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What is signal and what is noise?

Filed under: — rasmus @ 29 December 2012

The recent warming has been more pronounced in the Arctic Eurasia than in many other regions on our planet, but Franzke (2012) argues that only one out of 109 temperature records from this region exhibits a significant warming trend. I think that his conclusions were based on misguided analyses.

The analysis did not sufficiently distinguish between signal and noise, and mistaking noise for signal will give misguided conclusions.

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  1. C. Franzke, "On the statistical significance of surface air temperature trends in the Eurasian Arctic region", Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 39, pp. n/a-n/a, 2012.

A review of cosmic rays and climate: a cluttered story of little success

Filed under: — rasmus @ 25 December 2012

A number of blogs were excited after having leaked the second-order draft of IPCC document, which they interpreted as a “game-changing admission of enhanced solar forcing”.

However, little evidence remains for a link between galactic cosmic rays (GCR) and variations in Earth’s cloudiness. Laken et al. (2012) recently provided an extensive review of the study of the GCR and Earth’s climate, from the initial work by Ney (1959) to the latest findings from 2012.

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  1. B.A. Laken, E. Pallé, J. Čalogović, and E.M. Dunne, "A cosmic ray-climate link and cloud observations", Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate, vol. 2, pp. A18, 2012.

The heat is on in West Antarctica

Filed under: — eric @ 23 December 2012

Eric Steig

Regular followers of RealClimate will be aware of our publication in 2009 in Nature, showing that West Antarctica — the part of the Antarctic ice sheet that is currently contributing the most to sea level rise, and which has the potential to become unstable and contribute a lot more (3 meters!) to sea level rise in the future — has been warming up for the last 50 years or so.

Our paper was met with a lot of skepticism, and not just from the usual suspects. A lot of our fellow scientists, it seems, had trouble getting over their long-held view (based only on absence of evidence) that the only place in Antarctica that was warming up was the Antarctica Peninsula. To be fair, our analysis was based on interpolation, using statistics to fill in data where it was absent, so we really hadn’t proven anything; we’d only done an analysis that pointed (strongly!) in a particular direction.

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Online video lectures on climate change

Filed under: — stefan @ 20 December 2012

For those who’d like to get the basics of climate change explained first-hand by a climate scientist, here are two video lectures.

In the first, I show some of the basic data sets and findings about global warming, including some comments on historic land marks of our science.

The second lecture deals with the impacts of climate change (with a focus on extreme events and sea-level rise) and the possibilities for holding global warming below 2°C.

These lectures form part of a broader lecture course called World in Transition. It includes 11 themes, presented by the members of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). This is a body of experts appointed by the German government and advising it on global change issues. The lecture series, for which international students can enrol and earn credit points, is based on the WBGU flagship report World in Transition – A Social Contract for Sustainability. This report describes how the transition to a sustainable, climate-friendly global economy and life style can be achieved.

Improving the Tropical Cyclone Climate Record

Filed under: — gavin @ 16 December 2012

Guest Commentary by Christopher Hennon (UNC Asheville)

Get involved in a new citizen science project at

The poor quality of the tropical cyclone (TC) data record provides severe constraints on the ability of climate scientists to: a) determine to what degree TCs have responded to shifts in climate, b) evaluate theories on how TCs will respond to climate change in the future. The root cause for the poor data is the severity of the TC conditions (e.g. high wind, rough seas) and the remoteness of these storms – the vast majority of which form and remain well away from most observing networks. Thus, most TCs are not observed directly and those that are (with buoys, aircraft reconnaissance, ships) are often not sampled sufficiently (see the IBTrACS, (Knapp et al., 2010)).

This leaves tropical cyclone forecasters, who are ultimately responsible for recording TC tracks and intensities (i.e. maximum wind speeds), with a challenging problem. Fortunately, there is a tool called the Dvorak Technique which allows forecasters to make a reasonable determination of the TC intensity by simply analyzing a single infrared or visible satellite image, which is almost always available Velden et al., 2006). The technique calls for the analyst to determine the center location of the system, the cloud pattern type, the degree of organization of the pattern, and the intensity trend. A maximum surface wind speed is determined after the application of a number of rules and constraints.

Hurricane Gay (1992)The Dvorak Technique has been used for many years at all global tropical cyclone forecast centers and has been shown in many cases to yield a good estimate of maximum TC wind speed, when applied properly (Knaff et al., 2010). However, there is a level of analyst subjectivity inherent in the procedure; the cloud patterns are not always clear, it is sometimes difficult to accurately determine the storm center and the rules and constraints have been interpreted and applied differently across agencies. This introduces heterogeneity in the global TC record since the Dvorak Technique is usually the only available tool for assessing the maximum wind speed.

There has been recent work to eliminate the human element in the Dvorak Technique by automating the procedure. The Advanced Dvorak Technique (ADT) uses objective storm center and cloud pattern schemes to remove the subjectivity (Olander and Velden, 2007). All other classification rules and constraints are then applied and combined with additional statistical information to produce automated intensity estimates. Although the ADT skill is comparable to experienced human Dvorak analysts, large errors can occur if the scene type is not identified properly.

A new crowd sourcing project, called Cyclone Center, embraces the human element by enabling the public to perform a simplified version of the Dvorak Technique to analyze historical global tropical cyclone (TC) intensities (Hennon, 2012). Cyclone Center’s primary goal is to resolve discrepancies in the recent global TC record arising principally from inconsistent development of tropical cyclone intensity data. The Cyclone Center technique standardizes the classification procedure by condensing the Dvorak Technique to a few simple questions that can be answered by global, nonprofessional users.

One of the main advantages of this approach is the inclusion of thousands of users, instead of the 1-3 who would normally classify a TC image. This allows the computation of measures of uncertainty in addition to a mean intensity. Nearly 300,000 images, encompassing all global TCs that formed from 1978-2009, will be classified 30 times each – a feat that would take a dedicated team of twenty Dvorak-trained experts about 12 years to complete. Citizen scientists have already performed over 100,000 classifications since the project launch in September. Once the project is complete, a new dataset of global TC tracks and intensities will be made available to the community to contribute to our efforts to provide the best possible TC data record.

Interested readers are encouraged to learn more about and participate in the project at the website (there are some FAQ on the project blog). The CycloneCenter project is a collaboration between the Citizen Science Alliance, NOAA National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), University of North Carolina at Asheville, and the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites (CICS) – North Carolina.


  1. K.R. Knapp, M.C. Kruk, D.H. Levinson, H.J. Diamond, and C.J. Neumann, "The International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS)", Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, vol. 91, pp. 363-376, 2010.
  2. C. Velden, B. Harper, F. Wells, J.L. Beven, R. Zehr, T. Olander, M. Mayfield, C.. Guard, M. Lander, R. Edson, L. Avila, A. Burton, M. Turk, A. Kikuchi, A. Christian, P. Caroff, and P. McCrone, "The Dvorak Tropical Cyclone Intensity Estimation Technique: A Satellite-Based Method that Has Endured for over 30 Years", Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, vol. 87, pp. 1195-1210, 2006.
  3. J.A. Knaff, D.P. Brown, J. Courtney, G.M. Gallina, and J.L. Beven, "An Evaluation of Dvorak Technique–Based Tropical Cyclone Intensity Estimates", Weather and Forecasting, vol. 25, pp. 1362-1379, 2010.
  4. T.L. Olander, and C.S. Velden, "The Advanced Dvorak Technique: Continued Development of an Objective Scheme to Estimate Tropical Cyclone Intensity Using Geostationary Infrared Satellite Imagery", Weather and Forecasting, vol. 22, pp. 287-298, 2007.
  5. C.C. Hennon, "Citizen scientists analyzing tropical cyclone intensities", Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, vol. 93, pp. 385-387, 2012.

IPCC draft (redux)

Filed under: — gavin @ 14 December 2012

Amid the manufactured spin and excitement of the unofficial release of the IPCC WG1 Second Order Draft, it is worth remembering that this happened last time too:

IPCC draft: No comment

May 4, 2006

As everyone has now realised, the second-order draft of the new IPCC report has become very widely available and many of the contributors to this site, commenters and readers will have seen copies. Part of the strength of the IPCC process are the multiple stages of review – the report is already significantly improved (in clarity and scientific basis) from the first round of reviews, and one can anticipate further improvements from the ongoing round as well. Thus no statements from this draft report can be considered ‘official’. While most of the contents of the report will come as no surprise to frequent visitors here, we have decided that we are not going to discuss the report until it is finalised and released (sometime in February 2007). At that time, we’ll go chapter by chapter hopefully pulling out the interesting bits, but until then, we feel it’s more appropriate to respect the ‘Do not cite or quote’ injunctions that can be found on every page. We trust that our commenters will likewise respect the process. Patience, people, patience!

The only change is that AR5 will be released in September 2013.

Some AGU highlights

Here a few of the videos of the named lectures from last week that are worth watching. There are loads more videos from selected sessions on the AGU Virtual Meeting site (the AGU YouTube channel has quite a lot more from past meetings too).

All well worth the time.

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AGU time again…

Filed under: — group @ 1 December 2012

This week is Fall AGU, the biggest climate-related conference around. Not everything is related to climate – there is a lot of other geophysics and astrophysics, but it is generally the place to go if you want to see and be seen (and incidentally, be crushed, be excited, be friendly and be frustrated that you can’t be in three places at once).

If you are not going, you should check out the improvements in the ‘Virtual meeting‘, which will offer live streaming of some big sessions, and for those and many additional sessions there is video-on-demand (VOD) after the fact. Many posters will also be available via ePoster. The twitter hashtag is #AGU12.

And if you are going to be there, here is a limited selection of sessions that will discuss issues that often come up here (more details in the scientific program).

Monday, Dec 03:

PP11F. The Climate of the Common Era I + II
8:00 AM – 12:30 AM; 2010 (Moscone West) (including Kevin Anchukatis, Philip Brohan, Eric, and many others).

12:30 PM – 01:30 PM: San Francisco Marriott Marquis – Salon 10 Brown Bag Lunch Workshop with Michael Gerrard on “Legal Duties to Preserve and Disclose Scientific Data and Personal Communications” (note that anyone who wants a private one-on-one session with a lawyer related to these or related issues, can email lawyer(at) to set up a meeting).

PA13B. Countering Denial and Manufactured Doubt of 21st Century Science
1:40 PM – 3:40 PM; 302 (Moscone South)

6:30 PM – 8:30PM; Open Mike Night hosted by Richard Alley. Jillian’s, 175 4th Street, Suite 1070.

Tuesday, Dec 04:

PA21B. Communication of Science Through Art: A Raison d’Etre for Interdisciplinary Collaboration
8:00 AM – 10:00 AM; 104 (Moscone South) (VOD)

GC22B. Communicating Climate Science—Seeking the Best of Old and New Paradigms
10:20 AM – 12:20 PM; 3014 (Moscone West) (including Mike, Richard Alley, Dan Kahan, Richard Somerville and Naomi Oreskes)

PA23B. PA23B. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs: Science Communication Gone Social—The Social Media 101
1:40 PM – 3:40 PM; 302 (Moscone South) (Including Mike, Michael Tobis, Peter Sinclair, and Zeke Hausfather)

Bloggers Forum: Science on the Web:
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm: 3000 (Moscone West)

Wednesday, Dec 05:

Session Title: A32D. New Atmospheric Sciences Fellows Presentations I + II
8:00 AM – 12:20PM; 3002 (Moscone West) (including Tony DelGenio, Mike, Ron Stouffer, Dave Neelin… ) (VOD)

PP31D. Continental Archives of Past Climate and Seismic Events II
8:00 AM – 10:00 AM; 2006 (Moscone West) (including Ray B. discussing this)

PP32A. Emiliani Lecture
10:20 AM – 11:20 AM; 103 (Moscone South)
“No future without a past” or “History will teach us nothing”? (Invited) Richard E. Zeebe (VOD)

12:30 PM – 1:30 PM; Brown Bag lunch with Pete Fontaine “An inside look at the Michael Mann case”. 226 (Moscone South)

GC33F. Construing Uncertainty in Climate Science
2:40 PM – 3:40 PM; 3003 (Moscone West) (including Naomi Oreskes, Gerard Roe)

GC44B. Links Between Rapid Arctic Change and Midlatitude Weather Patterns
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM; 3001 (Moscone West) (including Steve Vavrus, Judah Cohen)

Thursday, Dec 06:

GC43I. Tyndall History of Global Environmental Change Lecture:
2:40 PM – 3:40 PM; 2022-2024 (Moscone West): “Successful Predictions” (Invited), Raymond Pierrehumbert (VOD)

U44A. Dissolving Boundaries Between Scientists, Media, and the Public
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM; 102 (Moscone South) (Including Eric as speaker and panelist).

Friday, Dec 07:

C54B. The Ice Core Record of Carbon Cycle History and Processes
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM; 3007 (Moscone West)

Feel free to advertise other sessions/talks that might be of interest in the comments. Hopefully we’ll get some reports of interesting sessions to share with you (and if anyone wants to send us anything, we’ll post it up that evening).

Unforced variations: Dec 2012

Filed under: — group @ 1 December 2012

A new meteorological season, perhaps some new science topics to discuss…