Curve-fitting and natural cycles: The best part

It is not every day that I come across a scientific publication that so totally goes against my perception of what science is all about. Humlum et al., 2011 present a study in the journal Global and Planetary Change, claiming that most of the temperature changes that we have seen so far are due to natural cycles.

They claim to present a new technique to identify the character of natural climate variations, and from this, to produce a testable forecast of future climate. They project that

the observed late 20th century warming in Svalbard is not going to continue for the next 20–25 years. Instead the period of warming may be followed by variable, but generally not higher temperatures for at least the next 20–25 years.

However, their claims of novelty are overblown, and their projection is demonstrably unsound.

First, the claim of presenting “a new technique to identify the character of natural climate variations” is odd, as the techniques Humlum et al. use — Fourier transforms and wavelet analysis — have have been around for a long time. It is commonplace to apply them to climate data.

Longyearbyen, at Svalbard

Using these methods, the authors conclude that “the investigated Svalbard and Greenland temperature records show high natural variability and exhibit long-term persistence, although on different time scales”. No kidding! Again, it is not really a surprise that local records have high levels of variability, and the “long-term persistent” character of climate records has been reported before and is even seen in climate models.

The most problematic aspect of the paper concerns the Greenland temperature from GISP2 and their claim that they can “produce testable forecasts of future climate” from extending their statistical fit.

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  1. O. Humlum, J. Solheim, and K. Stordahl, "Identifying natural contributions to late Holocene climate change", Global and Planetary Change, vol. 79, pp. 145-156, 2011.