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Making climate science more useful

Impression from the ICTPLast week, there was a CORDEX workshop on regional climate modelling at International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), near Trieste, Italy.

The CORDEX initiative, as the abbreviation ‘COordinated Regional climate Downscaling Experiment‘ suggests, tries to bring together the community of regional climate modellers. At least, this initiative has got a blessing from the World Climate Research Programme WCRP.

I think the most important take-home message from the workshop is that the stake holders and end users of climate information should not look at just one simulation from global climate models, or just one downscaling method. This is very much in agreement with the recommendations from the IPCC Good Practice Guidance Paper. The main reason for this is the degree of uncertainties involved in regional climate modelling, as discussed in a previous post.

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Friday round-up

Filed under: — group @ 25 March 2011

Last week, Nature published another strong statement addressing the political/economic attack on climate science in an editorial titled “Into Ignorance“. It specifically criticized the right wing element of the U.S. Congress that is attempting to initiate legislation that would strip the US EPA of its powers to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants. In so doing, it cited as an example the charade of a hearing conducted recently, including the Republicans’ disrespectful and ignorant attitude toward the science and scientists. Among many low points, this may have reached its nadir when a House member from Nebraska asked, smirkingly and out of the blue, whether nitrogen should be banned–presumably to make the point that atmospheric gases are all either harmless or outright beneficial, and hence, should not be regulated. Aside from the obvious difference that humans are not altering the nitrogen concentration of the atmosphere, as they are with (several) greenhouse gases, such a question boggles the mind in terms of the mindset that must exist to ask it in a public congressional hearing in the first place. But rarely are the ignorant and ideological bashful about showing it, regardless of who might be listening. In fact an increasing number seem to take it as a badge of honor.

There have been even more strongly worded editorials in the scientific literature recently as well. Trevors and Saier (2011)*, in a journal with a strong tradition of stating exactly where it stands with respect to public policy decisions and their effect on the environment, pull no punches in a recent editorial, describing the numerous societal problems caused when those with the limited perspective and biases born of a narrow economic outlook on the world, get control. These include the losses of critical thinking skills, social/community ethics, and the subsequent wise decision making and planning skills that lead a society to long-term health and stability.

Meanwhile, scientific bodies charged with understanding how the world actually works–instead of how they would imagine and proclaim it to–continue to issue official statements endorsing the consensus view that humans are strongly warming the planet in recent decades, primarily by greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. Three years ago, we wondered whether geologists in general have a different view on climate change to the climate research community. A recent statement from the U.K. Geological Society, however, suggests that our impressions perhaps were not well-founded.

Notwithstanding these choices of ignorance, many other organizations continue apace with many worthwhile and diverse goals of how to deal with the problem. Here are a few links that we have run across in the last week or two that may be of interest to those interested in sustainability and adaptation. Please note the imminent deadlines on some of these.

The Center for Sustainable Development’s online courses related to community-level adaptation to climate change:

The CDKN International Research Call on Climate Compatible Development:

The Climate Frontlines call for abstracts for a July conference in Mexico City on the theme “Indigenous Peoples, Marginalized Populations and Climate Change” [Apologies: the official deadline for abstracts has apparently passed; view this is a conference announcement]

George Mason University’s call for votes on the Climate Change Communicator of the Year

*Trevors, J.T & Saier Jr., M.H. 2011. A vaccine against ignorance? Water, Air and Soil Pollution, DOI 10.1007/s11270-011-0773-1.

Blogging climate scientists

Filed under: — group @ 14 March 2011

The newest arrival in the climate science blogosphere is Isaac Held. This is notable in a number of respects. First, Isaac is a top-tier climate scientist who is hugely respected in the community. For him to decide that it is worth his time to blog on the science should be an important signal for other scientists. Secondly, Isaac is a federal NOAA employee at GFDL in Princeton, and the blog is on the official GFDL website.

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Under and over the ice

Filed under: — gavin @ 10 March 2011

I really like the fact that there is still so much to discover about important parts of the climate system. The Bell et al paper in Science Express this week (final version in Science) reporting on the surprising results from airborne ground-penetrating radar studies of the Antarctic Ice Sheet is a great example. The ice sheets themselves are the biggest challenge for climate modelling since we don’t have direct evidence of the many of the key processes that occur at the ice sheet base (for obvious reasons), nor even of what the topography or conditions are at the base itself. And of course, the future fate of the ice sheets and how they will dynamically respond to climate warming is hugely important for projections of sea level rise and polar hydrology. The fact that ice sheets will respond to warming is not in doubt (note the 4-6 m sea level rise during the last interglacial), but the speed at which that might happen is highly uncertain, though the other story this week shows it is ongoing.

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Wahl-to-Wahl coverage

Filed under: — gavin @ 9 March 2011

Eugene Wahl asked us to post a statement related to some incorrect claims circulating in the blogosphere:

The Daily Caller blog yesterday contained an inaccurate story regarding a correspondence that was part of the emails hacked from East Anglia University Climate Research Unit (CRU) in November 2009.

For the record, while I received the email from CRU as forwarded by Dr. Mann, the forwarded message came without any additional comment from Dr. Mann; there was no request from him to delete emails. At the time of the email in May 2008, I was employed by Alfred University, New York. I became a NOAA employee in August 2008.

The emails I deleted while a university employee are the correspondence I had with Dr. Briffa of CRU regarding the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, all of which have been in the public domain since the CRU hack in November 2009. This correspondence has been extensively examined and no misconduct found. As a NOAA employee, I follow agency record retention policies and associated guidance from information technology staff.

Dr. Eugene R. Wahl

March 9, 2011

Further questions can be addressed to Katy.G.Human -at-

Our comments

These claims are simply the latest attempt to try and manufacture scandals and smear scientists, particularly Mike Mann, based on the UEA emails. The story appears likely to have come from Senator Inhofe’s office who presumably had access to the transcripts taken by the NOAA Office of the Inspector General (whose investigation found no evidence of any wrongdoing by NOAA employees). The story was planted with Steve McIntyre, Anthony Watts, and Chris Horner, and then linked to by Inhofe’s office to provide a little plausible denialability – a rather blatant media spin operation.

But the facts of the case do not support the narrative they are pushing at all. While Jones’ original email was certainly ill-advised (as we stated immediately it came to light in Nov. 2009). Eugene Wahl was not subject to FOIA at the time (since he was not a federal employee) and was not subject to UK FOI anyway since he was working for a US-based university. Nor was he aware of any ongoing FOI actions in any case. In the original emails released, Mann stated that he would notify Wahl of Jones’ email, and his only involvement was to forward the Jones email to Wahl which Wahl’s account confirms.

So what is the actual issue at the heart of this? A single line in the IPCC AR4 report (p466) which correctly stated that “Wahl and Ammann (2006) also show that the impact [of the McIntyre and McKitirck critique] on the amplitude of the final reconstruction [by MBH98] was small (~0.05C)”. This was (and remains) true. During the drafting Keith Briffa corresponded with Eugene Wahl and others to ensure that the final text was accurate (which it was). Claims from McIntyre that this was not allowed under IPCC rules are just bogus – IPCC authors can consult with anyone they like at any time. However, this single line, whose inclusion made no effective difference to the IPCC presentation, nonetheless has driven continuing harassment of everyone involved for no good purpose whatsoever. Wahl and Ammann did show that MM05 made no substantial difference to the MBH reconstruction, whether it got said in the IPCC report or not.

That this inconvenient fact has driven hundreds of blog posts, dozens of fevered accusations, a basket load of FOI requests, and stoked multiple fires of manufactured outrage is far more a testimony to personal obsession, rather than to its intrinsic importance. The science of paleo-reconstructions has moved well beyond this issue, as has the interest of the general public in such minutiae. We can however expect the usual suspects to continue banging this drum, long after everyone else has gone home.

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