RealClimate logo

One year on…

Filed under: — group @ 28 December 2005

RealClimate has been online for just over a year, and so this is probably a good time to review the stories we’ve covered and assess how well the whole project is working out.

Over the last 12 months, we’ve tackled a 100+ scientific topics that range from water vapour feedbacks, the carbon cycle, climate sensitivity, satellite/surface temperature records, glacier retreat, climate modelling to hurricanes. We’ve had guest postings that span questions of Martian climate change to Arctic ozone depletion and solar forcing. We’ve crossed virtual swords with Michael Crichton, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, George Will, Nigel Lawson, Fox News and assorted documentary makers (though only one person ever threatened to sue us). Hopefully our contributions have interested, intrigued and occasionally amused (at least a few of you…).

In terms of feedback, our surprisingly frequent media mentions indicate that we’ve been at least partially successful in our original aim of helping inform journalists about the science, but there is clearly still a long way to go. We’ve been pleased to see links to RealClimate postings occuring frequently in other climate-related forums and our mailbag continues to be full of questions and suggestions for topics (please keep them coming!). It’s also been extremely uplifting to find so many people who are not professional scientists interested enough to post such detailed comments to the articles.

Overall, we have been more praised than vilified. We certainly haven’t kept everyone happy, though even those who aren’t happy still pay attention to what is posted. Indeed, there are websites that pore over our ruminations with the dedication heretofore only applied to the sayings of the Delphic Oracle (unlike the oracle though, we make no claims to prophecy and don’t encode hidden meanings in our responses).

While we’ve aspired to being a reasonably authoritative resource, we have occasionally slipped and used more personal language than was really necessary. It is difficult at times to remember that although blogsphere conversations happen very quickly, they stay around forever, and so a sober style is most appropriate. However, moderation of comments on this site has been absolutely necessary to avoid the descent into the schoolyard behaviour all too often found in unmoderated forums. This task is not however an exact science, and there have errors of both overzealousness and undermoderation. For that, we apologise.

Being involved in RealClimate has certainly increased our profiles in the climate community and our visibility in the mainstream media, though it’s not yet clear whether it is helping or hindering our own research. Blogging keeps us up-to-date with many different areas of the science, but there is a time penalty to be paid, although being a group blog makes that (just about) managable. The patience (and occasional tacit support) of our employers has been admirable.

It is clear to us that there was (and continues to be) a large demand for a resource such as RealClimate and we encourage colleagues in this field and others to set up similar projects that allow scientists to communicate their enthusiasm and knowledge (and the uncertainties) directly to the interested public. We can all help improve scientific literacy by letting the public in on the conversations that we normally keep confined to the coffee breaks at big meetings or after-seminar beers. As highlighted in a recent Nature article, the scientific community as a whole has not been an early adopter of the latest technologies now available on the web. Some innovations are being used (online only journals, open review, a few blogs) but there is certainly a lot more scope available. How about a society-run purely online ‘rapid-reaction’ journal that could allow the comment and reply concerning controversial studies to happen within weeks rather than the months to years that are needed now? How about a serious attempt to get a comprehensive system for online data citation set up so that data generators can get the recognition that they deserve while and data that would otherwise be lost on some obsolete computer storage device can still make a contribution? How about more subfield-specific blogs for improving communication within the scientific community itself? These and other ideas need support and enthusiasm to get off the ground, but our experience with RealClimate demonstrates that it can be done, and indeed, done rather easily.

Looking forward to 2006, you can expect a mild make-over of the site to reduce some of the clutter on the front page, a better indexing system to find frequently asked about topics, a few more basic issues posts (ideas and suggestions are welcome!) and hopefully more guest postings on interesting issues. If you are a scientist who has just spent an hour on the phone with a journalist in order to have one sentence quoted, think about sending us what you think they should have used! If you think your subject is being misunderstood, send us the article that will straighten things out. But, at all times, we hope to continue to add context to what you read about climate in the media, since, let’s face it, however you feel about the issue, it isn’t going to go away.

And finally, an end of year review is not complete without a thank you to the people that have made contributions to the whole project: Ryan Walker for technical assistance; guest commentators James Annan, Corinne Le Quéré, Beate Liepert, Juerg Luterbacher, Loretta Mickley, Raimund Muscheler, Natassa Romanou, Bill Ruddiman, Jeff Severinghaus, Drew Shindell, Stienn Sigurdsson, Steve Sherwood, Michael Tobis and David Vaughan for making our jobs so much easier; all of the commenters for asking interesting questions, pointing out problems and furthering the debate; and of course, you the readers for, well, being the whole point.

Happy New Year.

80 Responses to “One year on…”

  1. 1
    Leonard Evens says:

    Keep up the good work!

  2. 2
    PHEaston says:

    I find this website provides exceptional and informative insights into the global warming debate, as well as being – at times – very entertaining. I fully welcome OPEN scientific debate.

  3. 3
    Pat Neuman says:

    RC in 2005 was a success. Global warming is taken more seriously now.

    For 2006, something along the lines of – A Risk of Total Collapse – by Dylan Evans (Guardian, 21 Dec 2005), with a main focus on global warming, seems in order to me.,3858,5360393-103677,00.html

  4. 4
    Steve Bloom says:

    Thanks for filling a great need and doing a fantastic job filling it!

    “How about more subfield-specific blogs for improving communication within the scientific community itself?” There’s the brand-new , which while allowing public access seems to be designed to fill the bill with respect to all matters icy.

  5. 5
    Mike Atkinson says:

    How about a post on Permafrost melting?

  6. 6
    TCO says:

    It is a beautifully put together blog in terms of layout, but the content is sometimes thin (depth of discussion and frequency of posts). More importantly the biased censorship (against skeptics), the several hour (at laeast for skeptics) previewing wait and the cessation of commenting in old threadss inhibits vigorous technical discussion. Also, I think you should allow negative pertinent comments (as this one is). In addition, I find it strange that you don’t mention the climateaudit site among your sword clashers or even link to it. (They have the grace to unilaterally link to you.) To your (limited) credit, the wall of exclusion from skeptic arguments and the deletion of any post that linked to climate audit seems to have lessened. Still not fair though. (My assessment…based on participation here.)

    P.s. Please allow this post even if you disagree with it. You can make a blue in the post voice of God reply. Just because you disagree with an assertion or argument is no reason to stop the post.

  7. 7
    James Annan says:

    Happy Birthday and congratulations on what you’ve achieved so far.

  8. 8
    Quantoken says:

    The observational data of atmospheric CO2 concentration obtained from the observatory located in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, is tauted as most complete and most authoric data evidence that the global CO2 concentration goes up over the years, therefore provides a support for the Global Warming Theory.

    I seriously challenge the validity of that piece of data. But first I am not questioning the hardwork of the researchers or their honesty in recordingh the data faithfully. I do believe their instruments recorded the correct readings. BUT, the interpretation of the data is very questionable.

    If you look at the graph, you see a nice general trend that the CO2 concentration is going up, but you also notice a strong seasonable oscillation.

    That seasonal oscillation is rather suspicious. The reseachers claim, because of the geological location of the observatory, they are measuring a CO2 concentration FREE from any bias caused by any local effects. Since the global atmosphere gets pretty good mixing at a time scale much shorter than a year, they are measuring the true global average of the CO2 concentration.

    Is that so? Are they truely measuring the global average? How can the seasonable oscillation be explained? If it is a true global average, there should be no seasonal oscillation. We know, globally, when the northern hemisphere is winter time, it is summer time in the southern hemisphere. So it should all average out and there should never be such a dramatic seasonable modulation in the curve.

    The seasonal modulations clearly must have a local explanation. Are they related to the seasonable plantation and biomass growth? Hardly! The geographical location of Mauna Loa has a pretty low lattitude, and the weather is oceanic, meaning it is virtually the same comfortable temperature good for plantation growth year around. There should not be a very strong seasonal effect. Also, if you look at the Data List, you notice that the CO2 peaks around May and reaches the lowest point around October. Why? You would expect that in late spring, due to strong plantation growth and photo synthesis, lots of CO2 are absorbed and so you should see the lowest concentration of CO2, not highest.

    The answer may lie in the tourism. You see more tourists in the spring time leading to May, so all the extra automobile activities releases more CO2 into the local atmosphere. And in the fall and winter, much less tourists. And the gradual build up of CO2 over the years may not be a global effect, but simply a local effect that more and more visitors vist Hawaii each year.

    And that certainly bring a question to the legitimacy of regarding the Mauna Loa reading as that reflecting the global trend. You need data from a different location, one that is far away from local human influence, to draw conclusions. Unfortunately I do not see any data other than the Mauna Loa one.


    [Response: South Pole? – gavin]

  9. 9
    Peter Backes says:

    RE: #6 I had to chuckle a little when I read this post. RC’s website is not what I would call ‘beautiful’. It is spartan and utilitarian which serves its purpose well. As to content, I find it ‘thick’ with informed opinion and analysis as well as courteous to its (reasonable) critics.

    With respect to including a link to ClimateAudit, I’m not sure they are deserving. ClimateAudit’s authors, McIntyre and McKitrick, have pretty short resumes in terms of climate science and they seem to expend most of their climate-related efforts critiquing the work of others (not with very great accuracy it would appear: False Claims) and conducting ad hominem attacks (I won’t provide a link but posts making light of an individual’s language skills can be found on the ClimateAudit site).

    RC appears to try to stay above the personal and stick with facts although posts such as the one referenced above must make it tough…

    Looking forward to another year of RC.

  10. 10
    John Monro says:

    Happy Birthday, and Happy New Year also. May the coming year bring much greater enlightenment to the sceptics, doubters, deniers, contrarians and pig-headed %*!!$#s who still have so much learning to do, and who’s required reading should include Real Climate. As for the comment that your site is biased and censored, well ….. how far do you have to go? Does an astronomical site have to link to an astrological article or a medical site to a herbalists convention?

    Thanks so much for all the work you put in. Your resource is invaluable.

  11. 11
    Nick says:

    Congratulations for running such an informative and interesting site. One of the most interesting science sites available.

    I wouldn’t bother linking to climateaudit until the regulars there can conduct themselves in a more adult manner.

    Cheers and best wishes for 2006!

  12. 12

    Re 8 I feel Gavin’s reply to to the trumped up charge that the Manua Loa CO2 data are seen as the definitive global values should have included a reference to this web page: I think it shows pretty clearly that tourists in Hawaii are not the only cause of globally rising CO2 levels.

  13. 13
    Pat Neuman says:

    re 8.

    The interactive CMDL Sampling Network includes 30-40 locations worldwide where atmospheric CO2 measurements are sampled.

    Note that:

    NOAA CMDL has has merged into NOAA/ESRL Global Monitoring Division
    “As of October 1, 2005, the Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory has merged into the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) as part of its Global Monitoring Division (GMD)”.

  14. 14
    Hans Erren says:

    World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases (WDCGG)

  15. 15
    Todd says:

    What is RealClimate’s take on T. J. Nelson’s “Cold Facts on Global Warming” at ?

    At first glance the argument seems OK. And it could be argued that I ought to do my own homework so to speak. But better heads than mine know more about what Nelson claims there and about important facts or strong counterarguments he omitted, if any. Hence my question.

    [Response: Nelson appears to base his entire argument on the ‘fact’ that CO2 contributes 4 to 8% of the total greenhouse effect (of 33 deg C), and therefore a doubling of CO2 can only increase the total greenhouse effect proportionatly. Apart from being wrong about the effect of CO2 (around 9 to 25% of the longwave absorbtion depending on how you calculate the overlaps (see our previous post), this is way too linear a calculation to be applicable. In particular, he assumes that water vapour amounts are independent of the temperature (they are not). There are a number of other obvious bloopers (ie. “In fact, the effect of carbon dioxide is roughly logarithmic. Each time carbon dioxide (or some other greenhouse gas) is doubled, the increase in temperature is less than the previous increase”. No. Logarithmic means that the effects of doubling are constant). So in toto, it’s not too impressive a thesis. See our posts on climate sensitivity (or here) for more considered information. – gavin]

  16. 16
    Jack says:

    RC is an extremely useful site. The gap that it partially fills is to act as a source for scientific information on climate science from climate scientists. This is a particularly crucial role as the lead-up for the next IPCC assessment report accelerates. I predict that the IPCC AR4 will be the most contentious and difficult to assemble report to date, because many of the vested skeptical interests must realize that their list of tried-and-true (“tired and false” is more accurate) arguments are being addressed and refuted. They will therefore have to increase their efforts to discredit the research and the researchers. However… the political and social “climate” is still being strongly influenced by the op-ed media and high-visibility attacks on climate science veracity, with Crichton’s “State of Fear” the prime example, and Lomborg’s still oft-quoted manifesto and the Cato, Marshall, TCS (not to be confused with TCO) propaganda efforts still churning out chaff.

    Therefore, a couple of suggestions:

    — More illustrations (whenever copyright considerations are moot). The right picture makes the point.

    — A parallel blog for commentaries, similar to the Panda’s Thumb “After the Bar Closes”. Shunt the back-and-forth of political sidetalk to a more appropriate place for debate. This would allow you to address the difficulty of moderating negative off-topic commentary (and would allow some of the knowledgeable RC readers to fully address the skeptic’s concerns).

    — A “Top 100” list of vital references.

    Keep up the great work.

  17. 17
    Tony Noerpel says:

    I only just discovered RC and am glad I did. Thanks for answering all of my questions. And yet another: After reading Ruddiman’s hopothesis it strikes me that there may be a sweet spot for atmospheric carbon concentrations between 250 ppm and 270 ppm. At 280 ppm, the Sahara is an uninhabitable desert and at 240 ppm, Europe is covered in ice. Have we missed a golden opportunity to control our climate by wasting all of our fossil fuels? Had we doled our gift out a little more carfully, we may have been able to supplement or counter the solar energy variabilities as required to maintain a relatively constant and balmy 260 ppm. And one note on Lindzen’s precautionary tale. If we were using up the fossil carbon to benefit all mankind and for necessary quality of life improvements, he might have a case, abeit even then a weak one. But the fact is we have used the bulk of this fuel in purely discretionary and wasteful life style choices. It would not have been much of a sacrifice to drive a Prius over a Hummer. We are still flaring natural gas in Nigeria in the middle of poverty, pain and suffering.

  18. 18
    TCO says:

    Implicit in the running out of fossil fuels (and in comments like 17) is the potetntial that Co2 raises may be diminished in the future by constraint. You have to strain a bit to both beleive in the danger of glowbal warming (of devestating effect) and in the 200$/barrel peak oil soon fears.

    My take: we will continue to find and exploit (economically feasible) sources of oil and keep driving CO2 up. I think the shortage of oil has much more to do with effective cartel actions and the unrest in the middle east than with running out worldwide.

  19. 19
    Tony Noerpel says:

    re. 18. TCO, the peak oil price last year was $58 in early fall and the minimum was $40 over the holidays. This year, same time, the max was $70 and the price today is $57. That’s a 40% increase in price over one year and nobody is modifying their behavior just yet, except in places like Eretrea and Nicaragua, where they can no longer afford the stuff. The impact of technology on oil production seems to be to increase the rate of depletion rather than making more oil available (See Gowdy and Julia, RPI working paper 0512, Dec 2005). Geologist, like Campbell, Ivanhoe, and Deffeyes keep reminding us, it isn’t about money and economics. As soon as it takes more energy to extract the stuff than the stuff contains, the show is over. While Yergin is sanguine about oil today, it is worth noting, he advised Congress in 2002 that natural gas prices were on their way down. You can certainly, think what you like about cartels but Matt Simmons in Twilight in the Desert tells a very different story. Saudi Aramco has been nothing if not cooperative in pumping out all we wanted and the same is true for Qatar and the UAE. Bergan, Ghawar, Cantarell, Prudhoe Bay, the Forties, Yates are all in depletion and some quite steep. It is a plausible scenario that we will be in denial on both accounts right up until the plunge at the end and nobody will notice who cut down the last tree. Also, there are two very good reasons why oil could hit $200. The first of course is the shortage and the second is the total indebtedness of the US causing hyper inflation. I hate to be such a curmudgeon, but melting glaciers and more violent hurricanes are only some of the obvious evidence of which we are in denial.

  20. 20
    Kenneth Blumenfeld says:

    RC has been a big venture, and I think the dedicated readership alone should make you guys pretty happy.

    My advice for the next year(s) would be:
    –Try to figure out who your audience really is. It seems very diverse to me. Then shoot for the middle. That leaves some room for technical clarification, but I think you leave fewer in the dust when you do that.

    –More op-ed or press release type material. I know this consumes even more of your research time, but it seems someone (who is quite in the know) needs to be constantly monitoring and responding to issues raised in the popular media. And those responses should be executed in the popular media too, not just here.

    –Why not go at it with McIntyre now and then? He may not have a climate science background, but he has a large and growing audience and will probably be around for a while. He provides a rhetort to many RC threads. It would nice if you guys would occasionally peek in there and give him a little back. Same with Pielke Sr., who has surprisingly few responding visitors considering the frequency of his posts.

    Thank you all for doing this. May it continue well into the future.

  21. 21
    TCO says:

    Tony, great post. Some reactions:

    1. My basic point remains. If you are really worried about incepient peak oil (that we will have a hard crash in the next few years), then that will impact CO2 production after the crash. Remember the time scales too. Peak oil disaster scenarios are in near future. GW is much further off and assumes large-scale CO2 production for several generations. At a minimum, you have to consider the issue that your disasters have at least a TENDANCY to contradict. That’s all I’m asking for. The sooner the oil runs out, the sooner we stop burning it.

    2. I will read your working paper on depletion technology. Assuming that you are right, to me the major implication to me is not a jump to assumption that this means depletion will accelerate (depletion will remain a function of the futures market in that case), but rather the point that exploration will not be advancing.

    3. Regarding the energy cost of extraction–agreed (unless alternative sources advance to the point that oil is useful just as a feedstock…which I find unlikely…no alternative energies on the horizon breaking through). However if this is indeed incipient, the futures markets aren’t showing it.

    4. That’s great about Twilight in the Desert…but there are also plenty of articles on how the cartel is more effective nowadays and how they try to reduce investment in infrastructure to make it so.

    5. WRT “fields in depletion and the crash may be steep plausibly”…well the futures markets don’t agree with you…they could be wrong…but they have an economic incentive to try to be right! And the information that you cite is PUBLIC! What they show instead is a plateu.

    6. Agreed that hyperinflation might cause 200 dollar oil. but that could happen with no shortage. you’re just firing from the sidelines and mixing in side issues with comments like that (and do you really think this will happen? why didn’t it happen in the 80s or the 40s then?)

    7. the hurricanes? what the hell does that have to do with peak oil? you’re just throwing different things at the wall with comments like that. And even in GW, hurricane numeracy is not at all demonstrated as a proxy. That smacks of jumping on individual events.

    8. General criticism. While you have a very content filled post, there is a tendancy in it to appeal to authority and to name drop sources vice thinking through issues.

  22. 22
    Quantoken says:

    Thanks for providing additional data on CO2 measurement. I reckon that the global CO2 is indeed increasing. But it is also clear it is increasing at much slower pace than the speed we burn fossil fuels. There is a negative feedback mechanism in nature that absorbed the bulk of the CO2 we release from fossil fuels.

    Regarding the rule water vapour plays. Some think it’s a positive feedback, i.e., warmer climate causes more water evaporated into the atmosphere. And more water vapour leads to more GH gas and more warming.

    I disagree! Water don’t just evaporate, it also come down in the form of rain and snow and other forms precipitations. Overtime the net water entering the atmosphere and leaving it is balanced. But the ret result is when water is evaporated it absorbed large amount of heat from the ground, and when rain or snow comes down, it further reduces ground temperature even more. So if more water is evaporated, the end result is the ground is cooler, not warmer. The water plays a role of NEGATIVE FEEDBACK, NOT POSITIVE ONE.

    In fact I feel that water evaporation is a MAJOR contributor how the ground cools from the heat of the sun. Heat is given off by all three means, evaporation, air convection, radiation. Radiation is probably only a minor contributor. Clearly, greenhouse gases only matter for radiation, not for evaporation and air convection. Existing computer models probably ignored that fact and do not account for evaporation and convection adequately.

    I did some calculations. The average solar radiation, if absorbed totally and do nothing else other than evaporation of water, you expect to be able to evaporate a layer of water of about 4 meters thick each year. Consider that some area on the earth do experience heavy precipitations of 4000 milimeter or above, the water evaporation must be a major portion of the heat loss of the ground.

    I am still puzzled on how you reconcile the fact that on Venus you have 3×10^5 times thicker CO2 than earth’s and the GH temperature raise effect is less than 200C. Inferencing from that number the effect on earth must be very insignificant.

  23. 23
    Tony Noerpel says:

    OK, but let me restate my original question. Ruddiman’s hypothesis is that human deforestation and agriculture may have caused atmospheric CO2 and methane to increase enough to moderate the climate over the last 10,000 years or so, when both should have been trending downward. This moderation may have been instrumental in the development of our civilization. If true, it suggests to me that there may be a sweet spot for CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere which may be most favorable to human life. There is a great article on the rediscovery of the Garamantes settlements in the Sahara in the American Scientist, vol 94 by White and Mattingly which shows a humid phase for the Sahara’s climate between 12,000 and 5,000 years ago which roughly corresponds to the period when the CO2 concentrations were between 260 and 270 ppm. I have no problem accepting that the Earth’s climate is vastly more complicated than my limited understanding and that there is the issue of cause and effect thus I’m asking if it is possible that a sweet spot exists, how sensitive might it be and could we control it artificially by judicious release of CO2?

  24. 24
    Pat Neuman says:

    21. TCO wrote: … Peak oil disaster scenarios are in near future. GW is much further off and assumes large-scale CO2 production for several generations.

    Global warming is happening already… and is expected to worsen greatly in years to come. Global warming does not assume large-scale CO2 production for several generations. Global warming feedbacks will prolong and worsen global warming on Earth for decades and centuries to come.

  25. 25
    Pat Neuman says:

    In 22.

    There is no negative feedback mechanism in nature that absorbs the bulk of the CO2 we release from fossil fuels. I suggest a search on oceans and CO2 absorption at the messages page at ClimateArchive:

  26. 26
    Pat Neuman says:

    re: 23.

    Even if we could control climate artificially by judicious release of CO2 (which I doubt we could due to timing on feedbacks), it’s too late to try that anyway, CO2 will not be coming back down below 300 ppm for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, or more.

  27. 27
    TCO says:

    Pat all the global warming models and predictions that I know of, include continued, large-scale CO2 production as a forcing.

  28. 28
    Tony Noerpel says:

    re 21 the rest. TCO, in regards to the rest of your generous post, I’m embarrassed that we may have gotten off topic. But I’d like to suggest that it is plausible that we could use our technological prowess to extract the oil from the ground faster than older technologies would have allowed yet not actually create any new oil. This is the gist of the RPI working paper, which I referenced by example. So we may first run out of oil and only subsequent to that event, experience the catastrophic consequences of global warming as a delayed result of the rapid release of CO2. Thus, and I’m just guessing here, we may find ourselves suffering the indignity of having to pay over $200 a barrel for oil while our climate will have been damaged beyond our ability to repair it and we will have set in motion lots of nasty positive feedback loops. I don’t see these as contradictory or mutually exclusive events. :+)

  29. 29
    Pat Neuman says:

    re 27.

    I’m aware that global warming models and predictions include large-scale CO2 production as a forcing. However, due to the large amount of warming already underway, the feedbacks alone will continue the rapid warming. From Mark Bowen’s book Thin Ice (2005), I think I read that 1/3 of the global warming is forced by GHGs emissions and 2/3 is due to global warming feedbacks.

  30. 30

    with the just announced advent of TS Zeta in the Atlantic, i wondered if any of the models addressed a lengthening of the hurricane season as additional energy was available in tropical waters?

  31. 31
    Quantoken says:

    Re 25, Pat how could you deny the fact that there is negative feedback! We use about 200 million barrel oil equivalent of fossil fuel per day. That number we know quite accurately so we can calculate quite accurately the amount of CO2 we release into the atmosphere. The calculation is straight forward. Assuming all the CO2 we release remains in the atmosphere it should result in 6-7 ppm increase of CO2 (ppm by volume) per year. But we measure only 1.5 ppm per year. Clearly the nature absorbed the bulk of the CO2 we released. [….]

    Some suggest another feedback that warming caused the polar icea to melt, releasing tremendous amount of methane which causes more warming. If that is the case you should observe considerable increase of methane in the atmosphere. [….]

    [Response: We welcome reasoned discussion here, but please note that a certain modicum of respect for the other commenters is required. I mildly edited your comment to remove statements that are more likely to inflame than inform. Please stick to the issue and do not resort to over the top rhetoric. Thanks. -gavin]

  32. 32

    Post #22 has it all wrong about water vapor. For one thing, the poster confuses the role of water in surface cooling through evaporation with its radiative effect. Yes, water evaporation cools the Earth’s surface at about a level of 80 watts per square meter. But water vapor is still a greenhouse gas and so are clouds, though their high reflectivity makes them cool a bit on balance.

    The figure for Venus (200 K greenhouse effect) is also way off. It’s more like 500 K. The effective temperature of Venus (given its known orbit, Solar illumination, and Taylor’s 0.76 figure for the bolometric Bond albedo) is about 230 K. The surface temperature from the Venus standard atmosphere (Seiff et al. 1986) is 735 K. That’s a 505 K greenhouse effect from where I’m sitting.

  33. 33
    Pat Neuman says:

    re 31.

    Earth “losing fight against global warming”
    By Jenifer Johnston
    07 August 2005

    Scotland’s award-winning independent newspaper


    Lead researcher Dr Inez Fung of the University of California, Berkeley, told the Sunday Herald the model debunks one argument put forward by global-warming sceptics that plants will flourish and the oceans bloom in a warmer environment.

    “Our work shows that if we keep going on our current course of fossil fuel emissions, the land and oceans will not be able to slow the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the way they are doing now. Land and oceans absorb about half of the carbon dioxide produced by human activity at the moment. If we accelerate our emissions, the saturation rate will increase,” she said.

    Fung’s model suggests that as heat and droughts increase, plants cut back their intake of carbon dioxide to save water. Ultimately, they stop absorbing it at all. Similarly, as the oceans heat up they struggle to absorb carbon dioxide which then collects near the surface, further preventing absorption and accelerating global warming. …

  34. 34

    Let me join enthusiastically in the birthday plaudits for RC!

    A couple of points, raised by the peak oil conversation, and that I think seem to be understressed in general.


    Peak oil and greenhouse gases, (re #18) are far less closely linked than seems to be believed in some quarters. Increases in oil prices may have a lot of effects, but a first-order change to anthropogenic CO2 accumulation is not among them. Worst-case future emissions scenarios are dominated by coal. There is plenty of coal to be had.

    Medium-term economic disruptions due to poor planning may or may not be in the cards as a result of oil depletion; I don’t have the expertise to say. If so, the impact on greenhouse gases will be mixed. A declining economy and increased prices may slow emissions down, but a conversion to coal would speed them up!


    I agree with #21 that the relevant time scale for global climate change is sufficiently long that running out of oil will show up as a glitch rather than a major change.


    I disagree with #24 in emphasis. The anthropogenic climate change we have seen to date is not a major issue except perhaps in the high Arctic. The global warming we have already committed to may be a major issue over centuries, but is probably not beyond our ability to cope with in near term or the long run. It is the huge forcing that we seem hell-bent on adding to the system over the coming century that is the cause for the greatest alarm.


    A point I wish were more widely understood is that the forcing is cumulative. While it is the rate of carbon release that matters to economists, it is (to a good first approximation) the total release that matters to the planet. Even if emissions remained clamped at 1990 levels per Kyoto, the long term picture looks riskier and riskier. The only safety is in eventually reducing net emissions (emissions – absorbtion/sequestration), to approximately zero, and the sooner this happens, the less risk we bequeath to our descendants.


    Eventually net carbon emissions will stop: either we will restrain ourselves, or we will use it all up and be forced to stop. In the latter case we will surely make a FAR more terrible mess than the one we see now or even in the year 2100 IPCC scenarios. Either way we will eventually have to cope with stopping net carbon emissions. Why not do it now, and save what we can of the natural state of the planet?

  35. 35
    TCO says:


    I agree that GW is already occurring (although certainly not to the catostrophic extent that it may in the future). your point about the feedbacks is a side issue. I accept that the direct effect of the GHGs is magnified by water vapor. No argument there. But they’re not independant. If we don’t add extra CO2, we won’t get the associated H2O.

    Sure GW is happening already. Sure, there might even be some lag and we are going to face worse as time goes by. But are you seriously saying that future warming will not be affected by future CO2 production? That it’s irrelevant if we have some geological limits (peak oil) which shut us down in terms of putting CO2 into the air much faster than expected?

  36. 36
    Pat Neuman says:

    re 35

    I’m not saying that future warming will not be effected by future CO2 production. The warming will come sooner and reach higher levels due to the addition of more GHG emissions to the atmosphere. The sooner the warmth becomes extreme is very important for species survival and for young people here now.

    CO2 and methane global warming feedbacks are important too, not just water vapor. I view global warming feedbacks to include thawing perafrost (releasing methane, CO2 and water), less absorption of CO2 by oceans, greater demands for power (fossil fuel burning for increased A/C needs) and many others.

  37. 37
    Hans Erren says:

    re 36
    We didn’t have mass extinctions in the eemian, although temperatures were much higher than present.
    The extreme emission scenario’s have one major flaw: they don’t contain economic recessions.

  38. 38
    Pat Neuman says:

    re 37.

    How fast did the global climate warm during the eemian? Are there any approximations for the global thermal maximum in the eemian? There’s more than 6 billion people here now, which obviously changes things for species survival. My paleo studies focused on the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum, a much warmer period than the eemian. Photos that I took while visiting the Museum of Natural History in Denver, Colorado can be viewed by joining my yahoo group at:

  39. 39
    Coby says:

    re 37
    “We didn’t have mass extinctions in the eemian, although temperatures were much higher than present.”

    That is only because the rate of change that brought temperatures that high were nowhere near what we see today. The danger of climate change today is in how fast it is happening, not in whatever the climate will ultimately stabilize at. The glacial cycle upswing that topped out in the Emian saw the temperature rise ~12oC over ~12K yrs.
    That is a rise of .01oC per decade. Temperatures are now rising at about .2oC per decade. That is a difference of 20 times, there is no comparison to today’s climate change.

    “The extreme emission scenario’s have one major flaw: they don’t contain economic recessions.”

    Well, in general, recessions are temporary but I won’t argue that predicting economic growth is a no brainer. But this is not a valid criticism, this was as you say yourself “the extreme emission scenario”. There are others that make other equally speculative assumptions. They are there as a guide because the fact is, it is in our control, we must assess the risks and choose a course of action, not wonder and hope how fossil fuel consumption will eventually play out.

  40. 40
    Tony Noerpel says:

    re 37 Hans, how rapidly did temperatures rise during the Eemian? Did species have a chance to adapt?

    From Wikipedia “Kaspar et al. (GRL, 2005) perform a comparison of a coupled GCM with reconstructed Eemian temperatures for Europe. Central Europe (north of the alps) is found to be 1-2 oC warmer than present; south of the alps conditions are 1-2 oC cooler than today. The model (forced with observed GHG concentrations and Eemian orbital parameters) generally reproduces these observations, and hence they conclude that these factors are enough to explain the Eemian temperatures.”

    If these temperature differences are representative of the global situation then characterizing temperatures as much higher than today may not be entirely accurate. During the Eemian it looks like atmospheric CO2 was around 280 ppm for the duration between 131,000 and 114,000 years ago. The problem with drawing comparisons, I would suggest is first, the rate of the change and second, we are already at 380 ppm and climbing very rapidly beyond that.

    I don’t think that ignoring recessions is a particularly major flaw. The recession during the 1980’s did cause a modest reduction in CO2 emissions but not for very long. It may have only delayed Hubbert’s predicted world peak by 10 years. Of course, I’ll grant you that Paul Volcker has said we have a 75% chance of total economic collapse within a few years, only taking into account our massive debts and imbalances, budget, current accounts and total credit market, so the next recession may be the mother of them all.

    Still, I would submit that total emission is what is important, as per #34, unless we are talking about a recession which lasts on the order of a hundred thousand years. A couple of delays of a decade or two, isn’t going to make any difference in the final outcome.

    By the way, I think Michael #34, is spot on that future emissions will be dominated by coal. And anyone who has seen mountain top removal mining will readily agree that coal hurts us in two ways, emissions and gross environmental insults like deforestation. From a global warming perspective, possibly the worst thing I can imagine is an efficient way to liquify coal. As Michael says, “Either way we will eventually have to cope with stopping net carbon emissions. Why not do it now, and save what we can of the natural state of the planet?” Personally, I would like to see an immediate moratorium on surface mining of coal at the very least. It was on my christmas list. :+)

  41. 41
    Jim Glendenning says:

    Happy birthday RC. I enjoy the site.

    Others have talked about the Peak Oil problem on this thread. I agree that it is tied to any debate about reducing fossil fuel usage. Below is an excerpt from a peak oil site that is certainly as provocative as any AGW warning I have read. The problem with it is that no one knows for sure when Peak Oil will arrive. Many knowledgeable geologists believe it is 15 years away, but others believe it has arrived.

    “Dear Reader,
    Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon. This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult, apocalypse bible prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society. Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists, and investment bankers in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon known as global Peak Oil.”

    Yes, peak oil is coming and may already be here. It is a much more immediate problem than GW. Yes, some people believe we can and will fall back on coal.(500 year supply in the U.S.) However, it seems to me that now is the time to begin moving to new, clean energy sources. If this country decided to do it, in 25 years we could be well on our way to widespread use of
    clean energy and slowing use of fossil fuels.

    IMO it is easier to sell the idea of cutting fossil fuel usage based on national energy and economic security than it is to keep proclaiming GW disaster scenarios that will happen 100 years from now.

    It would certainly be a happy circumstance if we could solve our evolving energy problem and slow CO2 emissions all in the bargain.

  42. 42
    Liisa Antilla says:

    Thank you so much to everyone at RC for all your diligent work – you truly are making a difference! My New Year’s resolution is to tell at least FIVE people a MONTH about RC and I **HOPE** that everyone visiting does the same!

  43. 43
    Stephen Berg says:

    Look at what we have here. Tropical Storm Zeta, one month AFTER the end of the traditional hurricane season:

    “Tropical storm Zeta stirs in Atlantic”:

    As well, for Canada:

    “2005 sets rain and flood records”:

  44. 44
    Ken says:

    Hi, i see you’ve got some stuff on your site about climate change. I’ve come up with an idea to help stop climate change. Head over to “Mr. Luna’s Bright Idea” at See if you would like to help!!!! thanks so much- ken

  45. 45
    Ray says:

    RC is a wonderful sight. I’ve enjoyed reading the many insightful discussions and excellent presentations on these important issues. It’s refreshing to find a clear presentation of the science unencumbered from the divisive rhetoric and partisan politics that are all too common in the standard media. Excellent job RC.

  46. 46
    Dano says:

    Thank you for the site and keep up the good work – much appreciated.



  47. 47
    Ray Soper says:

    Re posts 19, 21, 41 (and others) regarding “Peak Oil”. In fact, the Peak Oil discussion IS all about economics.

    The issue is that it is the reserves of sweet, easily recoverable oil that can be economically produced at US$20 per barrel that are being depleted, and apparently not replaced. An interesting question is to ask what the reserves of sweet, easily recoverable oil would be if a long term price of US$40 per barrel could be relied on. The higher price would make it economically attractive to develop more marginal fields and to invest in secondary and tertiary recovery technologies to recover a greater proportion of the in-site oil that is not recovered in primary extraction. It appears that the potential reserves of sweet, easily recoverable oil in Russia are very large.

    And of course, there is no doubt that there are huge resources of hydrocarbons that can be converted into petroleum products if the economics work out. I am referring to the Athabasca Tar Sands, the Orinoco bitumen deposits in Venezuela, the many large oil shale deposits, and the lignite, brown coal and black coal deposits that can be converted to petroleum products using technologies that are available today.

    A characteristic of each of these alternative sources is that they are capital intensive, requiring massive investment of capital to enable production, especially if that is to be done in an environmentally responsible fashion, as of course it should be. I suggest that availability of capital is actually the main constraint in assuring continued supply of petroleum products at a reasonable price in the long term. The issue with availability of capital is not the economics of production per se. It is very likely that many of the resources cited above could be economically produced at prices of say US$40 per barrel. The real issue with availability of capital is the historic volatility of the oil price. For example, it was only 7 years ago (December 1998) that crude oil bottomed out at US$10.73 per barrel. The patient capital required to develop the alternative projects requires certainty as to outcomes. The key issue is the volatility of the oil price. I suggest that if a way could be found to guarantee an oil price of US$40 per barrel for a 20 year project life, that abundant capital would become available to ensure the development of alternative sources that could keep us all supplied with ample reserves of petroleum products for hundreds of years. The issue of course is that setting a price of US$40 per barrel in the fashion that I suggest is likely to result in substantial over-supply, thus causing the spot prices to fall back to lower levels. The issue then becomes, how do you sustain the guaranteed US$40 per barrel when the spot prices are US$25 per barrel or less.

  48. 48
    muirgeo says:

    I agree with #20. Take “on McIntyre now and then”. This recent thread
    would be a good one to start with.

    Thanks and Congratulations on your first year.

  49. 49
    McCall says:

    re: TS Zeta in posts 30 and 43
    TS Zeta is not the only TS forming this late in year — TS Alice2 formed 30-DEC-54, becoming a hurricane on 01-JAN-55.

    Many unusual things in ’05, but as to storms forming 30+ days after the official 30-NOV end of season — WINNER 1954!

  50. 50
    Roger Hill says:

    Best informed site on the issue of climate change so far, ever! Guess my only negative comment is what took you guys so long? There are so many uninformed its more than scary.