As anecdotal evidence of past climate change goes, some of the most pleasant to contemplate involve paintings of supposedly typical events that involve the weather. Given the flourishing of secular themes in European art from the Renaissance on, most of this art comes from the 16th to 19th centuries. As readers here will know, this coincides (in the public mind at least) with the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’ and somewhat inevitably this canon of work has been combed over with a fine tooth comb for evidence of particularly cold conditions.
The image that brought this issue to mind was seeing ‘Washington crossing the Delaware’ at the Met the other day and seeing the iceberg-like ice it was imagined (75 years after the event) that the rebels had had to row through in 1776. The first thing I noticed was that the ice is completely wrong for a river (which is just one of the errors associated with this picture apparently). River ice is almost always of the ‘pancake’ variety (as this photo from the Hudson river shows), and doesn’t form ‘growlers’. However, the confusion of artistic license with climatology appears to be a bit of a theme in other oft-cited works as well….
The most often shown images in this context are some of the winter landscapes painted by Pieter Breughel the Elder around 1565 and by subsequent followers of fashion (the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has a particularly fine collection if you are looking for something to do at EGU next month). The “Census in Bethlehem” (1566) is a snowy fantasy scene that ended up on the front cover of Brian Fagan’s book “The Little Ice Age”, but the one that pops up most frequently is ‘Hunters in the Snow’ (1565); another fantasy picture (who knew there were Alps in Belgium?). This painting was actually part of a series of 6 or 12 monthly or seasonal paintings. Of the five that survive, the one corresponding to September (‘The Harvesters’, 1565) shows some very pleasant weather indeed. No-one appears to be using that to argue for warm 16th century summers though….
The winter of 1564-1565 was however particularly cold in Europe and was one of the few occasions when a ‘frost fair’ was set up on the frozen River Thames in London. Other freezings of the river that far down the estuary were recorded in 923, 1063, 1076, 1410 (record freezing), 1536, 1608, 1683-4, 1715-6, 1739-40, Dec 1788, 1794-1795 and 1814 (only 4 days) (various sources, including here and here*). The fair in 1814 was the last one ever, mainly due to the demolition of the old London Bridge in 1831 and the increasing embankment of the river over the Victorian period, such that the river became much narrower and faster flowing, making it more difficult for ice to build up behind the bridges. It is often said that the frost fairs are indicative of the ‘Little Ice Age’ in the UK but the dates show quite a spread over periods that were thought to be generally warm as well as cold, and so is more likely indicative of simple weather variability. A brief examination of the Central England Temperature record (available from 1659), shows that in particular the winter of 1962-1963 (and potentially, 1878-1879) was easily as cold as some of the earlier frost fair years (which otherwise line up very nicely). However, in 1963 the Thames only froze down to Teddington (significantly up river from London), clearly showing that something other than climate was responsible for the recent lack of winter mid-river frolicking….
One of the most useful applications of art to climate though, are the realistic historical depictions of mountain glaciers particularly in the Alps, but also further afield. Glaciers have much longer timescales than weather events, and so a picture of a glacier is intergrating more climatic information than a snow-clad Flemish village scene. One of the most famous sets of images, of course, is the Argentiere glacier at Chamonix which was first used by Le Roy Ladurie in the 1960’s to demonstrate the changes in the modern period. This example certainly isn’t unique, but it is quite dramatic:
(Pictures 1 and 3 are from an encyclopedia article on the Little Ice Age . More examples of old glacier art can be seen here, and there are some more descriptions of the art of climate discussed in two articles in Weather magazine, Burroughs (1981) looked at this in a little more depth, as did Peter Robinson (2005) – apparently both are worth reading).
Anyway, all this to show that while art may imitate life, its imitation of climate needs to be considered quite carefully….
*Update: Phil Jones kindly pointed me to Table App. V. 6/7 in Lamb’s (1977) book where a fuller accounting of the Thames freeze-overs can be found: the full list of confirmed freezings in London from 1400 on is; 1408, 1435, 1506, 1514, 1537, 1565, 1595, 1608, 1621, 1635, 1649, 1655, 1663, 1666, 1677, 1684, 1695, 1709, 1716, 1740, 1776, 1795 and 1814. There are also a couple of possible reports for 1768 and 1785. I have not found any definitive listing for pre-1400 occasions other than those linked to above.
61 Responses to "Art and climate"
Caspar Henderson says
Fascinating and useful, but what about art and climate change today? Last year I commissioned Bill McKibben to write about this as part of a series on the politics of climate change. His challenge (can you imagine, 24 April 2005) is still worth reading and is at: http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-6-129-2447.jsp
Paul Dougherty says
This is a good thought-provoking post, Gavin. To continue in that vein I have changed one word in your last sentence and came up with this:
Anyway, all this to show that while science may imitate life, its imitation of climate needs to be considered quite carefully….
Mark Hadfield says
If the word “it’s” in those sentences were changes to “its”, they might begin to make sense!
[Response: Pedant! ;) (fixed) – gavin]
Trond Lossius says
They might not reach the headlines, but there are definetively artists dealing with these subjects. Andrea Polli has done several projects starting of with sonification of meteorological data.
Going back in time, The World Soundscape Project is still a major influence on a number of levels for sound artists around the world. The World Soundscape Project (WSP) was established as an educational and research group by R. Murray Schafer at Simon Fraser University during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It grew out of Schafer’s initial attempt to draw attention to the sonic environment through a course in noise pollution, as well as from his personal distaste for the more raucous aspects of Vancouver’s rapidly changing soundscape. Although the primary consern of the project was the changing soundscapes of modern world, the underlying mechanisms were the same that is causing the climate changes.
Eli Rabett says
On thing that is for real is the smog from burning coal, this is not impressionism folks, it is what it really looks like http://framedart.walmart.com/item/painting.asp?pitem=50041&frame_option=1#
I figured this out after being trapped in Erfurt during the winter, shortly after the DDR fell, when the brown coal power plants were going strong.
(Well, Walmart is good for something!?)
Gavin, nice post. I’ve always loved those Breughel winter landscapes, but indeed, they would not give away much information on climate changes, they just show the seasons in mid-latitude Europe. I could send you pictures of this winter which look very similar – in fact, looking out of my window in Potsdam right now, the landscape is snow-covered and it is snowing very nicely. Last weekend we went skating on a frozen lake again. And in September, it looks like Breughel’s harvesters painting (except for the agricultural machinery in use nowadays, of course).
John Finn says
I don’t believe art can’t tell us too much about climate change, but actual observations can. For example the Central England Temperature record tells us that annual average temperatures in the 1690s (in the depths of the Maunder Minimum) plummeted as low as 7.27 deg C (in 1695) but rose to 10.47 deg C (in 1733- note that the figure for 2005 is 10.44 deg C). Overall the temperatures in the 1730s were more than 2 DEGREES higher than in the 1690s.
This increase dwarfs anything seen in the last 40 years and suggests Central England, at least, experienced a period of extreme cold which coincided with a period of low solar activity .
[Response: Current thinking about the Little Ice Age does indeed rely on changes in solar activity as a climate forcing. However, you are completely off the mark in trying to compare local changes in England with the nearly global warming we are seeing today. Because of shifts in the stationary wave pattern, regional changes can be much larger than global or hemispheric means. Consider the past winter, which was very mild in N. America but severe in Europe. In fact, the closest thing to a physical explanation of the LIA (by Shindell and others in the GISS crowd) invokes a regional amplification of solar forcing of exactly this sort. Note that these studies use the same models used to predict response to anthropogenic GHG increase, so the LIA studies test the same physics used in going to the future. If you’re arguing that the LIA comes from the Maunder Minimum you’re just arguing the same point as the standard model, and that’s fine. However, we have solar observations at present, so we can account for the effect of solar forcing in the modern changes. They’re not doing it. It’s that simple. I can’t see that your argument has any merit whatsoever. If you’re thinking about whether there’s a trend in the Central England record alone. remember that we’re still at the early stages of CO2 increase and the ocean hasn’t caught up yet. Hence, the interannual variability in a regional measurement can make it difficult to detect the early stages of a trend when it’s still small. That’s why the focus has been on large scale means, and on “integrators” like glaciers so far. Believe me, by 2050, the trend will be all too obvious even at the regional scale — and then you’ll be wishing it weren’t! –raypierre]
1962-3 Thames freezing: Teddington is significant for other reasons, as it’s the first lock on the river. Upriver of there, the river is held back by weirs and locks, downriver of there, it’s tidal.
Don’t forget climate and algae.
Baltic Sea in full bloom
Lake Mead, my favorite co2 pump:
The BBC has an “exhibition” of weather-themed pix, including this surreal Turner.
You shouldn’t leave out Hans Neuberger who published ‘Climate in Art’ in 1970. Neuberger studied 12,000 paintings dated from 1400 to 1967 and estimated cloud cover. His results shows a marked increase in cloudiness/darkness captured in paintings during the period 1550-1849.
I have a lot of trouble taking a study like that very seriously, even if it were photographs. How do you differentiate from subject preference and trends in weather? More cloud cover in paintings could easily mean an artistic preference for cloudy days, maybe even a preference because cloudy days are unusual.
As an amatuer photographer, I prefer natural lighting when the sun is lower on the horizon. Would someone studying all my pictures conclude there used to be no high noon?
yeah, Coby, that is what I thought too: “artistic justice” is probably not relevant in a climate change discussion, per se. I mean, Leutze painted the crossing of Delaware 75yrs after the event.
I find art revealing life more interesting in this case or even better in Gary Braasch’s photography (Brooklyn last year).
Lovely post, G.
Tom Fiddaman says
On a related note, a new article in Science describes arctic ecosystem changes, in part based on oral history:
A Major Ecosystem Shift in the Northern Bering Sea
There’s a brief story on NPR:
Effects of Global Warming Apparent in Bering Sea
The NPR piece describes changes that are unprecedented in the long local oral history. In the Science article:
Yupik hunters of St. Lawrence Island, for example, have observed an increase in warm winds in winter and the replacement of stable pan and pack ice with brash and thin ice, changes that affect their ability to hunt and fish along with fundamental changes in animal behavior.
Local subsistence hunters in Barrow, Alaska, continue to report more numerous gray whales than in any time previously.
Native hunters have observed changes in walrus behavior in response to changes in sea ice cover.
Paul Dougherty says
Bringing Art into this thread widens the horizons for discussion even under the constraint of Climate Change. Why are the Arts included in the same school as Science:? Both claim to seek truth. What is the difference?
Art depends upon the artist. Two of them can look at the same information and then depict dramatically different images. Both think that they are depicting truth. However what they depict is not only what they saw but also something of themselves. Their background, conditioning, education, etc. influences what they transmit. The artist does not pretend to be an impartial observer. His Art includes himself and he makes no apologies for it.
Science has always wanted to put an end to that. Can we see what is actually out there without including ourselves? Sorry, we can try but we cannot. Yet through good procedure a scientist can do what the artist makes no attempt to do… he can minimize the observer’s influence. He can attempt to approach reality but he can never get rid of the observer. Scarily enough, the quantum has gone further and said that not only can he not be rid of the observer but he also even influences reality.
It is not surprising then that in climate science we see different conclusions based on the same observations. Singer, Lindzen, Michaels, etc. have credentials as good as any on this site. Why then do so many ridicule their positions? That seems to me to be more of the posture of artists rather than scientists.
Like Art no Science is certain. Climate Science is full of uncertainties as attested to by both the IPCC and NRC. We will all be dead before these are minimized. In the meantime is it not wise to stop attacking those who appreciate science but who do not share our observed conclusions.
Conversions from one point of view to the other happen every day. Data is data. Can we not reach out as scientists, look for the common ground and come up with a plan of attack? Can we quiet the doomsayers as well as the naysayers? Can we not come up with a scenario that expresses our uncertainties as well as prudent action?
Should not this be our course rather than the constant arguing with an enemy who cannot be either identified or defined? By definition scientists are open-minded and try to see each others point of view. Compromise leads to action and on this issue that is what is needed.
This site is for science, yet I hope that this post as well as the topic itself are relevant .
Mark Drasdo says
Re the response to No.7 has a consensus been reached as to how long is the time lag between greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere and the resulting temperature rise feeding through the system completely?
Also I noticed comments made by James Hansen in notes of a talk he had given late last year (linked from the GISS report on record global temperatures in 2005)stating that the percentage of emissions remaining in the atmosphere had remained constant at 46% despite the alarming increase in total emissions over the last 15 years. Is there any expectation as to if and when the oceans and biosphere will slow their uptake of CO2-I had understood that the oceans would be able to absorb less as they warmed.
Ian K says
I don’t know if I respect Singer, Lindzen, Michaels, etc. because I havent had enough to do with them.
I respect the scientists running this site because of their help and efforts. If they get a bit testy sometimes I guess they have their reasons.
Do these skeptics give similar help and work for free? Thats not a rhetorical question.
As an amateur I only understand GW to a certain level. I have trust however that somehow the folk at this site might help me dig deeper.
In that spirit…. I have just read raypierre’s article (and postings) on Busy Week for Water Vapour. There he had a gentlemanly disagreement with another researcher and I appreciated the respect he showed. I myself could only understand his (simplified) explanation to a certain level.
That article prompts me to fill some gaps. Can anyone explain in simple terms, or point me to info on:
How does long wave energy absorbed by GHGs differ from their normal thermal energy? Is such absorbed energy convertible to thermal energy (of a different wave length) if, say, a molecule collides with another molecule? If the bond of a GHG absorbs a photon of long wave radiation, how long does it hang on to it?
How do GHGs get saturated by long wave radiation and no longer absorb?
Similarly is there a graph somewhere giving the solubility of CO2 versus temperature in sea water?
John Finn says
Current thinking about the Little Ice Age does indeed rely on changes in solar activity as a climate forcing. However, you are completely off the mark in trying to compare local changes in England with the nearly global warming we are seeing today. Because of shifts in the stationary wave pattern, regional changes can be much larger than global or hemispheric means
Yes I know this. I realise that the CET is only a small region, but there are 2 points here. Firstly the CET ‘lows’ coincided exactly with solar activity ‘lows’, so it’s reasonable to assume that the cooler climate was more much more widespread than central england. Secondly the CET is the only record we have so in a sense it is representative of the NH in general – much as the few stations that were around in the 19th century were or are. Also your point about Europe and the US isn’t valid with respect to the CET. The early 17th century CET record shows a consistent and sustained warming or ‘recovery’ over a period of 40 to 50 years.
Believe me, by 2050, the trend will be all too obvious even at the regional scale — and then you’ll be wishing it weren’t!
I hope I’m around to see it. Just in case – could you perhaps indicate sometime a little sooner when a trend will start to emerge.
[Response: The trend has already emerged. It’s obvious to all but the most prejudiced in the global means. I was talking only about when the trend would become so obvious, even at the local level, that even those such at yourself will no longer be able to deny it. –raypierre]
John Finn says
Regarding the article where it says
However, in 1963 the Thames only froze down to Teddington (significantly up river from London), clearly showing that something other than climate was responsible for the recent lack of winter mid-river frolicking….
Could that “something” be urbanisation or the UHI effect which I understand has beeen fully accounted for in the various surface temperature records.
[Response: ??? How can an extremely cold temperature reading have been caused by UHI? -gavin]
Juerg Luterbacher says
Gavin, very nice post. Actually, as you mention there is plenty of “art” and documentary weather and climate evidence from different places all over Europe which allow to reconstruct past climate and also extreme weather events for the past centuries. For a nice review see for instance Brazdil et al. (2005, Climatic Change, 70, 363-430 and references therein).
You mention the cold 1564/1565 over the British Isles. Actually during that winter coldness was widespread over large parts of Europe, up to 3 °C lower temperature over central and eastern Europe compared to the 1901-1960 average. For those who are interested in having a look at the spatial seasonal climate maps covering the last centuries, please have a look at the links given below. There you find European land surface air temperature and precipitation charts from 1500-2000 with respect to the 1901-1960 period.
European surface temperature anomaly maps (from Luterbacher et al. 2004, Science 303, 1499-1503; and Xoplaki et al. 2005, Geophysical Research Letters 32, L15713; Mitchell and Jones 2005, International Journal of Climatology 25, 693-712, for the 1901-2000 period) are available at
European precipitation anomaly maps (from Pauling et al. 2006, Climate Dynamics, 26, 387-405) are available at
Winter refer to the year where January is
Enjoy playing with the maps and I hope they will be of use for some of you…
You can get pdf of those papers and many more related to past and present climate variability from
Your first point is only reasonable within very strict limits. It may be reasonable to take regional lows corresponding to solar lows as evidence supporting a hemispheric or even global response, but it is absolutely not reasonable to estimate the magnitude of the wider response from that of the regional response.
Your second point is completely wrong. The fact that data is regionally very limited does not somehow bestow rights of greater representation. This is acknowledged in the global temperature records by not starting until there were sufficient (fewer, yes, but sufficient) numbers of stations with adequate distribution. The better coverage later in the record is represented by the smaller error bars.
These are nice, abstract, warm and fuzzy arguments and for the most part there is little to disagree with. Unfortunately, there is a jarring cognitive dissonance between said arguments and the specific realities of the climate change debate and especially with the players you mentioned by name.
John Finn says
Gavin Re: your response to Post #19 where you say
Response: ??? How can an extremely cold temperature reading have been caused by UHI? -gavin
I think you might have taken my post out of context. If you re-read the article you make the point that 1962/63 (I remember it well) was at least as cold as previous winters in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when Frost fairs were held on the Thames. You then make the following comment
However, in 1963 the Thames only froze down to Teddington (significantly up river from London), clearly showing that something other than climate was responsible for the recent lack of winter mid-river frolicking….
I was implying that the massive urbanisation of London during the late 19th and 20th centuries may have created a warmth which prevented the Thames from freezing as it ran through the more populated parts. What I’m basically saying is that even though ‘rural’ areas might well have been as cold or colder than previous years, London’s “urban heat” prevented a total freeze-up of the Thames.
Although 1962/63 was a very cold winter, the most notable feature was the length of the cold spell rather than the extreme low temperatures. The cold snap began on Boxing Day (Dec 26th) and ran through – without a break – until March. This is most unusual for the UK where nowhere is more than about 70 miles from the sea. The length of the cold spell would also explain the low monthly figures for January and February compared to other cold years.
John Finn says
Your second point is completely wrong.
It’s not wrong. The CET record is the only record we have for that period. It’s totally inadequate I grant you, but as they’re the only observations we’ve got we’re stuck with them. We don’t have any other data.
Incidentally other later NH records do track the CET record (using 10 year smoothing) fairly well, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that there was a sharp dip and subsequent rise in NH temperatures during the late 17th/early 18th centuries and even if the NH rise is not as large as recorded in the CET there’s every chance it challenges the 0.5 deg rise seen in the past 50 years.
Lynn Vincentnathan says
Re #15, I haven’t been following Singer, Lindzen, and Michaels lately. I have an on-going search on peer-rev articles on GW, and I haven’t seen their names as of late.
Do they really still claim in 2006 there’s no such thing as GW, or that it definitely is not caused by humans, or that the benefits will outweigh the harms for humans? And do they really really believe those claims? How about Crichton? He should be changing his tune, since some of his “evidence” against GW is now melting. Do these types of people ever change, or are they simply immune to evidence?
I read everything I can find about the major issue. I think the problem we might encounter is that Gavin figures out how to get temperature measuements to within .5 deg, so we just go up to 1.5 from average, and stay there, sort of Holocene v2.0. Then, a few hundred years later, the next crisis level hits.
The plant genetic engineers have given us a real shot at taking co2 levels down to almost anywhere we want, do can it economically and do it fairly fast. The biofuels industy will be humming along at 1.5 deg, and they will be stubborn. But climate engineers can use this power now, and using simple national park style technology, they can put us at just about any co2 level we would consider.
[Response: Maybe someday, but until then, what you’re proposing is just science fiction — and not especially of the well-researched type either. You vastly underestimate the difficulties in sequestering carbon, given over 2 billion years of evolution of microbial ecosystems to oxidize anything that can be eaten. –raypierre]]
Tom Brogle says
Global warrming is undoubtedly occurring.Howevever is is not unprecedented,
it has happened in recent times, according to Crichton, as recently as the 1930s.There is plenty of evidence for such warming but doomsayers say it could not have happened because CO2 caused the present warming and that it could not have been as warm in the past because CO2 was lower.
[Response: “According to Crichton?” ’nuff said. No reason anybody needs to pay any further attention to anything you have to say on the subject. –raypierre]
Paul Dougherty says
Lynn, all three are quite visible on the web with Singer and Michaels having sites. None of them can deny the temp. data or the demonstrable greenhouse theory and they now agree that GW is happening. They argue that there are too many holes in existing knowledge to extract the man-made part and so predict the future. They then predict the future anyhow and say that they expect past warming trends to continue at the rate of about 0.17C/decade. That is nothing to worry about they say as it agrees withe low end of IPCC projections and will probably bring many benefits as well as problems. They could be right.
Unfortunately they spend too much time mocking the motives of others who see a more drastic outcome. I imagine that is why they have lost so much respect and is probably what Coby was alliuding to above.
It is clear to me that it is undeniable fact that the earth is warming, that the greenhouse effect is real and that man affects climate. Despite the use of
words like “deniers”, I have not found a single voice on the legitimate climate blogs who deny this (even though they are prolific elsewhere).
If I am right that the entire credentialed scientific community agrees on the qualitative nature of GW and disagrees only on its quantitatve nature, then there is an opening for a unanimous position. That would do in all of the outside deniers and open the door for real political action.
I am not the one to suggest a forum or offer a roadmap on how to get there. There are certainly other possibilities. But I think that it is action that all involved in this subject are looking for. Jokes like Kyota will not work. Our present path is just muddling through in which case we should all hope that the aforementioned
trio are right in their projections.
Tom Brogle, you do know that Michael Crichton is a science fiction author, don’t you?
Direct surface temperature readings tell us it is warmer now than at any time in the past ~150.
http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/fig2-1.htm (this graph stops at 2001).
Borehole analysis tells us it is warmer now than at any time in the last 500 years.
Proxy reconstructions tell us it is warmer now than in the last 1000 years.
Additional analysis going all the way back to the Holocene Climatic Optimum tells us it is probably warmer now globally than any time in the last 12000 years.
Before that was the last glaciation, thus we can say it is warmer now than at any other time in the last 100Kyrs.
What other “global warming” might you and Crichton be referring to?
(for a full response to this standard misconception see: http://illconsidered.blogspot.com/2006/01/one-hundred-years-is-not-enough.html )
Re the comment on 26.
The problem is, really, the microbes and their effort to defeat us on carbon sequestering.
The microbe problem just gets worse the longer we wait, because more carbon is coming into the land system. The issue is getting enough carbon out to get down to some cold point that stops other carbon sources, mainly from the ocean.
The evidence of carbon movement during the deglaciation indicates to me that the ocean is likely still producing net carbon. If the ocean is still a net producer, then you start a losing game of just keeping our head above water, until you drop co2 levels to a point that stops net ocean production.
If we just let carbon pile up on land, even if our emissions are zero, then, over time, we have a diminishing capacity to find new places for carbon and you just accumulate fuel at high temperatures making the microbe problem worse.
I visited Lascaux II (so-called because it is a copy of the original) for the first time last week. Anyone wishing to visit should do so on a cold mid-week March day : the only other visitors were balding types like me and groups of very well behaved school children.
Very puzzling/shocking/instructive cave paintings clearly executed by a well organised and civilised society with time on its hands. Given that the paintings were completed at the time of the last glacial maximum (or thereabouts)they are also a record of the times.
One needs to know that Europe was steppe and tundra in order to start understanding the cave paintings.
tom brogle says
Direct temperature readings of stations that are unaffected by adjacent buildings don’t show any warming at all.
The total temperature rise is about 1 degree centigrade.
Tests that I have carried out in my locality show that it is quite easy to get a 1 degree or more differnce.
On the wall of a centrally heated building 5.2
12 ft away above flower bed 4.2
Town centre 500 yds away 5.5
field 500 yds in opposite direction 3.8
There was a light wind blowing towards the town centre from the field.
The area is 10 miles from the centre of a large conurbation.
If the the temperature changes so much over such short distances would not any new building in in the environs of a station cause it’s to rise. Since most towns annd cities have expanded over over the last 100 years and most stations are near to built up areas it is no wonder the surface temperature shows an increase in the last 100 yrs.
Don’t tell me that the Sea Surface Temperatures confirm 100 years of warming they don’t according to Graham Jackson in the comments to “Happy Birthday Charles Darwin ” which should not need reapeating here.
[Response: Despite the fact that you persist in your erroneous conclusions about UHI, you bring up a key point that might underlie your misconceptions. You have correctly noted that the absolute surface temperature varies enormously on very short distances as a function of the terrain (something that is true for rural as well as urban environments). However, temperature anomalies are much better correlated over large distances, and this is why the global mean temperature calculations use local anomalies not absolute temperatures. (See ‘The Elusive Absolute Surface Temperature” for more details). Had you kept your different thermometers in place for a while you would have noticed that.- gavin]
#29, Crichton is an author of fiction AND non-fiction and he has an M.D. So?
You are a computer wiz. So?
I am just a housewife who is married to a scientist who happens to be an environmental geologist. So?
[irrelevant off-topic stuff deleted…]
[Response: This blog tries to keep discussions focussed and with a reasonably high signal to noise ratio. Each time that a comment thread degenerates into tired old arguments that are off-topic and that just provoke a wave of extremely predictable point and counter-point we lose an opportunity to actually have any communication. I have my doubts as to whether you are actually interested in communication at all (but try and surprise me), and so don’t be surprised that obvious trolls don’t get make it past the filters. -gavin]
David B. Benson says
Eachran’s #31 reminds me where others of us might see climate related cave art pictures, together with an interpretation of this work by a highly capable archaeologist who writes well:
“The nature of paleolithic art”
University of Chicago Press, 2005.
Post 34. Thanks David I shall read.
This is, of course, well-known.
You are measuring intensity, not extent. You want extent.
The literature is rich with empirical evidence on this topic. Should you choose to visit a good Uni library, do check out the literature. Another hint: you want to know where the GHCN stations are sited wrt your conurbation (that is: are they shielded from the UHI? the literature will tell you).
Stephen Berg says
Re: the UHI, take a look at David Parker’s study summary in one of the November 2004 “Nature” issues. (The study is also to be published in “Journal of Climate” at a later date, as it is currently “in press.”) His results show no significant difference in the temperature record from urban stations to rural stations.
Steve Bloom says
Re #15: Please, please, please check your sources before posting things that an easy check will show to be untrue. You wrote: “Singer, Lindzen, Michaels, etc. have credentials as good as any on this site. Why then do so many ridicule their positions?”
Later (in #28) you wrote: “None of them can deny the temp. data or the demonstrable greenhouse theory and they now agree that GW is happening. They argue that there are too many holes in existing knowledge to extract the man-made part and so predict the future. They then predict the future anyhow and say that they expect past warming trends to continue at the rate of about 0.17C/decade.”
As briefly as possible, here’s why they are ridiculed and a few details as to how you mischaracterized them and their views:
Pat Michaels: The .17C/decade temp increase prediction (leading to the TAR low-end projection for 2100) is Pat only. He has no calculation to support this other than a straight-line projection of the current rate; i.e., it’s supposition rather than science. Note that things don’t look so good for a 1999 prediction of Pat’s: http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2005/05/yet-more-betting-on-climate-with-world.html . Predictions aside, Pat has been caught fabricating things on his coal industry-funded World Climate Report site more times than I can count; see the comments under the recent Greenland post on this site for details of the latest example. He also lied to Congress about Jim Hansen’s prior testimony. In terms of qualifications, Pat does have some (i.e., a relevant degree), but when it comes to what really counts (publications that have broken new ground and stood the test of time) he compares poorly to the RC authors. Publication lists can be obtained through Google Scholar, while their quality can be broadly judged by looking at citations.
Fred Singer: He has been and remains a pure denialist: http://www.sepp.org/keyissue.html . Notice that on the same page he has many other “scientific” conclusions that just happen to be extremely convenient for the short-term profits of the industries that support him. He was at one time a respected scientist, but a look at his publications for the last ten years show only what amount to anti-AGW opinion pieces (which the journals were still willing to publish until recently) and co-authorship of a couple of papers based on the faulty assumption that the now-discredited UAH MSU satellite was correct.
Lindzen is a little more complex, and unlike Michaels and Singer it is not at all clear that his views are conditioned on payments from the fossil fuel industry. He has done much good science in the past and is unquestionably a real climate scientist, but seems to have “gone emeritus” on the global warming issue. See https://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=222 for a recent thorough discussion. Note that Lindzen’s current (and I believe for some years now) temp prediction is .5C for doubled CO2, which doesn’t translate directly into Michaels’ figure but is clearly substantially lower.
There’s lots more, but that should be sufficient.
[Response: I would add to this that there is a real disconnect between Lindzen’s activist testimony on climate change (as typified by the House of Lords testimony) and his actual peer-reviewed scientific work on the subject. There is actually very little of the latter, and none of it has stood the test of time. Aside from a very little work on estimating climate sensitivity from response to volcanic eruptions, the only two real papers on climate change are the 1990 BAMS paper on a possible mechanism for negative water vapor feedback, and the more recent BAMS article on the “Iris” mechanism. He has some earlier general papers on climate change and ice ages, but none of them has been especially influential in the field. His “big hits” were his early work on atmospheric tides (truly superb stuff), his work with Holton on the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation (also very nice) and on the role of gravity wave drag in mesospheric wind structure. Back when I was a graduate student, he wasted about a decade on a fanciful and largely mathematically pointless “over-reflection” re-interpretation of hydrodynamic stability theory. Still, because some of his ideas have proved to be very good in the past, his work, unlike that of Michaels or Singer which hardly even pretends to be science, gets serious attention among climate scientists. The mechanism proposed in the BAMS water vapor article was very carefully studied and does not hold up; I don’t think even Dick subscribes to it anymore, though sometimes it’s hard to tell. The Iris paper gives an idea worth thinking about, but the support for it given in the paper is very weak and subsequent research failed to turn up any particularly strong support for the idea. I do think that, even though the Iris mechanism is probably wrong, the paper is a good addition to the literature because it will help stimulate some serious thinking about the very difficult issue of cloud fraction. That point could have been better made without all the ill-supported baggage concerning how it’s a global warming killer (amplified all out of proportion by people like Lomborg), but on the whole I think work like that is a net plus. So, when Lindzen has something scientifically interesting to say, scientists do listen. His activism,though, mostly just trades off his general reputation to make claims that are unsupportable from any of his or others’ research –raypierre]
Richard Simons says
WRT Michael Crichton’s scientific credentials –
I have given undergraduate students an extract from one of his other books to see if they could find the five blunders on the one page. His books may be entertaining but they are not a reliable guide to science.
Paul Dougherty says
Re:39 Please, please, please be very careful before you accuse someone of making untrue statements.
You do nothing to show that my statement that they have proper credentials is untrue rather you go on to confirm it. Opinions are not credentials. Because you feel that they have gone over to the Dark Side does not mean that they have lost their credentials and are not qualified to have legitimate opinions on the science. For those interested here is something about their backgrounds.
Michaels …. http://www.cato.org/people/michaels.html
Singer ……… http://www.sepp.org/bios/singer/biosfs.html
Singer said in a PBS interview, “I have no doubt that an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should lead to some increase in global temperatures. The question is: How much?” Indeed he does not quantify and if he did his statements indicate that the number would be very small. You agree that the 0.17C/ dec. can be attributed to Michaels. As far as Lindzen is concerned, I will have to dig to find the lecture where he gave that. I would like to mention, however, that the IPCC projections are based on “scenarios” which I believe are not the same thing as the CO2 sensitivity that you quoted. Is that correct? But quantities are not the point of my posts; the fact that they agree that GW is happening is the whole point.
For those of us who are trying to translate climate science into political action and also for the public at large, the credentials of an “expert’ are what counts not the “correctness” of his viewpoints. That is why such scientists are constantly testifying before some group particularly when those groups want balance. Would you rather that they listened to Crichton and Gelbspan?
I mentioned above that these three loose credibility when they mock the motives of those who disagree with them, which they have done. When you use phrases like “the short term profits of the industries that support him”, and “payments from the fossil fuel industry”, in my opinion you join them.
David B. Benson says
Re #41, #39 —
The last paragraph by Paul Dougherty in #41 is worth rereading. While we all can easily become angry and attribute motives, until one is quite sure, it is best not to attack. Even when one is quite sure about motives, it may still be best not to attack. Stick to the sound science. Thanks and I do enjoy reading Steve Bloom’s comments.
Stephen Berg says
Re: #41, “Singer said in a PBS interview, ‘I have no doubt that an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should lead to some increase in global temperatures. The question is: How much?'”
Singer’s comments inject exactly what he wants into the “debate”: uncertainty, when in fact there is little.
There are many models used by the IPCC which are indicating the same thing, all dependent on the levels of emissions of GHGs. For each scenario, there are different results. For each “business-as-usual” scenario, we run the risk of a multi-degree increase over the next century.
However, if we decrease our GHG emissions by several percent, the models indicate a slower rate of temperature increase. A decrease in GHG emissions by a few tens of percents (i.e. 30-50, even 70%) would greatly decrease the rate of temperature increase, bringing us close to stabilising the rise and making it possible to recover.
Singer’s statements do nothing good. They allow for people to become even more ignorant of the facts and continue with the damaging “business-as-usual” scenario that will lead to the extinction of millions of species and the mass destabilisation of the human race (i.e. that millions, even a half-billion people would have to migrate far from areas near sea level).
Also, a comparison between Crichton and Gelbspan is completely unfair. Crichton’s writings are all FICTION, while Gelbspan’s are all NON-FICTION! Gelbspan reports the science in a way that the layman can understand, which is a necessity in this highly urgent matter.
Paul, did you know that Michael Crichton was asked to testify before a senate committee on GW issues? And that George Bush has consulted with him in the Whitehouse?
In general your points are well taken, but I thought this was worth mentioning. WRT balance, I don’t think any lay audience is well served by hearing a “balance” between a widespread consensus on one hand and an extreme outlying view on one side of that consensus on the other. Perhaps if they heard the mainstream, heard Michaels or Lindzen and then also heard from James Lovelock.
Look at the difference in “CVs” of Lindzen vs the other two. See any difference?
Context is important, and when we talk about ‘credible’ (there’s a value-laden term oft employed by some) we generally mean ’empirical work in published, peer-reviewed (there’s a dirty term oft employed by some), as in Lindzen, not polemics as in Michaels (Satanic Gases) or Singer. I also note a certain think-tank has no scientific papers in it’s fellows’ CV (I wonder why…hmmm…).
Steve Bloom says
Re #41: At a certain point, if a scientist makes numerous errors with a certain policy bias, gets caught out and is unable to adequately defend the errors against criticisms by other scientists, but then persists in continuing to make similar errors with the same bias, one is entitled to wonder what’s going on. When that scientist (referring to Michaels and Singer) also receives major support from the fossil fuel industry, it is in no way ad hominem to put two and two together.
As Dano pointed out, it’s also the case that a comparison of the publications, and in particular recent publications, by most of the RC authors makes Singer, Michaels and even Lindzen not look very good. When one considers the influence of those publications (which can be checked in a broad sense by tracking the citations and looking at review articles), the comparison becomes even more lopsided. Maybe to you “credentials” means just a degree rather than a characterization of the value of the work someone does using their degree, but I believe most scientists think otherwise.
Recall that in #28 you said “unfortunately they spend too much time mocking the motives of others who see a more drastic outcome. I imagine that is why they have lost so much respect…” I disagree. One can probably get away with quite a bit of mockery if one is doing good science (although I can’t say I can think of any very extreme case of this in the climate field, probably because the science tends to occupy the time needed for effective mockery.) The clear problem with Singer, Michaels and Lindzen is simply that they have spent too much time being wrong.
Re #42: Thanks for the compliment, and I hope the foregoing explains my views a bit better.
Re #44: Somehow I think ExxonMobil is unlikely to finance a speaking tour for Lovelock.
Tom Fiddaman says
Re Lindzen – Michaels – Singer
It just happens that I recently spent some time playing with the TouchGraph GoogleBrowser, which I highly recommend as a time sink, and generated a bunch of plots of link relationships among climate sites. Its best to play with it yourself, but I think it’s fairly evident that Lindzen for the most part moves in different circles than Michaels and Singer.
Gavin, your approach is nasty. If you are ignorant in arts and iconography, I suggest you to study the subject and not to mock. Paintings are considered important source of information in studies of periods with limited and fragmentary data. In (historical) research data are always fragmentary and always highlights certain aspects, so one tries to combine sources and contexts to reach the reality. But at the end, we just have patterns of the truth, which also may vary. Natural scientific data on climate also vary a lot… One cm of peat does not tell you more than one painting, or does it?…You have to be experienced in “reading” and “understanding” pictorial evidence.
With best wishes
[Response: Nasty? That is not appropriate language. All I am saying is that context is important and that sometimes the most obvious ‘reading’ is not always valid. This is as true for peat measurments as it is for art. -gavin]
Paul Dougherty says
Re: #43 Crichton and Gelbspan share a commonality in being writers not climate scientists. Also Crichton has written non-fiction on climate science which is why he is not ignored and upsets many on this thread.
Re: #44 I did not know that Crichton was consulted by the White House and the Senate. However it is not surprising and merely confirms the gross incompetence exhibited by those two every day.
Re; #45 and #46. You are probably right on the relative competencies of the individuals concerned. But peer quality does not count like qualifications do before decision making bodies. They reserve judgments of quality for themselves. Think of expert witnesses before the courts. Some of the biggest boobs in the world make a living on being treated well by courts while some of the most astute are often rejected because of some flaw in their credentials. None of us invented human relationships but we all must deal with them.
My original point in all of this was to promote a ground where all visible parties in the profession agreed. It is there but that recognition is as far as the project goes. Someday in the distant future perhaps but in the meantime we shall muddle through. Straightening out Iraq may be easier.
Stephen Berg says
Re: #49, “Also Crichton has written non-fiction on climate science”
Can you give us any examples? I’m sure RC can rebut anything Crichton has written.
“My original point in all of this was to promote a ground where all visible parties in the profession agreed. It is there but that recognition is as far as the project goes. Someday in the distant future perhaps but in the meantime we shall muddle through. Straightening out Iraq may be easier.”
What? The vast majority of educated people believe climate change is happening, is primarily man-made, and that it has the potential to make this planet uninhabitable for millions of species including many of our own in the future.
The vast majority believe it was good to get Saddam out of power in Iraq, though the methods used were far more questionable. (I won’t ramble any more about Iraq, since this is not the place for it.)
There are technologies available to curb GHG emissions. However, they are not being employed to the extent necessary to help preserve our planet, possibly due to governments buckling under the pressure of industry and the thought that ending coal-fired power plants would lead to coal miners being unemployed for the rest of their lives, leaving a blemish in the political lives of policymakers, rendering them incapable of being re-elected.