Climate Services

Webcasts from the conference have been posted on the WMO WCC-3 web site. In addition to the science, a number of speakers discussed politics. There is also a new book – Climate Senses – that has recently been published for the WCC-3, dealing with climate predictions and information for decision making

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201 comments on this post.
  1. Fred Magyar:

    Leonard Ornstein @ 30,

    If ’sacrifices’ are required to stem global warming, the almost non-existent ecosystems of the central Sahara and Outback seem like reasonable candidates – compared tothe alternatives.

    Wow! You say that seriously? First, those are *NOT*, almost non existent, ecosystems!
    Second, the alternative is to recognize first and foremost that BAU can not continue. Period end of story.

  2. dhogaza:

    However, if regional politicians had justified a large budgetary increase for new levees, they’d have to explain why, and that would involve admitting the concerns over global warming-enhanced hurricane seasons, which was politically unpalatable for Louisiana’s large petroleum and petrochemical industries.

    The levees that failed were US Army Corps of Engineers levees, and local politicians had been complaining about reduced federal funding (they’re not locally funded; the federal funding was siphoned to the Iraq war) for years.

    For instance:

    “June 8, 2004: Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, told the Times-Picayune:

    Walter Maestri: It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq , and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.”

  3. Hank Roberts:

    Apropos wildfire:

    September 9, 2009
    GAO Report on Wildfire Management

    GAO on September 9th published a report “Wildland Fire Management: Federal Agencies Have Taken Important Steps Forward, but Additional, Strategic Action is Needed to Capitalize on Those Steps.” GAO-09-877 . A summary, the GAO Highlights, is contained in this link.

    (links for docs at original web page, linked above)

  4. David Horton:

    #30 With all due respect, and I am sure you guys are well meaning, perhaps you should try a physical visit instead of using, with all due respect, Google Earth. The Australian deserts, while some are not “pristine” (some grazing, feral animals like cats and camels and rabbits), are still the most undamaged habitats in Australia. If you guys were suggesting reforesting the over-cleared, over-grazed, over-fertilised, areas of eastern and southern Australia which were once woodlands and open forests, then I would applaud (although I hope you don’t have in mind plantation timber like pines or blue gums in monoculture stands). To talk about deserts as if they were wasteland to be made to bloom is, with all due respect, a very nineteenth century concept, and we can’t afford any more nineteenth century thinking. It has what has got us into this mess.

  5. Philip Machanick:

    Leonard Ornstein #30:
    > The main cost of “energy to move the water around”
    > is included in the cost to raise it to the average
    > elevation of the Sahara.

    I saw that, which is why I thought I must be missing something. Raising water to the average elevation is not the whole energy cost. On the level you need energy to overcome friction and turbulence in the pipes, and you would need to raise the water significantly above the ultimate level to get a decent flow over the whole area using gravity from there on. Even under normal conditions, distributing irrigation evenly is a hard problem: you have to minimize inefficiencies like water more deeply than you need in one area to get enough depth at the minimum.

    We are talking about vast areas and volumes of water here; you can’t fudge the calculation without the possibility that you have introduced an error big enough to blow the whole thing away. And that’s aside from questions of whether you will introduce other unwanted consequences. Finding mostly non-fuel alternatives to fossil fuels is the lower-risk option than any other alternative I’ve seen including this. But I’m still listening, mainly because it’s hard to see that rationality will prevail before the problem becomes too extreme to deal with any easy way.

  6. David B. Benson:

    Fred Magyar (48) — As I ponted out above, the additional biomass can be used to produce fuels which compete directly against fossil fuels. This lowers fossil CO2 emissions. Combined with increased use of technologies which produce no CO2 when providing power, it may be possible to have a carbon negative economy. Which would be a very good thing.

    I suppose even salt flats have an ecosystem, sand dunes do; microorganisms are almost everywhere. The proposed use of deserts is simply the least worst of the alternatives, IMO. In any case, no desert would be 100% so used.

    I suspect the Tunisians, with 14% unemployment, would welcome such a use of southern Tunisia. The Mauritanians, with average per capita income of but $2,100 per year and 30% unemployment, even more so for their stretch of the Sahara.

  7. llewelly:

    However, if regional politicians had justified a large budgetary increase for new levees, they’d have to explain why, and that would involve admitting the concerns over global warming-enhanced hurricane seasons, which was politically unpalatable for Louisiana’s large petroleum and petrochemical industries.

    As far back as the 1980s, research at Tulane University had shown that the levees were incapable of protecting New Orleans from the hurricane activity that had been observed up to that time.
    Furthermore, I note the article you link to does not mention either global warming climate change. Global warming enhances the dangers New Orleans faces. But even without global warming, the present levee system, as well as the pre-Katrina levee system, would be inadequate. Major hurricane landfalls have been a danger to the gulf coast since at least the end of the last glaciation.

  8. James Staples:

    I’m afraid, my friends, that ‘Future History’ will probably relegate all of us to the “THEY told us so, but we didn’t listen….” long after New York and Basra have succoumbed to the waves.
    That we may before then, or – when disasters finally stirs us to long overdue action – shortly thereafter, move towards taking a more ‘Global’ Stance towards analyzing and forecasting the Weather; there’s always some Ying with the Yang.

  9. Andrew:

    Leonard (#30), Forget Google, go there in person. And it mostly isn’t anywhere near bare. It is a complex ecosystem well adapted to the desert conditions. There certainly are bare areas but mostly they represent salt pans. And if not salt pans then areas with heavy salt loads. In fact in many inland areas the limitation is not lack of water, but too much water. Adding water raises the water table bringing the salt with it.

    My question still stands. Why cause an ecological catastrophe in Australia so that the US etc don’t have to face up to their own carbon problems.

    You say that establishing forests in North America won’t help because of albedo affects. I have a suggestion. How about removing all the forests from North America (converting them to charcoal for burial) and converting the whole of North America to the equivalent of desert. That will ameliorate some of the global warming for sure.


  10. Brian Dodge:

    “The answer is simple, converting human excrement into hydrogen to replace the fossil fuel powered electrical generating facilities.”

    0.12 kg excrement per person per day (
    6.78e+9 world population (
    -> 8.14e+8 kg excrement/day
    or 2.97112e+11 kg/yr
    0.3 m^3 methane/kg ( -max yield: typical yields are less)
    -> 8.91e+10 m^3 methane
    which is a lot; but
    3.004e+12 world natural gas consumption in 2008 (
    33.70 times larger

    We may be full of sh*t, but we’re not that full of sh*t.

    According to “World agriculture: towards 2015/2030 : an FAO perspective”, world meat production(cows, pigs, mutton, chickens) is predicted to be 3e+11 kg. Assuming a 0.6 dressed to live weight yield, and excrement production proportional to body weight, even if we collected all of that resource, it would only double the methane yield.
    (Although politicians may bias the methane yield upwards, this resource is about an order(ordure?&;>) of magnitude too low to even replace just natural gas)

  11. dhogaza:

    To talk about deserts as if they were wasteland to be made to bloom is, with all due respect, a very nineteenth century concept, and we can’t afford any more nineteenth century thinking. It has what has got us into this mess.

    I suspect most of the realists among us understand that (I’ve been active in the conservation of arid and semi-arid lands in the US west).

    Screwing up major ecosystems to “save our ass” is even worse than 19th century concepts, because they did it from ignorance. If we do it, it will be from a position of great knowledge of the value of such ecosystems, and an immoral decision to destroy them because we’re not willing to take sufficient action to reduce our CO2 output.

  12. RichardC:

    46 BJ said, “it is not explained well AT THEIR LEVEL”

    There are two completely incompatible scenarios. The only way to differentiate is to up the discussion beyond easy reach. Most folks will just believe their trusted source anyway.

    Additionally, scientists have a language barrier – hypothesis, probabilities, and all those caveats can be made to sound waffly and weaselly:

    “They said global ice extent was important. Then it was just the arctic. Now it’s not extent at all but volume. Only one thing pointing towards AGW and suddenly it’s the important one. To top it off, this 10 year cooling trend and the continuing rebound of arctic ice since 2007 is really an increase in the downward slope of the linear trend line??

    (No rebuttals allowed which aren’t “at their level”)

  13. James:

    David #10
    “It’s just a tiny point, hardly worth mentioning really, but these guys do know that the Sahara, and even more so central Australia, are not empty wastelands but rich and diverse ecosystems in their own right, don’t they?”
    There are no free lunches. What would you rather: replace a desert ecosystem with a tropical rain forest one, or live in a grey skyed diaster zone that another geo-engineering created (suphate injection), or other worse BAU scenarios.
    Seems to me there are a few well defined paths, but we quibble over the merits of each.

  14. Martin Vermeer:

    Hank #45: I don’t find that… getting 541 hits with your string, the first one being your comment. And Aarons all over the map, none of them Lewis.

  15. Andrew Hobbs:

    All those considering afforesting Australia and the Sahara

    The energy required for large desalination units is about 3.5 KWh per cubic metre of water produced. This represents about 12.6 M joules of energy to produce 1 KL. To supply one hectare at the suggested rate of 500 mm of water per year would require about 12.6 x 10000 x 0.5 or 6.3 x 10^4 MJ of energy for desalination.

    The average height of inland Australia is propably about 300 M so the water would need to be pumped up at a cost of about 1.5 x 10^4 MJ of energy to gain height.

    The energy content of coal is about 2.5 x 10^4 MJ per tonne. Assuming an efficiency of 50% in generation (which is rather high), it would take about 6 tonnes of coal to provide water at 300M to 1 hectare of trees, disregarding energy costs of distribution.

    Not sure about costs of pumping water long distances but the suggestion of pumping water from the Kimberly in northern Western Australia to Perth, a similar distance to those contemplated, required several times more energy than desalination. Then there is the energy of pumping through small distribution pipes to individual trees which would probably be even greater

    So the fixation of carbon per hectare has to be greater than 6 tonnes per year, at least, and possibly much greater, to make the scheme carbon positive if using fossil fuel power. This rate of carbon capture by forests is higher than I have seen in a number of studies which would make the scheme worthless. Of course nuclear power would be the obvious way to go but this would require more than 500 GW of power (for Australia alone), possibly much more depending upon the energy required for water distribution. This would allow carbon sequestration of 0.6 G tonnes of carbon assuming a rate of 3 tonnes per hectare and 2 million square KM.

    Secondly, of course, one could look at the original Bala paper that is cited by several people. If you look carefully at the assumptions for their model simulations, they divide the earth up into 3 regions, the tropics, the temperate regions and the boreal regions closer to the poles. They find the only region worth doing such reafforestation is in the tropics. The reason Bala et al. found such a difference between tropics and the other regions is that forests in the tropics generally had good cloud cover whereas those in the temperate regions did not. It was this maintained high albedo along with carbon capture that was so positive.

    Yet about 80% of the area of Australia and the Sahara considered by the report of Ornstein et al., is in fact in the temperate regions as defined by Bala et al.; and so according to their model would be unsuitable.

    This would seem quite reasonable since inland Australia and probably the Sahara would have a high albedo. Cover it with trees and I bet the same problem would arise as for the temperate regions in the computer model used by Bala et al. That is in balancing decreased albedo with carbon capture. Even with irrigation I doubt that there would be a great chance that it would affect cloud cover significantly.

    Thirdly, as I said in a previous post, the vegetation in most areas of inland Australia is in a delicate balance between water levels and salt levels. Irrigation would almost certainly cause problems in most areas and I suspect would make the system not viable anyway.

    Plus I like the following quote from Bala et al.

    “Finally, we must bear in mind that preservation of ecosystems is a primary goal of preventing global warming, and the destruction of ecosystems to prevent global warming would be a counterproductive and perverse strategy.”

    They warned that this should be born in mind when considering deforestation in temperate regions to increase albedo. However I am sure many would also consider it should apply when considering afforestation in other regions to capture carbon; especially when there is a good likelihood it either wouldn’t work or cost too much energy to make it worthwhile.

  16. Andrew Hobbs:

    Sorry in the last post I forgot to mention that the figures for water use and energy use are per year.

  17. Philip Machanick:

    Andrew Hobbs #60: great response. I recently tackled the view that every way of rescuing fossil fuels is just a matter of engineering whereas alternatives are all too hard.

    In reality, both continuing to use fossil fuels and switching to renewables present hard engineering challenges but at least renewables don’t include the insoluble problem of what you do when the fuel runs out.

  18. CM:

    Curious, thanks. Should have reread that before opining. Guess my memory lacks skill on the interannual scale… I look forward to the post Gavin promised.

  19. Richard Steckis:

    Edward Greisch says:
    10 September 2009 at 5:54 PM:

    “We got rain that was supposed to land on South Texas. South Texas had a drought. Global warming moved the rain. Thus global warming is raising the price of everything made of corn or fed on corn, like chickens, turkeys and beef.”

    Could you please provide some scientifically verifiable evidence for that statement.

  20. Richard Steckis:

    Ornstein has not got a clue about the ecological implications of his statement that the desert regions of Australia and the Sahara are canditates for ecoligical sacrifice.

    He does not understand that irrigated agriculture of Australian deserts will result in dryland salinity problems of such a magnitude that the artificial forests will die off due to saline water tables rising to the surface. Desert systems are desert systems for a reason and rainfall is not the only limiting factor for vegetative growth.

    There would be thousands of biologists such as myself that are outraged at even the possibility of such a thing happening.

    People such as Ornstein and David B Benson (#56) have absolutely no knowledge of ecosystems and their importance (ALL OF THEM). Trying to geo-engineer something that cannot be changed by it is nothing short of stupidity.

  21. Mark:

    “The Australian deserts, while some are not “pristine” (some grazing, feral animals like cats and camels and rabbits), are still the most undamaged habitats in Australia.”

    David, the Australian Outback used to be quite lush lands (how do you think the elephant bird survived if it were like that all the time?). Then humans turned up and turned the land into desert.

    Or at least helped.

    So “pristine” is hardly the word.

    NOTE: Scotland used to be heavily forested until humans cut down the trees to such an extent that the thin soil was unprotected and became unsuitable for sustaining the life it had previously managed.

    And they now call those Scottish highlands “pristine countryside”…

  22. Richard Steckis:

    #71 Mark says:

    “David, the Australian Outback used to be quite lush lands (how do you think the elephant bird survived if it were like that all the time?). Then humans turned up and turned the land into desert.

    Or at least helped.”

    You are so way off the mark it isn’t funny. To which humans do you refer? Do you not know that the Elephant bird was native to Madagascar and not Australia? Your lack of knowledge of the Australian environment and it’s evolution is breathtaking.

  23. Ray Ladbury:

    I find myself in the awkward position of having to agree with Steckis. Modeling of ecosystems makes modeling the climate look like child’s play. And salinization of soils is but one possible consequence of irrigating the deserts.

    Unfortunately, at some point we will run out of good options for mitigating climate change. Andrew asks why Oz would risk ecological catastrophe so the US could continue to pollute. Of course it wouldn’t. It would, however, risk ecological catastrophe to avoid a potentially greater or more imminent one. That is precisely the situation they will likely face. And the rest of the globe will likely be facing similarly unpalatable choices. We have already brought the realization of this scenario much sooner by doing nothing for 20 years. The best way to postpone and minimize this undesirable situation is to take advantage of the opportunities for mitigation that we have now–before they, too, vanish.

  24. Kevin McKinney:

    Richard, where’s your outrage as a “biologist” about geoengineering a planet that’s 6 C warmer and a world ocean that’s a couple of tenths more acidic than at present?

    Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel!

  25. Mark:

    “You are so way off the mark it isn’t funny. To which humans do you refer?”

    Hominids. Arrived in Australia maybe as long as 50,000 years ago.


  26. Mark:

    OK, some other of the megafauna that was unique to the region.

    say, the thunder bird:

    FFS you wonk, Skecsis.

  27. Kevin McKinney:

    A quick clarification: when I put quotes around “biologist”, referring to Richard Steckis, I did so to emphasize that that was his self-descriptor and his implied explanation for his outrage–which I take to be quite sincere–about the Australian afforestation concept.

    It belatedly occurs to me that it might be taken as an implied questioning of his credentials as a biologist. No such implication is intended.

    Nonetheless, I remain bemused by his lack of concern about the vastly larger negative consequences to the biosphere entrained by AGW. After all, the latter is studied in great depth and breadth, and we have every reason to believe it is already ongoing. The former remains a proposal at the conceptual stage–one among many.

  28. John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation):

    #73 Ray Ladbury

    I am in agreement here. One way to put it would be, Mankind has done some stupid things. Because of that he may have to do more stupid things to ry to fix what is broken and maintain reasonable survivability of mankind and what’s left of critical ecosystems.

    The question we may have to then face is which decision is the least stupid.

  29. Mark:

    Skeksis, the [edit] was an admonition that before laughing your socks off and crowing about “how dumb are you”, it would be better to check how dumb you may make yourself look first.

    And, you know, check up your “facts”.

  30. Christopher Hogan:

    I had a hard time getting my mind around the climate services concept. I think I lost it with the 2008 floods/early warning system portion of that.

    Climate, as you all keep reminding us, is not weather. But unique forecasts of individual extreme events — that’s weather, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s somewhere between weather and climate.

    In terms of seasonal forecasts, we already have that, to a degree, in the US. NOAA publishes 30 and 90 day outlooks (e.g. they are currently predicting above-average temps in Alaska for the next three months). I’ve never had occasion to use one.

    Then, for annual data, there’s an entire industry devoted to predicting crop yields, on behalf of both food producers and commodities speculators. No idea how they work their magic, but I know that there are people gainfully employed doing that.

    In terms of extreme events, from my narrow US perspective, I find it hard to figure out what I would do with anything other than immediate information, e.g., projected hurricane paths. For (e.g.) hurricanes, the area of significant damage tends to be pretty localized — there really isn’t much for me to do until I know fairly precisely where the hurricane is heading.

    Reliable information on increased likelihood of extreme events in the short run might help governments plan their budgets better, but … really, these days, I doubt it. And really, at all, I doubt it. US government budgets tend to be trend-followers at best. It’s a fair bet that FEMAs budget went up after Katrina, and probably stayed up. (I couldn’t find the data to verify that.) Not because of any prediction of additional risk (though I’m sure there were some), but because they’d had a costly event. As long as the likelihood of these events changes slowly and continuously, then … the dumb trend follower is probably going to be about as good as an actual informed projection, in a practical sense.

    Really, when someone says climate services, I think that the end users are individuals who have to make significant long-term investments that can be harmed by climate change within the expected lifespan of the investment. Which grapes to plant, to me that’s the classic question that climate services can help answer. Only secondarily do I think about end-users who may need to invest to deal with the local effects of climate change.

    Let me give a specific example. The Federal government provides climate services to me now, in the form of the USDA hardiness zone map. As we now know, that’s just a trend-follower tempered by the judgment of USDA staff. Can your models offer me a (e.g.) a 30 year projection that is substantially better than the USDA’s part-data-part-seat-of-the-pants approach? Better enough that (say) a vinyard operator would preferentially chose to plant varieties based on local knowledge combined with your prediction, as opposed to the current USDA map. If so you have an end user, if not not.

    Take rainfall as another example. Presumably, infrastructure is set up based on current conditions plus predicted population growth. I have seen (e.g.) gas-hookup moratoriums and sewer-hookup moratoriums in my area, when the local governments believed the infrastructure could not accommodate additional growth in the short run. What, if anything, do you think the Federal and State governments could do in the face of (e.g.) predicted lower rainfall/snowfall in California? Water-line moratoriums? My guess is that they might talk some, but they aren’t going to (e.g.) build new dams at a faster rate until they have a crisis, or stop houses from being built. Again, I would expect trend-follower behavior. Having some prediction of lower rainfall/snowpack in the background might ease those decisions forward, but I expect that the well will have to run dry before they’ll move forward.

    Guess what I’m trying to get at is that everywhere weather prediction has a use, it’s used. Everywhere short-term (extreme event, seasonal, annual) predictions have a use, they are being used. Predicting longer-term probabilities of certain events might help set the tone for discussion, but realistically, I think governments largely react to to the past and just deal with the present.

    So my overall take on this is the following. OK, let’s say you can improve general circulation models some. What systematic new opportunities does that open up that do not currently exist? Maybe I’m just too cynical, but I’m having a hard time seeing the new uses for this information. Basically, I see them as offering us modestly improved opportunities for some types of long-term planning. You’d think this would let us plan ahead better. But I think, no, we’re just going to adapt, not plan. So, modestly improved long-term predictions of (e.g.) temperature and rainfall probably aren’t going to change what people and governments do now.

  31. Richard Steckis:

    #75 Mark:

    The hominids you speak of (the Aboriginie) did not create deserts. The caused the conversion of the inland forests to grasslands through the use of fire such that it allowed a more manageable suite of game species. This resulted in the extinction of the megafauna.

    That is a far cry from creating deserts.

  32. Richard Steckis:

    The fact is Mark. The Australian deserts are millions of years old. Here is an abstract of a paper by Langford-Smith (1983)

    “Recent research on the evolution of Australian desert landforms is reviewed, beginning with the macro-landscapes of Western Australia which have changed little for 200 million years, and the desert river courses of that State which have not been active for about 14 million years. Inland Australia in the early Tertiary was characterized by a near-planar landscape subjected to weathering in a hot, very humid climate, resulting in silcrete duricrust development and subsequent lateritization. Late Oligocene diastrophism warped the landsurface into the structural topographic units of today, including the Lake Eyre Basin, and fractured the duricrust which survived as cappings to relict plateaux and mesas. Lateritization ceased in mid-Miocene c. 14 million years ago, and the late Miocene and Pliocene experienced progressive desiccation. The present desert dunefields formed in the late Pleistocene c. 17 000 years ago. The desert has undergone little change over the last 10 000 years, apart from a minor mid-Holocene phase of relative humidity”

  33. John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation):

    Speaking of disaster predictability

    Fred is on the move and has good form

    The 5 day cone has Fred vearing more westward

    which puts the track into warmer waters

    Which give Fred a good chance of becoming a more significant hurricane.

    There is another one that might spin up right behind Fred.

    Tis the season…

  34. Fred Magyar:

    David B. Benson @ 56,

    Regardless of whether or not the desert ecosystems are valuable in their own right, you seem to be missing my second point about business as usual simply not being sustainable with these schemes.

    We as a species are currently in ecological overshoot. The laws of thermodynamics, specifically the second law, do not allow us to exceed the carrying capacity of our global ecosystems and you are suggesting that what we need to do is just go and disturb a few more ecosystems.

    We don’t even fully understand yet how they fit into the overall tapestry and you suggest that modifying them is a reasonable alternative to looking reality in the face and changing our entire paradigm. I find that to be a profoundly arrogant view. The industrial Free Market Capitalist exploitative business model that supports the largess of the few at expense of the misery of the many is dead! Quit trying to beat a very dead horse it’s not going to stand up again so you need to find another alternative.

  35. dhogaza:

    He does not understand that irrigated agriculture of Australian deserts will result in dryland salinity problems of such a magnitude that the artificial forests will die off due to saline water tables rising to the surface. Desert systems are desert systems for a reason and rainfall is not the only limiting factor for vegetative growth.

    I, too, find myself agreeing with Steckis. Visit the Imperial Valley and look at how much water they use to desalinate the soils every so often and then ponder the Salton Sea and ask yourself why it is so salty, and why the ag people allow so much water to flow into it as runoff given the fact that this area of the Mojave gets about 5″-8″ annual rainfall.

    There would be thousands of biologists such as myself that are outraged at even the possibility of such a thing happening.

    True. And there are thousands of biologists other than yourself who are equally outraged at the implications of AGW and our failure to do anything about it.

  36. Brian Dodge:

    I started looking at afforestation geoengineering like Andrew Hobbs, and discovered the following analysis for a temperate forest-
    According to J. H. M. THORNLEY and M. G. R. CANNELL “Managing forests for wood yield and carbon storage: a theoretical
    study”, Tree Physiology 20, 477Р484 © 2000 Heron Publishing, Victoria, Canada, 0.32 meter of water from rainfall are used by a forest to produce 0.76 net kg of photosynthetically fixed carbon per year per m^2. Their modelling showed that thinning the forest by about 10% each year maintained a large leaf area and resulted in the maximum carbon removal. Clearcutting every 60 years reduced the Carbon removal to 0.45kg/m^2. These numbers are in the same ballpark as Andrew Hobbs. I plugged them into a spreadsheet using the area of the Sahara (~9e+6 km^2) instead of Australia. I also found references stating the cost per m^3 of desalinated water ranged from $0.60 to $2.40, or $1.75 trillion to $7 trillion per year for just producing the water required, and a carbon removal of only 54% of current emissions. There are also the additional costs of distributing the water, labor costs for establishing, managing & regularly thinning the forest, accounting for inefficiencies (some areas of the Sahara won’t have the right soils, slope, aspect, etc to achieve optimum carbon capture regardless of the amount of irrigation thrown at them). The costs and inefficiencies associated with actually sequestering the carbon from the wood (can we afford to sequester the fixed N, P, K along with the carbon?) make thing even worse. Even if we could afford to do it, and were so willfully immoral (thanks, dhogaza) as to destroy a vast ecosystem along the way, it would provide less than half a solution (well, less than 54%; I call the idea half-assed). Establishing desalination fed oases on an ecologically tolerable portion of the Sahara & Australian outback(10%?), as well as using such technology to help ecosystems damaged or destroyed by man(Murray-Darling) IMHO would be a valuable thing to do despite the expense, but it’s not a magic bullet which will allow us to continue our profligate lifestyle.

  37. Leonard Ornstein:

    Philip Mechanick, #55:

    Compared to the energy to lift the water to the average elevation of the Sahara, the addition pumping is a small correction. We were trying to calculate something a bit closer than an order of magnitude to set up the argument; especially since there are a large number of other variables, which we discuss further on (level of induced rainfall, value of any sustainable harvest, impact on the required size of the irrigation project by any significant successes at global energy conservation) that could have much larger impacts on the energy bill.

    Andrew, #59 and dhogaza, #61:

    I’m a biologist. I didn’t mean to demean the ecologies of ‘barren’ deserts. But as has been already noted, in a trade off between destruction of huge global habitats, at the expense of AGW, losing the desert biomes seems like the best anyone has yet proposed. And, as we emphasized in our paper, our proposal works best and cheapest the more successful are global energy conservation efforts.

    Andrew Hobbs, #65:

    If you would only read our paper, you will find that we made all these calculations, but that our conclusions are different than yours. We discuss the costs of various energy sources for desalination and distribution pumping, from coal to sustainable wood to nuclear, showing as you do, that coal would be a poor choice (at least without CCS). we note: “Powered by sunlight, Eucalyptus trees can sequester about 2 kg of carbon from
    about 7.33 kg of atmospheric CO2 for each cubic meter of water transpired (Stape et al. 2004a).” So that’s how afforestation in subtropical deserts can pay off. And our modeling shows that such forest generate cloud cover that substantially and permanently reduces local temperatures, compared to those of the original deserts. Salt problems will certainly preclude afforestation of some portion of the deserts – and this was addressed explicitly. But it’s not the salt itself in the soil, but the Hadley Circulation, that’s responsible for the deserts, and our GCM modeling shows that the Hadley Cell is drastically, and permanently modified by these large wet forests.

    Robert Steckis, #70:

    As just noted, I too am a biologist. Perhaps if you will read the paper, and if you also understand a bit of climatology, you would appreciate that the large local changes, induced by the irrigated forests, dramatically change the former ecological niche, that ‘was’ the desert.

    As for the sacrifice of the desert ecologies to save others, that’s already been addressed.

  38. Jim Bouldin:

    Rasmus, many thanks for alerting us to this conference, on a topic that I find particularly interesting and important. Great to read a news article about a scientific conference written by a scientist. Looking forward to reading some of the abstracts and other materials.

  39. John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation):

    #80 Christopher Hogan

    1. Weather events are events that occur inside climate. Climate is general, in other words normal cliamte for this reagion in this season is… and climate trends are typically gauged by definition by the capacity to see the signal above the noise (currently 30 years). As the understanding improves so will the predictability and that 30 years may get shorter (hopefully all the wasy down to annual gernal forcasting).

    Acutally some of that forecasting is possible as noted in the paper discussed earlier surrounding the little new scientist debacle and Mojib Latif. Some trends are becoming better understood based on oceanic cycle variations, ENSO, NAO etc.

    Weather is predictable about a week in advance, 2 weeks at best. You can’t make a crop decision based on that data. You need longer term forecasting.

    Improving the inter-decadal can provide that and that could be the difference between very high food price fluctuations and even whether or not people starve or not.

  40. Wayne Davidson:

    Someone should tell this meteorologist (if he is one),
    the difference between climate and meteorology, and also not to confuse a Lord Monkton Graph;
    with the IPCC, finally not to extrapolate a once small patch of cooler Pacific off California;
    as Global cooling!

  41. Jeffrey Davis:

    “The issue of whether or not politicians are willing to believe in and act on climate projections … ”

    Politicians are like Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) from “Mr Smith Goes to Washington.” They aren’t like Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart). They aren’t convinced by arguments. They’re convinced by money. When AGW starts to hurt, they’ll act. Of course, we’ll probably be looking at lots of Tipping Points in our rear view mirrors by then.

  42. Aaron Lewis:

    Re 39 ; Martin,

    The format of the numbers in the IPCC stated upper bound of the range was given as “0.59 meters”. If the range had been from 0.54 to 0.59, then 2 significant digits would have been appropriate. However, the range was from 0.26 – 0.59 so there is really only one significant digit in the statement of the upper bound. You remind us that it is calculated statistically, but what is the quality of the underlying data? Are the uncertainties in the underlying data of a kind that can be reduced by statistical manipulation? Or, does manipulation produce a false sense of accuracy and precision? (See the paragraph on NYC below.) A better format would have been 0.3 – 0.6. However, since ice dynamics was known to be a factor, the actual range should have included the ice dynamics number for a stated range in the table of 0.3 – 0.8 meter. That would have been the proper format (with a foot note on the uncertainty in the ice dynamics number.)

    Consider the 0.6 meter sea level rise in NYC last summer. ( ) This throws a spot light on the uncertainty in the IPCC FAR numbers. And, it is an uncertainty that is not in your SLR model. NYC may be a small spot on the globe, but it is important to a lot of people. Damage to NYC infrastructure would have immediately repercussions in the flows of EU capital and finances. Thus, if you are modeling SLR in the context of human health and safety, NYC must be addressed.

    Every time a glaciologist expresses surprise at an ice shelf breaking up or a glacier speeding up, I know that he did not understand the uncertainty of his models and data. Every time a climate scientist expresses surprise at the rapid warming of the Arctic, I know that he did not understand the uncertainty of his models and data. If these guys do not understand the uncertainty of their models and data, then they cannot express that uncertainty in a paper.

    Have you read GUIDANCE FOR THE DATA QUALITY OBJECTIVES PROCESS, ( I consider that a must read for anybody that handles data that might affect public safety.

    Have you ever had your data reviewed by a regulatory agency? Have you ever defended your data in court? I have defended my data in court and to regulatory agencies. I have reviewed data from third parties for regulatory agencies and courts of law. As a member of the ASQC, I help draft QA4 referenced above. I helped draft the ASTM data quality standards ( I know something about data quality, and I am appalled at how climate science deals with uncertainty in matters critical to public safety. I understand using the data that you have. I also understand how to express uncertainty clearly. And, climate science does not do that.

    Sea level rise is of vital concern to industries subject to regulatory oversight. Can one of those industries take YOUR forecast to their regulators and say, “We can depend on these numbers as stated, to protect the public health and safety!”? Can an industry take your SLR number to their insurer? No, because there is great uncertainty in your numbers that is simply not stated and addressed.

    In the hazardous waste industry, where we had uncertainty, and a need to protect public health we put in safety factors of 10, 100, or even a thousand. Where we had multiple sources of uncertainty, we multiplied safety factors, until we had a total safety factors of million or more. It was science dealing with uncertainty in a way that protected public safety. We did not have any bad surprises, we had good surprises. We had another good surprise one last week with dioxin being less evil than we thought it might be. If the IPCC was concerned about protecting public safety they would have proposed a safety factor to compensate for the uncertainties.

    Policy makers are making decisions and policy. Does climate science deal with uncertainty in a way that protects the public safety and well being? If the IPCC had properly expressed their ranges, they would not have had to put in the lawyer weasel words that were discussed in the comments on the last post.

  43. Geno Canto del Halcon:

    Economics, despite it being the most despised and ridiculed of sciences, is IMPORTANT. Without spending our money for climate change mitigation and/or adaptation as efficaciously as possible, we may eventually find ourselves without the resources to do the mitigation and adaptation. (Look at the disaster that is Haiti, for example).

    The technology to generate power without fossil fuel already exists, but politics and prejudice stands in the way of a major expansion of nuclear and hydroelectric generating capacity. Cost efficacy often stands in the way of other schemes like tidal and wave power, and geothermal heat extraction. We will keep investing heavily in wind until we realize the massive, unsustainable maintenance headache that we are building. Until we can figure out more economically efficient ways to store energy, solar is going to remain at best a supplemental source of power that helps reduce the use of fossil fuel during the day time. Economics matters!

    Climate services that can predict how percipitation will change could be an economically important tool to deciding where it makes sense to increase hydroelectric capacity, and where it doesn’t. It might also impact decisions about building other kinds of generating capacity (need of cooling water, for example). Being able to predict how wind and cloud cover will change would certainly affect investment decisions about wind and solar. The single most important reason for climate services is being able to predict the economic impacts of climate change.

    Without considering the economic impacts of decisions we make, we might very well be signing the warrant for our own extinction.

  44. David Horton:

    #81 Um no, Aborigines didn’t do any of those things, in spite of popular mythology. Anyone who wants to follow this up further could read extensively here and Deserts and grasslands and forests are where they are because of climate, soils, topography. The megafauna are extinct because of the major climatic shifts of the late Pleistocene, a frightening portent of what is heading our way again.

  45. John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation):

    If anyone wants to play whack-a-mole at accuweather:

    I just submitted a comment. It does not show up automatically though; I got this message:

    Thank you for commenting.

    Your comment has been received and held for approval by the blog owner.

  46. John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation):

    Oops, that was in reply to #90 Wayne Davidson and the link I posted is wrong. Here is the correct link:

    Joe Bastardo wrote an open letter and put it on their global warming blog.

  47. David B. Benson:

    David Horton (54) — I lived far out in the Mohave for a year and visited the Australia Outback west of Cairns, Queensland. If one could afford the lifting costs I’d consider transforming some of the Mohave, but certainly do all I could to preserve that part of Queensland. On the other hand, flying from Brisbane to Cairns I saw considerable streches of sand that I would hope could be part of a “green the desert” scheme.

    As I have written before, we have to move away from fossil fuells as quickly as may be; I just don’t think it will be that quick. Starting on some “green the desert” projects now strikes me as wise. If starting with Murray-Darling makes most sense, by all means begin there. And I certainly think monocluture is a poor idea; unfortunately might have to begin that way.

    Philip Machanick (55) — I agree that water distribution costs have to be considered; the costs of drip irrigation over vast areas has to be understood. I would suggest beginning with more water applied to a smaller area and then learning how to use water more efficiently.

    Andrew (59) — It would help if the Australians would face up to their own carbon problems. As for forests in the US, it is beginning to look as if south Texas could become a “green the desert” project.

    James (63) — The change would be from desert to woodland savannah, not a tropical rain forest.

    Andrew Hobbs (65) — Certainly and absolutely not use fossil fuel to power the “green the desert” projects. Deserts have lots of sun, so I suggest solar thermal to start. Almost carbon neutral but for the CO2 created during manufacture and transport.

    John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation) (78) — Yes, exactly. Which decision is the less stupid, does not have to be the least. I am in favor of using many modalites at once. Some wind, some solar, some biofuels, some sequestration via growing biomass, some CCS into ultra-mafic rock, … The fact that it might just be possible via greening some of all the world’s deserts simply offers a geo-engineering alternative to be further explored, not necessarily ever fully realized.

    Fred Magyar (84) — You appear to have attributed to me views and attitudes I do not possess, stand for or even condone. Please learn to read what is actually written, for example all of this comment. To be quite clear, I strongly favor biofuels used with CCS for carbon negative energy. I strongly favor compressed biochar, deeply buried for further removal of the excess carbon.

    Brian Dodge (86) — Thanks. There are ranges of estimates; starting some actual field trials, pilot projects, would help to resolve the uncertainties. Suppose a project storing one gigatonne of carbon per year in biomass. Further suppose all of that is used to replace fossil fuel. That cuts down the current yearly emissions from around 10 GtC to a net 8 GtC; every little bit helps.

    Leonard Ornstein (87) — That was clear, think you. You may wish to emphasize that not all of any desert is proposed for complete conversion.

    All — Whether you and I have agreed or not, this has been quite a valuable exchange so far, including the various sidepoints I read but to which I did not respond.

  48. llewelly:

    John P. Reisman, #83:

    Speaking of disaster predictability
    Fred is on the move and has good form

    Please read:
    Fred is forecast to weaken to a remnant low in about 3 days. It may regenerate – but right now there is enough shear over that region to make that unlikely. If Fred did regenerate, it would be nearly guaranteed to encounter a large trough moving from west to east across the Atlantic. These troughs have been coming off the coast of N. America about once a week lately, and such a trough would probably cause Fred to turn north and then recurve away from the east coast. A Fred landfall can’t be completely ruled out, but it’s about as low as it could be for a tropical cyclone that hasn’t completely vanished.

    Atlantic hurricane activity this decade has been amazing (about 30-40% above any previous decade), but that doesn’t mean that every year in the decade is necessarily a severe hurricane season. This season got off to a late start, and most of the activity has been unusually far east, and overall it’s been slightly below average (typical for a hurricane season during a mild El Nino).

  49. Andrew Hobbs:

    Australian deserts and the Sahara.

    If the world was in extremis and it really was a matter of survival then I doubt many would oppose such geoengineering schemes. But then we wouldn’t be worrying about harvesting the forests for timber or considering all the economic aspects which the papers talking about such reafforestation schemes do. It is this latter which suggests the authors are thinking about reafforestation as a way of carrying on as normal as possible. It is the latter that offends a lot of sensibilities.

    However even then I find the arguments less than persausive. At temperatures where we need to consider geoengineering as a survival mode, I would think that we are going to need ecosystems that can survive in the sort of conditions to which plants and animals have become adapted in Australia and the Sahara. Under those conditions we should really be geoengineering the higher latitude ecosystems because they are the ones which are going to disappear (or will have already disappeared.)

  50. GlenFergus:


    We need to teach climate science some engineering* Aaron, and quickly. It will not be easy. Science is about understanding; engineering is about doing. We have the understanding. It’s doing that’s needed to stop stuffing the atmosphere and oceans with carbon pollution.

    Science makes educated guesses about how things are and then tries it’s damnedest to disprove. Engineering accepts what’s known and unknown to get the thing done, with the available resources (like time and cost) and with justifiable confidence (by understanding and managing the risks).

    Risk is probability times consequence, and probability includes uncertainty and variability. Uncertainty is what we don’t know about the system (both of Rumsfeld’s kinds), what the model misses, and the measurement deficiencies. So understanding data uncertainty is inherent to understanding risk, therefore inherent to engineering. As is rigor at every step (“justifiable”).

    Despite rhetoric, public policy actually relies much more on (nearly silent) engineering than on (much more glamorous) science. Have a look at how your government’s budget is spent. If we want governments to move on climate, we need the thing framed with the public policy rigor that the technocrats relish.


    (* That’s engineering, not bulls..t geoengineering.)