RealClimate logo


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.


From Gavin:

People blog for many reasons, but the most common is it that they think they have something to say and that it isn’t being widely said already. Coincidentally, there was a letter in Physics Today (Mar 2011) that brought up the reason why I started blogging. It was from James Kent, who worked in the communications department of WHOI in the early 2000s. He says:

The wrinkle I offer that I discovered many scientists would be marginally comfortable offering their opinions if asked but saw it as an entirely different thing to initiate the expression of their opinion. Passive participation was OK; active was not.

A case in point was the 2004 opening of the science fantasy film The Day After Tomorrow , in which the cryosphere goes global in about 90 minutes. Thermodynamic impossibilities aside, at last Hollywood was using the term “paleo-climatologist,” and we at WHOI had a chance to capture the public’s attention, riding on the science-fantasy coattails as science fact-tellers.

I met with a handful of climate scientists before the film opened and discussed how we, as an institution, might take advantage of the moment. The scientists all wanted to run, not walk, from such foolishness.

So we passed. The The Day After Tomorrow came and went. we posted a climate change FAQ to our website and waited for the phone to ring. As I recall, it never did.

It was precisely this lack of proactive communication related to TDAT that drove my decision to start blogging. NASA had initially warned all scientists off discussing the movie, or any science facts or fiction related to it, though later relented and put together a briefing on the topics (which I helped with, but was never posted on a NASA website). Apart from static web-pages at WHOI and LDEO (and maybe a few other places), almost no outreach was done, very little interaction with knowledgeable scientists provided, no Q&A sessions, no press releases, basically almost nothing. A few newspaper articles asked scientists what they thought, but that was about it. Thus perhaps the thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people, who might have had science questions that arose after watching the movie, had nowhere to go. I thought this was a tremendous lost opportunity and starting thinking about ways to provide some of that missing interaction. Subsequent discussions with a few other scientists, eventually, led to this blog.

In my experience, when it comes to climate scientists, they perceive that what is missing is the context, background and the understanding needed to interpret climate data, a policy proposal or the latest paper. A large part of this knowledge is relatively well-known inside the community but is somewhat rarer in the general public. What is clear, is that when people search for this knowledge – perhaps after seeing a headline, watching a movie or reading a brief summary of a new paper – they most often come across ill-informed or disingenuous commentary instead of real scientific information. Having more scientists providing accessible content can only improve that situation. (Just to be clear, this is not a statement that all disagreement on climate policy would disappear if people were more informed, rather a wish for people to use better/more appropriate/less nonsensical arguments for their point of view). What is most needed is layered information that allows people to go into as much depth as they want, starting from a soundbite or headline, without necessarily having to read and assimilate the technical literature.


Isaac’s entrance into the field of blogging is an important step forward, especially with the implicit support of NOAA for this new venture. Hopefully, more NOAA scientists (and indeed, NASA, DOE, other agency and university scientists) can be encouraged to contribute their voices and points of view as well. Note that RealClimate has a standing invitation to all working climate scientists to submit guest posts on science-related topics – so don’t be shy now!


192 Responses to “Blogging climate scientists”

  1. 51
    flxible says:

    I think the reason students are confused, aside from the fact that a portion of the population always will be such, is that the teachers are confused. Having another “formal” vetting group [committee really] regardless of the level of readership targeted will simply add to the confusion of the few J.Q.Publics that would pay any attention to it. The information is out there, from the raw data to the conclusions and possible futures, beyond that it’s a matter of comprehension and personal decision.

    A teacher faced with students that can’t tell the difference between RC and WUWT needs to figure out how to teach them to do so, not hand them off to yet another “expert” reference group. We’re faced with the reality that any hack can start a blog, the cat is outta the bag, the object should be to teach how to evaluate Science vs Opinion and Politics.

    IMO the phase climate science is at is problematic because it’s become a political question. We know human behaviour is having an effect; we know resources are becoming scarce; we know feeding a bloated population of consumers may be radically affected by changing climate – now what do we do about it? It’s not understanding climate science per se that’s creating the confusion, it’s become an existential question.

  2. 52
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    Blogs and blogging is simply not going to be effective. There are simply too many denialist blogs and simply too many denialists motivated to lie for their cause.

    If you want to be effective then you have to make a public appearance on public forums where the denialists are most active.

    There should be enough climate scientists available to saturate WUWT with real science. Similarly there should be enough motivation in the reality based community to monitor Drudge for climate stories and inundate the denialist comments made to those stories, with facts.

    The same can be said of Yahoo, and the other primary outlets for Climate Change Denial such as Faux News.

  3. 53
    Chris Colose says:

    flxible,

    At some point, it takes education in science to tell science from fantasy. One would hope that a student could immediately learn to spot errors in reasoning that preclude scientific evaluation (ad hominems, non-sequiturs, and other logically fallacious lines of thought), but in fact many of the solid arguments against climate change (or evolution, or whatever) require some familiarity of the underlying mechanisms. There is for example an inherent logical fallacy in saying that “CO2 lags temperature in ice cores, therefore it can’t cause temperature to rise” but there is no such fallacy embedded within “CO2’s absorption bands are saturated, therefore more of it will not cause temperature to rise.” The error in the latter is purely scientific, and requires some training in radiative transfer to think through the problems.

    Certainly, it would not hurt to run students through examples like the ice core one presented above to exercise fallacy-spotting, but this can only go so far. Then, it would not hurt to point out the value of refereed literature and international assessment reports over blogs, but there’s no a priori reason why RC should be any better than WUWT. That requires some initiation into the field, how data is analyzed, etc.

    Any one of us in here could probably be fooled by a reasonably convincing blog on black holes or on how bridges are designed that actually had a bunch of scientific errors. I will agree that there needs to be some emphasis on how to think logically, but to understand climate (or any other field) inevitably means spending a lot of money on tuition and textbooks and going after a degree.

  4. 54
    John Mashey says:

    re: 52 Chris
    “but to understand climate (or any other field) inevitably means spending a lot of money on tuition and textbooks and going after a degree.”

    I don’t think it’s quite that bad. See chart of expertise levels K0-K10, noting the log2 scale.
    For most people, the relevant question isn’t “Do I understand this?” but “Do I understand this well enough to know if it matters and be able to make relevant decisions? And if not, what else do I need to know, and who or what might be good sources?””

    The knowledge discovery process is a bit different, in that going from K3 to K5, one has taken a lot of detailed courses, that is, one is truly learning to understand the topic … and there’s no way most people have the time to do that.

    On the other hand, one can say:
    a) I will read a selection, try to understand where the mainstream is, what it agrees on, what’s arguable, and who the real outliers are. I will especially try to find people that have track records (in peer-reviewed literature) and high impact.
    b) When exploring some area, my level of exploration will vary from shallow to deep, i.e., I may not need to go very deep to verify something, or in fact, I may have to go very deep.

    I would observe that hiring managers, high-level executives and venture capitalists do this routinely, and of course, people inside a field know perfectly well the difference between the strong researchers and clowns. Such people often have to make large bets on incomplete information and there is never enough time to know all the details.

    At Republic Polytechnic in Singapore, the first week (17-year-olds, generally)includes training students to use the Web and assessment of credibility of sources. Of course, that ought to be even younger … like 6 :-)

  5. 55
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Vendicar Decarian: “There should be enough climate scientists available to saturate WUWT with real science.”

    When would you propose they do climate science? Really, do you actually expect the denizens of WTFUWT to be swayed by logic and evidence? They’ve spent years convincing themselves that they shouldn’t listen to actual experts.

  6. 56
    Hank Roberts says:

    Ray, “Vendicar Decarian” is a name with a long, consistent history. Look it up. Guess what this guy is trying to do, eh? Same as always. DFTT.

  7. 57
    Sean says:

    Hello all,

    this is a very interesting subject. I noticed it when first posted, and have come back a few times to see what sort of replies would come of it.

    I appreciate this site very much, and all the comments in this thread in
    particular. This topic of “what can I do, what should I do as a scientist?” really is a difficult dilemma that I imagine most, if not all, climate scientists face today more than ever.

    To step out ‘personally’ into the public domain on such a polarised, politically charged and emotive subject as Climate Change and Global Warming
    is no small feat!

    I could chat away for days about this broader topic of “communication” .. I started a reply and then deleted it as I was getting too complicated and preachy imho.

    I would like to help, and feel that I have some good personal hands on experience with the issues involved online, and yet am not even a graduate let alone a scientist or a climate scientist. Still I feel that at another level, I know what is going on and what it is like for many of you.

    How to express that simply, without coming over as a wet blanket or critical, and with some level of credibility is a tough one.

    I can say that this is a great site, full to the brim with some very good people. I feel really privileged to able to have such close and direct access with real climate scientists, without having to travel to a 5 star hotel overseas for an expensive presentation and a maybe signed autograph and if I was lucky one ill-informed question from the floor where I would make a complete dill of myself. This is better, by far!

    Feel free to “hold this reply” and not post it if anything I say is out offline or confusing here.

    I will just bite the bullet and throw out a few top of mind things fwiw.
    Basically I am speaking to and about the RC site owners and to climate
    scientists in general.

    – Firstly, you are all very courageous to put yourself out there publicly,
    in a personal sense. This whole issue is a minefield today, and the personal
    risks you are taking a very real at all sorts of levels. I think it is
    important to acknowledge that openly and big time. You do not have to do
    this, but you do anyway. That is significant in my opinion, even if you may
    not quite realise it fully as yet.

    – You are in a Catch 22 situation if ever there was one. You are putting a
    red ringed bullseye target on yourself in the public domain – expect to be
    shot at and repeatedly, and in the back often.

    – Your greatest problem to overcome, in order to be successful in your goal
    has to do with the idea of “semantics” – it is the key to everything.

    – As scientists you operate in an elite group of specialists that work to a
    particular Modus Operandi … that MO will not take you towards your goals of
    communicating with the public and journalists. It is instead a barrier to
    your communications. As such you will always be misunderstood, and
    mis-represented in spades. That is unavoidable given the emotive issues
    involved.

    – Your way of communicating here will be going over the heads of your target
    audience as described in your RC About page, most of the time.

    – Journalists (and Politicians) do not have the resources, the time, nor the
    head space to interpret what you say, what you really meant, and then
    re-write that in a way their readers will grasp easily. The IPCC fails in
    this regard, and they have the ‘resources’ and the responsibility already.

    – There is a “belief” running that if you just convey the facts of the
    matter, explain the science is genuine, that most people will just “get it”.
    Bzzzzzzzzzt wrong! People do not need to know the ‘science’ of how a motor
    car works, to understand how to drive it or to recognise it is a good thing
    to use and WILL make their life better. They just need to know a) it works
    b) where to buy it c) how to drive it … then they’ll work out the rest for
    themselves.

    – Focusing on the professional skeptics industry (aka bs artists), the
    thousands of anti-science blogs in cyberspace, and reacting to them by
    rushing out to “prove how wrong they are” is a wasted effort, and a waste of
    time. The more attention you give them the more oxygen you give them.

    – That includes when a Journalist or other important public opinion maker
    asks you a specific question about what X, Y or Z skeptic with FAUX
    credentials claimed yesterday. It is far easier to look past the initial
    surface question and find what lays below it – what doesn’t that Journalist
    know or fail to “get” which makes them vulnerable to such BS to begin with.
    And it is always more than just factoid item A or B, or the latest dataset
    and Computer Model.

    – 100 Al Gores is more powerful than 10,000 cutting edge scientists. TDAT
    wasn’t as good a lost opportunity than you think it might have been. More
    doom and gloom if, is not the solution as it is an opening for severe attack
    and more emotional responses.

    – “What’s in it for me?” is the question key that needs addressing.

    – Fear only works in emergencies and in the short term. People are a awake
    up to that and those that matter (the majority of educated people) do not
    TRUST such an approach. It’s red rags to a bull iow. Avoid it like the
    plague. Leave that to the politicians to try that one on to get an extra
    vote now and then, but Scientists need to stay above that game, whilst
    remaining truthful and accurate.

    – In your RC About page you say you want to stick to the science and avoid
    politics and economics … noble idea, it won’t work. If you want to go
    public and stand up for what you believe in, then you have to address the
    issues that people SEE as the issues, or don’t bother. This means dealing
    with things head on and openly as being as REAL no different than Climate
    Change itself is REAL. This does not mean you have to be partisan, or offer
    political solutions, or be economists either. But you have to be able to say
    why going in X direction is NOT or IS supported by the Science right here
    right now today .. and tomorrow, and the next day and everyday after that.

    – To do this effectively, Climate Scientists needs to be able to draw on the
    credible work, understanding, knowledge and help from the political,
    business, the environmental, and the economists of the world. If you are not
    aware of what there challneges are, their MO as well as your own, the
    “world” they live and work in .. then you are already behind the 8 ball when
    communicating effectively with the general Public and Journalists.

    – Everyone needs to be on the same page, even if 10,000 or 100,000 different
    individual “experts” only get to deal with just one letter printed in the
    Instruction Book of Climate Change For Dummies.

    Lastly, I would think that a new topic or several along the lines of “How
    can we more effectively communicate X, Y, Z to” a) Journalists b)
    Politicians c) the general Public … would be a useful addition to the
    TOPICS LIST .. and would in my opinion be a catylst for a surpirsing numebr
    of good and very practical ideas.

    IOW … rather than thinking “People blog for many reasons, but the most
    common is it that they think they have something to say and that it isn’t
    being widely said already.”

    Flip that to “What is that people NEED TO HEAR, WANT TO HEAR, but they
    aren’t as yet hearing it REPEATED ENOUGH already?”

    IOW one needs to first put yourself in the OTHER’S MOCASSINS … no point
    preaching to the converted, and no point in arguing with the Flat-Earthers
    either. They won’t change their dumbed down gullible beliefs and opinions
    until the Antarctic melts aways completely …. or they realise there is
    BUCK in it for THEMSELVES too!

    So, by all means keep doing what you are already doing, don’t stop that it
    is worthwhile. What you share and explain here for those above the norm is
    useful, and that gets shared around beyond this space.

    But the reality is that most people are simply not equipped to handle the
    complexities of the Science. Scientists are having troubles dealing with
    that, so how can one expect Mr & Mrs Joe Average to work out what the
    Science means?
    For I tell you honestly … as an example this post:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/08/the-co2-problem-in-6-easy-steps/

    Easy?

    You will lose 98% of people before the end of this sentence::

    “The fact that there is a natural greenhouse effect (that the atmosphere
    restricts the passage of long wave (LW) radiation from the Earth’s surface
    to space) is easily deducible from i) the mean temperature of the surface
    (around 15ºC) and ii) knowing that the planet is roughly in radiative
    equilibrium.”

    And it is because of this type of “semantics”, and despite your good
    intentions that there already exists a booming CC Skeptic Industry.

    This will only ever be reversed when Mr Joe Average realises that it is the
    REAL CLIMATE SCIENTIST that is the REAL SKEPTIC, and that this other crowd
    are NOT Scientific but instead as mad a 15th Century Monk claiming that the
    Devil is in that there telescope and that the world is flat.

    That it is THEY that are the promoters of UNJUSTIFIED BELIEF, and not the
    sanguine professionals who rely on Logic and reason and repeatable
    experimentation to both PROVE their Theory and OPENLY adjust the THEORY when
    Proven WRONG with irrefutable EVIDENCE and not irrational fantasies and
    gross self-interest.

    All fwiw … I do mean well I assure you.

    Feel free to EDIT down or delete the whole thing if not appropriate for your
    site.

    PS

    sorry for the long rave .. I may as well go the whole hog here.

    I have been active on the internet since 1997, most of my time on written
    newsgroup forums from religion, to philosophy, to politics and all manner of
    Conspiracy Theories 99% of which are mindless bollocks. Know how to ‘search
    online’ and sort thru the spin to find the juice. In a former incarnation
    was a successful line Management & Marketing executive for Multinational
    Corporations in Australia. Educated myself about Climate Change slowly but
    surely, including reading the IPCC reports and comprehending what they say,
    and the limitations inherent in them.

    Few people can cope with the complexity, and are utterly unaware of the
    scientific model and how it works, or why.

    Since Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth there has been a vacume in the world’s
    awareness that has been filled by special interests, rank attention seekers,
    and rabid un-intelligencia.

    This manifests as:

    The solutions being:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justified_true_belief

    RE-assert that it is the SCIENTISTs that are the ‘ORIGINAL real-deal
    Skeptics’ …. and that the naysayers rely on pure assumption, ignorance of
    the KNOWN EVIDENCE n FACTS, operate without ANY and base all their claims on
    UN-justified False BELIEFS….

    IOW “NON-scientific flat-earthers from the Dark Ages”
    LAUGH then OUTRAGEOUSLY DISMISS their OPINIONS and BELIEFS outright (not the
    person but the idea itself) in a split second, without explanation, for
    being exactly what they are KNOWN to be!

    ie DEAD WRONG !!

    THEN tell the REAL STORY based on the PROVEN SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE .. then

    REPEAT REPEAT REPEAT

    KISSMIF

    ATTENTION GETTERS

    BENEFITS – What’s in it for ME, and MY Family and MY Community?

    FACE UP TO and DEAL with the SEMANTICS Issue … “terminology” must make
    sense to the average Joe … Most POLITICIANs and Journalists are an average
    Joe — TODAY they need to be handed their ‘talking points’ on a silver
    platter.

    Both suffer a severe ‘credibility’ problem in the World … make it easier
    not harder for them to be “attacked” by the “skeptics PR machine” or they
    will remain SILENT.
    NEVER Forget the concept of the HUNDREDTH MONKEY …. talk to everyone as if
    they are that very one “hundredth monkey” .. ignore the non-scientific
    underpinnings of the theory. It works nevertheless.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth_monkey_effect

    Explain YOUR OPINION and WHY it is right for YOU, and then re-explain it,
    and again explain it and re-explain it again, and again and again ….. all
    day everyday.

    ALWAYS MAKE YOURSELF [ or co-workers or website contact ] AVAILABLE FOR
    FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS, tomorrow, next week, next month …

    The Threats to overcome and Avoid are:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophism#Modern_usage

    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune …

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

    Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable FEELING caused by holding
    conflicting ideas simultaneously.

    The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational
    drive to reduce dissonance.

    They [mature educated dte people 20-30% ] do this by changing their
    attitudes, beliefs, and actions.

    Dissonance is also reduced by [ irrational, emotional, frightened and
    confused people who fail to understand high end science 40-60% of people ]
    through justifying (rationalising away) , blaming, and denying.

    It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social
    psychology.

    — Study up on it. For this a KEY issue of why it is exactly how it is
    today. People just want to FEEL better .. they feel better when others agree
    with them no matter what – they write the Blogs, and others feel better when
    someone gives them an OUT for not feeling so DUMB when faced with COMPLEX
    issues …. and they READ the Blogs and Vote according to HOW the CC Skeptic
    PR Industry tells them to Vote.

    RESPECT ALL PEOPLE as equals … everyone is “entitled to thier beliefs and
    opinions …. then DISRESPECT the IRRATIONAL un-supported OPINIONS and
    BELIEFS because YOU are entitled to YOUR OPINIONS no less than anyone else.

    BEST WISHES …. Sean

  8. 58
    bushy says:

    “RESPECT ALL PEOPLE as equals … everyone is “entitled to thier beliefs and
    opinions …. then DISRESPECT the IRRATIONAL un-supported OPINIONS and
    BELIEFS because YOU are entitled to YOUR OPINIONS no less than anyone else.”
    Maybe that could do with a bit of a rethink Sean.

  9. 59

    Tangentially relevant, though I’m neither a scientist nor, strictly speaking, a blogger: My article on Arrhenius reached a milestone this morning: 1,000 page views.

    It’s a modest success, to be sure, but I’ll take it. Thanks to Realclimate readers for their support!

    http://hubpages.com/hub/Global-Warming-Science-And-The-Dawn-Of-Flight

  10. 60
    James R. Barrante says:

    At the risk of being slammed by you guys, like you did the last time I made a comment, I have a question from something Mr. Colose said above. Do you understand CO2 saturation to mean that the absorption bands of CO2 are saturated and unable to absorb any more radiation?

  11. 61
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Kevin,

    Congrats. It deserves to have a million views.

  12. 62

    60, James,

    You asked:

    Do you understand CO2 saturation to mean that the absorption bands of CO2 are saturated and unable to absorb any more radiation?

    The section to which you are referring is this (emphasis added to point out where you stopped reading/understanding too soon):

    There is for example an inherent logical fallacy in saying that “CO2 lags temperature in ice cores, therefore it can’t cause temperature to rise” but there is no such fallacy embedded within “CO2′s absorption bands are saturated, therefore more of it will not cause temperature to rise.” The error in the latter is purely scientific, and requires some training in radiative transfer to think through the problems.

    To directly answer your question, no, absorption bands of CO2 are not saturated.

    To clarify, the 1st statement is incorrect due to a simple logical fallacy, i.e. the fact that the effect (temperature rise) appears to precede the proposed cause (CO2 increase) and therefore it cannot be true. The problem of course is that just because some of the temperature increase precedes increased CO2 levels that does not mean that all subsequent temperature increases are the result of that same cause. Some initial trigger causes temperatures to rise, which in turn increases CO2 levels, which in turn raise temperatures further (and the cycle continues for quite a while).

    There is no such basic logical fallacy in the 2nd statement, even though it is wrong. The flaws in the 2nd statement are more nuanced and so, as Chris says, require \some training in radiative transfer to think through the problems,\ although I’m not sure \training\ is the right word. You don’t have to be a genius with five years of education to understand it. You just have to be willing to listen with an open mind, and build a conceptual model that goes just a little beyond 2+2=4.

  13. 63
    Ray Ladbury says:

    James Barrante,
    Individual molecules have lines. When you have a large mass of gas at a finite temperature, collisional and dopler broadening cause some of those lines to coalesce into “bands”. So what you are talking about is actually a fairly complicated statistical mechanical analysis. When you do it properly, you find that the tails of the lines are fairly thick, so while each addition of CO2 absobs less radiation, the absorption never completely saturates (that is, stops).

  14. 64
    Adam R. says:

    @60 James R. Barrante
    I have a question from something Mr. Colose said above. Do you understand CO2 saturation to mean that the absorption bands of CO2 are saturated and unable to absorb any more radiation?

    The bit of the education Colose mentions may be found
    here.

  15. 65
  16. 66

    Ray, thanks–you just made my day!

  17. 67
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “When would you propose they do climate science? Really, do you actually expect the denizens of WTFUWT to be swayed by logic and evidence? They’ve spent years convincing themselves that they shouldn’t listen to actual experts.” – 55

    1. Responding to WUWT directly will take less time than blogging to a audience free blog.

    2. I don’t expect the denialists to be swayed. I expect them to be inundated.

    Question – To the General Public, what is the difference between a Blog that no one in the General Public will read and an article in Nature that no one in the General Public will read?

    Answer – Nothing since neither will be read.

    It follows that since articles in Journals have had no impact on the General Public in terms of Global Warming science, neither will a blog have any significant impact.

    Those in PR know that in order to present your views you must do so by presenting them to the eyes of the public rather than expecting their eyes to present themselves to you.

    This is something that Scientists perpetually fail to comprehend.

  18. 68
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “so while each addition of CO2 absobs less radiation, the absorption never completely saturates (that is, stops).” – 63

    You should mention that this is true for both absorption and emission spectra. All bands broaden and this means that not only is there non-extinction of absorption due to optical depth, but also due to the fact that new radiation leaks into the absorption bands from the surrounding higher and lower parts of the spectra that stride the absorption bands.

  19. 69
    Dan H. says:

    I see some illogic was used to answer the earlier logic statement. Let us start with the premise that warming will lead to increased CO2 (I suspect I can get agreement here). This is a conditional logic statement which only states what will happen if temperatures increase. It is illogical to state that if CO2 increases that it was caused by a temperature increase as Chris points out above. It is also illogical to claim the reverse based on the original premise; that a CO2 increase will cause a temperature increase. The simple logic statement makes one claim only.
    The second claim is not a simple logic statement, but a fairly complicated scientific one. The absorption bands can be both numerous and wide. Even if some portion were to become saturated, as Ray stated, the remaining bands (or portions thereof) would continue to absorb radiation. The bands are also not CO2-specific, such that other molecules (i.e. water) will contribute to the absorption.
    While the first statement can be understood by any logical person, the second requires some scientific background.

  20. 70
    James R. Barrante says:

    No problem. I’m just trying to understand what you think saturation is. Let’s try this one. What would happen if the intensity of the incident radiation, the Io in the Beer’s Law equation, became smaller and smaller to a point where it was essentially zero. What would adding more CO2 do in this case. Let’s say CO2 is a sponge, and water is the incident radiation. Water on the floor. Throw sponges at it. They begin to absorb the water. Throw in more sponges. Water is finally completely absorbed by the sponges that are present. Now we throw in more sponges. What effect will that have? This is how I understand saturation.

  21. 71
    Ray Ladbury says:

    James,
    Your sponge analogy fails to grasp that the sponges will also drip water–so we add sponges below them to catch it. They fill up and start to drip, and so on. The sponges below also fill in the cracks between the first–an analogy to the fact that adding more CO2 absorbs more energy in the wings/tails of the distribution.

    Vendicar Decarian…Hmm, I see over 14 million visitors to Realclimate.org. Skepticalscience.com is available in 20 languages. You have a rather odd concept of “nobody”.

  22. 72
    flxible says:

    James R. Barrante – co2 and it’s effects are not limited to your puddle on the ground. Regardless of how you understand co2 saturation, science understands it closer to the reality, sans “sponges”. As someone pointed out above, you really need to read this carefully, including part 2 linked within.

  23. 73
    dhogaza says:

    Dan H:

    Let us start with the premise that warming will lead to increased CO2 (I suspect I can get agreement here).

    Not likely to get agreement here given that it’s only true under certain circumstances. Can you name one such circumstance that’s not true today?

  24. 74
    dhogaza says:

    What would adding more CO2 do in this case. Let’s say CO2 is a sponge, and water is the incident radiation. Water on the floor. Throw sponges at it. They begin to absorb the water. Throw in more sponges. Water is finally completely absorbed by the sponges that are present. Now we throw in more sponges. What effect will that have? This is how I understand saturation.

    Now let’s repeat that thought experiment for the Pacific Ocean. How many years worth of the entire world’s annual production of sponges would one have to dump into the ocean before all of the Pacific Ocean’s water was soaked up by them?

    We’re no where near the point where the logarithmic relationship between CO2 concentration and consequential warming is such that doubling CO2 leads to effectively no additional warming. No where near that point.

  25. 75
    Rob Savoie says:

    flxible #49, the problem is that the few loudmouths have convinced many that “…the IPCC and all the professional scientific bodies of the planet” are wrong. People love to believe in conspiracies.

  26. 76
    Eli Rabett says:

    This is going down the wrong track

    No IR from the surface in the CO2 bands escapes to space, but rather it is quickly absorbed. CO2 in the atmosphere can interchange energy with the other molecules in the air and absorb and emit IR but it is only at ~ 7-8 km that the emitted IR light will escape to space.

    Increasing CO2 raises the level at which this happens, and that higher level is colder and less dense, which means that the amount of IR energy emitted is less. This deficit has to be made up by increasing the surface temperature so more energy in the non-ghg area of the spectrum will be emitted and restore the solar in IR out balance.

  27. 77
    dhogaza says:

    This is going down the wrong track

    Oh, c’mon, it’s more fun to expose his analogy on his own terms, no? Obviously he has no clue what physics says, but that can come later, as the coup de grace, no?

    Cats toy with their victims … where’s your sense of fun?

  28. 78
    Chris Colose says:

    James,

    The statement of interest I made earlier was meant to imply that for those wavelengths where CO2 can absorb strongly, at modern atmospheric concentrations most of the IR is already absorbed. There are two key reasons why this is wrong. First, as the figures in part 2 of raypierre’s post show, there is still much more absorption waiting in the wings under Earth-like conditions, so in fact CO2 is not “saturated” as modern spectroscopy is readily able to show.

    The second reason this argument is fallacious is that even if the absorption were saturated throughout the column, eventually you get to a high altitude where it is not saturated, since there are so few molecules that high. It is these thin levels where radiative balance is achieved in the opaque limit, so once you keep increasing CO2, you increase the altitude range at which point the atmosphere becomes optically thin enough to lose its radiation easily to space (for example within one unit optical depth when looking down). These are typically colder regions, so the whole planet can still emit less radiation until the temperature rises. This artificially constructed emission height is a strong function of wavelength, essentially set at the surface in the optically thin window regions and moving up to even within the stratosphere in the strong band centers. For a dense CO2 atmosphere (e.g., Venus), it would still become hotter through this mechanism even if “all the sponges soaked up the water.”

    There’s still many more nuanced things to consider which the RC posts have not fully covered, and there’s always a lot of treats embedded within radiative transfer that can give way to some surprises. Let’s consider a few extreme examples:

    –The figures in part 2 of the Angstrom series by Weart and Pierrehumbert are a bit incomplete in that they do not show more absorption features on the shortwave side of the graph, lower than 10 microns, where absorption can matter as well in a high cO2 atmosphere (at which point the forcing can become much stronger than the canonical logarithmic rule generally cited). On a hotter planet like Venus, there’s also absorption features close to 5 microns that are important, although there is still some competition with SO2 and water vapor. For very high CO2 atmospheres, eventually pressure broadening takes off too, and there’s room for pressure-induced opacity that makes CO2 a more effective greenhouse gas (see e.g., Moskalenko, 1979).

    –Note that the warming effect of pressure broadening is offset partly by increased Rayleigh scattering as the mass of the atmosphere increases (even without the thick sulfur clouds, the albedo of Venus would still be a relatively high 40%, e.g., Bullock and Grinspoon, 2001).

    –Now consider a case where CO2 is still high, but the planet is relatively cold (for example due to high albedo or luminosity). In this limit, the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere is limited by its own saturation vapor pressure determined by Clausius-Clapeyron. CO2 condensation could occur, for example, on early Mars (it still does today at the poles), or during snowball Earth episodes in the winter at high latitudes. This would define the maximum CO2 greenhouse you could achieve, and condensation into CO2 clouds cools things down by raising the albedo, but also by making the lapse rate shallower from latent heat release, which in turn reduces the greenhouse effect. CO2 clouds however generate their own greenhouse effect, not so much through absorption and re-radiation, but through scattering of IR! This is much less lapse rate dependent.

    — In the very hot limit where most of your atmosphere was water vapor, such as near a runaway greenhouse regime, the effects of CO2 are not really important anymore because the opacity of the whole atmosphere is dominated by water vapor. This makes the runaway greenhouse threshold relatively insensitive to the CO2 content of the air. Clearly Earth is very far from this case though.

    — There are plausible cases (e.g., Kasting and Ackerman, 1986) where you have a very hot and wet atmosphere, close to that described above, in which raising the CO2 a lot can actually cool because the increase in the total surface pressure from the CO2 has a stronger influence than the increase in the saturation vapor pressure caused by the greenhouse effect. This reduces the water mixing ratio and the stratosphere can dry out.

    All of this said, there is no support for any inherent “saturation limit” that Earth is close to which will save us from global warming.

  29. 79
    john ramming says:

    V.D. is repeating Rod.B’s saturation distraction from a year or so ago. Are V.D. and Rod.B. the same person or computer program?

  30. 80
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “What would happen if the intensity of the incident radiation, the Io in the Beer’s Law equation, became smaller and smaller to a point where it was essentially zero. What would adding more CO2 do in this case.” – 70

    In the case of IR, I0 can only be zero if the temperature is zero.

    If we are to presume that I0=0 what other assumptions are we to have about the temperature of the atmosphere above the surface.

    If the volume above the surface does has T>0 then we can omit one atom of thickness from the optical depth and compute as before without any change in the result.

    “Let’s say CO2 is a sponge…”

    Lets not, since the analogy is worthless.

    IR photons migrate through the atmosphere in what is essentially a random walk. Adding CO2 makes the step size smaller and hence the diffusion time longer.

    With particle densities high enough, you can delay migration indefinately. Photons produced in the core of the sun for example, take some 100,000 years to reach the photosphere.

    Finally, Beers law is generally not applicable in the case of IR because the block of material the IR is passing through will remain in good or approximate thermal equilibrium with it’s surroundings.

  31. 81
    James R. Barrante says:

    Thanks. Appreciate the input. As you keep pointing out to me, I don’t have much of a scientific background. Only a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Harvard University. Studied under a couple of Nobel Prize winners – solid state nuclear magnetic resonance.

    [Response: since you’ve decided to play the Nobel Prize gambit, lets listen to what some actual Nobel Prize winners in chemistry have had to say about the issue of anthropogenic climate change, say, Sherry Rowland, or Mario Molina, or Paul Crutzen. -mike]

    I taught statistical and quantum mechanics for over 40 years. Saturation doesn’t have to do with the CO2 bands as much as it has to do with the lack of IR radiation at 15 micrometers, which quickly is absorbed. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. I believe that’s what absorbing to extinction means. Once the radiation is absorbed by the CO2, the gas has at least two choices – emit the radiation and drop down to ground state or more likely collide with neighboring molecules and drop down to ground state. That leaves it ready to absorb again. Eventually a steady state will be reached. If the planet could increase its production of radiation around 15 um, then I would agree, increasing the CO2 level would lead to an increase in global temperature. I’m just stumped on what would have caused such a rapid rise in atmospheric CO2 20,000 years ago to get us out of the ice age.

  32. 82
    Snapple says:

    Climate scientists might want to blog about this upcoming workshop at the Vatican. The participants seem very famous.

    The Pontifical Academy of Sciences accepts the science of climate change and has created a Working Group on the Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene.

    The Working Group is having a workshop at the Casina Pio IV on April 2-4, 2011.

    http://legendofpineridge.blogspot.com/2011/03/pontifical-academy-of-sciences-hosts.html

    The Prologue of the program, which was written by Academician P.J. Crutzen, L. Bengtsson and Academician V. Ramanathan, states:

    Mountain glaciers in Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and the largest of them all in the Himalayan-Tibetan region are retreating, some at alarming rates. The hypothesized causal factors include global warming, atmospheric brown clouds, land surface modification, recovery from the mini ice-age, and large scale drying of the air among other factors. Some glaciers are expected to disappear during this century and others are predicted to experience significant loss of spatial cover and mass. The downstream consequences include glacial lake outburst floods, disrupted availability of water for agriculture and human consumption, changes to mountain eco systems, increased frequency of forest fires, loss of habitat, and other potential catastrophes. A holistic study covering the physical science, social science, and the human dimension sides of the problem has not been attempted thus far. It is our hope that this first of its kind workshop organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences will lay the foundation for studying and monitoring this potential disaster that will impact the entire planet.
    The workshop will also explore avenues available for mitigating and adapting to this potential tragedy.
    P.J. Crutzen, L. Bengtsson and V. Ramanathan [See the full schedule of the workshop and the speakers.]

  33. 83
    Snapple says:

    I hope you will read the biographical information about the climate scientists who will be attending the workshop at the Vatican.

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdscien/2011/glaciers14.pdf

  34. 84
    Hank Roberts says:

    > I’m just stumped on what would have caused
    > such a rapid rise in atmospheric CO2 20,000 years ago
    [citation needed]
    > to get us out of the ice age.

    You’re playing games here, aren’t you? Posting notions far too simple, hoping perhaps for an oversimplified answer you can then mock?

    We know the current rate of change, and the paleo rate of change fairly well.
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=co2+ice+age
    CO2 is a feedback at the rate of change of Milankovich cycles, and a forcing at the current rate. No, it’s not that simple.

  35. 85
    David Warkentin says:

    In 81, James Barrante says:

    Once the radiation is absorbed by the CO2, the gas has at least two choices – emit the radiation and drop down to ground state or more likely collide with neighboring molecules and drop down to ground state. That leaves it ready to absorb again. Eventually a steady state will be reached.

    In this steady state, where is the energy? It gets transferred (mostly) to neighboring air molecules, as you say – and then? Presumably those air molecules don’t just move ever faster as the CO2 continues to transfer energy – otherwise we wouldn’t have a steady state. So how are the air molecules getting rid of the energy?

  36. 86
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Dr. Barrante at #81 is ‘just stumped on what would have caused such a rapid rise in atmospheric CO2 20,000 years ago to get us out of the ice age’. Well yes dear doctor, some folks are easily stumped. Others just do their homework. More effort, but you come out better looking :-)

    As to your saturation nonsense, all that your physics background proves is how dishonest you are. Don’t you ever look in the mirror?

    Martin, boasting only FCD :-)

  37. 87
    dhogaza says:

    I’m just stumped on what would have caused such a rapid rise in atmospheric CO2 20,000 years ago to get us out of the ice age.

    Galloping Gishes and moving goalposts, I swear we have a bouncing Barrante here …

  38. 88
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “Once it’s gone, it’s gone” – 81

    1: It is never completely gone.
    2: It is constantly being replenished from the thermal emissions of the atmosphere itself.

    “Eventually a steady state will be reached” – 81

    Contradicting the “Once it’s gone, it’s gone” comment.

    “I’m just stumped on what would have caused such a rapid rise in atmospheric CO2 20,000 years ago to get us out of the ice age.” – 81

    And I’m just stumped at how bananas cause monkeys.

    It is unfathomable, isn’t it? The biologists must all be wrong.

  39. 89
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “I don’t have much of a scientific background. Only a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Harvard University. Studied under a couple of Nobel Prize winners – solid state nuclear magnetic resonance.” – 81 – James R. Barrante

    “Let’s say CO2 is a sponge, and water is the incident radiation.” – 70 – James R. Barrante

    I smell something….

    Do you smell something?

  40. 90
    Marco says:

    People might be interested in this little pdf that contains the first part of Barrante’s book:
    http://www.bookpump.com/upb/pdf-b/942861Xb.pdf

    I’d say a few Nobel prize winners who taught Barrante will be extremely disappointed at his attempt to fool people by rhetoric. They will note that much of the style appears to be an Appeal to Incredulity…

  41. 91
    Ray Ladbury says:

    James R. Barrante,
    I am rather surprised that a scientist would not have learned that the experts actively publishing in a field should have a better understanding of it than those outside it.

    I’m also rather surprised that a scientist would not understand that argument from personal incredulity is a fallacy.

    Perhaps most surprising for me is the fact that a physical chemist would argue that increasing CO2 atmospheric concentrations by 40% shouldn’t lower ocean pH.

    Perhaps oddest of all is that the same scientist should be arguing that on the one hand CO2 is present in such small concentrations that it can’t have any effect and on the other hand that its effect is saturated. My, my, aren’t we…flexible. James, I really can’t quite figure out whether you really are as utterly clueless as you seem to be in your utterances on the Intertubes or wheter you are merely a lying, disengenuous troll. Either way, I feel sorry for you.

  42. 92
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Dr. Barrante, I am totally impressed by your Harvard credentials and completely willing to listen to your scientific findings. If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that the extra energy from more Co2 will be absorbed by surrounding air molecules. That means they’ll heat up, right? Thank you for establishing that more Co2 means warmer air temperatures. Now I get it.

  43. 93
    Snapple says:

    Barrante’s book has substituted rhetorical questions for footnotes that cite authoritative sources. This book should be called Global Warming by a Dimwit.

    This book reminds me of Dr. Will Happer’s folksey Senate Testimony. Happer didn’t have any footnotes, either, until SPPI [the Institute in a PO box] put some in after the testimony that credited Lord Monckton.

    http://legendofpineridge.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-did-drhapper-let-science-and-public.html

    I didn’t graduate from Harvard, and I didn’t have too much science in college; but even I can see this book is a joke.

  44. 94
    Snapple says:

    There are 26 question marks in Barrante’s book. One of them should be a period:

    “What causes this temperature wiggle is not known?”

    The book says “we know” eight times, and then says something scientists don’t know at all.

  45. 95
    Meow says:

    @Marco (90): Everything one needs to know about that book can be derived from the preface, pp.x-xi: “…the fact that global temperature has not increased since 1998….”

  46. 96
    BillD says:

    I did a scholar search on James R. Barrante. He has a few physical chemistry publications from the 60s and early 70s as well as a text book or two on this topic. More recently, 2010, he is the author of a book called “Global warming for dim wits: a scientists perspective.” I have not read the book, but scanned a few points on Google books. One argument is that climate change (in the past at least) was very slow, so we can’t tell anything after 150 years or so.

    Of course there are a couple of issues with this–human effects are unprecidented in their speed and intensity in recent years and we can study climate change from principles of physics.

    I am a scientist. However, since climate change is not my area of expertise, I would not presume to publish a book on the topic, at least not one that attempts to debunk the mainstream.

  47. 97
    Snapple says:

    Along with the usual suspects, James Barrante signed a letter to the House and Senate. This letter was a “truth alert” in reply to “The Importance of Science in Addressing Climate Change”

    http://www.co2science.org/education/truthalerts/v14/TruthAboutClimateChangeOpenLetter.pdf

  48. 98
    John Mashey says:

    Since the arguments have easily been refuted, but the “PhD” credential has been played for credibility, it seems the field is open for assessing whether or not a PhD confers credibility or not.

    In this 2009 analysis, I looked at the social networks and demographics of the ~200 signers of a 2009 petition to the American Physical Society, most with PhDs, some quite distinguished. The petition essentially ignores basic physics. Signers of the petition included PhDs who’ve written books extolling results of Beck or G&T.

    There was strong prevalance of retired/emeritus folks, with little or any actual peer-reviewed research in climate science, but strong opinions that they knew better, often developed after retirement. They may have had excellent track records in their turf (with several NAS members and one Nobel laureate), but no matter how smart someone is, they have to learn the field before they have nonzero credibility.

    For example, one of the local Nobel physicist of my acquaintance is Burt Richter, long-time director of SLAC. He’s “retired”, but his idea of retirement would wear out most people. As he notes in his (good) book, he had to go learn this stuff from experts, although he writes that having a Nobel does open a few doors :-).
    Burt is a great counterexample to the idea of “going emeritus” (TEC5, usually combined with other reasons, where someone starts trying to talk authoritatively about topics outside their expertise.

    The APS petition shows that strong extra-science motivation can convince even PhDs (who should know better) to ignore sophomore physics … although only ~0.5% of them, and very few younger ones.

    Dr. Barrante’s background is this, and this.

    “Recently retired, I taught physical chemistry at Southern Connecticut State University since 1966. I received my undergraduate degree in 1960 from the University of Connecticut and my Ph.D. degree in chemistry in 1964 from Harvard University.” (According to his book, he was born 1938).

    S. CT State U is part of this. The chemistry department is here:
    12 faculty, of whom 6 are Emeritus. It grants BS and MS in Chemistry, but not PhD. (There is nothing at all wrong with that, but it does mean there is more teaching than research. Dr. Barrante claims a few papers and books, as per Google Scholar.

    Books are not necessarily research, and this is not an overpowering research record. Again, nothing wrong with that … unless being used to claim higher credibility than might be warranted.

    To be fair, I spent 10 years at Bell Labs, which had so many PhDs one never called anyone “Dr” because it would have wasted too much time, and very smart people learned quickly that it was a good idea to ask world-class experts before telling them they were wrong… However, the asymmetrical nature of universities sometimes provides less such check-and-balance on professors.

    Perhaps it is coincidental that the APS Petition had a small, but vocal, cluster of people of CT academics (p.25 – Gould, p.29 – Hayden, Monce, Paolini).

    Opinion:
    In this case, Barrante taught at one school since 1966, has produced relatively little research (but some books), and having retired, now writes:
    here, H/T marco in 90:

    “As a physical scientist and somewhat knowledgable in the physical chemistry of the atmosphere, I am going to redefine a “dim wit” as someone who believes that greenhouse gases, and in particular, carbon dioxide, could actually control the climate.”

    Well, I guess that makes the 2 Nobel physicists I know dimwits, along with all the relevant Science societies and national academies.

  49. 99
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    http://www.southernct.edu/departments/chemistry/JamesRBarrante.htm

    http://climaterx.blogspot.com/

    From above Re: Realclimate

    “I’m sorry, but I am going to break my own rule about name-calling. These people are dolts.” – James R. Barrante

    “If one burns fossil fuels, the temperature of the globe must increase. Let’s even go one step further and give them a bonus. If the CO2 levels in the atmosphere go up, the temperature of the globe must increase. Notice that, according to logic, this does not mean that if CO2 levels do not increase, that the temperature of the globe cannot go up. Or said another way – it is possible for the temperature of the globe to increase without CO2 levels increasing. Now, what logically follows from this is: If the temperature of the globe does not increase, the CO2 level in the atmosphere cannot increase.” – James R. Barrante

  50. 100
    Bill says:

    Why are we still discussing old issues on here and still referring to WUWT?
    Yawn !
    We have lots of science to talk about, lets stick to that.


Switch to our mobile site