Last week, the European Geophysical Union held its annual general assembly, with thousands of geophysicists converging on the city of Vienna, Austria. It was time to take the pulse of the geophysical community.
When registering at the conference, we got a packet called ‘Planet Earth; Directions for Use’. As far as I know, this is a new feature apparently offered by the EGU. The box says ‘EGU cares…’ and it contains 4 sheets: Biosphere, Hydrosphere, Litho- and Pedosphere, and the Atmosphere. The Biosphere sheet is concerned about the biodiversity, the hydropshere discusses water shortage and loss of marshland issues, the litho- & pedosphere mentions the fact that fossil fuels are finite and soil erosion, and the atmosphere discusses AGW.
Of course this is a gimmick, and perhaps it is even aimed at the wrong target group. These issues are more or less taken as given by the majority of the EGU community by now, it seems. It’s more pressing, however, that the rest of the world population understand the problems.
Actually, it was refreshing arriving at the harbor of sanity in the EGU meeting, after the the insane climate-change debate circus in Norway at the moment – lead by a number of academics who start to look more and more like crack pots, and a right-wing populist political party taking after Inhofe.
What were the highlights? It’s impossible to cover everything, and I only sampled some talks which are most relevant to my own work. But one important talk was about setting the global climate models’ initial state (ocean) to describe the current climate. The intention was to capture subsequent slow natural variations (decadal variation) associated with the thermohaline circulation (THC, not to be confused with other meanings according to a recent article in Eos: VOLUME 89 NUMBER 11 11 March 2008).
Apparently, if the global climate model is initialized with the current state, then the global mean temperature may not rise much over the next decade or so, and then suddenly bounce up and converge with the current scenarios. But some critiques argue that forcing models to have a prescribed state, will trow them off balance, and that the model will try to recover its balance for the next few model years.
Another presentation discussed the possibility for slow climatic variations to be predicted 10 years in advance (potential decadal predictability), and concluded that there is a potential for over the North Atlantic regions – associated with the THC. But an increasing AGW may destroy this possibility, as the predictability reduces when the world gets warmer.
There are some interesting and newish data coming of age: radio occultation. This involves measuring the bending of GPS signal through the atmospheric limb, as measured between different satellites. The atmospheric temperature and humidity affect radio signals refractive index. But there is only short data series (~10 years), but so far the temperature trends are consistent with the models for similar intervals. But these are independent to the satellite MSU data, and do not suffer in the same way from differences between satellite instruments, etc.
My personal favourite this time was a talk on ‘recurrence based transition analysis’. The presentation was subtly slick and so nicely executed that it can only be done on a Mac. The talk was very clear, no excess number of words, and to the point.
There were many good talks, but some common mistakes. Well, at least I’m a bit slow when having attended a few dozen presentations, so presenters speaking fast or too crowded Powerpoint slides risk losing me. There is supposed to be a golden rule called ‘Seven by seven’: no more than seven bullet points, consisting of no more than 7 words! And one should speak slowly and repeat the important points.
So what did people talk about? What was ‘The buzz-word’? There was no obvious paradigm shift, and I didn’t catch one single theme that was the vogue of the day, but there were some issues that kept popping up: decadal predictability, cryosphere and the polar regions, model ensembles and probabilities, regional modelling and extremes.
What I find striking with such monster conferences is the sheer scale of diversity in terms of geo-subjects that people study. There were rows upon rows of posters in several large rooms, in addition to the talks.
There seems to be a great secret of Powerpointerism: the programmers at Microsoft designed a right mouse click option to show a presentation straight away without showing the subsequent page. There is a systematic neglect of this functionality, so that the Microsoft guys must have implemented this one in vain.
The best quote that i heard on this conference was: ‘A trend is a trend is a trend …’. In other words, there is no definite definition of a trend, at least not to statisticians who like to use more complex lagged correlation models. Something to bear in mind for those who fit linear lines to data points – in order to study trends – and then use the goodness of fit to say whether the trend is ‘significant’ or not.
Another bad habit is showing latitudinal profiles of zonal mean values as if the points at high latitudes are equal to those near the equator. What they really compare are oranges and apples, as the low latitude zonal means involve higher degrees of freedom than at high latitudes. I have explained this in more technical details in a GRL article from 2005, but such graphs can be found even the latest IPCC report. Though it may be a minor point, it makes models look worse than they actually are, as part of the spread towards the poles can be attributed increasing statistical fluctuations when the number of degrees becomes less. Thus, the results would stand stronger taking this aspect into account.
I was pleased to hear that some colleagues in the German weather service sometimes use RealClimate for inspiration to their monthly seminars. What was more unexpected, however, was being met with a slide showing ‘Naturally Trendy?‘ on a session that I had been invited to give a talk.
Furthermore, it turned out that Cohn and Koutsoyiannis, one of them the author of the very paper that I had criticized, sat down next to me. We nevertheless had a very civilized and friendly chat, deciding to disagree on the matter of natural trends.
But Dr. Koutsoyiannis commended us for being respectful in our reply to his comments. I think this is a very important issue – we have to be respectful, sincere, and show courtesy in our criticism, even when we argue why we think that a paper has flaws. This brings us back to the discussion on blogs and journals.
I think that we have built up a reputation only because we deliver relevant quality analysis. We are very much aware that we some day may be mistaken, so it’s important to be humble and check our drafts amongst ourselves. But when a question was asked about the importance of blogs like RealClimate in the session, the answer was that they were good entertainment.
Vienna is a pleasant city with many pretty sights. The only annoying thing is that one often has to breathe in local pollution from the next table when dining in restaurants. Austria is one of the few western European countries that has not introduced a smoking ban in restaurants it seems.
75 Responses to "Impressions from the European Geophysical Union conference 2008"
David Wilson says
this is the second report from the conference-circuit front-lines that I can remember here recently, all very well I guess … if only it were as simple as having smoking banned in restaurants
I was coming through Rio today in a taxi, the air in Rio is about as bad as it gets, maybe Beijing is worse, can’t say, haven’t been there, there is no taxi smoking-law in Rio yet but there are restaurant smoking-laws, one has to wonder though, the driver and I talked it over, yes, maybe better priorities could be established eh?
the up-side of these reports is that they are open and forthright, good on y’all.
Ray Ladbury says
Rasmus, Thanks for the update. I was at a meeting last week as well–one featuring lots of electrical engineers who don’t seem quite able to understand climate change. Thus, I envy your island of sanity.
On the subject of courtesy, I enthusiastically agree that professional courtesy is essential to progress in science. However, scientific progress also requires sincerity of the participants, and when it comes to all the wannabe scientists, trolls and shills, I’m not sure how much civility is humanly possible. It is sad that politics have so poisoned the debate that people refuse to look at the evidence.
Joel Shore says
Thanks for the summary.
Re: setting the GCMs initial state to describe the current climate, was this essentially what was done in that recent paper by the Hadley group and how does the current prediction compare with what they were predicting? (As I recall, they were forecasting little warming for a few years but then considerable warming again after 2009?)
Also, is there good enough data on the ocean state going back 10 or 20 years so that the question about whether this approach is sensible can be studied by seeing how well it would have forecast past decades?
Peter McGrath says
Please kick whoever said blogs like RealClimate were ‘entertainment’. RC gives someone like myself access a well-informed explanation of what’s going on in climate science rather than relying on the media. It’s a valuable service.
Blogs like RealClimate might be ‘good entertainment’ for scientists, for the public it is almost the only way to get good and recent information about scientific issues. The importance of directly informing the public should not be underestimated.
Great summary, thanks.
about “powerpointerism”, there also seemed to be a problem with the laser pointer: nobody seemed able to make it through their presentation without mistaking at least once the laser button with the “next slide” button …
Pat N says
I agree, realclimate is almost the only way one to get good and recent information about climate science issues and that it’s important to directly inform the public.
Some other ways to make that are environmental groups, other blogs and through weather-water-climate agency offices who deal with local media and the public (124 local National Weather Service offices in the U.S.). The new administration next year should revamp NWS staffs to make them do what should be doing – informing the public about weather-water-climate.
John Mashey says
Well, as for PowerPoint, how many words and such really depends on the audience, and I’ll take good graphs over words any time, as marketing-rules Powerpoint has incredibly low information density. Edward Tufte is not fond of such, and his book “Beautiful Evidence” has a great chapter “The Congnitive Style of Powerpoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within”.
It is always cautionary to read the classic Gettysburg Address in Powerpoint.
[Response: That’s hilarious. Thanks! – gavin]
Barton Paul Levenson says
You probably meant the “sheer scale?” The “shear scale” has to do with wind behavior.
[Response: You are right! Corrected. Thanks! -rasmus]
Re: 3 I think that if you go back further than about 10 years there are lots of problems with the ocean temperature data at depth, due to issues with the data from XBTs (Expendable bathy thermographs), and false trends introduced due to changes in the way that the data was collected from those instruments.
It’s true that there would be some extent of the model drifting from an analysis to its preferred state, but such a problem is surely one that weather forecasters have had to deal with using atmosphere models, and the Met Office produces ocean forecasts, at depth, too, so would have some experience of that issue in an ocean context.
I suppose the main issue is whether the biases in your model are so large that the drift would overwhelm the extra information you gain by having an accurate initialisation. I assume they have tested this by looking at the hindcast results.
Hank Roberts says
> Re: setting the GCMs initial state to describe
> the current climate
I’d guess people have also tried setting a GCM initial state to describe the climate as it was a decade ago, or two decades ago — is there the same distortion on the first decade after any such point in time?
“Another presentation discussed the possibility for slow climatic variations to be predicted 10 years in advance (potential decadal predictability), and concluded that there is a potential for over the North Atlantic regions – associated with the THC.”
Is there a word missing after “there is a potential”?
Geoff Wexler says
” The best quote that i heard on this conference was: ‘A trend is a trend is a trend'”
Is it possible to expand on this please? Tamino’s web site discusses autocorrelation and linear trends and considers insignificant linear fits of about a decade. I am wondering whether your version amounts to something different from Tamino’s?
Philip Machanick says
Another little typo: “radio signals refractive index” should be “radio signals’ refractive index” (missing apostrophe).
Nice article. PowerPoint has its weaknesses but I have yet to see the equivalent of the speaker who brings a pile of 100 or so transparencies to a talk and shuffles his way through them in a random order (which I saw more than once in the overhead projector era).
The GPS thing is pretty interesting because there has to be good science in interpreting distortions in positioning arising from a variety of causes, to get the sort of positioning accuracy you can get in a device costing a few dollars. This is a relatively venerable area (if not as old as climate science) and it’s nice to see a new application.
Lynn Vincentnathan says
RE “low latitude zonal means involve higher degrees of freedom than at high latitudes”
Is that because there’s less distance around the world at higher latitudes and more at lower latitudes?
Or because there’s less distance around the world at higher latitudes, the higher latitudes are moving slower than the lower latitudes?
Lynn Vincentnathan says
RE PowerPoint, I read somewhere that a space shuttle disaster may have been due to PowerPoint — it was a news article (perhaps in NYT)….the gist was that putting very complex technical info into a simplistic form loses something.
“Actually, it was refreshing arriving at the harbor of sanity in the EGU meeting, after the the insane climate-change debate circus in Norway at the moment – lead by a number of academics who start to look more and more like crack pots, and a right-wing populist political party taking after Inhofe.”
Wow, such stunning rebuttal of the skeptics arguments. Oh wait, you didn’t even bother to address them. Its no wonder you folks can’t win the argument over global warming, if this were a Jr. High playground you might stand a chance with that type of argument.
[Response: Not rebuttal – but an expression of frustration over the rhetorics and slick debating-tricks used ( a political party now sets the framing, so you can imagine). I have dealt with all the rebuttals elsewhere, but most are also covered in RC over the time. -rasmus]
John Mashey says
re #16 Lynn
Tufte covers that in pp 162-168 of the afore-mentioned book, referring indeed to NY Times story. In any case, you can read the essay itself, “Powerpoint does rocket science”, an even more cautionary tale.
BTW, Tufte’s one-day course, at $380 (but including all 4 lovely books) is well worth it. he does about a week/month of talks spread around the US.
Martin Vermeer says
Re #16 Lynn: yes, that was work by Edward Tufte, referenced by John Mashey above. Find it on http://www.edwardtufte.com. It really is worth a read.
IMHO (but I’m biased) PowerPoint exemplifies everything that’s wrong with the world — in relation to science, that is. But then I fundamentally distrust any science not published in (La)TeX :-)
Martin Vermeer says
Re #15 Lynn: I think the former. There’s just more space around the equator to put in “stuff” that may vary, and needs to be described by variables.
E.g., the zone between 5S and 5N may contain twice the number of individual weather systems of a given size, compared to the zone between 55N and 65N. So when averaging, you do so over more “items” in the former case.
That’s how I understand it.
On the subject of EGU, there is this abstract
http://www.cosis.net/abstracts/EGU2008/11414/EGU2008-A-11414-1.pdf?PHPSESSID=c0ae24c54d concerning the discrepancy in the last 4-years sea-level trends.
What do you think about this?
And, for you, “Is there a missing heat mystery” or not?
pete best says
Sunspots and AGW: All i am hearing at the moment is the recent temperature drop in the last 12 months being linked to Sunspot activity (well the lack of it in fact) and hence the coming Ice Age. I knows that Svensmark has done some work in this area and that RC did a peice on it and showed it to be unlikely to be correct and even though astronomers and the GCR record shows no increase in cosmic rays over 50 years peopel talk about the magnetic field between the earth and the sun and the UV light. Can’t we ever lay this one to rest. I thought that the unusually cold 2007/2007 NH winter was due to el nina / la nino cycle?
Jim Eager says
Re cbone @ 17:
A large number of specific in-depth rebuttals to ‘skeptic’ pet arguments can be found in numerous other posts here. Your post is a truly classic example of the shallow drive-by throw-away worthy of the schoolyard.
Nathan Stone says
“Apparently, if the global climate model is initialized with the current state, then the global mean temperature may not rise much over the next decade or so, and then suddenly bounce up and converge with the current scenarios.”
Is that a possible explanation for why temps aren’t currently rising? What’s the leading theory on this past cool winter (Southern Hemisphere especially), where did the atmospheric heat go? The oceans? Space? Was it possibly transferred to the oceans by melting the Arctic ice last summer? Obviously it had to go somewhere. Where?
By the way, I love Real Climate, it’s more informative than you could imagine.
Red Etin says
“the insane climate-change debate circus in Norway at the moment – lead by a number of academics who start to look more and more like crack pots”
[Response: Reference: Rasmus Benestad. This is an observation and an assessment that I’ve made. In the recent weeks, a professor in welding – Fred Goldberg – has been presented as a ‘climate expert’ (there is a curious deSmogBlog entry about him), there is a biologists who thinks it’s the surface air pressure that is responsible for the greenhouse gas (and certainly not CO2), and we have a geochemist who thinks the ocean is a bottle of fizzy drink and talks about the ‘gas of life’… The second largest political party (populist right) has implied that the IPCC is a fraud, and that they cannot believe ‘scientists’ but only ‘experts’. The list goes on… If you can read Norwegian, then it’s just to look it up on the online news on the Internet -rasmus]
Nathan Stone wrote: “Is that a possible explanation for why temps aren’t currently rising?”
Who says that temperatures aren’t currently rising?
Sounds pretty warm to me.
Then there’s this:
And about that methane:
Steve Reynolds says
SecularAnimist> Who says that temperatures aren’t currently rising?
>Last month was the warmest March on record over land surfaces of the world and the second warmest overall worldwide …
Since ten years is not a long enough record for a trend, how does that work for one month?
Your sources do not seem to be showing much credibility…
Steve Reynolds says
an ice age cometh?
My guess is this is pretty unlikely, but given consequences likely much worse than warming, how much concern should there be?
I’m interested in the opinion of the professionals here on the chances (assuming there is a significant change) of relative likelihood of cooling vs. warming.
10% to 90%?
Hank Roberts says
“… It must be noted that if the warming trend of 2008 continues for another 20 years, the oceans will boil….”
re: 27. “Since ten years is not a long enough record for a trend, how does that work for one month?”
It certainly doesn’t. But funny, that’s not what all the skeptics were saying about the supposed average drop in January’s temperature just a few short weeks ago. They were all clamoring over the one month drop in temperature, claiming it was proof that global warming had ceased. Ah, but as soon as a warm month (March) comes along, they are quickly back on the “one month does not make a trend” theme. Looks like we have a new definition of hypocrisy from the anti-science skeptics, twisting the data as they see fit. Not surprising of course.
Nathan Stone says
Since the oceans hold far more heat energy than the atmosphere, I’m not sure how the fact that the ocean temp was the 13 warmest on record can indicate a warming trend. When something is cooler than it once was, we say it went through a cooling trend, not awarming trend, correct? For any warming to take place there must be an increase in the contained energy of the entire earth system. An ocean which is cooler than it once was has lost energy my friend. Pretty basic thermodynamics. Obviously the Earth is not currently warming.
Rod B says
SecularAnimist (26), “current” as in current temperature, is a pretty loose term. What you say about temperature trends rising (in the context you say it) is true. But the fact remains that this past decade (only) has cooled including a humongous drop over 2007. I understand the assertion that this is just a noise/anomaly in the continuing variation in temperature and likely (my word) to be smoothed out in the future while the upward trend continues. All well and good. But I do not think it ought to be completely discarded as a nothing event. It’s not a nothing event! Even if not majorly (??) significant, the global warming theory ought to have/get some explanation for it, even if loose. And in any case not be oblivious to it.
Rod B says
Dan (30) you just have it backwards — and wrong. The skeptics have been (over-…. maybe) ballyhooing the decade long cooling trend and the one year (2007) super drop to which you protagonists pooh-pooh as meaningless. Then you guys (you, Hank (29) and SecularAnimist, e.g. — in this very thread) are the ones sounding the trumpets for a one month rise.
Barton Paul Levenson says
Nathan Stone writes:
All the international bodies measuring temperature records seem to disagree with you.
Off topic, but can anyone direct me to a good rebuttal of this list.
I know its bogus, but I ain’t got the time to take it apart.
[Response: It seems to tell us that ther eare some scholars who are not convinced about AGW. Not a surprise. What matters are the observations, scientific arguments, and logic. -rasmus]
Nathan Stone says
I think atmospheric temps are a poor indicator of warming/cooling. The oceans hold the vast majority of the heat, so if the ocean isn’t steadily warming (for example, if last year the ocean was the thirteenth warmest on record, instead of THE warmest on record) then there was no warming in the recent past. I’m not saying there has been no warming in the last 20 years, or the last 100 years, I’m simply saying that if the ocean is cooler at the present time than at some prior time, then there is no warming, but in fact a cooling, between those specific times. Now it may be that the heat was transferred in melting the arctic ice over the past few years, I don’t know. Since there was a state change in massive amounts of ice from solid to liquid, some of the heat energy was used in this state change which would not cause a proportional increase in water temps, such as would occur if the equivalent energy were added to liquid water. That leads me back to my original question, what is the prevailing theory on where the heat went?
I am not a climate scientist, but I am an engineer well versed in thermodynamics and heat transfer, so please don’t take the position that I’m unable to understand because of the complexity of the situation.
re: 33. Wrong Rod. My reference was to the January average temperature drop, as discussed as length here at RC and elsewhere. That one-month “drop” was taken completely out of context by skeptics/denialists when they tried to compare that with the long-term trend. In fact, some skeptics actually referred to the UN news story and turned it around to say that it had “wiped out” long-term warming, even though the story specifically warned about short-term variation. It was not in reference to the tired mantra of the anti-science skeptics that warming had ceased since 1998 (cherry-picking the data and completely ignoring the very strong El Nino that year). I don’t speak for others here (I suggest you follow suit)and I never sounded any “trumpet” for a one-month rise. Quite the contrary. Please do not attribute things to me that I did not say or attempt to twist my words. Let me quote what I wrote regarding how if “ten years is not a long enough record for a trend, how does that work for one month?”: “It certainly doesn’t.” Anyone who has taken a basic statistics class would know that a one-month rise or fall is not likely to be significant in the long-term.
You missed my entire point. It is hypocritical of those that (erroneously of course, whether on purpose or not) used that one-month drop in January to cry out that long-term warming had ceased but then, to them, when there was a warming in March, a one-month rise was not as noteworthy. The fact is both months were short-term variations that do not mean much in the long-term. But the skeptics just looked at January’s cooling to fit their pre-conceived, unscientific notions. They could not even be consistent in how they erroneously applied their interpretation of data and statistics. Thus the hypocrisy. They used one-month (January) and “pooh-poohed” (to use your term) another (March). Yet both are incorrect usage. Skeptics seem to be great at abusing statistics.
BTW, I am not a “protagonist” re: AGW. I do look at the science. And the data and the peer-reviewed analyses and studies to interpret the trends. They speak out loud and clear.
Thomas Lee Elifritz says
That leads me back to my original question, what is the prevailing theory on where the heat went?
Think it through, you can do it. It either has to be radiated away into space, or absorbed into the cold deep ocean, where we have very few actual thermometers, and lots of cold water to buffer our obvious heat gain, along with all that ice at the poles, of course.
I see we’ve just turned the corner on arctic ice :
Ray Ladbury says
Nathan, I’m not sure what you mean when you say that the oceans “hold” the majority of “heat”. The temperature of the deep oceans is remarkably stable below the mixing layer, and the timescale for mixing is quite long compared to timescales of atmospheric circulation. Yes, the oceans can serve as a heat reservoir–that’s one of the causes of short-term variability. However, as the oceans warm, they lose their ability to hold CO2, and that feeds back to climate.
I’m afraid I really do not understand the mix of hysteria and celebration among the denialists over a couple of years being cooler than, say, a very warm 2005 or 1998. We are still losing ice. We are still a whole lot warmer than 2 decades ago, and there’s certianly no compelling evidence that the physics has changed fundamentally.
Ray Ladbury says
Upon a quick perusal, the list rebuts itself. How many of these guys are actual climate scientists? Of those, how many of them have actually published a paper on climate science in a refereed science journal within the past 5 years? That brings the number down to a quite-manageable level.
It’s satire, making fun of a particular article. The article says, “it must be noted that the cooling in 2007 was even faster than in typical glacial transitions. If it continued for 20 years, the temperature would be 14C cooler in 2027.” So the response (which actually includes more than one month) is a mocking “it must be noted that if the warming trend of 2008 continues for another 20 years, the oceans will boil.”
I personally think it’s foolish to look for trends in anything less than 15 years of data – maybe more, like 30. Anything less than that gets dominated by noise, particularly ENSO. What do you think?
Arch Stanton says
The short answer is many of them are not scientists, most of them have little to do with climatology, and some of them don’t know how they got on the list and don’t want to be there.
See Eli’s and associated links for a good time.
Thanks for the Siberian Methane story, in the context of current ice conditions in the Arctic, that’s disturbing. I’m now at the stage where
Hank Roberts says
Nathan, you’re confusing surface with volume; it’s the surface of the ocean that changes temperature so rapidly with ENSO, not “the ocean” that’s cooler.
Compare the total mass of the floating sea ice with the total ocean volume.
Hank Roberts says
Nathan, also, #36
Hank Roberts says
Abandalast — type the word
into the Search box at the top of the page to find what you’re asking for.
Richard Ordway says
Re 22 Pete Best. >
We are and have been in a “cool” La Nina ENSO cycle for a while…
David B. Benson says
pough (41) — Even using 30 years the various oscillations may peek through. I’m currently using 60 years.
Disclaimer: I’m an amateur at this.
Ron Taylor says
Re 47 Has anyone taken a look at the comments on the link Richard gives? The attacks on Hansen are really vicious, many of them presenting data that I cannot adequately evaluate. What is going on here?
What? Forty-nine responses and nobody has taken up this?
“… and so nicely executed that it can only be done on a Mac.”
I’m no fan of Microsoft, or PowerPoint, and I know there are may be more important issues than this that still haven’t been resolved, but please — just what does this mean?