Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wow! Scientists are REAL PEOPLE!

Shocking, isn't it? Rhetorical question, of course. OK, so here's the thing about denial of climate change (despite the ice melting, the air warming, the oceans warming, the Arctic melting, the permafrost melting, thermokarst lakes increasing in size and number, habitats moving and leaving behind the fauna and vice-versa, corals dying, methane increasing, CO2 increasing, the fact that the signatures of CO2 show beyond doubt where the CO2 is coming from...), why is Climate Science the only science these people don't trust? Do they attack their doctors and medical science? No. Do they not drive their cars because they don't understand how they work? No. Do they not fly airplanes because aerodynamics is crap? No. Do they refuse their food because Big Ag used genetic science (breeding and GM) to create the food they eat? No. Do they doubt astrophysics? No. Do they doubt chemistry? No. Do they doubt the physics and engineering that keep their boats afloat? No...

Where have we seen this before...? Hmmm.... real head-scratcher, that one...

We've seen it with smoking, for one. And many of the same people, too. (Right, Fred Singer?) Do yourself a favor and watch Naomi Oreskes work on Climate Denialism. Anywho... 

This is as good an explanation of Climategate E-Mail Foolishness (a.k.a. The time a bunch of denialists lied about and distorted some irrelevant e-mails ) as you are ever to find. Of course, there are many who will read the following text and determine every evil thing hey ever thought about climate scientists is true.

They will fail to understand, most with malice aforethought, what is being said and choose to reinforce the previously-solidified constructs built up by lies and bullshit. There will be nothing new or interesting in this. It is a fact of the world we live in.

On the off chance lightning strikes and a circuit gets switched, here ya go, from comments at RealClimate:

Kate (#20): I’m afraid to say that a lot of the personal emails between academics in any field are probably not very nice. We tend to be very blunt about what appears to us as ignorance, and intolerant of anything that wastes our time, or distracts us from our work. And when we think (rightly or wrongly) that the peer review process has let another crap paper through we certainly don’t hold back in expressing our opinions to one another. Which is of course completely different to how we behave when we meet one another. Most scientists seem able to distinguish clearly between the intellectual cut and thrust (in which we’re very rude about one another’s ideas) and social interactions (in which we all get together over a beer and bitch about the downsides of academic life). Occasionally, there’s someone who is unable to separate the two, and takes the intellectual jabs personally, but such people are rare enough in most scientific fields that the rest of us know exactly who they are, and try to avoid them at conferences!

Part of this is due to the nature of the academic research. We care deeply about intellectual rigor, and preserving the integrity of the published body of knowledge. But we also know that many key career milestones are dependent on being respected (and preferably liked) by others in the field, such as the more senior people who write recommendation letters for tenure and promotion and honors, or the scientists with competing theories who will get asked to peer review our papers, etc.

Most career academics have large egos and very thick skins. I think the tenure process and the peer review process filter out those who don’t. So, expect to see rudeness in private, especially when we’re discussing other scientists behind their backs with likeminded colleagues, coupled with a more measured politeness in public (e.g. at conferences).

Now, in climate science, all our conventions are being broken. Private email exchanges are being made public. People who have no scientific training and/or no prior exposure to the scientific culture are attempting to engage in a discourse with scientists, and these people just don’t understand how science works. The climate scientists whom they attempt to engage are so used to interacting only with other scientists (we live rather sheltered lives- they don’t call it the ivory tower for nothing), that we don’t know how to engage with these outsiders. What in reality is a political streetfight, we mistake for an intellectual discussion over brandy in the senior commonroom. Scientists have no training for this type of interaction, and so our responses look (to the outsiders) as rude, dismissive, and perhaps unprofessional.

Journalists like Monbiot, despite all his brilliant work in keeping up with the science and trying to explain it to the masses, just haven’t ever experienced academic culture from the inside. Hence his call, which he keeps repeating, for Phil Jones to resign, on the basis that Phil reacted unprofessionally to FOI requests. You don’t get data from a scientist by using FOI requests, you do it by stroking their ego a little, or by engaging them with a compelling research idea you want to pursue with it. And in the rare cases where this doesn’t work, you do the extra work to reconstruct it from other sources, or modify your research approach (because it’s the research we care about, not any particular dataset itself). So to a scientist, anyone stupid enough to try to get scientific data through repeated FOI requests quite clearly deserves our utter contempt. Jones was merely expressing (in private) a sentiment that most scientists would share – and extreme frustration with people who clearly don’t get it.

The same misunderstandings occur when outsiders look at how we talk about the peer-review process. We’re used to having our own papers rejected from time to time, and we learn how to deal with it – quite clearly the reviewers were stupid, and we’ll show them by getting it published elsewhere (remember, big ego, thick skin). We’re also used to seeing the occasional crap paper get accepted (even into our most prized journals), and again we understand that the reviewers were stupid, and the journal editors incompetent, and we waste no time in expressing that. And if there’s a particularly egregious example, everyone in the community will know about it, everyone will agree it’s bad, and some will start complaining loudly about the editor who let it through. Yet at the same time, we’re all reviewers, so it’s understood that the people we’re calling stupid and incompetent are our colleagues. And a big part of calling them stupid or incompetent is to get them to be more rigorous next time round, and it works because no honest scientist wants to be seen as lacking rigor. What looks to the outsider like a bunch of scientists trying to subvert some gold standard of scientific truth is really just scientists trying to goad one another into doing a better job in what we all know is a messy, noisy process.

The bottom line is that scientists will always tend to be rude to ignorant and lazy people, because we expect to see in one another a driving desire to master complex ideas and to work damn hard at it. Unfortunately the outside world (and many journalists) interpret that rudeness as unprofessional conduct. And because they don’t see it every day (like we do!) they’re horrified. 

Comment by Steve Easterbrook — 25 March 2010 @ 6:04 AM

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Loss of Multi-year Arctic Sea Ice Animation

The loss of thick, multi-year sea ice is the big non-story of the Arctic that should be THE climate story. While the extent each summer is important, very important, because it allows sunlight to get to the water and leave it warmer than before, if the thick ice stayed each year the extent wouldn't matter so much because there would be no way for the ice extent to fall very far, or, at least it would take a lot longer to melt out completely.

Imagine a punch bowl filled with ice. The temp is very cold in the room, say 35 degrees. Now imagine every 30 minutes you alternate adding a cup of 40 degree water or a 3/4 cup of 35 degree water. Imagine how long it would take for the ice to melt.

Now imagine the same punch bowl filled with ice. The temp is 35 degrees. Now imagine every 30 minutes you alternate adding a cup of 40 degree water or a 3/4 cup of 35 degree water, but this time take out the half of the biggest ice cubes and replace them with the same number of ice cubes, but the same size as the smallest ice cubes in the bowl. Imagine how long it would take for the ice to melt now. How long before the water temperature edges closer to 40 than 35?

That's the effect of losing the multi-year ice.

To understand the loss of multi-year ice and the added energy from the sun, when you add the water, add 1/10 of a degree in temp each round to both cups of water.

As the Arctic goes, so goes the planet. It really is that simple. Hope and pray that the winds blow in every and any direction that doesn't push sea ice out of the Arctic Sea, because that's the only thing that's going to slow this train, and possibly even allow some re-growth of thicker ice. A few anomalously cold summers would help, too.

Whew... anyone got a kerchief? It's getting hot in here...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chopping Down the Cherry Tree - Answers to Climate Change Denial

Posted here with permission.

Chopping Down the Cherry Tree

The image above shows a cherry tree with 96 red cherries and 4 blue cherries.  If somebody asked me or another scientist what type of tree this is I would state:
“It is very likely to be a red cherry tree and I am investigating why there are a few blue cherries that do not appear to fit in.”
Similar statements have been made by scientific experts regarding climate change:
 “Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”  (IPCC, 2007)
“Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.”  (IPCC, 2007)
The term very likely used by the IPCC means a probability greater than 90%.
A poll performed by Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman at Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago of 3,146 Earth scientists showed 96.2% of climatologists who are active in climate research believe that mean global temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and 97.4% believe that human activity is a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures.
For more information about the scientific consensus regarding climate change please see The Scientific Consensus.
So if this red cherry tree is so obvious why do we still have some people trying to tell us that it is a blue cherry tree?  This technique is called cherry picking data to support a false claim.  A few notable examples of cherry picking appear below.
1)  “Global Warming Stopped in 1998” or “There Is Global Cooling”:
If I were determined to show global cooling, I would choose 1998 as a starting point and then 2008 as my ending point.  Why?  1998 was a strong El Niño year which caused a very warm signal and 2008 had a strong La Niña which caused a very cool signal.   Here is what the four major global temperature plots look like when I “cherry pick” the data:

Global surface and lower troposphere monthly mean anomalies and linear trends between 1998 and 2008

Three of the four global average temperatures indeed are decreasing in their trends (although the actual global mean temperatures are still warmer than the previous decades). So what happens if I start with the year 1999 and end with the year 2009?

Global surface and lower troposphere monthly mean anomalies and linear trends between 1999 and 2009

Simply by shifting our starting point by one year, all four global average temperatures are increasing in their trends! The point made here is that if one cherry-picks a small subset of the data, one can make just about any claim with a nice plot to back it up. The correct way to view global temperature trends is to look at ALL of the data.

Global surface and lower troposphere monthly mean anomalies and linear trends since 1880
For more information please see Global Cooling.

The bottom line is that 20 of the warmest years on record have occurred in the past 25 years. The warmest year globally was 2005 with the years 2009, 2007, 2006, 2003, 2002, and 1998 all tied for 2nd within statistical certainty. (Hansen et al., 2010) The warmest decade has been the 2000s, and each of the past three decades has been warmer than the decade before and each set records at their end.

Looks like a red cherry tree to me!

2)  “Arctic Sea Ice Has Been Increasing Since 2007!”

Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent since 1953

The image above from the National Snow and Ice Data Center indeed shows that ice extent has increased from a record low in 2007 but, of course, the long-term trend is steeply downward since the 1970s.
Sea ice extent is just part of the picture. Sea ice thickness has also been measured by declassified submarine records and ICESat satellite measurement.

Northern Hemisphere sea ice thickness submarine & ICESAT combined (Kwock & Rothrock, 2009)

The figure above shows the mean thicknesses of six Arctic regions for the three periods (1958–1976, 1993–1997, 2003–2007). Thicknesses have been seasonally adjusted to September 15.  This combined analysis shows a long-term trend of sea ice thinning over submarine and ICESat records that span five decades.
Looks like a red cherry tree to me!

3)  “Greenland and Antarctica Are Gaining Ice at Their Centers”

Yes, ice mass is increasing in the centers of both of these ice sheets.  However, when one considers the mass of these ice sheets in their entirety, a different picture emerges:

Greenland Ice Mass Loss (Velicogna, 2009)

Antarctica Ice Mass Loss (Velicogna, 2009)

It is quite clear that, overall, Antarctica and Greenland show a long-term loss of ice. John Cook at Skeptical Science has several very good summaries of this research. See: An overview of Antarctic ice trends, An overview of Greenland ice trends, and Why is Greenland’s ice loss accelerating?

Looks like a red cherry tree to me!

4)  “The                         Glacier is Advancing!”  (Fill in the blank with your favorite advancer)

There are indeed some glaciers around the world that are advancing.  Yes, there are a few blue cherries on our red cherry tree.  Let us look at ALL of the glaciers around the world that are being monitored by the World Glacier Monitoring Service.

Mean cumulative specific mass balance of all reported glaciers (black line) and the reference glaciers (red line)

It is quite obvious that glacial mass is rapidly decreasing.  So what about the claim that some glaciers are advancing?  According to the WGMS, 90% of worldwide glaciers are retreating.

Looks like a red cherry tree to me!

So what are your favorite examples of cherry-picking?

Written by Scott Mandia
February 20, 2010 at 1:46 pm