Its a bit thin, isn’t it?

Nurture offers us …how far our understanding of climate change has come in the past twelve months. But its a bit thin, especially for just a pick of the top five; there are of course others we could have mentioned.

5. is “skeptics are still out there” – which has nothing to do with the science. 4 is “The hockey stick holds up” – true, but hardly a major advance in understanding. 2 (I’ll get back to 3) is “Arctic summer sea ice is in rapid decline” which I consider dubious (and I’ve offered to put money on, if anyone thinks rapid decline in 2009 is a sure thing, come on if you think you’re hard enough). Either way, I don’t think the observations of the past 2 years represent a highlight of our *understanding* of the climate system. 1 is “Other greenhouse gases are also worrying” which is not very interesting, especially as it leads with NF3.

Which brings me back to #3: “Warming is already having an impact”: this is an area in which I have precious little experience; potentially it is a matter of major importance. Perhaps its significant that the only one of Natures 5 that I don’t dismiss as twaddle is not-physical-climatology at all.

Did you hear that Pope on the radio this morning? No, neither did I, since he talked in either latin or italian and I speak neither, but from the talking heads I gather he was winding people up on the traditional catholic obsession with naughty bits, again.

Update: being constructive, it would be better to think what the Stoat Top Five should be. Over christmas I shall make some attempt to review 2008; in the meantime, feel free to send in your nominations for up to five climate-science advances of 2008, with the emphasis on WGI type stuff.

19 thoughts on “Its a bit thin, isn’t it?”

  1. William – Do you have a top 5 of your own? I’m curious what you might put on it.


    [Good idea, which I mulled overnight. Will modify… -W]


  2. 4 is “The hockey stick holds up” – true, but hardly a major advance in understanding.

    You’re joking, right? The latest Mann Hockeystick paper has been eviscerated. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.


  3. If mugwump will be so kind as to explain how it has allegedly been eviscerated, or even better, provide a reference to a paper published in an academic journal demonstrating such a treatment, I’m sure we shall all be happy…


  4. A few ideas:

    (1) Antarctic warming (Steig’s work, and Bromwich, presented at AGU)… –

    (2) Arctic methane release: Semiletov and friends

    (3) Ice loss (GRACE results, etc?)

    (4) Not strictly science, but I think the flurry of reports on the economics of efficiency and renewable energy was pretty promising this year – in particular the McKinsey report here:

    Hmmm, not sure what else. Oh yes, Monckton’s result that sensitivity must be only 0.58 degrees! That surely deserves some sort of award!


  5. Negative impacts have already occurred to at least one coastal village in Alaska (disappearing into the permamud). Similar events elsewhere in Alaska and the Yukon.

    Lack of glacial melt water devastating some Bolivean peasants. (Glacier is shorter and the water disappears into rocky ground, unplantable.)

    Predicatble, but not yet occuring, lack of drinking water from glacial melt in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Also in Asia.

    No less than 15 flooding events in Nepal caused by the melting of ice dams holding back pro-glacial lakes.

    Two similar events in Chilean Patagonia. There I happen to know the losses; some structures, hay and a few cattle.

    I’m leaving out such matters as decline in penguin numbers, etc., etc.


  6. Regarding bets on rapid loss of sea ice, I think you set your bar too high; by which I mean that a surprisingly marginal recovery from a severe outlier year (and yes, I bet agin ye – but even at the time I said I thought it unlikely I would win, and the melt came closer than I anticipated) hardly falsifies rapid ice loss unless your definition of rapid is REALLY rapid. If you really feel that both 2007 and 2008 were outliers, are you willing to bet on SIGNIFICANT recovery next year and/or over the next few years? In other words, where is your line on where you are willing to bet?

    [My recollection is that after 2007, lots of people were getting very carried away about a new trend. You are now (correctly I think) describing 2007 as an outlier (meaning that it isn’t part of a new trend). But thats not what people were saying at the time.

    The bet I was offering – and still am – is that next years ice will be greater than the record minimum (at least I think thats what I’m offering) at even odds. This is designed to appeal to those people who think that a new trend has indeed set in. So far, I have few takers -W]


  7. Well, if you are interested in a top five, a lot depends upon your criteria of interest.
    One group would be interested in the advance of the science, as understood by experts in climate change. This might have little interest (beyond talking points pro/against) to those who are interested in the politics of, or strategies for dealing with CC. Others might be interested in the level of understanding of the general public. Yet another criterea, might be about the most interesting ideas, and analysis of ideas for geo-engineering. I doubt there is very much overlap between what interests these various interest groups.



    … Flycatchers rely on caterpillars for raising their brood, and caterpillars in temperate forests are only available during a short time window. Caterpillars can only grow well on young leaves, hence flycatchers must breed at that time, when food availability peaks. The caterpillar peak has advanced about twice as strong as the breeding time of the flycatchers, and hence flycatchers now breed too late (Both & Visser 2005). This was shown by a change in reproduction: nowadays only the very first breeding birds are capable of raising young that return as breeders in later years, whereas this was not the case in the past (Both & Visser 2001). Furthermore, pied flycatchers disappeared from areas with an early food peak, just because they were not able to advance their breeding in synchrony with the food (Both et al. 2006)….

    Click to access PS_500-02-004_ROOT.PDF


  9. Yes, I know what you have offered; my point I guess is that if you think (as you have said before) that 07 AND 08 are outliers then you must be expecting a solid return to trend. If so, at what rate and with what (betting) confidence? My feeling is that 07 was an extreme but that melting is happening faster than expected; you seem to feel that 07 and 08 are not indicative of any underestimation of melting rates. Surely there must be a line between these positions where a more realistic even-odds bet could be set?(I would entertain your suggested bet but not at anything like even odds.)

    [My position is that 2007 and 8 are outliers; that sea ice is on a diminishing trend, but its much slower than those two points would suggest. However, its on trend-plus-variability; so its difficult to make a confident bet on next years ice. And I haven’t done the statistics carefully. So I feel fairly safe on betting that next year will have more ice than 2007. But I can’t give you a numeric value easily. If you want much better odds that 1-1, I think that suggests that we are basically in agreement, in which case a bet would be fair, but uninteresting.

    What I’m looking for is more along the idea of JA’s bet with the mad Russian “coolers”: if there are people out there who strongly disagree with me, then we should be able to place *interesting* bets which both sides believe strongly that they can gain from. People who assert that 2007/8 are the new trend, and who believe that 2009 will be clearly lower, are the sort of people I’m looking for. So far, it appears that there are plenty of cheap talkers out there but no-one interesting in stumping up any dosh to back their words (thats not a dig at you – I mean the scientists) -W]


  10. Here’s another point of view

    Geological Society, London, Special Publications 2008; v. 288;
    W. Dragoni and B. S. Sukhija

    “… a heated dispute is going on, as there is a minority of scientists who claim that the main reason for the present climatic behaviour is natural (sun variability being the most probable) and that, very likely, the future warming will be moderate (Essex & McKitrick 2003; Landscheidt 2003; Santer et al. 2004; Michaels 2005; Singer & Avery 2006; IDAG 2005; Shaviv 2005; Scafetta & West 2006; Zastawny 2006; Lockwood & Fro¨hlich 2007). This issue is critical, because the worst possibilities considered by the IPCC indicate that the temperature will rise by several degrees and the warm phase will last for centuries, with dramatic consequences beyond those that can reasonably be defined at present. In any case, today, there is an unanimous consensus on the forecast that the warming will persist for decades, no matter what action is taken (Michaels 2005; Singer & Avery 2006; Trenberth et al. 2006; IPCC 2007).


  11. And speaking of thin

    “… that stardust level inside of the solar system was trebled during the recent solar maximum (Landgraf et al., 2003. Penetration of the heliosphere by the interstellar dust stream during solar maximum. Journal Geophysical Research 108, 8030). It is possible that the periodic increase of stardust in the solar system will influence the amount of extraterrestrial material that rains down to the Earth and consequently down to the Earth’s atmosphere and may affect climate through alteration of atmospheric transparency and albedo.”


  12. guthriew @3: Mann’s latest has only been out for a few months. Insufficient time for any peer reviewed commentary to appear. If you’re looking for non-peer-reviewed, check out climateaudit of course. For peer, there should be some comments appearing on PNAS shortly.


  13. Stoat, the difference between us on Arctic ice is that you are adopting a statistical POV, e.g. that 2007-8 were large downward fluctuations which will randomly be washed out with time, while Eli is more into mechanism, that 2007 was a step change, and that to recover from it will require a very cold couple of years to build up long term ice. The huge amount of new ice formed in winter 2007-2009 is particularly vulnerable to melting.

    Now if you asked me what the trend will be in the next few years, the answer would be a continued downward trend following the slope of 1990-2007, but a step down. therefore, IEHO what we have is a random variation from 2007 superimposed on a downward trend.

    So, an interesting bet would be that ice extent in 2009 is going to be higher than 2006. Clearly you believe that to be an even bet.

    [You believe that the “trend” prediction is for less ice than 2007/8, I think, but not by very much, so effectively you think its 50-50 around the 2007/8 value. Having had a quick look, I agree that my position is probably for a value close to 2006. However the interannual variation is quite large, so its not clear that there is a position in between that we can both be “certain” of winning from.

    I’ve already published my bet ( and not been exactly overwhelmed by takers. Are you offering anything specific? -W]


  14. A slightly longer term Arctic sea ice bet might be something like: “By 2013, the slope yielded by linear regression on minimum annual ice extent starting in 1990 will be steeper than a similarly calculated slope using data from 1990-2008.” I might suggest advancing the data frame to maintain a 19 year period, but then we get into trouble with cherry-picking the start year. What do you folks think?

    [Its a weak claim. The original point was to flush out people who believed (or professed to believe) in 2007 being the start of a new trend line. Thats not quite hard to do, given 2008, but if anyone does believe it, they aren’t betting on it. Eli is making the weaker claim that 2007/8 is a step change down, but keeping the 1990-2006 trend; personally I think thats a very dubious claim with no real physical mechanism or modelling behind it (Schroeder and Connolley refers) -W]


  15. Rats, I thought I was on to something there. I guess my problem must be that I don’t understand what was originally meant by “start of a new trend line”. To me that means, the line from 2006 to [wherever the new trend line stops] would be steeper than the line from [1990 or whatever] to 2006. Oh well, as you’ve noted, my understanding doesn’t make me very eager to take you up on your bet, so perhaps its irrelevant.


  16. Isn’t the question misguided? (I don’t mean the obsession with Mann style reconstructions, which is obviously misguided. I mean the question of deciding the top five scientific results by New Year’s.)

    The top 5 results of the year aren’t clear until five years hence. What’s more, the perception may vary over about twenty years: the results that are eventually considered “classical” or “seminal” may be considered marginal or peculiar at the time they are published.

    While conceivably there may be exceptions, neither Nature mag. or scientific Blogistan can have much insight into the top scientific results of a given year just as that year comes to an end. These aren’t the Oscars, and even those wait a couple of months. The Nobel committee seems to wait a prudent number of years to say the least before deciding on Greatest Hits.

    Happy New Year, y’all.


  17. I don’t mean the obsession with Mann style reconstructions, which is obviously misguided.

    It is telling (and entertaining) how many alarmists now seek to cast Mannian reconstructions as irrelevant when only a few short years ago they were considered iron-clad proof of catastrophic global warming.


  18. >”However the interannual variation is quite large, so its not clear that there is a position in between that we can both be “certain” of winning from.”

    So if the interannual variation is a problem why not try to reduce it. Instead of a 1 day minimum why not an average of September and October for 3 years

    Give extents of:
    Sept 2006 5.92
    Sept 2007 4.30
    Sept 2008 4.67

    Oct 2006 8.33
    Oct 2007 6.77
    Oct 2008 8.40

    Average of Sept&Oct 2007&8 6.035 and Eli seems to think it should be marginally less perhaps dropping the marginally for further into future. Sept&Oct 2006 average 7.125. (I haven’t bothered with number of days.)

    Taking half way between Eli’s less than 6.035 and your approx 2006 value of 7.125 gives 6.58.

    So who is willing to give odds for Sept&Oct 2009 2010 (and 2011?) being less than 6.5 million km^2. (The further into the future it is averaged the more the need to take the trend into account. I have dropped the .08 to make it a simple number rather than doing lots of calculations.)

    OK there is still a fair bit of variation and neither of you can be “certain” of victory. So why not make a bet like this for a small amount. Bets occuring are more likely to attract further bets than discussions.

    So William are you willing to improve your bet to 50:50 odds on more than 6.5 million Km^2 calculated in the way shown above? If not is there a need to explain your reasoning again? If you are willing to bet on these terms then I would grab a £50 bet with me betting on less than 6.5 million Km^2.


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