Unforced variations: Jan 2011

After perusing the comments and suggestions made last week, we are going to try a new approach to dealing with comment thread disruptions. We are going to try and ensure that there is always an open thread for off-topic questions and discussions. They will be called (as this one) “Unforced Variation: [current month]” and we will try and move all off-topic comments on other threads to these threads. So if your comment seems to disappear from one thread, look for it here.

Additionally, we will institute a thread for all the troll-like comments to be called “The Bore Hole” (apologies to any actual borehole specialists) that won’t allow discussion, but will serve to show how silly and repetitive some of the nonsense that we have been moderating out is. (Note that truly offensive posts will still get deleted). If you think you’ve ended up there by mistake, please let us know.

With no further ado, please talk about anything climate science related you like.

370 comments on this post.
  1. Mike M:

    I only wish Gavin and moderators would at least be honest enough to include a tally of the number of contrary comments that were deleted per topic. (Sure, deleted spam, manifestos, etc. can be omitted, we all have to live with those.)

    [Response: Honesty has nothing to do with it. If you think we have time for something like that you’re wrong and if you think the number of deleted comments proves anything, even more so.–Jim]

  2. JCH:

    For those interested in the Knox and Douglass paper (the one rumored to have called off warming in November, 2010,) Dr. Trenberth is said to have commented here, and Knox and Douglass have responded here.

    [Response: Something wrong with the links. Can you repost? I think you might be referencing this and this? – gavin]

  3. flxible:

    New study released about Melting Mountain Glaciers – note over-stated headline and rather unsupported subhead, which I think relates to the Forbes thread about reportage.

  4. Tommy S:

    I wish some climate scientists did their very best to model natural climate variability with all possible parameter ranges / forcing combinations / feedback mechanisms that can’t be ruled out from observations. I view the climate system as extremely interesting and challenging, and would like to se some more studies of this. I can’t help feeling that the involved scientists are not so interested in this part. If they were, we would read more of it in the IPCC reports? No?

    Perhaps there is a load of studies investigating this?

    [Response: There are. And there are research groups set up to do exactly that. You can’t investigate the influence of various possible forcings without an understanding/estimate of inherent variability.–Jim]


  5. Vendicar Decarian:

    “So why are all of these people clueless about the huge risks we are accepting?” – 156

    In your first paragraph you answered your own question.

    “They are 18 and care more about Jersey Shore than reading solid news sources. I will forgive them to a degree.” – You

    The American public are scientifically and technically illiterate, mostly innumerate and growing ever more isolated from the rest of the world as a result of TV, Ipods, Iphones, and Virtual Reality Video games.

    There simply isn’t any time or reason to think, experience, or learn when you have 6 tweets waiting to be read and another 3 waiting to be composed.

    Remember. In your public talks you are speaking to a select group of people who are actually inquisitive and or concerned.

    Ultimately, they are not the desired target audience.


  6. JBL:

    But Jim, don’t you know, if denialist comments are being deleted, that proves that Svante Arrhenius is in on the conspiracy!

  7. Didactylos:

    Mike M: If the Bore Hole contains just a fraction of the idiocy that hits RC, then we owe a great deal to the moderators for helping keep the debate sane. Can you imagine the time that would be wasted by vacuous unsubstantiated claims, and endless repetition of blatant falsehoods?

    Comments aren’t removed because they are merely contrarian. The briefest of glances will confirm that. Comments are removed because they are blazingly idiotic.

    I am confident that in time, some of the blazingly idiotic comments from all sides of the debate will end up in the Bore Hole. If people arriving from so-called “sceptic” sites are over-represented in the Bore Hole, then it is because they start with a major disadvantage: indoctrination.

    So, advice to sceptics: if you want a reply, then don’t import an argument that you heard elsewhere. Think for yourself, and even if you are still wrong, you will at least be taken seriously. In other words: be sceptical!

  8. Ray Ladbury:

    Scott Mandia,
    I actually see the reverse. In my experience, the younger generations are much more concerned about climate change and other environmental threats than the older ones. I think we are dealing with about 2 generations where science and mathematics education failed utterly. I think things are getting better, and I hope by the time current grade schoolers enter your classroom, you will again be teaching science literates.


  9. Rod B:

    Mark Shapiro (27),that’s an apples versus cereal comparison. An almost infinitesimal amount of EM’s advertising, PR, etc budget goes for anti-AGW advocacy. In fact where their straight marketing relates to climate change it is always what they are (saying they are) doing to combat global warming.

  10. Rod B:

    Jim, my #39 was meant as humor. Probably bad humor as it turns out.

    [Response: Very bad indeed. Respectful criticism is fine, analogies to murder of groups of people is 100% not.–Jim]

  11. JCH:

    Gavin, yes, those are the links. I tried to test the links, which were there, and they failed. I foolishly thought they might work anyway. Thanks for adding functional links.

  12. Didactylos:

    Scott and Ray: our own experiences are all very well, but nothing beats some good, objective evidence.

    Studies seem to show that concern about climate change increases with education and decreases with age. (Try Olofsson A, Öhman S (2006) – I haven’t read it myself).

    Now, whether concern translates into action or anything tangible is a more open question. Students have a reputation (deserved or not) for apathy. While this is true in many cases, I don’t think it is a valid generalisation. Students today are perfectly happy to demonstrate, whether is is against massive increases to tuition fees in the UK, or to rally to restore sanity in the US, or one of countless other examples around the world.

    Education isn’t so simple, though. Better education should correspond to increasing concern, but concern is a subjective thing, and it relates not to actual expertise, but to our imagined expertise. Turns out, the Dunning-Kruger effect plays a big part in shaping opinions, as shown by Hamilton (2010).

    And who gives people the impression that they are well-informed, while actually feeding people predigested anti-science? ← Rhetorical.

    [OT moved]

  13. Vendicar Decarian:

    “I think things are getting better, and I hope by the time current grade schoolers enter your classroom, you will again be teaching science literates.” – 160

    More environmentally conscious, but less capable of comprehending science. At least in the west.

    Two days ago, I asked a young girl (19) what the square root of 4 was. She was unable to answer. I then asked what 2 squared was. She didn’t do that math stuff she replied.

    I then asked where she saw herself in 10 years. She said that she would like to be a Dr. of Veterinary medicine.

    I suggested that she consider a “career” as an assistant, at which point she stopped talking to me.

    I haven’t encountered a single young person in more than a decade who actually has a hobby. Yes. I make it a point to ask. All respond that they spend their time playing Video Games.

    These observations and the near bottom of the list and still sinking U.S. test scores in science and math relative to the developing nations tells me that there is continuing decline in the system of science education in the U.S.

    The economic decline in the U.S. will soon be recognized as a major economic problem in the U.S. and a threat to the corporate governance of that nation. At that point technical education will be promoted and a decade later the U.S. will begin to rise in the standings.

    So progress 20 years from now. Perhaps.


  14. Isotopolopolus:


    Thanks for the advice Didactylos. Deniers such as myself don’t care whether we are taken seriously.., and to be honest, the Bore Hole is where we belong, down here in the mud. It’s psychological, we disagree with everything. Gravity, physics, you name it, we deny it (or atleast be skeptical of it).

    Questioning the fundamental laws is a great way to truly understand why they are laws, why they cannot be broken.

    Why bother doing it this way, Isn’t it foolish to ignore the mistakes made by others? The question answers itself.

  15. Didactylos:

    Isotopolopolus, you seem to be confusing denial with scepticism (or the other way around).

    Scepticism is good. It is what drives scientists, and underpins science.

    What you think of as scepticism is nothing of the kind. If you were genuinely sceptical, you would apply your scepticism equally to everything you hear, instead of credulously and gullibly promoting everything that you agree with, and unceasingly attacking everything you disagree with.

    Scepticism brings with it the understanding that when you discover you are wrong, then you change your mind. And sceptics are always, always searching for errors in their own beliefs about the world.

    I wanted to relate this soapboxing to something concrete you said about climate, but you didn’t say anything about climate at all.

  16. Dappledwater:

    JCH @ 52 – You appear fixated with the Knox and Douglass paper. I take it you have read it? (I have). What’s your opinion on it?.

  17. Daniel Bailey:

    Re: jacob mack

    “You should know by now I have read your work and the RC in total.”

    How can you say something like this and expect to be taken seriously by anyone is beyond me.

    I’ve been a reader here for 3 years and I still haven’t read all of “the” RC. Must be because I’m actually trying to understand what I read (I read the posts, the comments and the linked sources, too).

    The Yooper

  18. JCH:

    Dapplewater, I originally posted the link to the paper because I sensed there was a lot of excitement about it being a significant paper. My instincts were double confirmed: one, moments later it became a centerpiece of Dr. Curry’s latest technical article (she maybe liked it a little too much as she thought Willis was a co-author;) two, the RC staff apparently read the paper in November and consequently ended warming:

    “[Response: Yep, it was called off in November when that came out.–Jim]

    So obviously my fixation on this paper has been insufficiently fixated.

    I’m unqualified to establish an informed opinion about science. Some of my uninformed questions would be the magnitude of the paper’s claim versus: the length of the study (I’m probably wrong, but to me it looks like Lyman found 2003 to 2008 to be statistically insignificant,) the singular line of evidence, not including 2009 ARGO data, not discussing that ARGO floats do not go under the ice and what that might mean, and not including ARGO data of greater depth.

    The paper also seems to think it has reinforced the Tsonis and Swanson “climate shift”, which was, as I understand it, to be followed by the resumption of Anthropogenic Global Warming. I suspect Knox and Douglass are not enthusiastic adherents of that outcome.

    Trenberth said they did not say which data they used. They responded that they used ARGO data. Is there more than one set of 2003-2008 ARGO data?

  19. One Anonymous Bloke:

    @ JCH 67: re Jim’s response. Funny, I read that as trenchant sarcasm. Still, one paper, overturning 100 years of evidence. Amazing what some people believe.

  20. R.Gates:

    Response to #52 & #61:

    It was I who posted Dr. Trenberth’s email response to me to the Knox & Douglass paper over on Judith Curry’s site. He made it quite clear that he found the paper to be “rubbish”, and that he had no intention of responding to their rebuttal to his response on Dr. Curry’s site, but that he would be responding in the future with a paper. When I first emailed Dr. Trenberth about the Knox and Douglass paper a few days back, he hadn’t heard either of them, nor the journal it was published in (this is not a surprise is it?), but he graciously took the time to read the paper and give me his quick thoughts before heading out off to Europe.(Bern ISSE Jan. 9-14; Grenoble ECRA Jan. 15-18).

    “Rubbish” then pretty well summarizes his viewpoint on Knox & Douglass’ paper I think, and it will be interesting to see is full response in his future paper…

  21. Sou:

    Sheesh – look at this flooding in Toowoombah, Queensland today!


  22. Sou:

    Oops, please correct spelling – should be Toowoomba.

  23. john byatt:

    this is getting crazy in queensland , more flooding covering from maryborough to brisbane and into NSW,

    toowoomba a city west of brisbane hit by flash flooding today , unbeleivable


  24. Jacob Mack:


    it took me a few years to accomplish and for awhile I was out of work with more time to do it, but yes I read to understand and I did read each and every piece here and the papers/interviews/books by the moderators current and past.With a reasonable background in statistics, chemistry and calculus one can analyze most of the data using the background. Add in the reading of textbooks on climate and weather and then reading peer reviewed literature it becomes far more efficient to read the RC entries. Being able to read fast and retain information and bounce ideas off of relevant professors who are friends of mine has all been very helpful as well.


    yes I know you are aware of this data and many papers discuss it in fact in addition to the NOAA and NASA website. This is why I am confused when others make the claim that global warming is going to ruin the planet and threatens humanity when no one can make a claim like that based on the best science. How certain is anyone actively doing research that snow is going to almost completely disappear or that 8-11 billion people is completely unsustainable? I realize the research is wide and varied: chemists, physicists, mathematicians, meteorologists, interdisciplinarians, ecologists etc… The issue I take based upon most research in peer review/textbooks and physical observations of weather and climate history (and watching the weather channel)is that cold winters are not going anywhere, nor are sometimes warmer, or sometimes cooler summers, heat waves, or record breaking cold globally. Nature does what it does and all can we do is observe, somewhat haphazardly. Greenhouse gases do add some energy to the system but weather dissipates excess heat. Where is the evidence to support an assertion that we are in severe danger from such events long term? The IPCC report while a nice attempt at summarizing literature is not nearly enough to make predictions with >90% confidence. Looking at the global weather patterns and a cool 2010 and not a record breaker, it seems to me things must be re-annalyzed.

    Oceans buffer the increased heat well and the earth not being a closed system is not holding heat like a blanket like so many commenters here claim. Heat and temperature as you know from P-chem (and gen chem, etc…) are not the same thing. Heat transfer both warms and cools. I want to reitterate this is not an attack but an invitation to a serious conversation with people in the field. Rather than continuing to come off as brash I am keeping my tone neutral.

    [Response: I think the problem is that you’re conflating what is said in the scientific literature with popular interpretations of it that come across as too broad brushed. But no scientist actually makes claims like ‘global warming is going to ruin the planet’, or ‘threatans humanity’. These are hopelessly vague kinds of statements. What scientists *do* legitimately say, based on the evidence, is things like this: there is “high probability (>90%) that growing season temperatures in the tropics and subtropics by the end of the 21st century will exceed the most extreme seasonal temperatures recorded from 1900 to 2006”. That’s from a paper about the risks to agriculture in the future. Whether that sort of thing amounts to ‘ruining the planet’ or ‘threatens humanity’ is in the eye of the beholder.–eric]

  25. Sou:

    Eventually there could be major flooding a lot further south along the the Murray Darling, maybe as far as South Australia. All this water has to go somewhere.

    It’s a dark hour during the worst floods ever recorded here:


    To get some idea of what’s been happening across Queensland, click on the icons on this map:


    And then think about the rural properties in between.

  26. Sou:

    Wivenhoe Dam was built in Queensland as water storage and flood mitigation after the 1974 floods when Brisbane was inundated. It was built to prevent flooding of Brisbane re-occurring.

    The flood mitigation section of the dam was emptied before the wet season. It is now filled above the stated capacity and the Wivenhoe catchment is getting the equivalent of two Sydney Harbours full of water every day. All the dam outlets are open now. Brisbane is preparing for floods, and hoping they won’t be too bad.

  27. Didactylos:

    “I want to reitterate this is not an attack but an invitation to a serious conversation”

    Jacob, are you able to admit to yourself that your knowledge has limits? There is such a big gap between what you say you understand, and what you demonstrate you understand, that any conversation is really going to struggle.

    Lack of knowledge isn’t a barrier. But when you say “Looking at the global weather patterns and a cool 2010 and not a record breaker, it seems to me things must be re-annalyzed”, your disconnect from reality is just too great.

  28. Ray Ladbury:

    Jacob says, “Oceans buffer the increased heat well and the earth not being a closed system is not holding heat like a blanket like so many commenters here claim”

    While this statement is based on utter ignorance, it is at least correctable, and so a step up from your previous postings.

    First, the only effect the oceans have is on the rate of warming–not the ultimate amount. That is determined by radiative balance.

    Second, while it is true that Earth is not a closed system, the only way energy leaves is via outgoing IR, and that is determined by 1)the BB temperature of the planet and 2)the amount of IR the ghgs let out of the system.

    Jacob: ” The IPCC report while a nice attempt at summarizing literature is not nearly enough to make predictions with >90% confidence.”

    Wrong again. We can make many predictions at better than 90% confidence.

    A cooler 2010? Huh? WTF? What planet were you on? Most temperature indices had 2010 at #1 (GISS) or #2 on the list.

    I’m reminded of the scene in “A Fish Called Wanda”:

    Otto: Apes do not read philosophy.

    Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it.

  29. Rod B:

    I scanned the Knox & Douglass paper and found it curious, interesting, and maybe significant. But I didn’t see anything terribly contentious (didn’t read it all, just the first parts) yet I see comments here really taking it to task. Is there an implication that the data showing a likely decrease in upper ocean heat 2003-2008 is all wrong? Seems hard to imagine.

    Or were there maybe statements or conclusions made from the data (which I might have missed in my reading), not the data itself, that’s causing all of the contention?

  30. Barton Paul Levenson:

    JM 63: Greenhouse gases do add some energy to the system but weather dissipates excess heat.

    BPL: To where? Energy is conserved, you know.

  31. Barton Paul Levenson:

    Anyone want to take a bet? I’m betting the Australian deniers won’t change one word of their propaganda, except possibly to misuse the “weather, not climate” line.

  32. Jeffrey Davis:

    re: 63

    “Whether that sort of thing amounts to ‘ruining the planet’ or ‘threatens humanity’ is in the eye of the beholder.”

    I’ve just finished The Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen, and while the work is a polemic and is not a scientific treatise, Hansen is completely convinced by the geological record that if even the middle range of the predicted temperature increases come to pass civilization will be threatened.

    As little as a 2C increase over time will produce a vastly different planet than the one we’re on now. Or else the geological record is useless as a predictor of the future.

  33. RichardC:

    JM 63: Greenhouse gases do add some energy to the system but weather dissipates excess heat.

    BPL 68: To where? Energy is conserved, you know.

    He is referring to the transport of heat via weather’s convection/evaporation/condensation to higher in the atmosphere. A hurricane is a large heat engine.

  34. jacob mack:

    Richard C exactly right, a heat engine.

  35. One Anonymous Bloke:

    So, RichardC #71, all you have to do now is marry the observed facts (that the stratosphere is cooling while the surface is warming) with what you reckon is happening, and that is a very large hole in the ground would you like a spade?

  36. Donna:

    Personal pet peeve – so very off topic – why does the word scientist get so overused? “Scientists say” gets put in so many headlines, etc. It implies that just because someone is a scientist then they hold the same opinions, thoughts as do all other scientists in all realms of science. And also implies that once you are a scientist, then some how you have become an expert in all areas of science.
    While there can be a great deal of overlap in certain sciences that does not necessarily mean expertise in all facets outside the overlap- i.e. geologists do need to know some biology, but geologists are not experts in all areas of biology.
    It would be at least a little clearer to people if headlines said things like biologists believe bee decline is due to x or climatologists see change in climate due to x. Then people might start to realize that a degree, even a PhD does not equate to expertise in everything and stop to ask who is saying what and just what is their level of knowledge about the subject before they buy all that the guy is saying. The fact that the great consensus of climatologists have found the evidnece supports climate change through global warming has a lot more weight than if the great majority of architecture professors were not so sure.

  37. john byatt:

    8 dead and scores missing around Toowoomba, you are correct BPL, some of the deniers in OZ are actually cheering the breaking of the drought, others saying that it is the 100 yr cycle re 1918 floods { two intense following cyclones that year} this is monsoonal trough, makes you wonder just what it will take for Australians to get the message.

    Some of these re-captcha words deserve dictionary status ,

  38. Kevin McKinney:

    #87–Yeah, a guy on CBC.CA claimed that this flood disproved the AGW drought predictions. Lame, since Queensland had been in drought since 2001, according to the BOM, but so it goes.

    It was another good opportunity to educate.

  39. Anne van der Bom:

    Jacob Mack,
    10 Jan 2011 at 3:03 PM

    Richard C exactly right, a heat engine.

    Ok, the hurricane pumped the heat higher up in the atmosphere. But it is still in the atmosphere. So, where does it go next?

  40. jacob mack:

    Anne mostly to space
    Some help form clouds and the rest is absorbed by water and land where temp changes are nill or very little and ephemeral.

  41. Charles:

    Who cut down the last tree on Easter Island? Might seem like an unrelated question but it’s more conceivable that it is relevant to the situation. To learn more read the Wikopedia entry for Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Suceed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collapse:_How_Societies_Choose_to_Fail_or_Succeed it would appear as if we are on the path to failure.

  42. Hank Roberts:

    >> the hurricane pumped the heat higher up in the atmosphere
    > mostly to space

    If this were true, a pulse of infrared leaving the atmosphere above the hurricane cloud tops should be measurable, right?

    What heat? The heat of condensation was released much lower down as the clouds actually form, so that heat isn’t available to lose to space. And the clouds would also be intercepting heat radiation from below so you need to subtract that from the outgoing. Numbers?

    I dunno. Seems to me you need to write the paper before claiming the result.

  43. Ray Ladbury:

    Jacob Mack,
    Heat and IR radiation are not the same. And remember, the more CO2 we have, the higher the heat must reach before it can escape. Higher equals colder in the troposphere.

  44. Lawrence Coleman:

    The flood crisis in queensland just gets worse and worse..it came to us today on the sunshine coast north of brisbane as we were cut off ‘marooned’ for 8 hours with unrelenting rain and thunder. Brisbane is on the eve of the biggest natural disaster since the devastating 1974 floods even higher than then there are predicting. The met bureau says the unprecedented floods are causes by a historically active la-nina, but we have had very weird weather for a year now with considerably less days of sunshine that anytime I can remember and that was even before the la-nina officially kicked in. Last year was characterised by extremely torrential downpours from almost every cloud that passed even in the midst of winter. There seems to be so much more water vapour in the atmosphere now than in the past. Australia most likely will need foreign aid when the final economic figure is put on this disaster. The entire state has been affected and is being affected as I type. I know that CC is largely behind this and that our climate is progressively getting more and more unstable. I know this will not end as this is probably the first chapter as we still have many many weeks of summer to go. The only certainty we have now is though this increasing uncertainty..we are entering into a very strange and frightening world indeed.
    In the comment above I read that the wivenhoe dam was built specifically to prevent another 1974…that is true!. It now is 174% capacity and releasing all of it’s flood gates into the brisbane river system. The dam was never supposed to become full it has and as you will see in the next days on cnn and the bbc the terrible cost is will exact on Brisbane.

  45. Barton Paul Levenson:

    RC 83: He is referring to the transport of heat via weather’s convection/evaporation/condensation to higher in the atmosphere. A hurricane is a large heat engine.

    BPL: No kidding. And you think climate modeling or climate science in general doesn’t take convection or evapotranspiration into account?

  46. Barton Paul Levenson:

    JM 90: Some help form clouds and the rest is absorbed by water and land where temp changes are nill or very little and ephemeral.

    BPL: You’ve never spent 24 hours in the Sahara, I take it.

  47. Jonathan Bagley:

    Bore Hole is a great idea – far better than censoring.

  48. Jacob Mack:

    Han watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRsrDZARTHg

  49. Jacob Mack:

    Ray IFR causes excitations which leads to transfers of heat. IFR and heat are often termed as the same thing in the literature. IFR leaves the planet due to hurricanes among other processes.

  50. Anne van der Bom:

    Jacob Mack
    10 Jan 2011 at 8:12 PM

    Your answer was short and cryptic. I’m not sure if I understand what you’re trying to say. It is probably because I am not a scientist, but still trying my best to understand as much as possible. Allow me to poke a little deeper in your reply.

    mostly to space

    Between the top of the hurricane and space is still enough atmosphere for greenhouse gases to limit the outgoing IR. To me that still means: more greenhouse gases will retain more heat on the planet. Perhaps a better explanation helps to bring your point across.

    Some help form clouds and the rest is absorbed by water and land where temp changes are nill or very little and ephemeral.

    Are you now extrapolating from the hurricanes to the entire planet? Do hurricanes play a significant role in radiating heat out from the planet? I would estimate that hurricanes cover on average less than 1% of the earth’s surface. Can that really have an influence large enough compared to the radiation budget of the whole planet? My gut feeling says no. But gut feeling is a dangerous thing in science. Can you attach numbers to your argument to demonstrate the significance? Does it really increase the uncertainties to a point as to reject the confidence levels expressed in AR4? At this point I think your argument is based on a theory that has a negligible effect in the real world.

    ‘Some help from clouds’ sounds pretty vague. How do the clouds exactly help? As I understand from RC, there is still considerable uncertainty regarding cloud feedback. How can you say they help if mainstream climate science is less certain?

    You assert that the ‘temp changes are nill or very little’. On what evidence do you base that? The world around me shows me something different. Temperatures have risen by ~0.7 C over the past century, and are now rising even faster (~0.2 C per decade), sea levels are rising (mostly thermal expansion), glaciers are shortening and sea ice is melting. You may be right, but are you asking me to take your word for it?