. fulfilling ninety percent of each home’s space heating requirements from solar energy …

    Project Status
    * Solar energy began to flow into the borehole thermal energy storage system as of sunrise on June 21, 2007 – the summer solstice.
    * Early performance results indicate that the solar energy system is performing as expected and that the 90% solar fraction will be achieved by year five.
    * The final construction of the 52 homes was complete in August, 2007. There are 51 homes currently occupied with the last scheduled for October….

    Hat tip to commenter ‘Brian’ at this also interesting page:
    http://www.iwilltry.org/b/projects/solar-attic/

    Noted as a possible source of some hard numbers, if anyone’s looking.

  48. 248
    Chris Colose says:

    You need a time series of photographs to even start to make a useful interpretation of how potential biases may have affected the trend. A cute picture with an arrow pointing to an air conditioner isn’t enough.

  49. 249
    MikeN says:

    You all make these jokes about how ridiculous the surface station project. However the agency running the stations is taking it seriously, and adjusting their stations to improve them. They have already eliminated the very first target of Watts’s posts.

  50. 250
    Ike Solem says:

    Note that the AP science article on windspeed has some misguided notions in it:

    “It also makes sense based on how weather and climate work, Takle said. In global warming, the poles warm more and faster than the rest of the globe, and temperature records, especially in the Arctic, show this. That means the temperature difference between the poles and the equator shrinks and with it the difference in air pressure in the two regions. Differences in barometric pressure are a main driver in strong winds. Lower pressure difference means less wind.”

    That’s not what generates wind and pressure patterns in the subtropics – that’s more the Hadley Cell circulation, which is pushing northwards. This tends to push the jet streams northwards as well. Second, the intensity of horizontal gradients between high and low pressure systems is what drives wind speed – and we can expect Arctic winters to stay cold enough to generate massive storms. Furthermore, with continental interiors heating up more than coastlines, you will have other gradients to think about, especially if permanent high pressure zones start parking over the southern U.S. during winter, thereby locking out moisture and leading to unprecedented levels of drought.

    A more active El Nino activity might counteract that to some extent, but if the jet stream moves north that will only mean more flooding in Idaho and Montana, not drought relief for the lower states and Mexico.

    This “lower polar gradient” theme was also played up by Richard Lindzen, but it is is incorrect, especially in the transient climate change scenario.

    For more on variable wind effects under global warming, see this:

    Also of critical importance to Southern California wildfires are the timing and intensity of Santa Ana winds, which may be sensitive to future global warming (Miller and Schlegel, 2006).

    Climate change projected fire weather sensitivity: California Santa Ana wind occurrence


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