Unforced Variations: Feb 2013

This month’s open thread on climate science…

421 comments on this post.
  1. MalcolmT:

    flxible @298 Don’t give up! We have black swans all over the place here in Aus, and you share our political history :P

  2. wayne davidson:

    Early last year I proposed an idea that there is a highly probable link between Polar Stratosheric Vortex and Tornado activity, suggesting that a weaker 2012 vortex will make the tornado season less huge as was in 2011. Since the vortex reconstituted itself strong in November 2011 I re-proposed the hypothesis calling for very early tornadoes leaving it uncertain if it will be an active 2013 year to the strength and extent of 2012-13 PSV, which subsequently disintegrated after Alabama USA christmas outbreak. Just like to suggest a deeper look at this to the community.


  3. wili:

    Killian, “Economically viable” is a moving target. A few years ago, with oil hovering between $10-20 a barrel, tar sands (and many other schemes) were seen to be ‘economically unviable’ for the foreseeable future by most.

    Just a few years later, we have oil continuing to hover around the $100/bbl level, and we have vast tracts decimated by this obscene method of strip mining.

    When oil hits $1000/bbl, even more bizarre and extreme means of extracting fossil fuels will no doubt become ‘economically viable.’

  4. Kevin McKinney:

    #296–Hah! Suddenly I feel so validated!

    Last fall I wrote:

    But this raises another question: what does the sea ice decline itself mean? What consequences are likely to follow from an ice-free Arctic? If we are to mourn the loss of the sea ice, for whom and what does the mourning bell toll?

    Most obvious are the consequences for the Arctic environment. The sea ice is in itself a wildlife habitat. Its loss will be devastating for polar bears and seals, as well as less charismatic creatures depending on it. We cannot yet predict everything that a serious population crash of bears and seals will do, but consequences there will be.

    As an analogy, no-one expected that bringing wolves back to Yellowstone would restore the riverbank vegetation of the area—which means that, even today, we could not predict that the loss of the wolf populations would lead to serious degradations of the riverbanks and their vegetation. Yet it did. Wolves, like polar bears, are ‘top predators’ in their respective environments. So what will the loss of the bears do?


    I was on a bit of a thin limb with that; I’d read, somewhere, that the Arctic sea ice ecology was thought (by some, at least) not to be so driven by the presence (or absence) of top predators. But it was just presented as a thought, not a rigorous result–and it didn’t make sense to me. (Which is why I tactfully ignored it in the cited passage, and also why I left my thought as a question, not a claim.)

    But with the UBC study David cites, we have at least one result showing that in *some* aquatic environments at least, the loss to top predators can indeed make an impact that “extends all the way down to the biogeochemical level.”

    Still too early to actually say I was right, of course–but sadly, we seem to be running the requisite experiment… We’d better hope that this doesn’t turn out to be another strong climate feedback.

  5. SecularAnimist:

    Hank Roberts wrote: “Were it not for the Fermi Paradox I’d trust we’d be smart enough to do it.”

    Well, in that case, be of good cheer. Because the Fermi Paradox is silly.

    Anyway, the problem is not whether “we” are “smart enough to do it”. “We” have an abundance of solutions to the GHG emissions problem, which are at hand, and can easily be deployed at the multiple scales and with the rapidity needed to prevent catastrophe.

    The problem is that there is no unified “WE” that is facing the problem. Some of us want to solve it; but some of us want to exacerbate it for short term profits — albeit for almost unimaginably HUGE short term profits.

    The second group is not stupid; they simply DON’T CARE about the things that the rest of us care about. And unfortunately, they have vast wealth and power which they are using to obstruct and delay implementation of the solutions for as long as they can get away with it.

  6. Magnus W:

    Any one got more on this or a place were to read more about it?
    The mystery of recent stratospheric temperature trends

    [Response: This is quite an interesting paper and we are looking quite closely at the details. There is clearly some important uncertainties in the observations, and multiple factors in (some) of the models. The basic picture is clear – the stratosphere has cooled due to the action of CO2 and ozone depletion – but the magnitude and structure of this cooling is more ambiguous than one would like. More soon perhaps… – gavin]

  7. Kevin McKinney:

    Wili, (@#303)–But the ‘moving target’ isn’t only the changing cost of the oil to be extracted; it is the changing cost of alternative sources of energy.

    And it looks increasingly as if the dropping cost of solar, in particular, is going to be making for pretty tough sledding for ‘economically viable fossil fuels.’ Of course, it’s a race with the ongoing damage we are inflicting, but still, I’m pretty sure $1000 a barrel is *not* going to be happening–not in 2013 dollar terms, anyway.

  8. Hank Roberts:

    I read somewhere ….

    In other news,
    PIOMAS is a model of the ice and ocean … worth a look.

  9. Kevin McKinney:

    By the way, I note that it’s the 20th of the month, and if either GISTEMP or NCDC has updated to give January analyses yet, then I’m looking in the wrong place for them.

    Anybody know what gives? Everybody busy preparing for possible consequences of this stupid ‘sequester’ business, maybe?

  10. flxible:

    Folks, the economics of tar sands exploitation are constantly changing, there is unlikely to ever be less “profit” in it as we go forward with the current growth mentality, in both population and economic terms. Canada has by far the lions share of global bitumen reserves. I believe the market price currently only needs to be above $50/bbl for the producers to make a “good” profit above production cost at existing facilities, and as of today the govt still provides “incentives” for new development investments in the resource.

    Additionally, the extra energy needed to exploit the sands can be [mostly is] supplied by the associated natural gas supplies, which because of the oversupply of nat gas with fracking production in the US, is ever cheaper – not even worth shipping right now for most Canadian producers.

    It’s the “average person”, like those you see in the mirror, who need to be convinced to cease and desist the demand. Until there is no longer ever increasing economic profit to be made, the carbon will continue to flow.

  11. MARodger:

    Kevin @309.
    I see no sign yet of NASA GISS’s Jan 2013 but NCDC have updated. The various subsets of their global temp record are accessible from this directory.

  12. Hank Roberts:

    > the Fermi Paradox is silly.

    That’s settled then.

  13. Hank Roberts:

    Sigh: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/20/biofuel-craze-wiping-out-americas-grasslands-at-fastest-rate-since-the-dust-bowl/

  14. Killian:

    303 “Economically viable” is a moving target.

    Obviously, Wili.

  15. Chris Dudley:

    Kevin (#307),

    Be a little careful. Low cost solar could be used as an energy input to keep tar sands sourced oil flowing. In fact, it would be economically stupid not to try that. And, it would cut down on extraction related emissions. The problem is, it opens up more and more desperate carbon pools going forward.

  16. Jim Larsen:

    273 Killian said, ” Yup. That’s exactly what I said.”

    You make sweeping declarations and then dump on anyone who challenges or asks questions. SecularA asked what sort of electrical generation you approve of and what electrical usage is acceptable. You spew volumes, but can’t spare any words to answer his questions?

    Since you refused, I simply showed that whatever the answer is, it’s less than 10 watts worth of entertainment.

    How about giving a REAL answer to my question instead of a snide fake-admission which doesn’t even make sense since my speculation was binary and mutually exclusive. (Did you turn left or right? Yup, that’s exactly how I turned. ???)

    So is it:

    1. You’re ignorant of the fact that electronic music is laughably cheap, and yet posted anyway because ______. (Here a decent answer could be “I grew up in the era of inefficient tube amplifiers. Additionally, speakers had crappy frequency response so designers pushed gobs of energy through to enable bass reproduction. Combine the two, and it could take half a kilowatt to listen to some loud music. I didn’t realize technology had advanced so much. Thanks for the info, and I’ve changed my mind.”)

    2. 10 watts for entertainment??? THE HORROR!!!!!!

    3. ______________________.

  17. jgnfld:

    57N is not prime real estate for solar much of the year (though with sun tracking, it can be fairly good in the summer).

  18. Killian:

    Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination. – John Dewey

    Just a reminder that all science started out as a new idea, not yet studied and needing study. Regenerative design is like this. We know it works. We do it. Natural solutions work. We do that, too. The 30-year Rodale study I’ve linked previously is a nice example of how Mollison, Fukuoka, et al’s, observations and design choices were shown to be valid. I’d be happy to oblige if you can get the funding to advance the science of regenerative design. Our future may literally depend on it.

    This might be worth some attention: India Rice Farmers Revolution – Natural, Organic, w/ Massive Yields Natural farming – including zero unintended negative consequences, unlike GMO’s and indusrial ag – will, imo, be a necessary and vital part of mitigation and adaptation.

    This would make a good subject for a study, too. Willie Smits: How to restore a rainforest Reforestation, I predict, will be a necessary and significant part of mitigation and adaptation to climate changes. More than one scientist thinks so, too.


  19. Kevin McKinney:

    Thanks, MAR (and Chris, too, for the comments.)

    If the temperature calculations have been done, then one may hope that the usual analysis won’t be too, too, far behind.

  20. Vendicar Decaruan:

    The ATM for Climate Denial: Secretive Donors Trust Funds Vast Network of Global Warming Skeptics


  21. Lawrence Coleman:

    302: Wayne Davidson.. Interesting point. Did you project your hypothesis just for the contiguous USA or for other regions of the world as well? We in Australia are having an interesting time..we now have to include tornadoes as part of our weather patterns. I have been living in Australia for the majority of my adult life and have never heard of tornadoes anywhere in Australia expect for the very common willy willy’s or dust devils. But over the last 2-3 years they have become quite common, not to the destructive extent of the american twisters but we now have them that touch down and destroy a handful of buildings at a time. I have also never seen a waterspout until the last 2-3 years as well, now they occuring of the waters of the sunshine coast, gold coast, sydney and further south. They are a complete novelity to everybody!. So clearly something very unusual is happening, probably because the lows of the coast are getting deeper and are drawing up huge amnounts of water. We dont measure our daily rainfall in mm anymore, rather metres…well not quite… but getting there. We just received another drenching here on the sunshine coast a week ago, 300-400mm on top of the 1/2M from last month. So our hydrologic cycle is in overdrive. Cheers!

  22. Ray Ladbury:

    Killian quotes Dewey:
    Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination. – John Dewey

    Of course, the same could be said of most really stupid ideas.

  23. Bob Loblaw:

    Killian: “Just a reminder that all science started out as a new idea”

    This smacks of the “they laughed at Einstein” defense. The prosecutor will usually respond with “they also laughed at Bozo the Clown”.

  24. Hank Roberts:

    “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
    — Aldo Leopold

  25. Hank Roberts:

    Breitbart.com shouldn’t be trusted to get even the basics right …. the GOP is perfectly happy to welcome into the tent an organization that is happy to fabricate “news” that supports conservative story lines….”

  26. Hank Roberts:


  27. Killian:

    Bob Loblaw, Ray Ladbury-ish said Killian: “Just a reminder that all science started out as a new idea”

    This smacks of the “they laughed at Einstein” defense. The prosecutor will usually respond with “they also laughed at Bozo the Clown”.

    So you’re saying we shouldn’t have and develop new ideas because of clowns? Nothing on Smits or the Indian rice farmers? Nothing on putting resources into scientifically quantifying on-the-ground solutions to climate change? No? “Gotcha!” more entertaining, more important?

  28. Mal Adapted:

    My own favorite Leopold quote (from Round River):

    “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

  29. wayne davidson:

    Hi Lawrence, how interesting! If you were able to verify Antarctica Polar Stratospheric Vortex from one year to the next you may find your answer. In Australia’s case, it would mean that past 2 or 3 years the PSV was significantly more intense than preceding years. That would be quite interesting if this was so. I am a big fan of the Arctic’s PSV but not intimate with Antarctica’s. If the Upper air is much colder twinned with a very hot moist surface (near Australia Coast) you certainly have greater potential. Not counting wind speeds way up and nearer to ground, in the Arctic I have seen PSV winds exceeding 200 knots, these winds do not exist in a vacuum and affect other regions to the South and more below, Lorenz butterfly in this case becomes a flying Godzilla on steroids.

  30. Hank Roberts:

    > So you’re saying …

    followed by anything other than a direct quote
    is rhetoric, to put it politely.

    Please don’t.

  31. wayne davidson:

    Busy times in the Arctic, I present the case for observing Cloud Condensation Nuclei streaks just above the horizon by digital capture of what appears to be a recent very low altitude Polar Stratospheric Cloud. The PSC appears very much to be at the Tropopause level. http://eh2r.blogspot.ca/

  32. Killian:

    Decade of research on why some are more susceptible to whack-a-doo theories. It explains pretty clearly why far right folks tend to dominate denial. Very interesting work. http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

  33. Bob Loblaw:

    Killian @ 327: “So you’re saying …”

    Hank has already pointed out how your statement is unjustified, but I will add my own response. I will use another quip, which you may feel is loaded with snark, but c’est la vie:

    It is common sense to realize that just because “all poodles are dogs” does not mean that “all dogs are poodles”. Likewise, we cannot say that because all science starts as new ideas, therefore all new ideas are science. You seem to think you have a new idea that nobody is paying attention to, and you seem to think that this is anti-science in some fashion.

    On the internet, this kind of “you’re just close-minded and biased against my great idea” is often phrased in a mindset of “they’re laughing at me, so I’ll point out that Einstein was laughed at” – as if the originator has come up with something as important as Einstein’s work. Unfortunately, just as “not all dogs are poodles”, not all ideas that are laughed at are Einstein-level genius. Some ideas are laughed at because the people presenting them are more like Bozo the Clown.

    You seem to think you have something important to say. I suspect that by now you have a better understanding of what I think of it.

  34. Ray Ladbury:

    Bob Loblaw,
    OK, since we are discussing logic, I had to link to the Monty Python Logician’s sketch:


    The full thing can of course be found on Youtube.

  35. Hank Roberts:

    as we’ve been saying

  36. Killian:

    we cannot say that because all science starts as new ideas, therefore all new ideas are science. You seem to think you have a new idea that nobody is paying attention to

    Yeah, neither of these follow from what I’ve posted.

  37. Kevin McKinney:

    My #319 & previous:

    NCDC has now posted the January analysis, for those who are interested. Pretty toasty last month–especially Down Under.

  38. Hank Roberts:

    > … we cannot say ….
    > … You seem to think …

    Yup. Those amount to “so you are saying” — rhetoric.
    I should’ve lambasted’em.
    I do mean to be an equal-opportunity lambaster

    Can’t we all just get along?

    There’s, you know, work to do.

    Seven billion of us have our work cut out for us, in the years or decades or century that we’ll be alive — leave a garden not a footprint.

    Ain’t easy. Ain’t even easy to _guess_ what’ll look right in hindsight.

  39. CL Pohlman:

    Hey, does anyone know what this guy is talking about?


    I get the idea about nonlinear changes in climate but I wasn’t aware that Dr Rajendra Pachauri had made any statements to support the whole “it hasn’t warmed since 1998” line. Then again, the reference the author uses is to a commentator from The Australian, which is a newspaper that’s only slightly less right-wing than Fox News. Does anyone have any clarification on this?


  40. simon abingdon:

    #339 “a newspaper that’s only slightly less right-wing than Fox News”. And your point?
    Science will naturally and forever remain aloof where politics are concerned.

  41. Hank Roberts:

    for CL Pohlman: http://blogs.crikey.com.au/purepoison/2011/07/07/the-australian-lies-to-its-readers-about-climate-change/

  42. Hank Roberts:

    further for CL Pohlman: http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/?s=australian's+war

  43. MARodger:

    CL Pohlman @339.
    The Crazy Australian isn’t repeating ‘the whole “it hasn’t warmed since 1998″ line.’ They’re saying it’s a 17 year phenomenon which presumably takes it back to 1996. Then, they are repeating the UK Daily Rail thing by saying the Met Office are behind the finding. Of course it isn’t the Met Office. They branded the Rail’s comment as “misguided”. It is really just a bunch of puerile journos doing their best to make idiots of their employer’s readership. And they probably calculate it as 17 years because when the Daily Rail ran it as a 16 year event, that was back in 2012.
    Real cutting-edge mathematics. eh?

  44. john byatt:

    Ah, The Australian newspaper, Front page

    “In a wide-ranging interview with Dr. Pachauri on topics that included this year’s record northern summer Arctic ice growth”…

    Now any northern summer Arctic ice growth would surely be worth of the front page?

  45. Hank Roberts:

    If you want my opinion, what we need are experts, not windbags
    “… I am always keen to criticise and thought I should sharpen up my technique of derision, sarcasm and occasional loftiness. This was a ghastly error as I discovered it was my actually my own opinions that needed criticising. It turns out that quite a few of them were founded on hearsay and conjecture….”

  46. Hank Roberts:

    and for those who didn’t make it to the end of that Opinion column I linked above by actually reading it: a shortcut link to the buried lede:

    I want to see more experts. I want more facts. I want to see more people who cannot just tell me what opinion they have, but can convincingly answer why they hold it too. It is not intellectual fascism to consider people who know things to be more knowledgeable than those who don’t. We all have the right to our opinion, but we don’t have the right to stop people laughing at it….

  47. jgnfld:

    @343 I posted this over in Tamino’s blog, but it may belong here as well. I have not seen the global HadCRUT4 numbers out yet, but an analysis of the GISS data shows the deniers need to learn to rephrase their denials a bit!…

    Certainly in the GISTemp data this [i.e., no warming for 17 years] is not true. Raw linear regressions from R lm routine of the annual means (Jan-Dec) are significant at the following years:

    Time period | Observed trend | probability
    1994 -> present .15deg/decade .0003
    1995 -> present .13deg/decade .002
    1996 -> present .13deg/decade .005
    1997 -> present .10deg/decade .02
    1998 -> present .09deg/decade .06 (NS)
    1999 -> present .13deg/decade .02
    2000 -> present .10deg/decade .07 (NS)
    2001 -> present .05deg/decade (NS)
    2002 -> present .03deg/decade (NS)
    2003 -> present .04deg/decade (NS)
    2004 -> present .05deg/decade (NS)
    2005 -> present .01deg/decade (NS)
    2006 -> present .08deg/decade (NS)
    2007 -> present .12deg/decade (NS)
    2008 -> present .29deg/decade (NS)
    2009,2010,2011-> present also all trend >0 (one just barely).

    Autocorrelation not taken into account.

    Anyway, it appears that global warming continued until 16 years ago, then magically disappeared 15 years ago, then magically again reappeared 14 years ago before magically disappearing again.

  48. Kevin McKinney:

    #347–“You see! You see! It’s not CO2! It’s magic!”

  49. David B. Benson:

    New Source Found For Cold, Deep Antarctic Currents
    Surprising location, at least for me.

  50. MARodger:

    jgnfld @347.

    I’m not entirely sure your analysis has escaped from RichardLindzenLand because to do that you have to go forwards. You are still going backwards a la Lindzen.

    If you do your regressions not backwards from 2012 but forwards from, say 1980, you escape the “no statistical significance” trap and can still see if a “pause” has happened.

    As the red trace in this (temporarily-linked) graphic shows, the GISS temperatures were actually accelerating until mid-2007.
    Since then there has indeed been a ‘pause’ which is interesting because it coincides with the slowing in the 0-700m OHC rise.

    So the crayon-wielding employees of the world’s right-wing press barons are not entirely wrong when they say there has been a ‘pause’. It’s just that until they learn to count properly (and thus count for something rather than nothing) they are incapable of saying how long the ‘pause’ has been happening.