Tag: Global Science Report

Hurricane Bluster

Global Science Report is a weekly 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.”

When it comes down to scaring people into accepting onerous reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, it’s always a good idea to trot out the specter of increased hurricanes, despite the lack of backing for this in the science literature.

“Bluster” isn’t the name of an Atlantic hurricane (although it would be a good one*), but rather our description of the stories about new research out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology projecting an increase in the frequency and magnitude of hurricanes as a result of anthropogenic climate change.

Publishing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, M.I.T.’s Kerry Emanuel projects a rather large increase in the global frequency of tropical cyclones as well as their intensity over the course of the 21st century.

Emanuel is the first to admit that the changes he found were largely of a different character to those in the generally accepted literature, which projects little change in the frequency of tropical systems (with perhaps even a slight decline) and only a slight increase in the future intensity.

The difference between Emanuel’s results and those from the bulk of other studies arises primarily for two reasons; 1) the future emissions scenario used to drive the global climate models; and, 2) the method of downscaling coarse climate model output to the finer scale necessary to model tropical cyclones.

When it comes to emission scenarios, Emanuel chooses to use the most extreme scenario, which more than triples the effective atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by the end of the century, while most other studies have used a more modest scenario which leads only to about a doubling. With new technologies opening up vast abundances of lower CO2-emitting natural gas available for power generation, the extreme emissions scenario used by Emanuel seems unlikely.

Great News from Greenland

Global Science Report is a weekly 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.”

I recently returned from a trip to Greenland’s Jokabshavn Glacier, which discharges more ice than any other in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Our route of flight from Reykjavik traversed the ice cap from about fifty miles north of Angmassalik to the airport at Ilulissat, on Disko Bay, about one-third of the way up Greenland’s west coast. In southeastern Greenland, we flew very close to the country’s second-highest peak, Mt. Forel (11,099 feet), and in the near future I will upload a image of a nearby mountain approximately 8,000 feet high completely covered by the ice cap.

It is obvious from the air that there is very little movement over the deepest regions of the ice, and the drift patterns in the lee of some of the submerged peaks are strongly suggestive of at least some regional accumulation. There is virtually no evidence for summer melt in the southeast, while the southwest portion of the ice cap is known to melt and refreeze at the surface on an annual cycle—I saw considerable evidence for multi-year, but small, lakes in that region.

In preparation, I read just about everything I could get my hands on, including a recent very remarkable paper by Dorthe Dahl-Jenson and about 70 coauthors. Dahl-Jensen heads up the Center for Ice and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. Dahl-Jenson’s team drilled to the bottom of the ice in northwestern Greenland, providing us with the first climate history of Greenland that includes the warmest period in the last interglacial period, from about 128,000 to 122,000 years ago, known as the Eemian. That was embedded in the Sangamon Interglacial, which ran from approximately 135,000 to 95,000 years ago. 

(For perspective, the last (Wisconsin) glaciation started then and lasted to (nominally) 10,800 years ago—that last date being about a blink of a geologist’s eye ago. Homo sapiens appeared in the ice age, and evidence is that proto-civilization developed while the hemisphere was glaciated.)

Climate vs. Climate Change

Global Science Report is a weekly 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.”

There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding in the difference between climate and climate change.

This is on very public display in the president’s recently unveiled Climate Action Plan, which details a series of executive actions designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to control the future course of the climate.

In justifying the need for these actions, and why he doesn’t have time to wait for Congress to act, the president points to numerous recent examples of extreme weather disasters while linking weather extremes to climate change brought about by anthropogenic greenhouse gases emissions.

In doing so, he goes awry of the best science.

Here’s why.

Climate Models Veer Off Course

Global Science Report is a weekly 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 shows that climate models are getting worse at replicating a collection of known climate changes as incentivized efforts to improve them have them universally veering off course.

Anyone who is familiar with John Allison’s book The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure knows that incentives can drive otherwise “independent” decisions in a common direction, with sometimes disastrous results. Allison documents how a collection of government incentives (intentionally and unintentionally) drove decisions in the wider financial markets towards overinvesting in residential real estate. The resulting massive misallocation of funds and ultimate bubble burst sent us into the Great Recession, from which we have yet to recover.

Obviously, that was not the intended outcome of the federal policies, but as Allison writes “Intentions that are called ‘good’ often do not produce favorable outcomes.” Allison argues that a free market, one that is free from centralized incentives, and one in which truly independent decisions are being made, is less susceptible to a universal failure and that when failures do occur, they are not as severe and they are more quickly recovered from. Had the financial markets been operating without federal regulations and incentives, not only would the Great Recession not have occurred (or would have been minor), but that our country would be in a much healthier financial state with an overall higher standard of living for everyone.

Not only can (and do) targeted incentives lead financial markets astray, they also operate the same way in the field of science.

In either case, the ultimate effect is to steer the outcome away from its most efficient pathway and instead send it veering towards dangerous territory that is marked by a decline in our overall well-being.

This is nowhere more evident than in the field of climate science, as a new paper by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Kyle Swanson clearly illuminates.

In his work “Emerging selection bias in large climate change simulations,” Swanson finds that the new generation of climate models has become worse at matching recent climate change than the generation of models which they supplant.

The Science vs. the Pseudoscience of Extreme Weather

Over at Capital Weather Gang, the always-perceptive Jason Samenow details a recent Twitterspat between Dot Earth’s (aka The New York Times’) Andrew Revkin and Penn State’s Michael Mann over attributing extreme weather events to anthropogenic climate change—tornadoes, in particular.

Revkin tweeted to ask whether the folks who were alluding to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions being behind the major (and deadly) tornado outbreak during the spring of 2011 were willing to attribute the record lack of tornado occurrences during the past 12 months to the same cause.

Revkin could have very well asked this same question about all kinds of bad weather—blizzards, hurricanes, droughts, floods, record heat, record cold, summer in Washington, winter in Chicago, etc.

Used to be, when the weather was bad, folks would logically cite Mark Twain’s “if you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”  Now, someone will show up on TV who is quick to point out that this sort of thing “is consistent with” expectations of global warming.  These same folks tend nap when the weather is hunky-dory, and to go into hibernation when the extreme weather category of their previous pronouncement has a hiatus.

Since the bang-up year of 2011, the number of tornadoes has dropped off the table, with the last 12 months showing the fewest since systematic observations began in the 1950s.

And like tornados, major hurricane strikes have also become scarce, in fact, they are so in remission that someone might soon announce they have been cured.  It has currently been more than 7 years since a Category 3 made landfall in the U.S., the longest time in more than 100 years—and all this when overall hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin has been elevated.  Maybe there is something to research that finds that while anthropogenic climate change may increase the frequency of major hurricanes in the Atlantic, it changes the circulation patterns such that they are more likely to remain offshore (see page 30-32 of our comments on the draft National Assessment Report)

But we digress…

Apparently the folks who rally around the anthropogenic climate change/extreme weather linkage don’t like being awoken when all is calm.

Still Another Low Climate Sensitivity Estimate

Global Science Report is a weekly 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.”

As promised, we report here on yet another published estimate of the earth’s equilibrium climate sensitivity that is towards the low end of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) range of possibilities.

Recall that the equilibrium climate sensitivity is the amount that the earth’s surface temperature will rise from a doubling of the pre-industrial atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. As such, it is probably the most important factor in determining whether or not we need to “do something” to mitigate future climate change. Lower sensitivity means low urgency, and, if low enough, carbon dioxide emissions confer a net benefit.

And despite common claims that the “science is settled” when it comes to global warming, we are still learning more and more about the earth complex climate system—and the more we learn, the less responsive it seems that the earth’s average temperature is to human carbon dioxide emissions.

The latest study to document a low climate sensitivity is authored by independent scientist Nic Lewis and is scheduled for publication in the Journal of Climate. Lewis’ study is a rather mathematically complicated reanalysis of another earlier mathematically complicated analysis that matches the observed global temperature change to the temperature change produced from a simple climate model with a configurable set of parameters whose actual values are largely unknown but can be assigned in the model simulations. By varying the values of these parameters in the models and seeing how well the resulting temperature output matches the observations, you can get some idea as to what the real-world value of these parameters are. And the main parameter of interest is the equilibrium climate sensitivity. Lewis’ study also includes additional model years and additional years of observations, including several years from the current global warming “hiatus” (i.e., the lack of a statistically significant rise in global temperature that extends for about 16 years, starting in early 1997).

We actually did something along a similar vein—in English—and published it back in 2002. We found the same thing that Lewis did: substantially reduced warming. We were handsomely rewarded for our efforts by the climategate mafia, who tried to get 1) the paper withdrawn, 2) the editor fired—not just from the journal, but from Auckland University, and 3) my (Michaels) 1979 PhD “reopened” by University of Wisconsin.

Burning Books, Burning Witches, Burning Corn

Global Science Report is a weekly 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.”

 

History is littered with ideology gone awry.

The most recent example? Burning corn as a substitute for fossil fuels in an effort to mitigate anthropogenic climate change (which supposedly has a negative impact on the production of crops such as corn).

This is about as logical as publicity-stunt burnings of Harry Potter books because of objections to the contents within, which only results in more people buying and reading the books to find out what got the book-burners so inflamed in the first place.

With Harry Potter it was the fantasy world of witchcraft and wizardry. With corn ethanol it is the fantasy world of agriculturally damaging climate change.

A few years ago, a paper was published in the prominent scientific journal Science by Stanford’s David Lobell and colleagues that reported that human-caused global warming over the past 30 years resulted in a slowdown in global crop production. Modeling the climate response of the world’s four largest commodity crops—corn, rice, wheat, and soybeans—Lobell’s team calculated that as a result of rising temperatures and precipitation changes, global crop production was about 3 percent less than it otherwise would have been.

But consider this: The United States produces about 36 percent of the world’s corn. And about 40 percent of U.S. corn is used to produce ethanol for use as a gasoline substitute in an attempt to lower net carbon dioxide emissions from driving and reduce climate change. Globally, corn makes up 30 percent of total worldwide production of the four crops studied by Lobell’s group.

Multiply all these percentages out, and you get that the United States is burning a bit more than 4 percent of global crop production in an attempt to mitigate a climate-driven loss of 3 percent of the global crop production.