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The Starship vs. Spaceship Earth

Eric Steig & Ray Pierrehumbert

One of my (Eric’s) favorite old books is The Starship and the Canoe by Kenneth Brower It’s a 1970s book about a father (Freeman Dyson, theoretical physicist living in Princeton) and son (George Dyson, hippy kayaker living 90 ft up in a fir tree in British Columbia) that couldn’t be more different, yet are strikingly similar in their originality and brilliance. I started out my career heading into astrophysics, and I’m also an avid sea kayaker and I grew up with the B.C. rainforest out my back door. So I think I have a sense of what drives these guys. Yet I’ve never understood how Freeman Dyson became such a climate contrarian and advocate for off-the-wall biogeoengineering solutions like carbon-eating trees, something we’ve written about before.

It turns out that Brower has wondered the same thing, and in a recent article in The Atlantic, he speculates on the answer. “How could someone as smart as Freeman Dyson,” writes Brower, “be so wrong about climate change and other environmental concerns..?”
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West Antarctica: still warming

The temperature reconstruction of O’Donnell et al. (2010) confirms that West Antarctica is warming — but underestimates the rate

Eric Steig

At the end of my post last month on the history of Antarctic science I noted that I had an initial, generally favorable opinion of the paper by O’Donnell et al. in the Journal of Climate. O’Donnell et al. is the peer-reviewed outcome of a series of blog posts started two years ago, mostly aimed at criticizing the 2009 paper in Nature, of which I was the lead author. As one would expect of a peer-reviewed paper, those obviously unsupportable claims found in the original blog posts are absent, and in my view O’Donnell et al. is a perfectly acceptable addition to the literature. O’Donnell et al. suggest several improvements to the methodology we used, most of which I agree with in principle. Unfortunately, their actual implementation by O’Donnell et al. leaves something to be desired, and yield a result that is in disagreement with independent evidence for the magnitude of warming, at least in West Antarctica.

In this post, I’ll summarize the key methodological changes suggested by O’Donnell et al., discuss how their results compare with our results, and the implications for our understanding of recent Antarctic climate change. I’ll then try to make sense of how O’Donnell et al. have apparently wound up with an erroneous result.
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A brief history of knowledge about Antarctic temperatures

Filed under: — eric @ 9 December 2010

Sources in italics.

Early 20th Century:

Scott: It’s cold here.
The media: Scott is a hero!
Scott: It’s really really cold here.
The media: Scott is a hero!
Amundsen: It’s not that cold.
The media: Scott is a hero. Oh, and Amundsen.
Public: Shackleton is a hero, but please shut up, there’s a war on.

Mid 20th Century:

Geophizzicists: Let’s find out just how cold it is.
Media: Scott is a hero!
Public: yawn…

Late 20th Century:

Scientists: It’s colder in some place than others.
Media: Antarctica is cooling.
Scientists: It’s cooling at the South Pole, but warming very fast on the Peninsula.
Media: Antarctica is cooling, but warming faster than anywhere else on earth.
Public: Huh…?

2000
Thompson and Solomon: Most of Antarctica is cooling in summer, but it is warming on the Peninsula. We think it has to do with the ozone hole.
Media: Because of ozone, Antarctica is warming faster than anywhere else on earth and we are all going to die.
Public: Huh…?

Early 21st Century:

2006
Scientists: The troposphere over Antarctica is warming significantly in winter.
Media: Even though that paper was published in Science, our readers don’t know what the troposphere is. Neither do we. Next?

2007
Scientists: The troposphere over Antarctica is warming significantly in winter and spring, especially over West Antarctica.
Media: That paper wasn’t published in Nature, so we’re not very interested.

2009
Scientists: Antarctica is cooling in fall — not summer — in some places, but warming, especially in winter and spring, especially in West Antarctica.
Media: Antarctica stops cooling! Conservative or liberal, we are ALL going to die.
Steve McIntyre: The “team” made up the data again. I don’t know what Antarctica is doing, but I think it is probably cooling.
Media: Antarctica starts cooling again, global warming is a fraud.

2010
Ryan O’Donnell: Our paper in the Journal of Climate shows a somewhat better way to look at the same data. Antarctica is warming a bit more in summer, and a bit less in winter in the Ross Sea region. In fall it is cooling a bit more too, and so the overall trends are smaller. Still, West Antarctica is definitely warming significantly, as Steig et al. found. That’s interesting.
Eric Steig: Nice paper Ryan. Thanks for sending along a pre-print.
Steve McIntyre: Hey, we got published in the Journal of Climate! Another paper showing that the “team” made up the data again! (Sotto voce): Ryan says it it is warming a bit more in summer, and a bit less in winter in the Ross Sea region. In fall it is cooling a bit more. Otherwise we get the same results, though the magnitude of the trends is smaller. But West Antarctica is still warming significantly. But I really don’t care. The peer review process is broken, which is why.. umm…our paper was published in the leading climate journal.
Liberal Media: That paper wasn’t published in Nature, so we’re not very interested.
Conservative Media: Antarctica is cooling. Global warming is a fraud.
Public: zzzZZZzzz
————-
P.S. For those actually interested, yes, I’ll have more to say about O’Donnell et al., but overall, I like it.–eric

Climate code archiving: an open and shut case?

Filed under: — eric @ 26 October 2010

Gavin Schmidt and Eric Steig

The last couple of weeks saw a number of interesting articles about archiving code – particularly for climate science applications. The Zeeya Merali news piece in Nature set the stage, and the commentary from Nick Barnes (of ClearClimateCode fame), proposed an ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ approach. Responses from Anthony Vejes and Stoat also made useful points concerning the need for better documentation and proper archiving. However, while everyone is in favor of openness, transparency, motherhood and apple pie, there are some serious issues that need consideration before the open code revolution is going to really get going.
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The Economist does not disappoint

Filed under: — eric @ 13 April 2010

The March 20th -26th cover story of The Economist, “Spin, science and climate change,” deftly bypasses the politics surrounding ‘climategate’, to tackle the more important issue: whether any of this has any bearing on climate change science and policy. This is a refreshing bit of journalism that everyone should read.
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