Time to Opine

I haven’t ranted about climate for a bit, so I think I will. Misc stuff follows, mostly commentary.

APS has a nice post on “The nothing that was Climategate” (though he really needs to upgrade his colour scheme; links are hard to see). [Update: or ClimateSight perhaps; or Bart]. APS has some nice referee’s quotes of his own, and links to Joe Romm. I’ll get on to JR in a moment, but first I need to comment on JR’s link to…

[We interrupt this link to bring a minor update; Nature has a completely rubbish editorial on the subject.

But RC has the correct answer. Now to return…]

Robin McKie in the Grauniad (or possibly the Observer) whose article starts This was simply “the worst scientific scandal of a generation” – a bid by researchers to hoodwink the public over global warming and hide evidence showing fossil fuels were not really heating up our planet. Which is unusally stupid even by the G’s standards, and does rather airbrush over their own contribution to puffing the non-scandal.

If you’d like a real scandal, then Deep Climate’s continuing investigation of the Wegman report will bring you one. Naturally it is too complex for the Grauniad to write about.

More neutrally, there is Climate Alarmism at Science Magazine? from a blog new to me. This is looking at the headline trend in Drought-Induced Reduction in Global Terrestrial Net Primary Production from 2000 Through 2009, which is “our estimates suggest a reduction in the global NPP of 0.55 petagrams of carbon”, from 2000 to 2009. As our blogger points out, this is quoted as just a trend, with no attempt even to assess significance. Interestingly, a quote from the piece that Staniford (for it is he) provides

Global NPP slightly decreased for the past decade by -0.55 Pg C (Fig. 1). Interannual variations of the global NPP were negatively correlated with the global atmospheric CO2 growth rates (correlation coefficient r = -0.89, p < 0.0006) (Fig. 1) (14), suggesting that global terrestrial NPP is a major driver of the interannual CO2 growth rate.

rather points up the problem: the correlation against atmos CO2 is highly significant – and that is noted, and indeed quantified. The *lack* of significance of the trend is however not even mentioned. Staniford contacted the authors and they basically said “WTF: this got into Science and it will boost our citation rankings massively”. Actaully what they said was almost worse:

Some research findings are so important that society really cannot afford to
wait another 10+yr for 95% or 99% statistical confidence. We (and I suppose Science) felt this result was one of them. And recognize that we are not advocating this result, merely reporting what we measured and why we think it is happening. I actually hope in 10-20yr that some young scientist proves we are wrong, and that NPP trends have turned back up. Humanity will be much better off if that occurs.

Anyway, enough of that silliness, onto some other silliness: A New Treasure Trove Of 1970s “Global Cooling” Articles but unfortunately they are in Italian. This is a blog by some guy who doesn’t like The myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus. So, it might be a project for someone to do an honest survey of La Stampa’s collection.

Enough silliness. Now for some sense. JA is happy because Geoscientific Model Development (GMD) is in ISI.

But lastly I need to return to Romm, and A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice. Which rather surprised me, because I thought that rather little of scientific interest had happened, climate-wise in the past year. JR points to:

1. Nature: “Global warming blamed for 40% decline in the ocean’s phytoplankton”. Well, maybe. I hadn’t noticed that. The Nature article itself is behind a paywall, but presumably the details resolve the apparent problem of we… estimate the time dependence of phytoplankton biomass at local, regional and global scales since 1899. We observe declines in eight out of ten ocean regions, and estimate a global rate of decline of ~1% of the global median per year. Errm, if it has gone down by 1%/y for a century, why isn’t it at zero?

2. Methane from Siberian arctic shelves. But wasn’t that so 2008?

3. Droughts (future). Haven’t looked carefully.

4. Ocean acidification. Traditionally I ignore this. Maybe sometime I should pay attention. Not new, though.

5. Sea level rise. Nothing new there I think. Bryan is worried about Kiribati though.

6. Species extinction. Maybe, but that is habitat loss, Shirley, not GW.

7. Drought / NPP (current). Dubious, due to the Staniford stuff I mentioned above (and to be fair, I got the link from JR).

8. CO2 feedback from soils. Yes, but we have CO2 level measurements.

9, 10. Its going to get hotter. yes, I knew that already.

So, a couple of things of interest, but not much. Am I being too dismissive?

40 thoughts on “Time to Opine”

  1. 9 I thought was a bit more interesting because it was the first I’d heard that someone had compared possible temperature projections against what the human body can handle. The issue being not just raw heat, but the combination of raw heat and humidity that disables the human bodies ability to get rid of excess heat, and makes human life impossible without air conditioning (fans/shade/sweat etc will no longer work).

    The area of the planet which will reach such a threshold is quite significant (most of the world’s tropics), if we allow warming to go unchecked for the rest of the century, and if warming is at the upper range of what is generally predicted.

    For reference the world record dew point I believe is about 30 deg, and the hottest oceans are around 30 deg, and it seems reasonable to me that the two stats are loosely linked. A dew point of about 35 degrees is the threshold for shutting down the human bodies ability to shed heat, and I guess would require ocean temps to warm to around 35 deg.

    So not quite an ‘OMG we are all going to die’ result, because presumably if we are on that path, then we should realise that in the next 50 years or so and get off that path. But still a result that I think is worth getting more exposure than it has, and in a way that is separated from the ‘OMG we are all going to die’ hysteria.


  2. I thought what Hank thought, but that takes you don’t further than to a decline of 40% over a hundred years. Actually a decline more than 60%. But who knows without reading — they’re using some global median, so it might have something to do with the distribution of the decline spatially (more important oceans/seas in a sq km sense having a greater decline than less important ones).


  3. WMC — when will you decide to look into #4? Understanding there seems to be a rapidly expanding. Shellfish farmers are quite concerned, and some think it’s already affecting their crops. I suspect wind patterns may be more responsible for the relatively fast pH changes observed near coastlines (compared to pH changes estimated in the open ocean).

    [At least in part because people like Maribo are already doing it -W]


  4. #1: 1-(0.99)^40 = 0.331. Close enough to 40, especially when accounting for variation (and there is a good deal of it actually; email me if you want the graphs).

    [Err hold on. All you’ve said is that 1-0.99^40 ~ 0.01*40. But why 40? According to the abstract, this has occured over a century. However, if you have the paper, I’d be interested -W]


  5. I’ll not have you say one bad word against Joe Romm.

    He was very kind enough to send me free of charge a review copy of his book “Straight Up”, and his voluminous online output is an example to us all of what we need from the “rapid response unit” of scientists combating unlearned stories in the press and energy-and-mining-industry-sponsored anti-science :-


    He is a very passionately, engaged individual, who really cares about what’s going on, and his public voice is very important. You have to discount his Americanisms of style, is all.


  6. I opine you are too dismissive of Dr. Dai’s survey paper on drought:

    After reading that, review he history of mass migrations in the past due to drought conditions nowhere near as severe as projected for 2060 CE; the Persians (Parthians), Turks and Huns come immediately to mind.

    [Well alright. Part of the reason for posting this was for people to pull me up. I’ll have a look -W]


  7. While DC’s statistics may be a bit much for most, I would observe that one piece is really simple.

    Wegman report Figure 4.4 shows 12 graphs, effectively claiming they show MBH “mines” positive hockey sticks, having mentioned a set of 10,000 generated. The problem is that the MM (and WR, since it used McInytre’s code), sorted the 10,000 and then took the sample of 12 from the 100 (1%) with the most positive hockey sticks.

    If you want to prove that men are tall, claim they average 6’6″, easily done in the US by sampling those found on an NBA basketball court.

    We all know people cherry-pick to fake temperature trends, but 1/100 seems like a new record. Cherry-picking champs, this will make Wegman&co famous in the statistics profession.

    [Indeed. I hope that the investigation into plagiarism will also be looking into these allegations too, which are really more serious. Either Wegman was incompetent, or deliberately faking -W]


  8. 6. Species extinction, not just habitat loss. Some critters running out of higher altitude to retreat to. Some critters finding their path to higher latitude blocked by ocean or other unhelpful geography. And that’s only for mobile animal species. Plant species are being overwhelmed by drought or temperature long before they’ve managed to move much, if at all.

    Migratory birds that make their big move based on day length are arriving at feeding grounds to discover their fodder, insect or plant, responded to spring warmth weeks before, did their thing and moved on. They’re either not there at all or they’ve developed into a less nutritious form, so they can’t support vigour and fertility.

    [There will be some impact on species from GW. But the question is, has any been demonstrated so far? Ie, what is the split between GW and habitat loss? -W]


  9. I hate to say it, but WUWT had a preprint of the phytoplankton paper. It might still be cached there as he tends to put this things in his files directory.

    The thing that struck me was the consilience of this paper with another paper (also cached in preprint at WUWT) about the genesis of phytoplankton blooms in the North Atlantic. I have no idea if the two papers will hold up, but the data points are interesting, and if correct, disturbing.


  10. The second paper is available here after a few clicks.

    The first paper posited a similar mechanism driving the reduction, although the papers were published only days apart in different journals.


  11. Thought you were slightly unfair on the Gruniad – the next sentence was “These were the dramatic claims made by newspapers, websites and blogs across the globe a year ago this week”

    [Yes. Had the second sentence been “These were the *false* claims, I might have forgiven them. But such a strong lead sentence not even revoked by the second is just stupidity. Really, this is classic journalistic laziness on their part (and coupled, I think, to a “house policy” lead by the errors of Fred Pearce and Monbiot) which forbids them from realising the truth -W]


  12. Hi William,

    so what you really say is that we should largely leave the climate change impacts research and push most of the effort into mitigation? Now I hear the answer – you cannot have mitigation without knowing the impacts 🙂

    [I don’t think I’m saying that. I’m saying that *I* didn’t notice much exciting new stuff in the past year, but maybe I wasn’t paying attention.

    In terms of *policy* I’m with the likes of mt: we already know enough to start making policy decisions to reduce GHG emissions; whether we spend research money on impacts or mitigation won’t change that -W]

    I ask, because our institute just obtained the money for the GzechGlobe project – it will be devoted to study the impact of climate change as well as mitigation options (forest management, biofuels etc)…

    Now I think peak oil will complicate everything, but that is another topic…



  13. Errm, if it has gone down by 1%/y for a century, why isn’t it at zero?

    Dude. Don’t drink and blog!

    0.99^100 ~= 0.366.

    [Err yes, but why would you expect it to have this form? Why would you not expect 0.01*100? And anyway it can’t be the “right answer”, because the “right answer” is apparently a decline by 40% not to 40% -W]

    So a decrease of 1%/year over a century (i.e. multiplying your value by .99, 100 times in a row) leaves you with about 1/3 of your original value. Which is pretty dire, but still well above zero.


  14. Monbiot and Pearce made me seethe on this issue, this didn’t

    I can see your point, that a lot of readers will only read the first couple of paras, but the body of the article seemed OK :

    “After standing down as head of his unit, he was reappointed following publication of a series of independent UK reports which backed the integrity of his work and his behaviour and which concluded those examples of “scandal” had been cherry-picked and quoted out of context. Sir Muir Russell, the senior civil servant who led one inquiry, praised the “rigour and honesty” of the unit’s scientists, for example, while another inquiry, chaired by Lord Oxburgh, found “no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice”.

    Even more stark were the findings of a separate inquiry in America by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This report not only endorsed the work of the East Anglian climate researchers, it also strongly attacked US politicians and energy groups who had tried to suggest that the leaked East Anglia emails revealed that humans were not playing a role in warming of the planet.

    According to the EPA, these people had “routinely misunderstood or mis-characterised the scientific issues, drawn faulty conclusions, resorted to hyperbole, impugned the ethics of climate scientists in general, and characterised actions as ‘falsifications’ and ‘manipulation’ with no basis or support.” Such individuals had also cherry-picked the language of the emails without looking deeper into the issues or providing corroborating evidence to assert that improper action had occurred. As a summation of climate scientists’ disdain for global warming deniers, these words could hardly be bettered.”


  15. Steve: Um, 40 became the exponent because I read the original paper incorrectly. My bad. In any case, 1- (0.99)^100 makes far more sense, because every year there would be 1% fewer phytoplankton or cyanobacteria or whatever it was than the year prior.

    On the other hand, that would give you a 63% decline, so it probably isn’t that. Maybe I should actually read the paper instead of skimming it.


  16. NW has it right, surely. It’s basically the compound interest formula:


    where A is the amount remaining (or accruing) after t years, P is the amount we start with (presume 1 or 100), n = 1 in our instance (no. of times a year we calculate, and r is an annual decrease of 1%, i.e. -0.01.

    A=1[1+(-0.01)]^100 ~ 0.37

    So, rounding up, that’s 0.4.

    [It is *a* 0.4 However, it is supposed to have declined *by* 40%, not *to* 40%.

    Also, I’m not convinced that this is the right physical model (though it might be). Having now looked at the paper they say:

    “The global meta-analytic mean rate of Chl change derived from individual regional
    model estimates was 20.006 6 0.0017 mg m23 yr21 (P , 0.0001; Fig. 3b), representing an annual rate of decline of ,1% relative to the global median chlorophyll concentration (,0.56 mg m23).”

    so no: they definitely aren’t using that formula -W]


  17. This is all the Boyce paper has to say about the rate of change in phytoplankton- “The global meta-analytic mean rate of Chl change derived from individual regional model estimates was -0.006+/-0.0017 mg m^-3 yr^-1 (P,0.0001; Fig. 3b), representing an annual rate of decline of ~1% relative to the global median chlorophyll concentration (~0.56 mg m^-3).”

    It looks like they’re saying that the average amount of phytoplankton lost each year is equal to 1% of the modern median concentration. If you multiply the low end of their estimated annual decline (0.0043 mg/m^3) by the 110 yrs of the study period, that gives you a 45% decline.


  18. W-

    There will be some impact on species from GW. But the question is, has any been demonstrated so far? Ie, what is the split between GW and habitat loss?

    Seems a bit of a false dichotomy or a gross oversimplification, or both, to me. Northern expansion of the pine bark beetle’s range has led to the death of large swatches of boreal forest in North America. Habitat loss caused by global warming which will lead to a reduction of range for some species, perhaps eventually extinction of some. Of course, it also means habitat expansion for others (for instance, three-toed woodpeckers can temporarily benefit from the insect outbreaks, but when the forest disappears, they lose, too).

    Coral reefs are high in endemic species, so the loss of moderate amounts concentrated in a small region will lead to the extinction of some such species. Some of the corals themselves are endemic and will be lost directly due to warming and/or acidification. They’re also providing habitat for other endemics which will be lost due to loss of habitat which itself was lost due to …

    Well, you get the picture.

    Face it, ecosystems are screwed. I’d agree that thus far direct destruction of habitat is a more important driver of species extinction than the more subtle disturbances/destruction caused by climate change which take place typically over a longer timeframe.

    Though the pine bark beetle devastation in North America is so widespread today that it certainly rivals the destruction caused by vast overharvest by the timber industry (note that much/most of the boreal forest has not been logged, poor quality timber and remoteness have served to protect them).


  19. In a nutshell, the two main problems with the Wegman report analysis (the first part of section 4) are:

    – Wegman et al took the M&M critique of MBH at face value, and deliberately excluded all substantive discussion of scientific literature answering M&M (especially Wahl and Ammann).

    – Wegman et al completely misunderstood the M&M simulation methodology, and claimed that M&M had demonstrated that the MBH short-centered PCA would mine for “hockey sticks”, even from low-order, low-correlation AR1(.2) red noise. But in fact the displayed figure (4.4) was taken from the top 1% of simulated PC1s generated from high-correlation, high-persistence ARFIMA-based noise, as archived by M&M. (And I also show that simulations based on AR1(.2) noise would have shown much less evidence of bias from “short-centered” PCA, even if one focuses only on PC1).

    So on the latter issue, I would say it was extreme incompetence and lack of due diligence.


  20. Clearly the decline of 1% per year figure is just a rounding to the nearest whole percent – after all it would, I think, take a 0.51% reduction each year to give an over all reduction of 40% in a century and 0.51% rounds up to 1%. There, problem solved.


  21. > Ocean acidification. Traditionally I ignore this.
    > Maybe sometime I should pay attention.

    I would be very happy to see you work your way into this issue, annotating as you go, making a story out of how you go about informing yourself. It would be a good teaching story.

    Heck, if you get a literary agent, it could be a book.


  22. In the house hearing today Feely had some really good comments on ocean acidification which were, to put it mildly, alarming.

    In panel 3, Geer made some very good points about the changes already being seen in the Northern Rockies due to climate change. I see climate change as compounding the problems due to habitat destruction. Conservation biology just got harder.


  23. I’m saying that *I* didn’t notice much exciting new stuff in the past year, but maybe I wasn’t paying attention.

    BICCO-Net may be something for you to look at: http://bicco-net.org/climate-change-publications


    Feehan et al (2009) Climate change in Europe. 1. Impacts on terrestrial ecosystems and biodiveristy. A review. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 29: 409-421

    Rijnsdorp, et al. (2009). Resolving the effect of climate change on fish populations. ICES Journal of Marine Science 66:1570-1583

    and Thackeray et al (2010). Trophic level asynchrony in rates of phenological change for marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. Global Change Biology (referred to as Will earlier springs throw nature out of step?)

    Read that last one here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02165.x/abstract


  24. “Naturally it is too complex for the Grauniad to write about.”

    I did suggest it a while back (they have topic suggestions in their Environment section every now and again), but they seem all too happy for it to be bloodily fought out in the comments. Maybe they’re waiting to see how the investigation pans out… or maybe they’re not. It’d be a good subject for Fred Pearce to write a book about, though, or maybe Mosher & Fuller could step up to the plate? Or maybe I just saw a pig in the sky.


  25. In a nutshell, the two main problems with the Wegman report analysis (the first part of section 4) are:

    It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the one main problem with the Wegman report analysis is that they didn’t bloody do one.

    Good work, BTW.


  26. “It’d be a good subject for Fred Pearce to write a book about, though, or maybe Mosher & Fuller could step up to the plate?”

    It would be better if it was someone who could actually do a half-decent job of it, so keep the pigs firmly on the ground, please.


  27. [There will be some impact on species from GW. But the question is, has any been demonstrated so far? Ie, what is the split between GW and habitat loss? -W]

    both are necessary but not sufficient by themselves. Wait.


  28. ELI – both are necessary but not sufficient by themselves. Wait.

    Lately a lot of deniers have been keen on saying “time is on our side.” Not certain, but I think they mean physics ends when the new congress convenes.

    Any chance of that?


  29. Lately a lot of deniers have been keen on saying “time is on our side.” Not certain, but I think they mean physics ends when the new congress convenes.

    Any chance of that?

    No, and they don’t mean that. They don’t care. They just oppose any action to limit CO2 emissions on ideological grounds.

    How clearly do they need to spell it out until people understand?


  30. A recent paper documents a 21% extinction of lizard populations in Mexico as a direct result of rising temperatures. These guys hunt during the day, but only when it’s cool enough. As the unacceptable temperatures start earlier and last longer throughout the day, the lizards stop hunting sooner in the morning, and wait longer in the evening before going out again. They’ve starved to death, and the extinction of lizard species by this process isn’t over yet.



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