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AGU Fall 2009

Filed under: — gavin @ 14 December 2009

16,000 attendees, thousands of cups of coffee and thousands of interesting conversations (and debates) about science.

That would be San Francisco, not Copenhagen of course.

There are a few of the RC crew there, so hopefully we’ll get some updates, but keep track of some other attending bloggers as well:

and the whole AGU blogroll. There are some live webcasts through the week that might be interesting too.

If there are any other attendees reading, feel free to post about any interesting sessions/talks you see. I’ll update the main post with anything particularly noteworthy.


81 Responses to “AGU Fall 2009”

  1. 51
    Doug Bostrom says:

    AGU output:

    “A satellite instrument designed to improve weather forecasts has provided a wealth of data on the flow of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, scientists said Tuesday.

    The data also verified a mechanism in which rising temperatures increase the rate of ocean evaporation, and the increased water vapor, also a potent greenhouse gas, raises the earth’s temperatures further.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/16/science/space/16carbon.html?hpw

  2. 52
    Alfonso says:

    @Gavin [Response: No. Perhaps you might like to entertain the possibility that your sources are not being entirely truthful? See here. - gavin]
    Hello again Gavin, I did read and took heed of the sources you offered me (see some comments later). However, I have no reason to doubt my sources, and I hope you don’t find them lacking.
    My premises, and sources, are as follows: (1) Table 3 (pg 6) in document “Emissions of GHG in the United States Department of Energy (Document DOE/EIA-0573 (2004))”.

    http://www.docstoc.com/docs/17174165/Emissions-of-Greenhouse-Gases-in

    apparently reflecting on 2001 IPCC´s figures for annual estimates of anthropogenic CO2 emissions (23,100 million Tm), (2) the same table for apparent annual estimates of CO2 emissions from natural origin (770,000 million Tm), and (3) the maximal estimated contribution of CO2 to the GHE (26%), which as depicted in Wikipedia is between 9 and 26%.
    With that little data I asked myself 2 simple questions:
    a) Which is the annual contribution of anthropogenic CO2? (Percentage). Answer: 2.91% (I rounded it up to 3% to don’t allow humans any easy escape from their charges).
    b) If the contributions of CO2 to the GHE were as high as 26%, how much of the global warming produced by CO2 could be justly blamed on human emissions? (You’ll appreciate that I take the highest figure to, again, don’t allow humans to get easily away from their charges).
    Answer: Human guilt in CO2´s GHE (%) = % of annual human contributed CO2 (or average of annual % contributed in a given period of years) x maximal estimate of CO2´s contribution to the GHE x 100 = 0.03 x 0.26 x 100 = 0.78% of any GW attributed to CO2 can be directly blamed on human practices.
    If the premises (1-3 above) that I’m using are incorrect, do not complicate things unnecessarily, just direct me to another credible source for those figures. I will appreciate it. Thank you!.
    Gavin, I have read the contents of the link you suggested, but while most of the figures for anthropogenic-GHG reported are irrelevant to my questions, other claims that I could be interested in researching (i.e. “Emissions of CO2 (Figure 1a) from fossil fuel combustion…are responsible for more than 75% of the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration since pre-industrial times.”) are just difficult to admit in the light of the fact that we do not appear to be able to differentiate the source of CO2 by its isotopic footprint (i.e. in the link that you offered this statement supports my claim: “The relative amount of the carbon-13 isotope in the atmosphere has been declining, showing that the added carbon comes from fossil fuels and (OR) vegetation.”: my OR).
    In addition, and since I appear to have been immunized early on against indoctrination by my catholic upbringing, I did not get specially impressed by the opening statement (i.e. “Yes, the increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) …are caused by human activities.” ) .
    Gavin, I’m far from disputing that human behavior is having an impact on the environment (I’m convinced that that’s the case), nor I’m proposing that we shouldn’t change our ways to confront this situation. But I’m afraid that some over-interpretation of the anthropogenic impact on GW(with respect to CO2) may have been made. If so, I’m also afraid that the rightful authoritative position earned by Science will resent from such mistake
    Best regards.
    Alfonso

    [Response: SIgh... The natural flux in is balanced by a natural flux out. Which in fact also removes about half of the excess from human activities - but only half. And so the human contribution accumulates. There are dozens of lines of evidence - from mass balance calculations, isotope budgets, oxygen declines, increases in ocean carbon, increases in terrestrial carbon etc. - that demonstrate without a doubt that the 100+ppmv rise has its origin in human activities. In your misreading of the numbers you are assuming the annual increase is the same as the accumulated increase. It is not. Subsequently, you are comparing a no-feedback impact on the GHE to the effect that we expect which will include feedbacks. This too is wrong. This kind of stuff is discussed in many places (try "Start here" above). - gavin]

  3. 53
    Steve R says:

    That list of anti-AGW articles (Yggdrasil 19) is indeed an interesting resource. I’m a writing instructor & I’ll have a class-ful of engineers in the spring term. I think I’ll use it as an instructional aid by having students pick articles at random and attempt to track (using web of science) where they fit in the dialogue: have they been cited? If so, where? Where else are the authors published? I am inspired to this by a comment below the list: “Any valid criticisms would follow the established peer-review process of submitting a comment paper which allows the author of the original paper a rebuttal.” (Which of course begs the question: why assemble a de-contextualized list like this in the first place… ) I think they’ll learn some interesting things about the process of peer-review & how dialogue in science is carried out. Not from the list, of course, but from digging beneath and past it, to trace where these articles fit into whatever dialogues (if any) in which they participate.

    Another comment below the articles reads, “Impact Factor is a subjective determination of popularity not scientific validity”. I wish. My wife’s in the humanities: were impact factor subjective, the scientists on the promotion and review board would have had an easier time evaluating her publication record: as it is, their objective review system assumes a more densely packed field (than indic religions) and a faster publication horizon than 3 years. For her to have even one cited article in the last 4 years puts her ahead of most of her field. By the all-too-objective metric of impact factor, her track record looks pretty lame, in spite of her rising star status among her peers.

    It’s pretty clear that part of the problem is that people outside academia simply don’t understand the academic systems of checks and balances, and AGW denier sites like populartechnology.net (which is also an anti nationalized healthcare, anti marijuana, anti green energy website… your all-round Anti website) capitalize on that ignorance.

  4. 54
    Alfonso says:

    @tharanga
    if my figures are wrong please correct me. They come from Table 3 (pg 6) in document “Emissions of GHG in the United States Department of Energy (Document DOE/EIA-0573 (2004))”.

    http://www.docstoc.com/docs/17174165/Emissions-of-Greenhouse-Gases-in

    as just told Gavin in my answer to him.

    Best regards

  5. 55
    Hank Roberts says:

    > populartechnology.net (which is also an anti nationalized
    > healthcare, anti marijuana, anti green energy website…
    > your all-round Anti website) capitalize on that ignorance.

    Look for blog postings too. Just as an example:
    Results … about 61 for “poptech says”

  6. 56
  7. 57
    Completely Fed Up says:

    I wonder whether Alphonso has problems with his overdraft bill.

    “But it only has 3% p.a. interest rate! How can it have racked up $400,000 debt in only 20 years???”

    Maybe there’s the problem with CDS. Alphonse is in charge of buying them…

  8. 58
    Eli Rabett says:

    On Monday night Ben Santer read a personal statement to a packed audience preliminary to his talk. The text has been reprinted with permission on Rabett Run with a later comment by Eli on the sea change in attitude evident at the conference

  9. 59
    Tom Dayton says:

    Wanna see global CO2 levels on a color-coded, 3D, spinnable, globe? From the most recent two weeks? How about CO? And more! Way, way more!

    At the NASA Science booth, JPL is demonstrating its Eyes on the Earth 3D web site. It is fantastic! Browse here, then in the horizontal button bar near the top of the page click on the “Aqua” satellite. Then on the right side of the page, click on CO2.

    The site has lots, lots more. They used game software to provide the interactivity and glitz.

  10. 60
    Charles says:

    From Steve R. in #53: “It’s pretty clear that part of the problem is that people outside academia simply don’t understand the academic systems of checks and balances, and AGW denier sites like populartechnology.net (which is also an anti nationalized healthcare, anti marijuana, anti green energy website… your all-round Anti website) capitalize on that ignorance.”

    Amen to that. I work as part of an editorial team for an academic journal, and my impression is that a number of the people calling “foul!” ought to be a tad more humble and possibly consider (a) that the knowledge systems of academia and science, although far from perfect, actually do have well-considered checks and balances, and (b) that just perhaps the large community of climate scientists actually has considered, at some time or other, many of the concerns being endlessly raised by people who, as Eli likes to put it, need to take some time to RTFL.

    That being said, we in the academy need to do a better job of making knowledge more easily accessible to the public. My university is working with Stanford’s John Willinsky in making knowledge more publicly accessible. When I talked with him a couple of months ago, he confirmed that the climate change issue was one of the compelling forces behind his efforts; he agreed that the public needed better direct access to the scientific literature.

    Gavin, Eric, David, Ray, Mike and the others here at RC: kudos to you all for what you do and especially for what you have been through in the past few weeks. I have been most impressed by your responsiveness, level-headedness, and humor through all of this recent brouhaha.

  11. 61
    Tom Dayton says:

    I’m stubbornly sticking to the AGU topic of this post:

    The late afternoon session today (Wed.) on “Methodologies of Climate Model Confirmation and Interpretation I” was excellent, though I did not agree with all the points made (mostly when Popper and the not-very-practical-versions of philosophy of science were brought into it).

    I’m pleased to see that decision theory is being brought to bear on the practical translation of climate science. I just hope that it is not resisted by researchers who are focused on the science side, where the goals are different and so the decision criteria are different.

    That track continues tomorrow (Thu.), as GC41A. Methodologies of Climate Model Confirmation and Interpretation II Posters, from 8:00 to 12:20 in Moscone South.

    At the same time and place is the related GC41B. Uncertainty Quantification and Its Application to Climate Change Posters. That track continues as a paper session from 4:00 to 6:00: GC44A. Uncertainty Quantification and Its Application to Climate Change II in Moscone West 3001.

  12. 62
    Sean Davis says:

    RC Folks,

    I really wish you would delete all these irrelevant comments that have nothing to do with AGU.

    Anyways, I’m at AGU, and there was a really interesting session today regarding climate feedbacks. There were some interesting talks about both cloud and WV feedbacks. Roy Spencer gave a talk trying to promote negative cloud feedbacks, but it was pretty strongly rebutted by several people in the audience, and even he admitted after being pushed a bit that he thinks there is almost no way to quantify cloud feedbacks from observational data (even though, oddly enough, he was trying to promote the idea that cloud feedbacks are negative).

    Far more interesting were talks by Bretherton, Zelinka, and Celement (to name a few) actually looking at the details of obs/model-predicted cloud feedbacks.

  13. 63
    Chris says:

    @62 I was at the feedback’s session as well. I had never seen Spencer in person and he didn’t seem to be bat-shit crazy at all! ;) he made a few good points. I think some of his talk was directed against the Lindzen & Choi (2009,GRL) paper though he never came right out and said it. I mostly agree with his conclusion that currently there is no robust way to determine the overall mean climate sensitivity of the earth system simply with just some 20-year satellite observations. Though that does disagree with the conclusions of some other peer reviewed articles (e.g. Murphy 2009, Forster & Gregory 2006).

  14. 64
    Timothy Chase says:

    Tom Dayton wrote in 61:

    The late afternoon session today (Wed.) on “Methodologies of Climate Model Confirmation and Interpretation I” was excellent, though I did not agree with all the points made (mostly when Popper and the not-very-practical-versions of philosophy of science were brought into it).

    One of the points that will sometimes get made about Popper (1930s/1940s) is that the Principle of Falsifiability was more than forty years out of date when he first proposed it — at least if you could read French. For the English-speaking world we had to wait for what amounted to a basterdized version of Pierre Duhem (Duhem’s Thesis ~1892) by way of Quine in the 1950s.

    What aspects of methodologies of model confirmation did you find novel or interesting? Do you know what material from the conference will be online? Do you have any recommendations on authors of material that might be available elsewhere?
    *
    Tom Dayton wrote in 61:

    I’m pleased to see that decision theory is being brought to bear on the practical translation of climate science. I just hope that it is not resisted by researchers who are focused on the science side, where the goals are different and so the decision criteria are different.

    Decision theory? Do you mean in the sense of framing the science in a way that it is better able to guide decisions on how to deal with climate change? A profit-maximizing or more likely risk-minimizing approach?

  15. 65
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Alfonso @35, your maths are utter nonsense, as simple two-column accounting arithmetic with show.

    Start with the annual global consumption figures for coal, oil and natural gas, which are readily available.
    Calculate the total carbon content of those fuels and the annual amount of CO2 produced by burning that carbon.
    Place that figure in the first column.
    In the second column, place the annual increase in atmospheric CO2, which is a measured quantity.
    Compare the two columns.

    It will become instantly clear that human activity produces in the neighborhood of 220% of the annual increase in atmospheric CO2 and that the natural CO2 sinks of the ocean and biosphere absorb ~55% of human emissions, leaving 45% in the atmosphere.

    In other words, natural sinks absorb 100% of all natural CO2 emissions, plus ~55% of all human emissions.

    You ask: “are there any atmospheric CO2 isotope studies supporting that Mother Nature selectively absorbs/retains ONLY/MOSTLY human-produced-CO2 in the atmosphere?”

    As a matter of fact, there are CO2 isotope studies that show that the carbon in the added CO2 is from a fossil carbon source.

    In addition, there has been a measured, though miniscule, drop in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, exactly what would be expected if a huge slug of fossil carbon were burned and the resulting CO2 injected into the atmosphere.

    Any other questions you think scientists have not already looked into?

  16. 66
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Just wondering if anyone here is on the climate fast today (Thurs, Dec 17), initiated by 350.org (see http://action.350.org/p/salsa/web/common/public/signup?signup_page_KEY=4729 ). If you missed today, you could fast tomorrow.

    Attendees at the AGU are exempt — there are just too many good restaurants in San Francisco. I remember this little Italian restaurant up in North Beach when I attended a conference there in 1980 — $6.95 for a 5 course meal. First the salad, then the minestrone soup in a large shallow bowl, then the pasta, then the main course, then the dessert.

    You can tell I’m fasting today. Praying and fasting.

  17. 67
    Deep Climate says:

    #58 Eli on Ben Santer’s statement

    My contribution:

    http://deepclimate.org/2009/12/17/wegman-report-ghostwriter-revealed/

    Wegman ghostwriter revealed

    How could a trio of statistical experts, all on their own, hope to write a report on a field, climate science, of which they had no previous knowledge or experience?

    The shocking answer is: They didn’t. They had some help from a physicist turned climate skeptic and textbook author (not to mention Wikipedia and a classic sociology text).

    It’s high time those “forces of unreason” received the scrutiny reserved thus far for the victims of their attacks. I will not rest until that happens.

  18. 68
    Jim Eager says:

    Excellent work, Deep Climate.

  19. 69
    Dave Petley says:

    For those who are interested I have posted a review of the AGU session on Scientists’ Communication on Critical Global Environmental Issues here:

  20. 70
    john byatt says:

    thanks dave, you would achieve about as much by replying on the denialists blogs as you would on a creationist blog. newspapers and tv interviews
    might be more productive . coordinated press releases .

  21. 71
    Alfonso says:

    Sorry to break my (recent) promise, but I just read Jim´s answer (#65) and believe he may help me find some interesting sources.

    @Jim Eager (#65) :[As a matter of fact, there are CO2 isotope studies that show that the carbon in the added CO2 is from a fossil carbon source.
    In addition, there has been a measured, though miniscule, drop in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, exactly what would be expected if a huge slug of fossil carbon were burned and the resulting CO2 injected into the atmosphere.]

    Jim, it would be helpful if you directed me to the references that contain those isotopic studies demonstrating that the atmospheric CO2 increases come from burning of fossil fuels, or those for the measured decreases in oxygen that you say fit “…exactly what would be expected…” from the burning of those amounts of fossil fuels.

    Thank you

  22. 72
    Jim Eager says:

    Re the isotope signatures see here:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2004/12/how-do-we-know-that-recent-cosub2sub-increases-are-due-to-human-activities-updated/
    including the cited references in this and the linked earlier and later versions of that post.

    Re the measured oxygen decline search via google scholar using [keeling oxygen flux]

  23. 73
  24. 74
    Alfonso says:

    @Ken W (#50)[If I consume 2500 calories each day, I won’t gain any weight (given my current level of activity). If I increase my consumption of food (no change in activity) by just 25 calories/day (1% of the total), I will gain just under 3 lbs each year. In 10 years I’ll be almost 30 lbs heavier.]

    Using your own example, I guess that what I’m asking is: How certain are we that all extra-caloric-intake (CO2) added to the body (earth) are contributed by human behaviour (fossil-fuel-burning)?. Are we able to distinguish between this possibility and any increased respiration by the biosphere?.

    In any case, thank you for the example, and the link suggested (that I will use).

    Best regards, and thanks for the helping (no needed repply, I will keep serching).

    Alfonso

  25. 75
    Timothy Chase says:

    Alfonso in 71 had a question for Jim Eager in 65.

    I thought I would help.

    Jim Eager wrote in 65:

    As a matter of fact, there are CO2 isotope studies that show that the carbon in the added CO2 is from a fossil carbon source.

    In addition, there has been a measured, though miniscule, drop in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, exactly what would be expected if a huge slug of fossil carbon were burned and the resulting CO2 injected into the atmosphere.

    Alfonso responded in 71:

    Jim, it would be helpful if you directed me to the references that contain those isotopic studies demonstrating that the atmospheric CO2 increases come from burning of fossil fuels, or those for the measured decreases in oxygen that you say fit “… exactly what would be expected…” from the burning of those amounts of fossil fuels.

    Alfonso, I believe the following might be what you are looking for:

    pg. 138 (pdf pg 10), AR4-WG1 Chapter 2, Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing, available at:

    Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis
    IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4)
    http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_ipcc_fourth_assessment_report_wg1_report_the_physical_science_basis.htm

    It provides the graphs for the CO2 mixing ratio in parts per million graphed against the per meg deviations O2/N2 in figure 2.3a, and it provides the gigatons carbon emissions per year graphed against the annual averages of 13C/12C mixing ratio of CO2 in figure 2.3b where both 2.3a and 2.3b are for the years 1970-2006.

  26. 76
    Silk says:

    “How certain are we that all extra-caloric-intake (CO2) added to the body (earth) are contributed by human behaviour (fossil-fuel-burning)?. ”

    Very very very certain indeed.

    See IPCC AR4 Working Group 1 report, online at http://www.ipcc.ch

  27. 77
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Alfonso says: 18 December 2009 at 10:38 AM

    “How certain are we that all extra-caloric-intake (CO2) added to the body (earth) are contributed by human behaviour (fossil-fuel-burning)?. Are we able to distinguish between this possibility and any increased respiration by the biosphere?.”

    Carbon isotopes, refreshingly unambiguous.

  28. 78

    Alfonso: Start here:

    Suess, H.E. 1955. “Radiocarbon Concentration in Modern Wood.” Sci. 122, 415-417.

    Revelle, R. and H.E. Suess 1957. “Carbon Dioxide Exchange between Atmosphere and Ocean and the Question of an Increase of Atmospheric CO2 During the Past Decades.” Tellus 9, 18-27.

  29. 79
    Anne van der Bom says:

    Alfonso,

    I think you should not get lost in numbers and percentages. For me, it is a simple matter of cause and effect. We burn fossil fuels, the CO2 level rises.

    Without an industrial revolution, the CO2 level would still be ~280 ppm today, like it has been for the past 10,000 years. If you think not, then tell us what caused the rise to 390 ppm over the past two centuries.

    Cause and effect.

  30. 80
    Tom Dayton says:

    Timothy Chase (64), the scientific program for the conference seems to be online for the general public in the form of a link on the conference’s Scientific Program page; look in the Meeting at a Glance section, where there is a link to download a PDF file. But that file contains only the authors and titles, no abstracts.

    On that same page is the “Plan Your Itinerary” section, with a link to the Fall Meeting Program and Itinerary Planner. Click that link. What I don’t know is whether you must have registered for the conference in order to use the resulting page, and I don’t want to go messing with my browser’s cookies to find out. But if you can access that page, click the “Browse” link in the tan area at the left. You can also create and save an itinerary that is the subset of the items you are interested in. In either case, you can “Download the Presentation” of each item, which at least means the abstract. I haven’t tried that enough to know whether the full presentations really can be downloaded.

  31. 81
    Tom Dayton says:

    Timothy Chase (64) asked me to expand on my comment about decision theory at the AGU conference.

    Before the conference I worried about the small minority of geophysical scientists who continue to express reservations about AGW. I thought they might be inappropriately applying the decision criteria that are appropriate to a purely scientific pursuit of knowledge, in which it is perfectly appropriate to refuse to formally decide yes or no on a theory, because you never “must” make a decision in the pure pursuit of knowledge. Those decision criteria are inappropriate regarding policies about global warming, because decisions and actions must and constantly are being made.

    So at the conference I was pleased to see any and all aspects of normative (ideal, prescriptive) decision theory being applied to judgments about the existence and specific effects of global climate change: Explicit listing of both objective and subjective probabilities, values and utilities (the former being objective, the latter subjective), and combining of probabilities (Bayesian). I already knew that the IPCC report listed expert judgments of probabilities along with (but explicitly separate from) model-based probabilities, but I had read criticisms of that, and I was afraid that some scientists, not just deniers, were criticizing it.

    In the days after I wrote my original comment, I wandered through more of the (huge!) poster hall and noticed that applying decision theory is common practice in scientists’ risk analyses with all sorts of natural hazards such as volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, weather, and climate.

    (Physical science is not my area of expertise. The depth of my ignorance became crushingly apparent throughout the week. It was exhausting but tremendously fun! I was just a tourist at this conference, having gotten my registration paid by volunteering to be a part-time booth babe. In contrast to the traditional method, I threatened to reveal my dental floss bikini if folks did not take flyers.)

    Despite the reassuring evidence of good decision theory application, there were some presenters who seemed to share my initial concern. One of them emphasized the need to decide and clearly identify your goal in evaluating or using a climate model (Wendy Parker, GC34A-02, “Confirmation and Adequacy-for-Purpose in Climate Modeling”). Her advice is needed when applying, for example, the conclusions of R. Knutti in the same session–the models are not completely independent (GC34A-01, “Should we believe model predictions of future climate change?”). The paper that started to worry me about an overemphasis on falsificationism was L. Donner’s (GC34A-03, “On Clocks and Clouds”: Confirming and Interpreting Climate Models as Scientific Hypotheses”). Other papers in that same session (GC34A, Wednesday) then reassured me, especially one presenter (I forget who, but he’s an American who lives in England) who pointed out that the insurance companies he consults to, make very concrete decisions about climate change using appropriate decision rules.

    There was a poster by Martin Vezer, a PhD candidate at the U. of Western Ontario, “A Philosophical Defense of the IPCC’s AR4 Bayesian Methodology.” I talked to him for quite a while. I’m reassured to see a philosopher being very practical about the decision making aspects of science and technology. And he is a philosopher, not a decision theorist or scientist.


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