I would never be motivated by money for anything

hot This astonishing claim is apparently made by Willie Soon, according to the NYT. The claim is implausible, to say the least. As is much of his GW related research.

I’m not alone in that opinion, oddly enough. Gavin A. Schmidt, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, a NASA division that studies climate change, said The science that Willie Soon does is almost pointless. Mmmmm, the science yes (it may be a null-set joke; Gavin is subtle) but the papers clearly aren’t pointless, these “deliverables” act to advance certain rather obvious agendas.

And now I come to look, Soon was a name-for-hire on the recent Monckton drivel.

Its made wiki.


* Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for Soon – Greg Laden. Well, maybe.
* Gavin at RX on Soon, 2011.
* Many Arctic temperature trends – me, from 2007.
* Soon and Baliunas controversy from wiki.
* Did Willie Soon Lie to Congress? – DA
*Analysis: Soon’s disclosure of non-controversial funding supports the conclusion that he deliberately omitted fossil fuel disclosures – Brian at Eli’s.

Stories from the history of science: the discovery of the stratosphere

strat There are many others, of course. RMG has one just now on the Chandler wobble; there’s Alfred Russel Wallace and the flat-earthers and the history of the word Scientist itself.

All of these have “mottoes”, if you like; but I distrust them. There’s a sci-fi novel from ages back, the only bit of which I remember is the protagonist taking the standardised psychometric proverb test: what does “a rolling stone gathers no moss” mean? He, free-wheeling, said “frequent change frees one from care” whereas his staid society wished him to say “frequent change prevents the accumulation of valuable possessions and disrupts the social fabric”.

So I’ll present the following story of “Stratosphere Denial” without any motto at all :-). This post is just to take the text out of PDF and into a form that it can be found; my namesake pointed out to me “the stratosphere denialists at the beginning of the last century”, but it was news to me, and unless you know exactly where to look you won’t find it on the wub (for example, GISS’s article is thin at best. Anyone know of better?). Indeed, until I added it now, wiki didn’t even have anything about the discovery of the Stratosphere at all (what’s there is a bit rubbish, sorry, I couldn’t be bothered to add much, but I did link to the major source I found).

By far the best, and practically the only source with any kind of detail I could find, was Hoinka, K. P. 1997. The tropopause: discovery, definition and demarcation. Meteor.Z., 6, 281-303 (via Geoff Vallis, Dept. of Mathematics, University of Exeter). So, what’s it all about?

Skipping lightly over the heroic early stuff, such as depicted in the figure, people started sending up instrumented balloons, becoming serious around the start of the 1890’s. Initially these were of laquered paper, or the charmingly named goldbeater’s skin; lets throw in the name Léon Teisserenc de Bort at this point; remember, more details in the paper. These were constant-volume, and so ascended to a certain height then stopped, which was annoying as they’d then drift for ages before falling down and being recovered, or often not. Around 1900 the also charmingly named Richard Assmann (which, surprisingly, is safe to type into Google) worked in a characteristically thorough German way with Continental in Hannover to pioneer rubber sounding balloons, which expanded as they rose until they popped, and don’t suffer from reduced ventilation.

If you’ve read any of the many accounts of making accurate near-surface temperature observations via Stevenson screens and the like you’ll know about the importance of ventilation and exclusion of the influence of radiation; these is even more of a problem in the upper air, obvs.

There’s a certain amount of Franco-German rivalry, or simply personal rivalry, but also international co-operation with simultaneous ascents. And, measurements start to show that whilst the air gets colder as you go up, as everyone expected, up to about 10 km; above this there’s an “isothermal layer”. This wasn’t expected. But, hey; it was quite hard to get a balloon up there, there was a dead good explanation for why you expected temperatures that were too high (lots of solar radiation, and reduced ventialation as the air got thinner and the balloon got to its max height and slowed). So people just “corrected” the anomalous temperatures back to the expected lapse rate. Naturally, you can solve the solar radiation problem by doing the ascents at night, but likely the extra logistics of doing this put people off a bit1, though it was done.

But over the next few years the measurements kept coming out the same, and eventually people came round to the view that there really was an isothermal layer, with 1902 being the year in which both LTdB and RA published announcements. Reading somewhat between the lines of the paper, it looks like LTdB got far more results than RA (236 flights above 11 km, 74 above 14 km) versus 6 for RA above 11 km, despite the nominally superior tech of the Kraut. Perhaps a case of lovingly and painstakingly hand-crafted stuff that’s been found to work OK being quite hard to beat by innovation2, though it tends to lose in the long run. There’s another motto which I won’t draw out :-).


1. Launching the things at night would be a bit of a pain, obviously. Just organising people for night time is harder, and so on. Also it makes tracking and retrieving the balloons harder (depending on how long a flight was, I suppose).

2. Re-reading the paper more carefully, it really isn’t clear whether LTdB used paper and RA rubber; or both used rubber; or LTdB slowly switched. Section 2.5 says that after rubber was introduced, their use rapidly spread, and LTdB “started to use them during the first years [of the 1900’s]”. However, the announcements were in 1902, so I suspect LTdB was mostly still on paper.


* Discussing What are universities for? with Mike P-J.
* Use of the proverbs test for differentiating schizophrenics from normals, D R Gorham, J Consult Psychol. 1956 Dec;20(6):435-40.

Boron isotope evidence for oceanic carbon dioxide leakage during the last deglaciation. And…

Boron isotope evidence for oceanic carbon dioxide leakage during the last deglaciation by M. A. Martínez-Botí, G. Marino, G. L. Foster, P. Ziveri, M. J. Henehan, J. W. B. Rae, P. G. Mortyn & D. Vance. Nature 518, 219–222 (12 February 2015) doi:10.1038/nature14155. As far as I can tell, no-one has covered this yet (well, all right, ScienceDaily did).

Its not that wildly exciting (so much so that I’m a touch surprised it made over-excitable Nature); but it is interesting. Another step on the Mystery of Deglaciations; the kind of stuff SoD has been banging on about a bit. Here’s the abstract:

Atmospheric CO2 fluctuations over glacial–interglacial cycles remain a major challenge… to explain glacial–interglacial atmospheric CO2 variations invoke changes in deep-ocean carbon storage, probably modulated by processes in the Southern Ocean, where much of the deep ocean is ventilated. A central aspect of such models is that, during deglaciations, an isolated glacial deep-ocean carbon reservoir is reconnected with the atmosphere, driving the atmospheric CO2 rise observed in ice-core records. However… Radiocarbon activity tracks changes in ocean ventilation, but not in ocean carbon content, whereas proxies that record increased deglacial upwelling do not constrain the proportion of upwelled carbon that is degassed relative to that which is taken up by the biological pump. Here we apply the boron isotope pH proxy in planktic foraminifera to two sediment cores… as a more direct tracer of oceanic CO2 outgassing. We show that surface waters at both locations, which partly derive from deep water upwelled in the Southern Ocean, became a significant source of carbon to the atmosphere during the last deglaciation, when the concentration of atmospheric CO2 was increasing…

So in broad terms, this is the same story as before: to explain the level and speed of CO2 changes at deglaciations, you probably need CO2 to ventilate from deep-ocean reservoirs (this also comes into the T/CO2 lead/lags stuff). Exactly what might cause that to occur is no clearer; there’s just a little bit more evidence that this actually occurred, rather than the somewhat more process-of-elimination there was before.

Attribution of Arctic temperature change to greenhouse-gas and aerosol influences, Najafi et al.

This one has been reported elsewhere, e.g. Aerosols dampen pace of Arctic warming for now, say scientists by CarbonBrief, so I don’t think I need bother say much. Aerosols offset warming. Who’da guessed?

Unprecedented 21st century drought risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains, Cook et al.

I sometimes wonder if I should take Unprecedented 21st century drought risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains type stuff more seriously. But there are so many Americans who are already doing so, I hardly need to.


* UAB – Carbon release from ocean helped end the Ice Age.
* Meanwhile, back in the real world, Rotating Eyeballs with Eli.

The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, by C. S. Lewis

I don’t have much science to talk about; it looks like I may have finally cured myself of writing about the stupidities of the denialists and arguing with idiots. So, instead:

Way back in November last year I went to a talk by Hulme on “In what ways is religious belief relevant for understanding climate change?” in the course of which he made a side-note to The Discarded Image by C S Lewis; and I said it may well have been worth going to the lecture just to have that drawn to my attention. I put it on my Christmas list, and have now read it. I recommend it, if you like such things. Though it is by no means easy; and despite being well written portions are dry. Large portions of it are available on google books. My copy was remaindered from the library of King Edward’s School, Bath. According to the sheet it was only borrowed once, in 1983; which is a sad fate for such a book (mine is a first edition, from 1964. But its been reprinted many times since then; in the google version last in 2002, twice). However I suspect it doesn’t really belong in a school library.

It purports to be an introduction to medieval and renaissance literature; as Lewis says in the intro, its from a lecture series he gave at Oxford offering help in the hard places of the literature, and in particular to those places that may perhaps look deceptively easy. I am, of course, no student of this literature; the closest I come is having done the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales for O level:

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

If you didn’t like that, don’t bother with the book; not that they’re particularly similar.

What the book is actually about is the Medieval Model of the world. I was particularly interested in the astronomical aspects of it, but I think that Lewis isn’t, particularly. Certainly there’s far more in there than that. Let me try and fail to give you a flavour:

Chapter 3, “Selected materials: the classical period”; section A, The “Somnium Scipionis”

Plato’s Republic, as everyone knows1, ends with an account of the after-life, put into the mouth of one Er the Armenian who had returned from the dead. When Cicero, somewhere about 50 B.C., wrote his own Republic, not to be outdone, he ended with a similar vision. Scipio Africanus Minor…

tells us about a dream of his (adoptive) grandfather, Scipio Africanus Major, who carries him up to a high point: in fact, the highest celestial sphere. And this is a prototype for Dante, Chaucer (Hous of Fame) and so on. And then proceeds to tell him of the place reserved in heaven for worthy statesmen. This “intractable” (Lewis’s word; its intractable because on these criteria neither pagan nor Christian saints get in) material needed to be, and later was, synthesised into the Model. Side note: Scipio asks his spirit guide why he should not suicide and take up his happy place immeadiately; he is told it is forbidden; he is a solder, in garrison, and may not desert his post. Lewis speculates, but with sources and commentary, that this may be part of the origin of the (Christian) prohibition.

There is much more; I can’t hope to cover it, nor say it any better than Lewis. Lets move on to the end,

The Influence of the Model

Lewis begins the end by noting the vast amount of solid instruction that texts of the period carry; either form Introductions, Digressions, or Catalogues. He discards mere pedantry as a reason; though he notes that Rhetoric encouraged such padding, but it didn’t say what the padding should be (and he points out that the visual arts do the same, which cannot be so explained). His suggestion is that the padding is there because both authors and readers liked it. They liked to be told things they already knew.

Poets and other artists depicted these things because their minds loved to dwell on them. Other ages have not had a Model so universally accepted as theirs, so imaginable, and so satisfying to the imagination… the man of genius found himself in a situation very different from that of his modern successor. Such a man today often, perhaps usually, feel himself confronted with a reality whose significance he cannot know… [it is for him] to discover a meaning… But the Model universe of our ancestors had a built-in significance… explain some characteristics of medieval literature… both its most typical vice and its most typical virtue. The typical vice, as we all know, is dulness: sheer, unabashed, prolonged dulness… The writer feels everything to be so interesting in itself that there is no need for him to make it so.

The virtue, in case you were wondering, is lack of strain; limpid clarity; complete confidence in the material. Unlike, say, Keats, where the effort is obvious. He also pulls out the attitude to originality: most of it isn’t, its touching-up of earlier works (Chaucer; Malory). When originality is present, it is hidden.

I doubt if they would have understood our demand for originality… If you had asked Lazamon or Chaucer “Why do you not make up a brand-new story of your own?” I think they might have replied (in effect) “Surely we are not yet reduced to that?” Spin something of one’s own head when the world teems with so many noble deeds, wholesome examples, pitiful tragedies, strange adventures, and merry jests which have never yet been set forth quite so wewll as they deserve?

An attitude that could worthily be applied to the vast outpourings of modern rubbish.

In the epilogue he notes that the Model had a serious defect: it was not true. However, he says this in somewhat the way that denialists say “of course I accept climate change; climate has always been changing” – see, I never really leave topic. In his case, he rapidly switches to the idea that modern science regards its view of the world as a model; and we don’t and perhaps never will have a fundamental description of the world (or so we assume; QM and GR aren’t compatible and everyone expects a fusion, somehow, of the two to emerge. But its possible that one or the other is essentially true within its own domain; my vote is for GR). However, I don’t think this is a particularly helpful way to end the book; its distracting and defensive.

My wife, who just read this, says it doesn’t give much of a feel for the book. That’s true. The book is trying to give you a feel for something quite foreign to the modern mind, and so the book itself is similarly hard to grasp. The best I can do, perhaps, it to compare it to Lebesgue Integration: a topic I used to be able to hold in my head, but only for a few weeks at a time, after which it would slip out again. A curious feeling, if I recall correctly; of course since university it hasn’t been in my head at the required level of detail at all.


1. I suspect this is being a joke. Certainly, by the time I got to the end of the Republic I’d pretty well given up on finding material of interest and was skipping sections. Whether Lewis is referring to people;s habit of doing so, or is serious, or is simply joking that few have actually read the Republic2, I don’t know.

2. The first time I read a reference to the Republic was in the work of that noted philosopher, R. A. Heinlein: Starship Troopers. Where it is referred to as proposing “ant-like communism“. This is one of the few instances where RAH’s right-wing philosophy is, if not literally correct, nonetheless spot on. For my own benefit: me, from 2004 (grep “Popper”) and 2012.

Face to face

From a pub conversation with Old Man Roscoe: so often, electronic communication snarls you up. Its so easy for small disagreements to blow up; for genuine disagreements to get entrenched; to lose any fellow-feeling for the people, or fleeting electronic blobs, that you’re “conversing” with. I see this at work, time and again: an email conversation degenerates into near-warfare, and is only saved when one party or another has the sense not to press “send” but instead wanders off and talks to the other person, at which point sanity prevails.

No wonder all this blog-based “discourse” is doomed.


* Hostilities – ATTP.
* Lousy Wages Are The Universe’s Way Of Telling You To Go Do Something Else – Timmy, of course.
* Climate Scientist Andrew Weaver Wins Key Law Suit


[Prev: September 10th: Neue Regensburger to Franz Senn]

September the 11th. After yesterday (was it really only yesterday? I am slow at writing this down) when I failed and we then went across to the Franz Senn I have another chance at the Ruderhofspitze. My exact route is somewhat unplanned – clearly I’m going upvalley, up the Alpeinerferner and then turning E after the icefall, and hoping to pick up the SW ridge somehow. Now I’ve bought “Stubaier Alpen” by Walter Klier I retrospectively know I did “Sudwestgrat von der Holltalscharte”, route 2293. As usual, there’s a GPS track.

Up at 6:25, which no longer feels early, in time for first breakfast. Wx is so-so, and that combined with a feeling boosted by yesterday’s fail that I won’t really get up the R, leaves me in no great hurry. I set off at 7:45 with a daysac, 2 ski sticks, a climbing axe, crampons and no waterproof trousers. And, as usual, no food for the day.


It was like that – could go either way. As it happened, it went to sun, which was great. I saw no-one ahead of me, and steamed up the path nicely, but with appreciation – its lovely, and I’ve been this way before. Past the waterfall to the glacier snout at 2560 after 1:30.


There’s a choice of paths from here. They tend to path-mark you off to the moraine on the right, but its more beautiful to go onto the river bed and then up the snout; crampons on. The roughish stuff on the skyline is the icefall, 3000 m at the top, and the track goes to the right (W). Its strongly foreshortened in this pic.


This is the dry portion of the glacier. Above it the not-terribly-dramatic icefall; for scale, there are 6 climbers in the dead centre of the pic, in the shadow, on the edge of snow and ice. I’m catching them up, but then (spoil sports) they stop. It looks like they’re playing in crevasses; probably on a course:


2900 m, 2:30, resting on some rocks nearly at the top of the icefall. After that its a long way over the gently sloped upper glacier, following some old tracks.


I feel as usual about the tracks: they are very reassuring – I’m not totally mad, and someone might find me – but it takes the edge off the adventure somewhat. The view here is quite hard to interpret: centre is the second, smaller, icefall. The ridge disappearing off L is the W ridge of the Ruderhofspitze, although as far as I can tell its not, oddly enough, a recommended route. The peak in the centre is the unnamed pt 3260; the skyline ridge to the L is the SW ridge of the Ruderhofspitze; in between them is the upper snow basin.


Into the upper bowl, avoiding a crevasse. The snow is in that irritating state where you step on it, and it almost holds, but it doesn’t quite, throwing you off balance and wasting energy. Which is partly avoided by using the existing footsteps, but that constrains my stride. To the “col”, the Obere Holltalscharte: 3260 m, 3:45. This particular col looks like one of those nominal cols: its the lowest point between two sides, but that doesn’t mean you’d want to descend the far side: it looks icky (or is that from further along the ridge?). But then again, things always do from above. There’s not the slightest sign of any path marking on the ridge, so the footsteps are reassuring, even if I completely lose them almost immeadiately.


The ridge looks enormous and sharp from below. The pic above, centered on the summit, totally fails to give any idea of scale.


This one’s a bit better (and note the weather is closing in a bit, always reassuring). The ridge is in three: a shortish ascent section, perhaps 150 m long, to pt 3326 (NOTE: especially in descent, especially in cloud: there’s a small cairn on this peaklet, which is very valuable, because at this point the ridge kinks, and if you miss that and keep going straight SSW you’ll end up on the Schafnock, 3110 m, which is very unlikely to be what you intend), which I’ve passed by this pic. Then a longer section, perhaps 300 m, nearly level to pt 3368, which I’m pretty sure is the right skyline in this pic (one from 6 mins earlier); then another 300 m section up to the summit at 3473 m (my GPS thought 3479 m), with the upper Ruderhofferner on the right side.

Apart from one move at the start, when I gratuitously did things the hard way, the ridge is all easy enough (as long as you’re fit – don’t even think about this if you’re not) at least step-by-step. Its only the sheer length, and the sense of complete isolation, that makes it hard. And of course the uncertainty of knowing if it will be hard – you can only have that once; treasure the feeling. But I think there is a motto – that these long ridges, which I’ve always rather avoided, aren’t so bad after all.


The summit, which came quite quickly in the end. See, I have the gipfelbuch pic to prove it (and one of me looking smug). “Gruss Gott, Berg Heil”. Very Austrian. The ridge was fun: some just walking, some scrambling, some being rather careful where you put your feet; nearly every step requires concentration, and deciding which drop to veer nearer to. 4:40, 9.7 km.


View from not much below the summit, heading down (I could tell you to note the total absence of life, but I’d be wrong; its all around if you but look). I’ve sat around for about half an hour getting my breath back, and hoping the cloud might clear, which it has a bit. The col is top centre, and the “three sections” of the ridge reasonably obvious. Alas its even less clear off to the E, which means I don’t get to see the route I should have taken, yesterday.


Half way down the ridge, and if you look carefully you’ll see the cable between rocks in the centre of this pic. That might be route 2291, or some variant, whereby you join the ridge somewhat later having gone up the rock face from deeper into the upper snow bowl.


And so back down. Viz is rubbish, so I’m happy to follow my footsteps. Here’s a rather suggestive-looking stream flowing into the glacier; its also snowing, if you look hard. Sine the glacier is dry, this is easy to see and avoid. But it would be pretty dangerous to fall into: completely smooth inside, about 20 feet deep, you’d just wedge in place and get covered in ice cold water.


And so back to the hutte for cafe und kuche, and to transcribe my timing notes off my hand. 8:45 total. Outside its now pouring with rain. That’s nearly it for Austria until next year. I shall return to the usual diet of climate snarking soon enough.


And in case you’re wondering, this is what the dormitory (matrazenlager) looks like.