Tag: Global Science Report

‘Worse Than We Thought’ Rears Ugly Head Again

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”


Our last post was a brief run-through of some items of interest from the recent scientific literature that buck the popular alarmist meme that human-caused climate change is always “worse than we thought.” But as we said in that post, finding coverage of such results in the dinosaur media is a fool’s errand. Instead, it thrives on “worse than we thought” stories, despite their becoming a detriment to science itself.

Not to disappoint, headlines from the first major climate change story of the new year claim “Climate change models underestimate likely temperature rise, report shows,” and it’s clearly Worse Than We Thought. In its January 5 (Sunday) paper, the editorial board of the Washington Post points to the new results as a call for action on climate change.

The trumpeted results appear in a paper published in the January 2nd 2014 issue of Nature magazine by a team led by University of New South Wales professor Steven Sherwood and colleagues which claims that the earth’s equilibrium climate sensitivity—how much the global average surface temperature will rise as a result of a doubling of the atmospheric carbon dioxide content—is being underestimated by most climate models. Sherwood’s team finds “a most likely climate sensitivity of about 4°C, with a lower limit of about 3°C.”

Sherwood’s most likely value of 4°C is about twice the value arrived at by a rather largish collection of other research published during the past 2-3 years and lies very close to the top of the likely range (1.5°C to 4.5°C) given in the new report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

While there are a host of reasons as to why our understanding of the true value of the climate sensitivity is little better constrained now that it was some 20+ years ago (it was given as 1.5°C to 4.5°C in the IPCC’s first report issued, almost a quarter-century ago), it is widely recognized that our understanding of the role of clouds in a changing climate is central to the issue.

In describing the why climate models have such different climate sensitivity values, the IPCC writes, in the 2013 edition of it’s science compendium,

There is very high confidence that uncertainties in cloud processes explain much of the spread in modelled climate sensitivity.

Sherwood and colleague set out to see if they could help nail down the specific cloud processes involved in the model spread and to see if recent observations could help better understand which models were handling  processes related to cloud behavior better than others.

Spreading Some Holiday Cheer: Global Warming Not Always ‘Worse Than We Thought’

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

We know this: Every holiday season some of our readers make some offhanded comment at a party, to the effect that, well, global warming (or its effects) appear to have been a bit overblown. Before you finish, you’re likely to be assaulted by a sharp ranch dressing-laden carrot stick or you might get a face full of dill-dipped broccoli.

Fight back! Before things escalate to the level of food assaults, trot out some of the facts in this, our annual guide for holiday parties.

First of all, the tendency for prominent findings about the impacts from human-caused global warming to be “worse than we thought” is not only a pure play for press coverage, but also strains, if not obliterates, scientific credibility.

The unscientific preponderance of “worse than we thought” stories is starting to become more widely recognized (although we have been talking about it for years). And it is having consequences. Fresh from accepting his Nobel Prize for physiology/medicine, University of California’s Randy Schekman announced that his lab would no longer be sending any research papers to “luxury journals” like Science and Nature because of their preference to select papers “that will make waves because they explore sexy subjects.” Schekman explains that “These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research.” Global warming alarmism is a prime example of this.

In fact, there are scientific studies that conclude that things aren’t likely to be worse than we thought, but looking to the “luxury journals” or to the press to highlight them is a fool’s errand.

But that’s where we can help!

In the spirit of this season of good cheer, and as a respite for the increasing number of those out there suffering from “apocalypse fatigue,” your obedient servants at the Center for the Study of Science are here to bring you a little holiday joy and good news.

Below, we’ve collected some clips and quips culled from the recently published scientific  literature (and observations) that show that perhaps the impacts from climate change resulting from our production of energy from fossil fuels isn’t going to worse than we thought—and, in fact, may not prove to be so bad at all.

How Offal! Global Warming Threatens the World’s Haggis Supply!!

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.” In this edition, we cover an important story that we missed back in 2008.

People send us stuff. As a result of our recent Global Science Report on global warming ruining our bananas, one of our fans directed our attention to an important effect of climate change that we somehow missed, back in 2008, when the alarmists at the BBC wrote that it was threatening haggis.

Haggis, for the uninitiated, is sheep stomach stuffed with minced lung, liver, heart, tongue, suet, onions and oats. How offal!

While there’s no accounting for taste, it tastes as bad as it smells.

According to the story, there has been a rise in a parasite effecting Scottish sheep that renders the lung “unfit for consumption” (something that many of you probably thought was the case already).

And, so as not to miss the bandwagon, an official from the Scottish Agricultural College Veterinary Investigation Centre told the BCC that:

Part of the reason will be the parasite is able to live a pretty happy life on the ground because of higher temperatures. Maybe it’s climate change.

Or maybe not.

It turns out that another potential cause of the increase in the lung parasite is that Scottish farmers have reduced their application of parasite treatment due to declining infections of roundworm. The treatment of roundworm also killed the lung parasite.

There was no mention made in the BCC article as to whether global warming was behind the decrease in roundworm infestations.

Instead, the article went on the describe the events which took place in the World Haggis Eating Championship, won by Willie Robertson from Dunkeld, who managed to put away a pound of haggis in 125 seconds. For his victory, Mr. Robertson was awarded a trophy and a bottle of whiskey—no doubt a key feature in the rest of the day’s merrymaking.

BBC’s writing in the haggis story appears similarly merry. Here are the last three paragraphs of their report, verbatim, a candidate for first place in the 2008 International Nonsequitur Competition.

The championship was held as part of the 125th Birnam Highland Games, and attracted competitors from Australia, New Zealand and the US.

Climate change, meanwhile, has been blamed for affecting natural habitats in Scotland and across the world.

Most notably, scientists and conservationists say it threatens survival of polar bears.

Going Bananas: Another Climate Change Hustle

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

We hear that there is looming banana crisis in Costa Rica—the world’s 2nd leading exporter of the fruit—as this year’s crop is being threatened by an infestation of mealybugs, scale insects, and fungal infection.

Petulance, plagues, disease? It must be climate change, of course!

The Director of the Costa Rican Agriculture and Livestock Ministry’s State Phytosanitary Services, Magda González, told the San José Tico Times, “Climate change, by affecting temperature, favors the conditions under which [the insects] reproduce.” González estimated that the rising temperature and concomitant changes in precipitation patterns could shorten the reproduction cycle of the insect pests by a third. “I can tell you with near certainty that climate change is behind these pests.”

This is bananas.

But there’s a method to Gonzalez’ madness.  In it’s recent Warsaw confab on climate change, the UN has made it abundantly clear that one of its endgames is compelling “reparations” for climate damages cost by dreaded emissions of carbon dioxide.  The more that poorer nations make these claims—however fatuously—the more momentum builds to extract capital from me and thee.

May we humbly suggest that calling Ms. Gonzalez’ claim “fatuous” is really being too nice.  She should actually propose compensating the United States for all the excess bananas that are associated with warmer temperatures.

Figure 1 shows banana production in Costa Rica from 1961-2011. Figure 2 shows the temperatures there over the same period. We hate to burst anyone’s climate-change-is bad-bubble, but the correlation between these two variables is positive. That is, higher temperatures are associated with greater banana production (and yield).

  

 Figure 1. Annual production (tonnes) and yield (Hg/Ha) of bananas in Costa Rica (data from FAOSTAT)

 

Figure 2. Annual temperature anomalies in Costa Rica, 1961-2011 (data from Berkeley Earth).

And as far as precipitation goes, the trends down there are all over the place—some stations show trends towards increasing rainfall amounts, while others nearby, towards decreasing amounts.  The geography of the country, along with all sorts of external influences including tropical cyclone activity, sea surface temperature patterns, and larger-scale circulation systems in both the Pacific and Atlantic makes for a very complex pattern precipitation variability, both temporally and spatially, across Costa Rica.  It is virtually impossible to assess the influence of recent human-caused climate change in such a complicated and highly variable natural system.

So you have a situation where annual precipitation variability is high and where warmer conditions seem to be associated with greater banana yields. 

While it is probably not out completely out of the question that some sort of weather influence may, in part, play some role in the current affliction of the Costa Rica banana crop, to implicate human-caused global warming, you’d have to have gone completely…, well, you know.

But climate policy has always functioned best in a data-free environment, about the only way a cheap hustle like that of the Costa Rican National Phytosanitariest merits any attention at all.

2013: Will U.S. Temperature Be Below Average?

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”


Last year, the annual average temperature in the contiguous United States was the highest on record (since 1895) according the data compiled by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).   This year, the temperature took a nosedive from the lofty heights of 2012.

As we pointed out in our coverage of the 2012 milestone, the influence of human-caused climate change on the U.S. temperature history (including last year’s record warmth), while undoubtedly present, is difficult to ascertain.

The role that anthropogenic “global warming” from the emissions of greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels plays is debatable—both in timing and magnitude. Almost certainly its influence is present and detectable in the U.S. annual average temperature record, but beyond that simple statement, not a whole lot more can be added with scientific certainty.

We now stand nearly a year later with more evidence of proof and point.

Through November of this year, the U.S. average temperature is only 0.53°F above the 20th century mean temperature (the default baseline used by NCDC). Last year the annual temperature was 3.24°F above it.

Figure 1. Average January-November temperature in the contiguous United States from 1895-2013 as compiled by the National Climatic Data Center (source: NCDC, Climate at a Glance).

With the cold start to December across the country, the annual temperature for 2013 has an increasingly good shot at coming  in below the 20th century average.  For this to happen, the U.S. temperature for December would have to average about 27.6°F. For the first 12 days of the month, the average has been 28.4°F,  and the forecast is for continued cold, so getting to the needed temperature is not out of the question.

If 2013 does come in below the 20th century average, it would be the first year since 1996 to have done so, and would end a 16-year long run of above average annual temperature for the U.S.  You can follow the chase here.

But even if the rest of the month is not quite cold enough to push the entire year into negative territory, the 2013 annual temperate will still be markedly colder than last year’s record high, and will be the largest year-over-year decrease in the annual temperature on record, underscoring the “outlier” nature of the 2012 temperatures.

Will 2013 mark the end of the decade and a half period of abnormal warmth experience across the U.S. that was touched off by the 1998 El Niño event, and a return to conditions of the 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s? Or will 2013 turn out to just be a cold blip in the 21st century U.S. climate?

In either case, 2013 shows that the natural variability of annual temperatures in the U.S. is high (as is decadal and multi-decadal variability, see Figure 1)—an important caveat to keep in mind when you face the inundation of every-weather-event-is-caused-by-human-global-warming hysteria.

Stay tuned!

The Center for the Study of Science would like to thank Ryan Maue of WeatherBELL Analytics for his summary of December temperatures and the expected  temperatures for the rest of the year.

High-profile Paper Linking GMO Corn to Cancer in Rats Retracted

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

 

About a year ago, a major paper appeared in a high-profile scientific journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, claiming a link between genetically modified corn and cancer in rats. The findings were published by a research team led by Gilles-Éric Séralini of the University of Caen in France. It was widely trumpeted by people opposed to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Simply put, making a GMO dramatically accelerates the normally slow process of traditional plant breeding, which takes many generations to stabilize some desired new trait in the plant genome, making the philosophical objections to it seem somewhat naïve.

While Séralini’s finding was heralded by anti-GMO activists as an “I told you so,” the paper was promptly, harshly, and widely criticized by geneticists and the general scientific community, many of whom lobbied the journal directly to address the shortcomings in the paper.

The most stinging criticism is going to sound painfully like what we see so often in environmental science, where researchers purposefully design an experiment likely to produce a desired results. Two months ago we documented a similar process that pretty much guaranteed that the chemical currently the darling of green enrages, bisphenyl-A, would “cause” cancer.

In Seralini’s case, the research team used a strain of rats with a known strong proclivity to develop cancer if left to age long enough, which is what they allowed, obeying the maxim that “if you let something get old enough, it will get cancer.”

With or Without a “Pause” Climate Models Still Project Too Much Warming

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

A new paper just hit the scientific literature that argues that the apparent pause in the rise in global average surface temperatures during the past 16 years was really just a slowdown. 

As you may imagine, this paper, by Kevin Cowtan and Robert Way is being hotly discussed in the global warming blogs, with reaction ranging from a warm embrace by the global-warming-is-going-to-be-bad-for-us crowd to revulsion from the human-activities-have-no-effect-on-the-climate claque.

The lukewarmers (a school we take some credit for establishing) seem to be taking the results in stride.  After all, the “pause” as curious as it is/was, is not central to the primary argument that, yes, human activities are pressuring the planet to warm, but that the rate of warming is going to be much slower than is being projected by the collection of global climate models (upon which mainstream projections of future climate change—and the resulting climate alarm (i.e., calls for emission regulations, etc.)—are based).

Under the adjustments to the observed global temperature history put together by Cowtan and Way, the models fare a bit better than they do with the unadjusted temperature record. That is, the observed temperature trend over the past 34 years (the period of record analyzed by Cowtan and Way) is a tiny bit closer to the average trend from the collection of climate models used in the new report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) than is the old temperature record.

Specifically, while the trend in observed global temperatures from 1979-2012 as calculated by Cowtan and Way is 0.17°C/decade, it is 0.16°C/decade in the temperature record compiled by the U.K. Hadley Center (the record that Cowtan and Way adjusted).  Because of the sampling errors associated with trend estimation, these values are not significantly different from one another.  Whether the 0.17°C/decade is significantly different from the climate model average simulated trend during that period of 0.23°C/decade is discussed extensively below.

But, suffice it to say that an insignificant difference of 0.01°C/decade in the global trend measured over more than 30 years is pretty small beer and doesn’t give model apologists very much to get happy over.

Instead, the attention is being deflected to “The Pause”—the leveling off of global surface temperatures during the past 16 years (give or take). Here, the new results from Cowtan and Way show that during the period 1997-2012, instead of a statistically insignificant rise at a rate of 0.05°C/decade as is contained in the “old” temperature record, the rise becomes a statistically significant 0.12°C/decade. “The Pause” is transformed into “The Slowdown” and alarmists rejoice because global warming hasn’t stopped after all. (If the logic sounds backwards, it does to us as well, if you were worried about catastrophic global warming, wouldn’t you rejoice at findings that indicate that future climate change was going to be only modest, more so than results to the contrary?)

The science behind the new Cowtan and Way research is still being digested by the community of climate scientists and other interested parties alike. The main idea is that the existing compilations of the global average temperature are very data-sparse in the high latitudes. And since the Arctic (more so than the Antarctic) is warming faster than the global average, the lack of data there may mean that the global average temperature trend may be underestimated. Cowtan and Way developed a methodology which relied on other limited sources of temperature information from the Arctic (such as floating buoys and satellite observations) to try to make an estimate of how the surface temperature was behaving in regions lacking more traditional temperature observations (the authors released an informative video explaining their research which may better help you understand what they did). They found that the warming in the data-sparse regions was progressing faster than the global average (especially during the past couple of years) and that when they included the data that they derived for these regions in the computation of the global average temperature, they found the global trend was higher than previously reported—just how much higher depended on the period over which the trend was calculated. As we showed, the trend more than doubled over the period from 1997-2012, but barely increased at all over the longer period 1979-2012.

Figure 1 shows the impact on the global average temperature trend for all trend lengths between 10 and 35 years (incorporating  our educated guess as to what the 2013 temperature anomaly will be), and compares that to the distribution of climate model simulations of the same period. Statistically speaking, instead of there being a clear inconsistency (i.e., the observed trend value falls outside of the range which encompasses 95% of all modeled trends) between the observations and the climate mode simulations for lengths ranging generally from 11 to 28 years and a marginal inconsistency (i.e., the observed trend value falls outside of the range which encompasses 90% of all modeled trends)  for most of the other lengths, now the observations track closely the marginal inconsistency line, although trends of length 17, 19, 20, 21 remain clearly inconsistent with the collection of modeled trends. Still, throughout the entirely of the 35-yr period (ending in 2013), the observed trend lies far below the model average simulated trend (additional information on the impact of the new Cowtan and Way adjustments on modeled/observed temperature comparison can be found here).

 

Figure 1. Temperature trends ranging in length from 10 to 35 years (ending in a preliminary 2013) calculated using the data from the U.K. Hadley Center (blue dots), the adjustments to the U.K. Hadley Center data made by Cowtan and Way (red dots) extrapolated through 2013, and the average of climate model simulations (black dots). The range that encompasses 90% (light grey lines) and 95% (dotted black lines) of climate model trends is also included.

The Cowtan and Way analysis is an attempt at using additional types of temperature information, or extracting “information” from records that have already told their stories, to fill in the missing data in the Arctic.  There are concerns about the appropriateness of both the data sources and the methodologies applied to them.  

A major one is in the applicability of satellite data at such high latitudes.   The nature of the satellite’s orbit forces it to look “sideways” in order to sample polar regions.  In fact, the orbit is such that the highest latitude areas cannot be seen at all.  This is compounded by the fact that cold regions can develop substantial “inversions” of near-ground temperature, in which temperature actually rises with height such that there is not a straightforward relationship between the surface temperature and the temperature of the lower atmosphere where the satellites measure the temperature. If the nature of this complex relationship is not constant in time, an error is introduced into the Cowtan and Way analysis.

Another unresolved problem comes up when extrapolating land-based weather station data far into the Arctic Ocean.  While land temperatures can bounce around a lot, the fact that much of the ocean is partially ice-covered for many months.  Under “well-mixed” conditions, this forces the near-surface temperature to be constrained to values near the freezing point of salt water, whether or not the associated land station is much warmer or colder.

You can run this experiment yourself by filling a glass with a mix of ice and water and then making sure it is well mixed.  The water surface temperature must hover around 33°F until all the ice melts.  Given that the near-surface temperature is close to the water temperature, the limitations of land data become obvious.

Considering all of the above, we advise caution with regard to Cowtan and Way’s findings.  While adding high arctic data should increase the observed trend, the nature of the data means that the amount of additional rise is subject to further revision.  As they themselves note, there’s quite a bit more work to be done this area.

In the meantime, their results have tentatively breathed a small hint of life back into the climate models, basically buying them a bit more time—time for either the observed temperatures to start rising rapidly as current models expect, or, time for the modelers to try to fix/improve cloud processes, oceanic processes, and other process of variability (both natural and anthropogenic) that lie behind what would be the clearly overheated projections. 

We’ve also taken a look at how “sensitive” the results are to the length of the ongoing pause/slowdown.  Our educated guess is that the “bit” of time that the Cowtan and Way findings bought the models is only a few years long, and it is a fact, not a guess, that each additional year at the current rate of lukewarming increases the disconnection between the models and reality.

 

Reference:

Cowtan, K., and R. G. Way, 2013. Coverage bias in the HadCRUT4 temperature series and its impact on recent temperature trends. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, doi: 10.1002/qj.2297.