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The IPCC is not infallible (shock!)

Filed under: — group @ 19 January 2010 - (Italian)

Like all human endeavours, the IPCC is not perfect. Despite the enormous efforts devoted to producing its reports with the multiple levels of peer review, some errors will sneak through. Most of these will be minor and inconsequential, but sometimes they might be more substantive. As many people are aware (and as John Nieslen-Gammon outlined in a post last month and Rick Piltz goes over today), there is a statement in the second volume of the IPCC (WG2), concerning the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are receding that is not correct and not properly referenced.

The statement, in a chapter on climate impacts in Asia, was that the likelihood of the Himalayan glaciers “disappearing by the year 2035” was “very high” if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate (WG 2, Ch. 10, p493), and was referenced to a World Wildlife Fund 2005 report. Examining the drafts and comments (available here), indicates that the statement was barely commented in the reviews, and that the WWF (2005) reference seems to have been a last minute addition (it does not appear in the First- or Second- Order Drafts). This claim did not make it into the summary for policy makers, nor the overall synthesis report, and so cannot be described as a ‘central claim’ of the IPCC. However, the statement has had some press attention since the report particularly in the Indian press, at least according to Google News, even though it was not familiar to us before last month.

It is therefore obvious that this error should be corrected (via some kind of corrigendum to the WG2 report perhaps), but it is important to realise that this doesn’t mean that Himalayan glaciers are doing just fine. They aren’t, and there may be serious consequences for water resources as the retreat continues. See also this review paper (Ren et al, 2006) on a subset of these glaciers.

East Rongbuk glacier 1921 and 2008East Rongbuk glacier just below Mt. Everest has lost 3-400 ft of ice in this area since 1921.

More generally, peer-review works to make the IPCC reports credible because many different eyes with different perspectives and knowledge look over the same text. This tends to make the resulting product reflect more than just the opinion of a single author. In this case, it appears that not enough people with relevant experience saw this text, or if they saw it, did not comment publicly. This might be related to the fact that this text was in the Working Group 2 report on impacts, which does not get the same amount of attention from the physical science community than does the higher profile WG 1 report (which is what people associated with RC generally look at). In WG1, the statements about continued glacier retreat are much more general and the rules on citation of non-peer reviewed literature was much more closely adhered to. However, in general, the science of climate impacts is less clear than the physical basis for climate change, and the literature is thinner, so there is necessarily more ambiguity in WG 2 statements.

In future reports (and the organisation for AR5 in 2013 is now underway), extra efforts will be needed to make sure that the links between WG1 and the other two reports are stronger, and that the physical science community should be encouraged to be more active in the other groups.

In summary, the measure of an organisation is not determined by the mere existence of errors, but in how it deals with them when they crop up. The current discussion about Himalayan glaciers is therefore a good opportunity for the IPCC to further improve their procedures and think more about what the IPCC should be doing in the times between the main reports.

Update: This backgrounder presented by Kargel et al AGU this December is the best summary of the current state of the Himalayas and the various sources of misinformation that are floating around. It covers this issue, the Raina report and the recent Lau et al paper.

1,804 Responses to “The IPCC is not infallible (shock!)”

  1. 401
    Hank Roberts says:

    Svet, saying you’ve never seen a simple clear answer about this:

    did you start here yet?

    Was that too intimidating? There are six or seven choices listed as for beginners.

    Would it help for one of us to pick one and suggest you start reading that, then ask questions as you see appropriate topics?

    What do you need, to get started?
    Or, what’s the longest thing you’ve read and understood so far?
    What’s too much to read?

  2. 402
    dhogaza says:

    Doug Bostrom

    Rod, not so much instructing as reporting what I have on first hand account from a good friend who is a senior engineer at Boeing’s sim lab, presently engaged w/the 787.

    And my original comment that started this little brou-ha-ha was based on a videotaped interview with the chief test pilot for the 787 program.

  3. 403
    Frank Giger says:

    “We were going through the security check at the airport a year or so ago and I noticed when he opened his wallet that Gavin, like me, had a World Jewish Conspiracy ID card. We even reported to the same Commissar!”

    I love those guys! They have a code sharing agreement with us Right Wing Conspiracy members (think airlines).


    Um, can we stop the bickering about wind power viability? Cost per KwH is always going to be variable, and sometimes wildly so (wow, sort of like weather versus climate). Regulatory bodies can have a huge impact on costs as much as site suitability.

    A good example is a patch of land my family owns in Montana. It’s wonderful property for anyone looking to raise prarie dogs for a living; beyond that it isn’t very valuable. However, it enjoys steady wind coming off the rockies, is near a power distribution node and high power tension wires, and can be reached easily by heavy equipment. Let the number crunching begin, and if it looks profitable in the mid-term, the land might sprout wind generators.

    Sixty miles in another direction, however, and a lot of that formula falls apart and costs go up, heedless of wind.

  4. 404
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Tom S says: 22 January 2010 at 6:27 PM

    “The issue of governance though is there are many deserving causes to balance. Do I spend my tax money on this, or Haiti, or AIDS research, or Cancer research, or third world curable diseases, or buy a new stereo?”

    Might think of it in terms of an investment. Where and what is the risk, where and what is the reward.

    “AGW is a maybe, or a probably, and demands huge sums of money to avert. ”

    Can we have our cake and eat it, too? Maybe.

    — Sooner or later and by most accounts not that much later we’re going to need substitutes for petroleum liquids and condensates.

    –Natural gas is not much better, it shares the problem of the former in that demand keeps growing and shows no sign of diminishing, ultimately overwhelming even the most optimistic resource assessments.

    –We know that complete exploitation of coal resources not only is yet another stopgap in the long run but appears very likely to balloon the atmospheric carbon load, unless we’re prepared to accept that carbon sequestration is viable, which seems to become more questionable as a scalable solution the harder we look at it.

    –A little remarked feature of our proclivity for burning hydrocarbons is their utility as a feedstock for polymers and other materials; it behooves us to save as much as of our hydrocarbon endowment as possible for this purpose because otherwise we need to find the energy to jam together atoms into the correct molecules for petrochemical applications other than caveman technology, thus making our petroleum burning substitution problem even more difficult.

    So leaving entirely aside the effects of C02 in the atmosphere, the faster we invest money in ceasing to burn hydrocarbons, the better off we’re going to be. It’s an investment we actually -have- to make.

    Meanwhile, by making that necessary investment as soon as possible, thus preserving and extending the range of options we can bequeath to the future, we can minimize the amount of C02 we dump in the atmosphere.

    So we have to invest the money, we’re in the happy position of seeing that input pay off in multiple ways and it’s not really a sacrifice of anything, certainly not if one takes a reasonably long term perspective.

  5. 405
    Doug Bostrom says:

    dhogaza says: 22 January 2010 at 7:39 PM

    “And my original comment that started this little brou-ha-ha was based on a videotaped interview with the chief test pilot for the 787 program.”

    Ah, so you’re the troublemaker. Much ado about nothing!

    Wow, only 15 minutes until brew-ha-ho here in Seattle!

  6. 406
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Tom S. says, “AGW is a maybe, or a probably, and demands huge sums of money to avert.”

    Well, actually AGW is a “pretty-goddamn-near-certain”, and have you actually looked at the sums of money involved? Best estimates are roughly 1-4% of the global economy over a period of a couple of decades. Moreover, much of that is going to energy infrastructure–something that will need to be overhauled anyway. Moreover, the R&D needed to mitigate the problem will likely generate entirely new industries. It is not as if the money is being burned–hell that would increase CO2 emissions!

  7. 407
    Daniel J. Andrews says:

    “Windmills can and have come apart in windstorms.”

    They turn themselves off and freewheel with the rotors perpendicular to the wind.

    Or did you think the engineers didn’t think of this???

    Doesn’t mean they won’t come apart in windstorms…sometimes with spectacular results.

    and the same windmill but from further away.

    Not a reason to ban wind turbines though–just assume a few will collapse despite best efforts and plan accordingly (also providing the sites pass the environmental assessment–I used radar to map bird migratory patterns for a few companies in BC for my part of the EA process).

  8. 408
    Edward Greisch says:

    Dear Completely Fed Up: EVACUATE DENVER!!!!
    If you live in Chernobyl the total radiation dose you get each year is 390 millirem. That’s natural plus residual from the accident and fire. In Denver, Colorado, the natural dose is over 1000 millirem/year. Denver gets more than 2.56 times as much radiation as Chernobyl! But Denver has a low cancer rate.

    Calculate your annual radiation dose:

    Average American gets 361 millirems/year. Smokers add 280 millirems/year from lead210. Radon accounts for 200 mrem/year.

    Although radiation may cause cancers at high doses and high dose rates, currently there are no data to unequivocally establish the occurrence of cancer following exposure to low doses and dose rates — below about 10,000 mrem (100 mSv). Those people living in areas having high levels of background radiation — above 1,000 mrem (10 mSv) per year– such as Denver, Colorado have shown no adverse biological effects.

    Calculations based on data from NCRP reports show that the average level of natural background radiation (NBR) in Rocky Mountain states is 3.2 times that in Gulf Coast states. However, data from the American Cancer Society show that age-adjusted overall cancer death in Gulf Coast states is actually 1.26 times higher than in Rocky Mountain states. The difference from proportionality is a factor of 4.0. This is a clear negative correlation of NBR with overall cancer death. It is also shown that, comparing 3 Rocky Mountain states and 3 Gulf Coast states, there is a strong negative correlation of estimated lung cancer mortality with natural radon levels (factors of 5.7 to 7.5).

    Now can we please talk about glaciers?

  9. 409
    Edward Greisch says:

    322 Nick Gotts: NO. My source was:
    Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD*
    March 1, 2005
    A nacelle (generator and gearbox) weighing up to 60 tons atop a
    265 ft. metal tower, equipped with 135 ft. blades, is a significant
    hazard to people, livestock, buildings, and traffic within a radius
    equal to the height of the structure (400 ft) and beyond. In
    Germany in 2003, in high storm winds, the brakes on a wind
    turbine failed and the blades spun out of control. A blade struck
    the tower and the entire nacelle flew off the tower. The blades and
    other parts landed as far as 1650 ft (0.31 mile) from the base of
    the tower (Note that all turbines discussed in this article are
    “upwind,” three-bladed, industrial-sized turbines. “Downwind”
    turbines have not been built since the 1980’s.) Given the date, this
    turbine was probably smaller than the ones proposed for current
    construction, and thus could not throw pieces as far. This distance
    is nearly identical to calculations of ice throw from turbines with
    100 ft blades rotating 20 times per minute (1680 ft)”

    And the above is only the so-called tip of the iceberg. If interested,
    just google “dangers of wind turbines” – there’s plenty of sites to
    choose from to learn about the dangers.

  10. 410

    372 Doug Bostrom,

    I agree with everything you say except I would distinguish between “borrowing” and “have borrowed” when it comes to existing facilities. We can not really get our money invested in coal fired facilities back. And we already own the coal, we meaning the US BLM etc. I try to think in terms of impact on our industrial economy going forward, and weigh that against magnitude and probability of global warming problems. Nope, not an easy judgment to make in this world of mixed information.

    As I am thinking today, the right course of action is to get the USA back into the industrial world and cut oil dependency and overseas military adventures related thereto, all the while working to cut energy usage. We might even help the situation with sustainables if we can avoid getting hooked on hype that sucks away resources needed for more substantive things. That path might succeed.

  11. 411

    363 Tom S

    I keep trying to track down the source of the MWP. (I guess this stands for Mediaeval Warming Period.)

    So far I have not found anything substantive that could be supportive of such an event even having existed. Please fill me in on this.

  12. 412
    Edward Greisch says:

    345 Lynn Vincentnathan: Thank you very much. I assume it is OK to quote you. That is what we needed to know: AGW IS affecting people NOW. Notice the other posters who don’t think so. Can you provide any more information or references, please?

    Gavin and RC: Thanks for your years of work on computer models. They are greatly appreciated by me and other people. Other people would include other departments of the US government, including but not limited to the DOD, DOE, DOT and Congress. In general, anybody whose job is long term planning, loves your models.

  13. 413
    Jiminmpls says:

    Some simple math. You don’t have to be a climate scientist to figure this out.

    Total US Fed Subsidies for Nuclear 2002-2007 $6.2 billion
    Increase in Net Electricity Generation from Nuclear 2002-2007 804.6-780.1=24.5 billion kWhr

    Cost to US taxpayers per add’l kWhr Nuclear = $0.253/kWhr

    Total US Fed Subsidies for non-Hydro Renewables 2002-2007 $1.4+2.8 billion = $4.2 billion
    Increase in Net Electricity Generation from non-Hydro Renewables 2002-2007 105.2-79.1=26.1 billion kWhr

    Cost to US taxpayers per add’l kWhr Renewables = $0.161/kWhr

    Note: US Nuclear power generation declined in both 2008 and 2009. Renewable electricity production increased by 17.5% in 2008 alone and by another 9.2% in the first 9 months of 2009. Also note, this is not capacity, but actual electricity generated.

    I’d have to do some more digging to find specific figures, but among non-hydro renewables, wind is by far the least expensive and is contributing by far the greatest increase in electricity production.

  14. 414
    Svet says:

    Hank, thanks for your reply. You have given me a lot to look at. I had a quick look at but, as usual, the most obvious question “What proof is there that GW is AGW?” is not there. Have you ever seen the main proofs of AGW set out in brief point form? Do you know what they are?

  15. 415
    Edward Greisch says:

    397 Tom S: None of those other problems contains a risk of extinction [of humans] or a risk of as many deaths, or a risk of civilization collapse. For example, if all Haitians died tomorrow, civilization would continue without interruption. But we know of about 2 dozen previous civilizations that collapsed due to climate changes much smaller than the one we have already made. The collapse happens when the climate change moves the rain, causing agriculture to collapse. See “The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan and “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. You don’t want to be around during a collapse of civilization.
    Do you see a thread here: AGW and agriculture?

  16. 416
    Didactylos says:

    Barton Paul Levenson:

    Just because I am arguing a technical point, please don’t think that I don’t favour as much wind as is possible, with as much government subsidy as is needed to make it economical. Wind is good, okay?

    But I see you are (even now) providing US figures, which would indicate that you haven’t been paying attention to our discussion. Smart move – it’s not a very interesting discussion at all. For the record, my whole point is that onshore wind has more constraints in the UK, which both makes it more expensive, and limits the saturation level. All to rebut the simply false claim that “wind is cheaper than nuclear in the UK”.

    Completely Fed Up:
    *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

    You won’t concede a point, will you? What a waste of time! Dual use is already considered. You sound like a denier saying “what about water vapour?” Been there, done that, and the final numbers take all these nitpicks into account.

    If you want to be taken seriously, please provide some indication that you can recognise when you are wrong.

  17. 417
    Martin Vermeer says:

    #375 Svet:
    > … would not constitute proof

    It’s a poor military commander that waits for ‘proof’ of an attack before taking any defensive steps. A warning needs only be credible, not accurate or even certain.

  18. 418
    Rattus Norvegicus says:

    Oh god, Captain Mac is at it again. Building a mountain out of something less than an anthill.

    And he wonders why his name is as Beelzebub.

    [Response: I find it interesting that he doesn’t see any point in mentioning that almost all the coverage and the emails and telephone calls that GISS received were from people under the impression that the global numbers were affected (I wonder where they got that idea?). Disingenuous doesn’t even start to cover it. – gavin]

  19. 419
    Didactylos says:

    Maybe it is foolish of me to waste my time correcting things that nobody cares about, and that nobody will accept even after I have made the corrections. But I’m going to do it anyway.

    “Completely Fed Up” has chosen to ignore all third party measurements of wind farm power density, and substitute his own home-grown calculations. After being corrected a couple of times, he arrived at 70 W/m², which is a long, long way from real-world figures that are in the region of 2-3 W/m².

    Just for fun, then, I will replicate his calculations – but I will try to do it correctly this time. (Isn’t that how science works, after all?)

    The Enercon E-126, rated at 7 MW, with a rotor diameter of 126 m.

    If we assume that this is a large wind farm, not just a small cluster, then we must take the average packing density, rather than taking a special case. This means that we should position them 5 times the diameter apart, or 630 m. This results in a land area of 396900 m² per windmill.

    Our wind farm capacity, then, is 7 MW / 396900 m² = 17.64 W/m².

    But this is capacity, not the actual average power production. It is no use relying on the maximum power the wind farm can generate in optimal conditions!

    The load factor for a good site in the UK is 30%. It may be much lower, but we will use the optimistic figure.

    This gives an average power density of 5.3 W/m²

    This is a perfectly acceptable number – it is comparable to similar results and actual power densities. But why is it so high? Two reasons: first, we used the manufacturer’s maximum rated capacity, rather than a realistic site-specific output. The other reason is that the Enercon E-126 is very tall, so it can take advantage of higher wind speeds further off the ground. The Enercon E-126’s size means that it won’t be suitable for all sites, but clearly, it gives an advantage when it can be used.

  20. 420
    Patrik says:

    How much ice, globally, has been melting anually since 1960?
    How much ice, globally, has been melting anually since the maximum of the last glacial?

    And: which melting rate is the highest, 1960-now, or 18000 BP-now?

    [Response: Glacier ice melted to ~7000 years ago, but started growing again after ~4000 years ago. It has been melting rapidly since the 19th Century. – gavin]

  21. 421
    Kris says:

    #406, Ray Ladbury: Best estimates are roughly 1-4% of the global economy over a period of a couple of decades

    Well, if you told me that I have to be taxed at 4% to eliminate (well, limit) AGW, I’d say it’s a great deal, as my effective taxation rate is about 70% anyway, so I can handle that. I even think that most of the public opinion in my country (which is now firmly not even in the denialist camp, but in the “AGW is a scam” camp) would accept that, just for the added bonus of eliminating the pollution generated by the present energy infrastructure. You don’t have to convince me that burning coal is bad, because I can see the effects everyday if I look out the window.

    But here’s what the public was told instead. We have 94% of power generation from coal. It was said here, that should the Copenhagen deal come into effect, we would have to (1) buy the carbon credits, (2) donate to the fund for compensating the Third World for AGW damage and (3) pay for the infrastructure upgrade. So, if you look at this, the idea was that we pay the costs THRICE. The official forecasts stated, that under the Copenhagen agreement the energy price would go up by about 100% (yes, that’s one hundred). If you further accounted for the impact of the doubled energy costs on the whole economy, the result was nothing else than a huge recession. So, when the Copenhagen conference failed there was a feeling of relief. And before that, when the CRU e-mails leaked, local media had a field day with it (the standard policy on the subject was quoting Fox News verbatim).

    I am fairly convinced that if the proposed AGW mitigation policy was reasonable, there would be a real social support for it. For example, if it was proposed that instead of paying money for carbon credits we use these money for (say) subsidizing the construction of windmills, it would make a lot of people happy. This would generate the jobs related to building windmills, servicing windmills, operating windmills and even taxing windmills. A rational policy would allow individuals to build their own windmills and sell energy to grid. Now, find me someone who would be opposed to an extra source of income. (Note: windmills are used as an example. Could also be solar, hydro, or whatever renewables make sense).

    But instead of this, it was proposed that we are taxed for fighting an undefined threat, which many believe to be imaginary.

    That I think is the real problem, not some conspiracy theorists who can’t do basic maths.

  22. 422
    Ray Ladbury says:

    The first thing people have to do is accept the established science. Then we can start talking about how to mitigate the threat–carbon credits, carbon taxes, energy R&D, etc.–they are all a means to an end, and that end is the construction of a sustainable economy.

    The thing is that most of this expense, and frankly the increased energy costs would have to occur anyway as we ar running our of petroleum. The threat of climate change merely pushes us away from dirty coal and toward renewables and perhaps nuclear–and how is this bad.

    The thing is that energy costs have been so low that it has distorted the economy. It is actually cheaper to have furniture built in China and shipped halfway around the globe than it is to pay somebody down the street to build it! How can this be 1)reasonable and 2)good for the local economy.

    So don’t get wrapped around the axle of taxes and credits. First learn the science, and then pitch in and help us come up with solutions that are consistent with your values. I won’t pretend that there will be no sacrifices, but ultimately we’ll have a new sustainable economy with new technology to bequeath to our heirs.

  23. 423
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Patrik, it’s estimated using GRACE data that we’ve lost 2 trillion tons of ice in 5 years. That’s a 2 with 12 zeros after it–and yes, tons!

  24. 424
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Read Chapter 9. It goes over it in excruciating detail. – gavin]

    Shouldn’t that refer to the AR4 of 2007, which is on line, rather than the IPCC FAR mentioned in the comment, which is not on line, and is dated 1990?

  25. 425
    Radge Havers says:

    Svet @ 414

    I feel your pain. There are many lists available. Here are two.

    When talking to scientists, note that the word ‘proof’ may be richer in rigor, associations, nuance and complexity than for most of us.

    Human Fingerprints from the Union of Concerned Scientists:


    Two sections pulled from Mandia’s “Summary of Key Points” at

    The Smoking Gun for Humans:
    1 Isotopic analysis of carbon shows that the source of increasing carbon in the atmosphere is primarily from human emissions.
    2 There are no other known plausible arguments to explain modern carbon levels without humans being the main cause of the increase.
    3 About half of the emitted carbon by humans is taken up in the oceans and in plants.
    4 When climate models consider only natural causes of climate change, the actual recorded climate cannot be predicted.
    5 When human forcing is added to natural forcing observed climate across the globe is accurately modeled.
    6 The climate observed today could NOT have happened if humans did not exist – it is impossible for natural forces to have caused today’s climate.
    7 Tropospheric warming with stratospheric cooling is essentially another “smoking gun” for anthropogenic global warming.
    8 Solar forcing, cloud cover, ENSO, PDO, NAO, etc. cannot explain a cooler stratosphere. Increasing greenhouse gases explain this coupling very well and climate models predict a warmer troposphere and a cooler stratosphere with increased greenhouse gases.

    Natural Causes of Climate Change:
    1 Carbon is cycled into and out of the atmosphere by plate tectonics over millions of years so it cannot be responsible for modern day rapid global warming.
    2 Milankovitch Cycles (orbital forcing) cause climate to change over tens to hundreds of thousand years so it cannot be responsible for modern day rapid global warming.
    3 The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) cannot explain the long term warming trend observed in the modern climate record.
    4 Current estimates suggest that only 0.1 oC of the 0.8 oC of warming since the late 1800s is due to solar irradiance.
    5 Since direct satellite measurements (1980 – present) solar contribution to the observed rapid warming is negligible.
    6 There is no evidence that variations in the strength of the sun are the cause of the modern day rapid global warming.
    7 Because volcanic eruptions and El Niño events cause climate change on a scale of one to three years, these natural forcing mechanisms cannot be responsible for modern day rapid global warming.

  26. 426
    Don Shor says:

    411 Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co. says:
    23 January 2010 at 1:23 AM
    363 Tom S
    I keep trying to track down the source of the MWP. (I guess this stands for Mediaeval Warming Period.)
    So far I have not found anything substantive that could be supportive of such an event even having existed. Please fill me in on this.

    You don’t believe there was a medieval warm period?

  27. 427
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “If we assume that this is a large wind farm, not just a small cluster, then we must take the average packing density, rather than taking a special case. This means that we should position them 5 times the diameter apart, or 630 m.”


    What are you doing under those turbines 630m apart?

    Growing food on there, or just letting it go to waste so you can “prove” wind farms can’t manage it so your pet nucular project can get the go-ahead?

    The latter apparently is your ONLY method of argument.

    You use 100m2 to produce 7MW.

    That’s 70kW/m2.

    Because you’re using the remaining (630×630-100) m2 for whatever you use land for if it wasn’t a wind farm (which is financially viable, else the land cannot be used for ANYTHING).

    By the way, why do you think you have to put nearly 1/2 a mile between wind turbines? I’ve never, i mean NEVER, seen turbines that far apart.

    But take that into account and you’re using 0.025% of the land for wind power.

    Do you really think a wind farm is that sparsely used?

    Is the ONLY way you can win on nuclear to insist that you don’t use 3999 out of 4000 of your land for power generation?

    If you do (and it seems you do), then you have nothing to base your assumption on and have nothing to argue your point over: you lost, you just don’t want to admit it.

  28. 428
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Dual use is already considered.”

    Apparently not.

    Because you insist there isn’t space for a wind farm (with 630m between them!!!) because that land needs to be used for farming etc.

    But you CAN use it for farming.

    This would be the dual use you say you’re already considering.

    Funny how you consider it then throw it away, just so you can win a shot for the unsafe, unsanitary and uneconomical nuclear power.

  29. 429
    Completely Fed Up says:

    jimm: “Total US Fed Subsidies for Nuclear 2002-2007 $6.2 billion
    Increase in Net Electricity Generation from Nuclear 2002-2007 804.6-780.1=24.5 billion kWhr”

    Forgetting the billions spent in development, of course…

    Please answer me this:

    If nuclear is so profitable compared to wind, how come the nuclear industry won’t build and VCs won’t invest unless the government underwrites all risk and guarantees an ROI.


  30. 430
    Patrik says:

    Gavin>> “Glacier ice melted to ~7000 years ago, but started growing again after ~4000 years ago. It has been melting rapidly since the 19th Century.”

    I’m not sure that’s answering my questions.

    Isn’t it true that the melting rate from the last glacial maximum up until now is about 2700 km3 ice/year, but from 1960 it’s merely about 200 km3 ice/year?
    With a melting of 200 km3/year, the global ice mass of app. 30 000 000 km3 would take about 145 000 years to melt.
    Isn’t this true?

    [Response: hard to tell. It certainly isn’t relevant. – gavin]

  31. 431
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “After being corrected a couple of times, he arrived at 70 W/m², which is a long, long way from real-world figures that are in the region of 2-3 W/m².”

    You mean, diddy, that taking into account only a 0.1% of CURRENTLY FARMED land into wind power use, that land can, in addition to producing 99.9% of the food it used to, produce an averaged (over the 1000x bigger area you’re farming on) 70W/m2.

    This is because you get 7MW from one turbine that probably uses around 100m2 of land, all the reast of the space is used for non-wind-farm use and therefore doesn’t count as being a wind-farm: IT’S A FARM!!!!

    And that power density is 70kW/m2.

    Hence, turning a 1000 ha farm into a 1 ha windfarm and a 999 ha farm will produce 700kW of electricity.

    From 1 hectare.

  32. 432
    Patrik says:

    Did some more math… 2 trillion tons of ice lost in 5 years, according to GRACE, equals 0,007246 percent of earths total ice mass if the estimation of ~30 million km3 in total is correct.
    Not so impressive a loss.

  33. 433
    Bill says:

    These numbers , even with so many zeros,dont really mean a lot to many people. Presumably with Ice, you dont want too much, nor do you want too little ( both extremes for obvious reasons). Which decadal ice extents or volumes would be considered as optimal for the world ?

  34. 434
    robert says:

    Any calculations or modeling on the effects on atmospheric circulation or weather patterns from removing large amounts of energy from the atmosphere by large scale use of windmills??

  35. 435
    Hank Roberts says:

    Svet, you’re asking for something simpler than this?

    First question: did you read that FAQ set and not understand something in it? If so asking specific questions — making reference to specific sections and the detail you didn’t understand — will get you further.

    If it was just too much to read, we’ll have to look for something simpler.

    Can you give an example of a simple explanation of something you do understand, say internal combustion, or digestion or, well, anything that works as a clear explanation for you in any area? It will help if you care to tell us how far have you gone in school, and when did you leave school? Give us some idea of the kind of explanation you need to have.

  36. 436
    Hank Roberts says:

    Svet, try this topic, and this blog generally, it may help. Do read the right sidebar explaining his approach and intent.

  37. 437
    Neil says:

    Dear Ray L: It is only a 100 million hectare meters or so. What’s the big deal?

  38. 438
    Septic Matthew says:

    404, Doug Bostrom: unless we’re prepared to accept that carbon sequestration is viable, which seems to become more questionable as a scalable solution the harder we look at it.

    Carbon Capture and Sequestration: the journal Science recently published a group of reviews estimating that the cost of CCS is about 20% of generated electricity, using current technology ( If that is true, then CCS is the cheapest and most easily scalable solution. The US, China, EU, and Japan (and maybe others) have large scale CCS facilities under construction. The actual costs, and the prospects for reduced costs with widespread deployment, should be known in a few years.

    The cheapest action to take soon, which the UN, the EU and some of the carbon-offset companies finance, is aforestation and reforestation.

  39. 439
    Septic Matthew says:

    406 and 422, Ray Ladbury

    1% to 4% of GDP is $140B – $560B per year in the US. It’s extremely important to get wrapped around the issues of taxes, caps, and subsidies. In the US right now, you could probably pass a bill that subsidized a mixture of CCS, alternative energy sources, reforestation, as long as you spent the money in every Congressional district — but not at a cost of $140B – $560B per year, and the tax/cap/borrowing issue has to be faced head-on.

    The Apollo Alliance takes the Apollo Program as a model. Nationwide, we should avoid copying California.

  40. 440
    Shirley says:

    I’m not sure how or where the wind discussion started, but I can tell you a friend showed me pictures he took when he went out on a rural ride to check out some wind turbines not far from where he lives here in upstate, rural NY state. He took a pic of his motorcycle next to a mangled rotor arm, which had clearly broken off the turbine and crashed to the ground. They can and do break, despite good engineering strategies. Like anything with moving parts, failures can and will occur.

    The ones built a few years back in Buffalo NY used to hardly ever spin. I knew someone who drove by them regularly for at least a year and she exclaimed in delight that they were running when I was with her driving past them. It’s my understanding that they frequently need repair.

    Unfortunately, in addition to problems for birds (and no, they don’t “fly into them” but they fly into the open space and then are chopped by the descending blade) the pressure gradient poses serious problems for bats

    I’m all for alternative energies, very much want to move away from coal, but it’s my opinion that wind turbines belong offshore.

    As for uncertainties with models: there are always uncertainties in life. This is why, in addition to models, some of us study the rock and fossil record to figure out what the climate has done in the past, especially at markers of mass extinctions. I’ve been involved with a study of the Hangenburg extinction even which occurred at the end of the Devonian, roughly 360 million years ago. We can use tiny fossils called conodonts, which due to their apatite composition, remain very well preserved, to understand atmospheric and ocean oxygen and carbon isotopes. Conodonts and clam shells and lots of other things are used for more recent times to figure out ratios, the validity of which has been studied in modern lab conditions (an example: Wurster, C. and Patterson, W.P.; 2001. Seasonal variation in stable oxygen and carbon isotope values recovered from modern lacustrine freshwater mollusks: paleoclimatological implications for sub-weekly temperature records, Journal of Paleolimnology, pp. 205-218). This data combines with other observations, such as seeing through the rock record that a given region went from a deep water environment to a sea level regression, and other indicators such as changes in flora or fauna. Foraminifera are especially useful in such studies. What becomes pretty obvious over most of the big and small extinctions is that when extinctions occur, they’re usually accompanied by a global sea level regression (glaciation) preceded by low CO2. Extinctions. Try authors like Brezinski, Kaiser, Joachimski. They’re restricted to the Paleozoic, but there is lots and lots of stuff out there on the Pleistocene and more.

    My point is that there is a LOT more to this than just models. Extinctions, even.

    I’d love to get into the glacier discussion again, but it’s an unseasonable 43 F and sunny outside here in western NY state, so I’m going to go enjoy it for a bit ;)

  41. 441
    mircea says:

    Doug Bostrom says (377):22 January 2010 @ 4:34 PM377

    Aircraft models (and I strongly believe climate models too) are JUST TOOLS that help design/understand a physical reality. The proof that the physical reality is as per our understanding must ALWAYS come from measurements (direct or indirect) of that respective physical reality and not from virtual realities (i.e. simulations or models). As such a prediction (extrapolation) from a model/simulation is just a hypothesis/projection and one can say if it is TRUE or FALSE only after measurements of the real object. This is why in training simulators we do not implement anything that hasn’t been measured on the real aircraft (on previous comments I used ‘A/C’ as short for ‘real aircraft’), we just do not know if it’s true or false without measurements.

  42. 442
    mircea says:

    Completely Fed Up says (383): 22 January 2010 @ 4:52 PM

    “But when you make your scale model, the viscosity is not the same and the depth of the “skin” where the air reduces speed is relatively thicker.[…] Yet you assume these are adequate why?”

    They are adequate for initial designing phase but never relied as proof. For designing they are fairly good tools because similar models have been used for previous aircrafts (e.g. for B777, B737) and as such the model results have been compared with a real object. But, once again, the models are TOOLS and NOT PROOFS.

    As an anecdote: On a B777-300 full flight simulator for Boeing, the Boeing test pilot complained that the nose wheel moves while a/c in air and rudder pedals are pressed and he said that on the real aircraft this doesn’t happen. We asked Boeing engineering team (the designers) that answered that the simulation is wrong and that we should modify it so the nose wheel doesn’t move in air. We (Boeing and us) all had the design documentation, we had top subject matter expert people, we had top pilots and maintenance people and we just couldn’t answer to this very simple and basic question: Does the nose wheel move when one presses the rudder pedals while the aircraft is in air? (note that on ground the nose wheel moves and the question is equivalent with “do the front wheels of a car move when the driving wheel is rotated if the car is lifted in air?”) How we solved it in the end? We went on the real aircraft and watched the nose wheel movements and such we determined that the nose wheel is moving in air too.

    What does this prove? Even with the most detailed simulation/model one cannot determine if a statement about the real object is TRUE or FALSE. Only observation of the real object will give a TRUE or FALSE answer.

  43. 443
    Sean says:

    The IPCC 4th report states that “Anthropogenic forcing is likely to have contributed to changes in wind patterns, affecting extratropical
    storm tracks and temperature patterns in both hemispheres.”
    Because temperature patterns are expected to change as climate change takes hold, is the interpolation process being used to determine temperature anomalies across distances constantly being validated?
    My interpretation of the statement from the report is that the interpolation procedures being used now may not hold up in the future.

  44. 444
    Hank Roberts says:

    > I keep trying to track down the source of the MWP. (I guess this stands
    > for Mediaeval Warming Period.)
    > So far I have not found anything substantive that could be supportive
    > of such an event even having existed. Please fill me in on this.

  45. 445
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Septic Matthew says: 23 January 2010 at 1:13 PM

    CCS: Pilot operations are one thing, scaling is another.

    Bear in mind, I’m not one to dismiss -any- technology, I’m a firm believer that many cards are going to need laying out on the table in order to surmount our energy challenge. I can definitely envision a scenario where CCS-mitigated plants play a role running far into the future, but I can also see that the distribution of coal versus economically viable sequestration sites is not perfect and leaves some large issues hanging in the air, leading to “clean coal energy” supply not meeting demand. This has already been noted by people with expertise in the subject. I think it’s folly to count on coal shouldering the burden left hanging by missing petroleum.

    robert says: 23 January 2010 at 12:46 PM

    “Any calculations or modeling on the effects on atmospheric circulation or weather patterns from removing large amounts of energy from the atmosphere…”

    It’s not being removed, just moved.

    mircea says: 23 January 2010 at 1:54 PM

    You -really- need to read this:

  46. 446
    Mike Palin says:

    #422, Ray Ladbury:
    From my perspective (earth scientist raised and educated in USA, now living and working in “100% Pure New Zealand”), I would have to disagree with the notion that “The first thing people have to do is accept the established science.” It would be great if they did, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon for a variety of reasons, some of which are touched on in this week’s Nature opinion piece by Dan Kahan. Kris (#421) has a good point that the most important step in mitigation – reducing fossil fuel consumption as much as possible as soon as possible – can be achieved by less threatening routes.

    The general public needs to learn that electricity generated by (non-hydro) renewable means is not that much more expensive (on an economy-wide basis) than current fossil fuel generation and promises to be less expensive in the long run. Once they realise that the costs of switching to a low-carbon economy are affordable, they’ll likely accept and use the predictions of climate science as an additional rationale for “doing the right thing”. The advantage of such an approach is that society avoids a “culture war” in which defeat of science would be truly catastrophic.

  47. 447
    David B. Benson says:

    Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co. (411) — Please read Brian Sunmer’s “The Long Summer” and then his more recent book on MWP. Both are eye-openers.

  48. 448
    ferocious says:

    The IPCC is supposed to collate and summarize the science that supports the thesis that human produced carbon dioxide is causing the world wide temperature to increase.

    The Summary for Policy Makers is just what it says, a list of policy driven summaries of the science that suggest political policies to be implemented.

    [Response: I would recommend reading something before broadcasting your incorrect opinions on it. – gavin]

  49. 449
    Bill says:

    re #432, 433 & 437; what’s the considered view on the ice ?

  50. 450
    Edward Greisch says:
    Coal has other problems:
    “Based on the predicted combustion of 2516 million tons of coal in the United States and 12,580 million tons worldwide during the year 2040, cumulative releases for the 100 years of coal combustion following 1937 are predicted to be:

    U.S. release (from combustion of 111,716 million tons [of coal]):

    Uranium: 145,230 tons (containing 1031 tons of uranium-235)

    Thorium: 357,491 tons

    Worldwide release (from combustion of 637,409 million tons [of coal]):

    Uranium: 828,632 tons (containing 5883 tons of uranium-235)

    Thorium: 2,039,709 tons

    Radioactivity from Coal Combustion

    The main sources of radiation released from coal combustion include not only uranium and thorium but also daughter products produced by the decay of these isotopes, such as radium, radon, polonium, bismuth, and lead. Although not a decay product, naturally occurring radioactive potassium 40 is also a significant contributor. According to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), the average radioactivity per short ton of coal is 17,100 millicuries /4,000,000 tons, or 0.00427 millicuries/ton. This figure can be used to calculate the average expected radioactivity release from coal combustion. For 1982 the total release of radioactivity from 154 typical coal plants in the United States was, therefore, 2,630,230 millicuries. Thus, by combining U.S. coal combustion from 1937 (440 million tons) through 1987 (661 million tons) with an estimated total in the year 2040 (2516 million tons), the total expected U.S. radioactivity release to the environment by 2040 can be determined. That total comes from the expected combustion of 111,716 million tons of coal with the release of 477,027,320 millicuries in the United States. Global releases of radioactivity from the predicted combustion of 637,409 million tons of coal would be 2,721,736,430 millicuries. For comparison, according to NCRP Reports No. 92 and No. 95, population exposure from operation of 1000-MWe nuclear and coal-fired power plants amounts to 490 person-rem/year for coal plants and 4.8 person-rem/year for nuclear plants. Thus, the population effective dose equivalent from coal plants is 100 times that from nuclear plants. “