There was another twist to the hurricanes/global warming issue in Science Express on Friday where a new paper from the Webster/Curry team just appeared. This study, lead by Carlos Hoyos, crosses a few t’s and dots a couple of i’s on the connection of increasing numbers of intense hurricanes (Cat. 4 and 5) to sea surface temperatures (SST). Basically, they looked at a number of other key variables for hurricane intensity (like wind shear and humidity) and examined whether there was any pattern to those variables across the different ocean basins that they study. Bottom line? None of the other variables have as much explanatory power for the long term trends as SST which is the only consistently trending constituent in the mix. So far, so un-surprising. However, one interesting aspect of this story is that almost all the key players in the ongoing debate were interviewed by different journalists in various media and those comments are probably more useful for gauging the state of play than the details of the new paper itself. [Read more…] about Reactions to tighter hurricane intensity/SST link
What is one to make of a recent press release and submitted preprint blaming global warming on the Tunguska meteor event in 1908? Well, although it is not unknown for impact events to affect climate (the K/T boundary event springs to mind) there are a number of hurdles for any such theory to overcome before it moves into the mainstream from the wilder shores of unsubstantiated speculation.
Firstly, one would anticipate that immediate effects of the impact on climate would be strongest near the time of the impact (allowing for some inertia in the system) and decay away subsequently. Secondly, the timescales for any mechanism associated with the impact (in this case disruption of the atmopsheric water vapour) would need to be in line with the change one hopes to explain. And thirdly, one has to show that this explanation is better than the alternatives. Unfortunately, none of of these requirements are met by this hypothesis. [Read more…] about Meteors, Nuclear Tests and Global Warming
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…. [Read more…] about Art and climate
The Wall Street Journal has published another fair and balanced critique of climate change science and negotiations, in a Business World commentary by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr, here. A summary of the arguments is as follows:
1. It will never be possible to prove that global warming is real. In the same way, we point out, it will never be possible to prove that anybody died from lung cancer because of smoking. Did you actually witness that first DNA mutation?
2. The reasonable lay person cannot be expected to read a scientific paper, so the rational response is to ignore the issue.
3. A paper about frogs did not argue convincingly that people cause global warming.
4. People sometimes distort the truth (truly a shocking charge coming from the WSJ).
5. Global change negotiations are stalled in politics, so the science must be wrong.
Final thought: When climate does change, we’ll be able to fix it anyway.
The more astute of you may have noticed the headline NYT story this weekend on Jim Hansen’s ongoing tussles with the (politically appointed) public affairs people at NASA HQ (Jim is my immediate boss so you need to read this with that in mind!). Most of the recent fuss has been about the GISS analysis of surface air temperatures (GISTEMP), which used to routinely be made available as soon as the analysis was done (usually a week or so after the end of any particular month). This data was generally released with little or no fuss (and no press releases) except for the end of year summary. However, as it started to become clearer that 2005 was a contender for warmest year, journalists and others started paying direct attention to the raw figures and writing stories that were bypassing public affairs. For instance, Juliet Eilperin’s October story in WaPo (discussed here and here) was one of the stories that they were most definitely not happy with (as alluded to in today’s WaPo). No follow-up media requests to interview relevant scientists were approved.
[Read more…] about Hansen in the New York Times
One of the central tasks of climate science is to predict the sensitivity of climate to changes in carbon dioxide concentration. The answer determines in large measure how serious the consequences of global warming will be. One common measure of climate sensitivity is the amount by which global mean surface temperature would change once the system has settled into a new equilibrium following a doubling of the pre-industrial CO2 concentration. A vast array of thought has been brought to bear on this problem, beginning with Arrhenius’ simple energy balance calculation, continuing through Manabe’s one-dimensional radiative-convective models in the 1960’s, and culminating in today’s comprehensive atmosphere-ocean general circulation models. The current crop of models studied by the IPCC range from an equilibrium sensitivity of about 1.5°C at the low end to about 5°C at the high end. Differences in cloud feedbacks remain the principal source of uncertainty. There is no guarantee that the high end represents the worst case, or that the low end represents the most optimistic case. While there is at present no compelling reason to doubt the models’ handling of water vapor feedback, it is not out of the question that some unanticipated behavior of the hydrological cycle could make the warming somewhat milder or on the other hand, much, much worse. Thus, the question naturally arises as to whether one can use information from past climates to check which models have the most correct climate sensitivity.
Two climate-related meetings are being covered quite extensively this week, the American Geophsyical Union meeting in San Francisco is being blogged for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the COP/MOP meeting in Montreal is being podcasted by the New York Times and blogged by other attendees. Hopefully this is a sign that scientists are starting to use these tools more effectively than they have so far.
We here at RC continue to be disappointed with the tendency for some journalistic outlets to favor so-called “balance” over accuracy in their treatment of politically-controversial scientific issues such as global climate change. While giving equal coverage to two opposing sides may seem appropriate in political discourse, it is manifestly inappropriate in discussions of science, where objective truths exist. In the case of climate change, a clear consensus exists among mainstream researchers that human influences on climate are already detectable, and that potentially far more substantial changes are likely to take place in the future if we continue to burn fossil fuels at current rates. There are only a handful of “contrarian” climate scientists who continue to dispute that consensus. To give these contrarians equal time or space in public discourse on climate change out of a sense of need for journalistic “balance” is as indefensible as, say, granting the Flat Earth Society an equal say with NASA in the design of a new space satellite. It’s plainly inappropriate. But it stubbornly persists nonetheless. [Read more…] about The False Objectivity of “Balance”
There is an interesting article in this month’s Global Environmental Change journal. The paper, Climate of scepticism: US newspaper coverage of the science of climate change (subscription only at the moment) by L. Antilla, documents the way in which the mainstream media (at least in the U.S.) tends to present climate science as more controversial than it actually is. A major focus of the paper is an analysis of the way in which climate science is “framed” (in the journalistics sense of “highlighting certain aspects of a story so as promote a particular interpretation”). In a recent Scientific American article (here), a similar argument is made with respect to the health industry; in this case the writer, David Michaels, is quite blunt that the “framing” is the purposeful fomenting of doubt by powerful industry lobbyists, rather than innocent errors by naive journalists. Antilla doesn’t go so far, but she does give some striking examples, such as an Associated Press piece about the impact of soot on the albedo of snow, which AP titled “Scientists blame soot for global warming”. As if the title weren’t misleading enough, the article goes on to say that “Many scientists believe the burning of fossil fuels is causing an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, triggering … the greenhouse effect.” Whether purposeful, or merely due to careless writing, this kind of statement casts the science (and the opinion of scientists) as far more uncertain that it is in reality — in this case implying that there is doubt that CO2 levels are increasing, something which actually has zero uncertainty. [Read more…] about Framing of climate science
There was an interesting piece that appeared in the October 12 edition of the Seattle Times, “Q&A: Global warming — a world of evidence”. This follows up on a previous article by journalist Sandi Doughton in the October 9 issue of the Times, “The Truth About Global Warming”.
In the Q&A, a group of University of Washington scientists, including atmospheric scientist and climate researcher J. Mike Wallace, weigh in with answers to questions fielded from the paper’s readers. Many of the questions, such as “Isn’t it true that scientists in the 1970s said the earth was cooling?” are quite similar to those we’ve addressed here at RealClimate (see “The Global Cooling Myth”). [Read more…] about Q & A: Global Warming