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Posts Tagged ‘climate skeptics’

Evidence Linking Global Warming and Extreme Weather

Thu ,08/05/2014

 “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be….  ”  – Trenberth

 

Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explains that asking for proof that global warming causes severe weather, is asking the wrong question. “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be. The main way climate change is perceived is through changes in extremes because those are outside the bounds of previous weather. The average anthropogenic climate change effect is not negligible, but nor is it large, although a small shift in the mean can lead to very large percentage changes in extremes. Anthropogenic global warming inherently has decadal time scales and can be readily masked by natural variability on short time scales.”

Scientists  have been very cautious about linking severe weather events to global warming, but the link is getting stronger each year. The Earth has warmed an average of 0.82 over the last century, which doesn’t sound like much, but it means that some places have warmed much more than in the past. Since the amount of moisture the air can hold depends on the temperature, the air can now hold about 6% more moisture. Before 2010, scientists would cautiously point out that higher temperatures lead to the likelihood of drought, and that more energy and moisture in the atmosphere was a recipe for severe weather. But how is it possible to establish that weather events were becoming more extreme?

There are many reports like the interim report by the Climate Council in Australia which found that, in the period between 1971 and 2008,  heatwaves in Australia were becoming more frequent, increasing in intensity and are lasting longer. The report said climate change was  having a key influence on a trend that has seen the number of hot days in Australia double and the duration and frequency of heatwaves increase. Reports like that were not good enough for the skeptics. By 2011 a good case was established that global warming was causing heat waves and droughts in the U.S., but the case was not strong enough to overcome the Skeptics objection, even when in 2012, a definite probability link  was established for  extreme temperatures and droughts. 

To understand whether a weather event is extreme, it must be compared to the norm. This can most easily be done for temperatures, as we have over a century of temperature records from almost all parts of the world.

Example of a Normal Distribution

Example of a Normal Distribution – Click to Enlarge

There is enough temperature data that normal distributions can be graphed, which allows us to quantify  the probability of a temperature event. In the example at the right, the maximum in the curve is the mean of the data. The probability of the occurrence of an event can be measured by the number of standard deviations, sigma(σ), a particular value is from the mean. The values within 2σ of the mean, blue, are considered to be in a mostly normal range. Those from 2 to 3σ, yellow, are considered to be exceptional events, and those beyond 3σ, red, are considered to be extreme. Those yearly events that fall in the yellow range are considered to be 100 year events while those that fall in the red are 1000 year event.

As an example, the normal distribution graph to the right is for the temperatures in Moscow since 1950.  The maximum in the curve is the average temperature, which is set to zero, and the temperature for other other year is described as a temperature anomaly, i.e., how far it is above or below the average value.Moscowjulytempanomaly2010 The curve approximates a normal distribution so the standard deviation of the temperature anomalies can be used to decide whether an event is extreme. The temperatures for 1972  and 2001 fall in the hundred year event range, while  that for 2010 would only be likely to occur only once in every hundred thousand years, unlikely, but still possible.

The Skeptics would still not be convinced, claiming that the link to global warming climate change causes severe weather was not proven, but proof is not necessary when probabilities for a large number of events are involved. For instance, you have only a 50% chance of calling a coin toss correctly, but you can likely guess the number of heads on 1000 flips with less than 1% error. Small differences in probabilities lead to big outcomes. The rules of blackjack give the house a 50.5% to 49.5% advantage, and though some players may win thousands on a lucky streak, considering all the bets placed, the house will make millions from that small difference in probability. And, probabilities are useful for predictions. A 0.270 hitter may get the game winning hit at his next bat while a 0.300 pinch hitter may strike out, but with the game on the line, the coach will likely pinch hit. If trying to predict the future, it is better to go with the probabilities. Though  it is not possible to prove that any one weather event is caused by global warming , scientists have observed a change in probabilities of severe weather events over long periods of time. With the thousands of weather events that occur on the Earth each year,  a small change in probability can cause an definite change in the number of severe weather events.  

SummerDist

An even more convincing argument can be made that global warming causes severe temperatures if the normal distribution is examined as a function of time. Research by James Hansen has established the link by showing that the normal distribution has changed since 1951. The curves show that beginning in about 1970, the mean begins to move to the right and the the curves flatten, showing that the probability of extreme temperatures increase greatly from 1950 to 2011.  His work shows that the probability of extreme temperatures is 10 times as great as for the 198o to 2010 years.

It should also be noted that the left side of the graph flattens, but that the probability of extremely cold temperatures is not zero. There is still a significant likelihood of cold temperatures -and a cold winter now and then does not disprove global warming.

The Skeptics are still claiming that is not proof enough, and that the data says nothing about droughts and wildfires.  There are still some Skeptics who argue that this does not mean  heat waves necessarily related to droughts or that the droughts are causing the increase in wildfires we have experienced, but their arguments seem to be improbable. It should be clear by now that no amount of evidence will convince Skeptics who wish to ignore probabilities.

(C) 2014  J.C. Moore

 

 

Charlie Brown and the Climate Skeptics

Mon ,19/11/2012

 

 An article has recently been circulating around the Skeptics’ websites called  “ Four recent scientific blows to the global warming theory”. They are hardly blows and they certainly cannot be called scientific, as they contradict scientific research. They do make you wonder where Skeptics get their misinformation. Lucy spilled the beans on that in one of the Peanut’s cartoons.

 Lucy: Charlie Brown, do you want to hear some little known facts of science?

 Charlie Brown, looking puzzled: Wait a minute, if they are so little known, how do you  know them?     

  Lucy: Because I’m the one who made them up.

Being a good scientist, Charlie Brown has a healthy skepticism toward Skeptics. And, no matter who made them up, he has found a little skepticism of the Skeptics is a good idea.

The Article starts: “The science behind the anthropogenic global warming theory appears to be falling apart with each new scientific study.”  “In fact, since the Climategate scandal broke, where top climate scientists were caught manipulating data to fit the theory, polls have shown the number of global warming believers has plummeted to new lows.”

Charlie Brown:  It’s strange that there are no references to those “new scientific studies”. Op ed pieces by skeptics, maybe, but no recent scientific studies or polls say that . Also, isn’t it time to give up on Climategate? Nine independent investigations into Climategate have found no scientific misconduct?

Article: It goes on, “Czech President Vaclav Klaus, an economist who lived through the rise and fall of communism, recently said that the climate change movement is a threat to democracy.” “I consider (the global warming doctrine) a new dangerous attempt to control and mastermind my life and our lives, in the name of controlling the climate or temperature.” And environmentalists “ don’t care about resources or poverty or pollution. They hate us, the humans. They consider us dangerous and sinful creatures who must be controlled by them.”

Charlie Brown: Wow! Dangerous and sinful? Few Skeptic’s articles are complete without quoting an obscure figure with bizarre views. Environmentalists do not want to control the climate or temperature; they would just like to keep it at a level comfortable for human civilization. And, aren’t they also “humans”?

Article: Blow 1., finally. “A biologist who claimed that polar bears were drowning because of melting ice has been suspended and is being investigated for scientific misconduct following his “veracity” in emotionalizing a debunked topic.  Get ready for Polarbeargate. “

Charlie Brown:  Polarbeargate? The Polar bear has become a symbol of all we may lose by failing to address our carbon emissions problem adequately. Skeptics can’t disprove the theory so they  to attack the symbol.  The scientist’s account of the polar bears drowning was a credible account of what he observed. The extent of the Arctic sea ice has declined about 30% since 1980. Polar bears now have to swim many miles to reach the sea ice to hunt. Those who don’t want to swim that far rummage around in the garbage dumps, leading Skeptics to believe that the bears are now more numerous.

 Dr. Monnett, a biologist studying Polar bear populations, counted four bears who had drowned trying to swim to the receding sea ice to hunt. Though that happened five years ago, the Interior Department was just recently put under pressure to investigate the matter by  Sen. James Inhofe who was unhappy that the bears were put on the threatened species list.   That was done, not because of Dr. Monnett’s work, but because the bear’s habitat is declining. As their habitat disappears, so will the Polar bear. There just aren’t enough garbage dumps to feed them all.

Article: Blow 2. “Today, new NASA data blows a gaping hole in global warming alarmism: NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth’s atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing.”(sic?)

Charlie Brown: This is about an article by Roy Spencer, “On the Misdiagnosis Of Surface Temperature Feedbacks From Variations In Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance“, which claimed that climate scientists have the role of clouds wrong . It did not have enough scientific evidence to blow a hole in anything, but the article had a remarkable ability to “ shapeshift” as it sped around. It went from a paper published in a little-known journal where was not likely to be reviewed by climate scientists, to Roger Pielke’s website, where it was given a Skeptic’s A-OK. Then it went to the Heartland Institute, where senior fellow James Taylor fixed it up a little, classified it as a news article, renamed it “New NASA data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism” and sent it on to Forbes. Apparently Forbes did not realize that describing scientists as “alarmist” 15 times was suspicious, perhaps because James Taylor is also on staff at Forbes as, get this, a “contributor on energy and environment issues”. From there it went on to Yahoo! News, most other major media sources, and dozens of Skeptics blog sites.

It was amazing that it became so distorted and widely circulated just three days after publication, before legitimate climate scientists had a chance to respond. When they did, they had some rather unkind things to say about the research. Trenberth and Fasullo soon summed it up: ”The model has no realistic ocean, no El Niño, and no hydrological cycle, and it was tuned to give the result it gave.The bottom line is that this paper has NO scientific merit” Later, A.E. Dessler analyzed Spencer’s paper in detail and published a rebuttal destroying Spencer’s arguments. The editor of Remote Sensing was so ashamed of the bad publicity that he resigned, saying” the paper should never have been published”.

Article: Blow 3. “The CERN physicists conducted a cosmic ray climate experiment that is said to directly contradict the climate change debate in the political arena.  Apparently, so much so that the scientists have been gagged from discussing their findings reportedly proving that cosmic (space-based) energy has a far greater effect on the climate than previously believed.”

Charlie Brown: Who said that? A book by perennial Skeptic Nigel Calder and Henrik Svensmark, The Chilling Stars,  claimed  the number of cosmic rays from the stars that strike the Earth is increasing. And, lead to more clouds since cosmic rays produce charged particles in the atmosphere that seed clouds. It’s an interesting theory, but the  data does not show that cosmic rays are actually increasing cloud cover. Also, there are plenty of particulates in the air to seed clouds and any effect from cosmic rays would be small in comparison.  ( See Blow 4., below.)

 The CERN scientists were not “gagged”, but they were asked not to report the results to the media before the formal paper was published. Perhaps they wish to avoid the type of outrageous publicity experienced by Spencer’s article.  Climate scientists are interested in the role that charged particles play so the scientists At CERN agreed to investigate the effect of cosmic rays on nitrate and sulfate aerosols.  After the experiment, the CERN cloud chamber was found to contain contaminates, so the experiment could not have proved or disproved anything. Except perhaps, considering Spencer’s paper, that climate Skeptics really don’t know clouds at all.

 Article: Blow 4. “A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found evidence that coal burning plants may actually be cooling the planet. The findings have been accepted to the point of suggesting using sulfur to combat global warming; ‘Sulfur’s ability to cool things down has led some to suggest using it in a geo-engineering feat to cool the planet.’  If anything, this study proves that the science behind the anthropogenic global warming theory is unproven.”

Charlie Brown:  The particulates from power plants cause cooling, as well as cancer and lung diseases. Particles soon settle out of the airwhile the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere keeps building up, warming the Earth much more than the cooling by the particles. We are now emitting 135 times as much CO2 as all the world’s volcanoes, but only about 7 times the particulates. The effect of particulates from volcanoes on the Earth’s temperature is well understood, so it is hard to see how this shows the “theory is unproven”.

The article concludes by noting that “the stakes are incredibly high” and then wanders off into some conspiracy theory. However, the stakes are high, and if we are not more skeptical of  the  Skeptics’ “little-known facts of science”, we are likely to find out just how high they are. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Earth stayed about the same for children in the future?

(c) 2012 J.C. Moore

Gaming the Peer Review System: Part 2. Exploiting Loopholes

Fri ,03/02/2012

There is evidence that the authors of a recent paper may have gamed the peer review system to publish a biased climate science paper.

The Review Process: When a paper is submitted to a journal for publication, the editor removes the name of the author and sends the manuscript to several experts in the area, usually three, for review. The editor keeps the names of the reviewers confidential. If an error is found, the reviewer’s comments are returned to the author with suggestions for corrections. It is a good system for ensuring the quality of research publications, but even then papers are sometimes published that contains errors. The reviewers may miss an error, a biased editor may publish the paper in spite of flaws, or authors may exploit loopholes in a journal’s rules to get a paper published. Some journals allow the author to suggest names of reviewers and the editor often picks reviewers from the list. Most scientists submit names of reliable reviewers as it is an embarrassment to have errors found in their paper after publication. However, even if the papers are properly reviewed, the practice can bring accusations of “pal” review. Since reviewer’s names are kept confidential by the editor, it is difficult to know for sure whether that may have happened. However, there is evidence that the authors of a recent paper may have gamed the system by suggesting a set of reviewers that shared their bias. See what you think.

The paper: Last July 25th, Roy Spencer and Danny Braswell authored a paper in the rather specialized technical journal, Remote Sensing, titled “On the Misdiagnosis Of Surface Temperature Feedbacks From Variations In Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance“.  The paper claimed “The sensitivity of the climate system to an imposed radiative imbalance remains the largest source of uncertainty in projections of future anthropogenic climate change. Here we present further evidence that this uncertainty from an observational perspective is largely due to the masking of the radiative feedback signal by internal radiative forcing, probably due to natural cloud variations.”  It seems that only an expert in climatology would know what that means or what its implications were, but in three days a sensationalized version of the paper appeared on internet sites, in major business magazines, and in news articles in major newspapers. Millions of people likely read about the paper.

The Publicity: The renewed public interest in science should have made climate scientists pleased; however, they were not. Beneath the technical language is a claim that the climate sensitivity to CO2 has been misinterpreted by climate scientists because of natural cloud variations. Were it true, it would mean that natural forces, not man, were responsible for much of the observed global warming. That idea had been examined before and found to be inconsistent with the evidence, but the idea is one that some climate skeptics have been promoting. And, they are part of a well-funded pipeline that carries misinformation about climate science to major news outlets before all the facts can be known.

Forbes: One main branch of the misinformation pipeline runs through the Heartland Institute, where James Taylor is listed as a senior fellow. James Taylor once wrote articles for the tobacco industry suggesting that secondhand smoke was not harmful, and he has now turned his talents to denying the ties between rising CO2 levels and global warming. Inexplicably, James Taylor has been hired by Forbes magazine to write on energy and environmental topics. James Taylor picked up on Spencer’s paper and wrote an article for Forbes titled, New NASA Data Blows Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism. Not only was the title inaccurate and misleading, but the article was clearly an opinion article, miscategorized as news.  The editors of Forbes might not have known that Spencer’s “NASA Data” was the same data that climate scientists use to reach a very different conclusion, but perhaps they should have noticed that no reasonable news story would describe climate scientists as “alarmists” 15 times. The business community considers legislation that would reduce our carbon emissions to be anti-business, and business newspapers such as Investors Business Daily, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes often are biased toward the skeptic’s position. The bias shows up in story selection, opinions miscategorized as news, a disproportionate number of skeptics articles on opinion pages, and  in sensationalized headlines. From Forbes, the article was picked up as a news story by other business magazines, Yahoo! News, MSNBC, and skeptic’s blog sites, which had a field day with the article. It is sad that millions will have read the distorted article, but few will ever read the climate scientist’s rebuttal. The article will soon sink into obscurity,  but it will have accomplished it’s purpose, which was to spread doubt about climate change.

Reproducibility: Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is not the only requirement for a paper to become accepted as part of the science literature. The research must stand up to the scrutiny of other experts in the field and it must be reproducible by other scientists with comparable knowledge and skill. Spencer’s paper reached the news media before climate scientists had a chance to respond, but they soon found a number of obvious errors in the paper. Trenberth and Fasullo summed it up:”The model has no realistic ocean, no El Niño, and no hydrological cycle, and it was tuned to give the result it gave. The bottom line is that there is NO merit whatsoever in this paper.”  Given time, A.E. Dessler analyzed Spencer’s paper in detail and published a rebuttal. The abstract in Geophysical Review Letters reports the key points of his paper:

  • Clouds are not causing climate change;
  • Observations are not in disagreement with models on this point;
  • Previous work on this is flawed;  ( referring specifically to Spencer’s paper in Remote Sensing).

Clearly, Spencer’s paper had serious methodological flaws and was not reproducible. How did the paper get through Remote Sensing’s peer review process? The answer would likely not have been found, except for the publicity.

The Catastrophe: The editor of Remote Sensing, who had been trying to build the reputation of the Journal, considered the publicity a catastrophe. The instructions in Remote Sensing asks authors to suggest five reviewers, and it is possible that Spencer could choose five skeptics.  The editor would not have to pick from those, but apparently in this case he did.  In the next issue of Remote Sensing, the editor, Dr. Wolfgang Wagner, resigned and issued a public apology for this article saying, “With this step I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate skeptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions in public statements.” “The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extent also in the literature, a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers. “ And he concluded, “But, as the case presents itself now, the editorial team unintentionally selected three reviewers who probably share some climate sceptic notions of the authors.”

© 2012 J.C. Moore