Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A heretic with vast experience: "The father of the science of modern climatology"

Some people are lucky enough to enjoy their work, some are lucky enough to love it, and then there's Reid Bryson. At age 86, he's still hard at it every day, delving into the science some say he invented.

Reid A. Bryson holds the 30th PhD in Meteorology granted in the history of American education. Emeritus Professor and founding chairman of the University of Wisconsin Department of Meteorology-now the Department of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences-in the 1970s he became the first director of what's now the UW's Gaylord Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies. He's a member of the United Nations Global 500 Roll of Honor-created, the U.N. says, to recognize "outstanding achievements in the protection and improvement of the environment." He has authored five books and more than 230 other publications and was identified by the British Institute of Geographers as the most frequently cited climatologist in the world.

Long ago in the Army Air Corps, Bryson and a colleague prepared the aviation weather forecast that predicted discovery of the jet stream by a group of B-29s flying to and from Tokyo. Their warning to expect westerly winds at 168 knots earned Bryson and his friend a chewing out from a general-and the general's apology the next day when he learned they were right. Bryson flew into a couple of typhoons in 1944, three years before the Weather Service officially did such things, and he prepared the forecast for the homeward flight of the Enola Gay. Back in Wisconsin, he built a program at the UW that's trained some of the nation's leading climatologists.

How Little We Know

Bryson is a believer in climate change, in that he's as quick as anyone to acknowledge that Earth's climate has done nothing but change throughout the planet's existence. In fact, he took that knowledge a big step further, earlier than probably anyone else. Almost 40 years ago, Bryson stood before the American Association for the Advancement of Science and presented a paper saying human activity could alter climate.

"I was laughed off the platform for saying that," he told Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News.

In the 1960s, Bryson's idea was widely considered a radical proposition. But nowadays things have turned almost in the opposite direction: Hardly a day passes without some authority figure claiming that whatever the climate happens to be doing, human activity must be part of the explanation. And once again, Bryson is challenging the conventional wisdom.

"Climate's always been changing and it's been changing rapidly at various times, and so something was making it change in the past," he told us in an interview this past winter. "Before there were enough people to make any difference at all, two million years ago, nobody was changing the climate, yet the climate was changing, okay?"

"All this argument is the temperature going up or not, it's absurd," Bryson continues. "Of course it's going up. It has gone up since the early 1800s, before the Industrial Revolution, because we're coming out of the Little Ice Age, not because we're putting more carbon dioxide into the air."

Little Ice Age? That's what chased the Vikings out of Greenland after they'd farmed there for a few hundred years during the Mediaeval Warm Period, an earlier run of a few centuries when the planet was very likely warmer than it is now, without any help from industrial activity in making it that way. What's called "proxy evidence"-assorted clues extrapolated from marine sediment cores, pollen specimens, and tree-ring data-helps reconstruct the climate in those times before instrumental temperature records existed.

We ask about that evidence, but Bryson says it's second-tier stuff. "Don't talk about proxies," he says. "We have written evidence, eyeball evidence. When Eric the Red went to Greenland, how did he get there? It's all written down."

Bryson describes the navigational instructions provided for Norse mariners making their way from Europe to their settlements in Greenland. The place was named for a reason: The Norse farmed there from the 10th century to the 13th, a somewhat longer period than the United States has existed. But around 1200 the mariners' instructions changed in a big way. Ice became a major navigational reference. Today, old Viking farmsteads are covered by glaciers.

Bryson mentions the retreat of Alpine glaciers, common grist for current headlines. "What do they find when the ice sheets retreat, in the Alps?"

We recall the two-year-old report saying a mature forest and agricultural water-management structures had been discovered emerging from the ice, seeing sunlight for the first time in thousands of years. Bryson interrupts excitedly.

"A silver mine! The guys had stacked up their tools because they were going to be back the next spring to mine more silver, only the snow never went," he says. "There used to be less ice than now. It's just getting back to normal."

What Leads, What Follows?

What is normal? Maybe continuous change is the only thing that qualifies. There's been warming over the past 150 years and even though it's less than one degree, Celsius, something had to cause it. The usual suspect is the "greenhouse effect," various atmospheric gases trapping solar energy, preventing it being reflected back into space.

We ask Bryson what could be making the key difference:

Q: Could you rank the things that have the most significant impact and where would you put carbon dioxide on the list?

A: Well let me give you one fact first. In the first 30,000 feet of the atmosphere, on the average, outward radiation from the Earth, which is what CO2 is supposed to affect, how much [of the reflected energy] is absorbed by water vapor? In the first 30,000 feet, 80 percent, okay?

Q: Eighty percent of the heat radiated back from the surface is absorbed in the first 30,000 feet by water vapor.

A: And how much is absorbed by carbon dioxide? Eight hundredths of one percent. One one-thousandth as important as water vapor. You can go outside and spit and have the same effect as doubling carbon dioxide.

This begs questions about the widely publicized mathematical models researchers run through supercomputers to generate climate scenarios 50 or 100 years in the future. Bryson says the data fed into the computers overemphasizes carbon dioxide and accounts poorly for the effects of clouds-water vapor. Asked to evaluate the models' long-range predictive ability, he answers with another question: "Do you believe a five-day forecast?"

Bryson says he looks in the opposite direction, at past climate conditions, for clues to future climate behavior. Trying that approach in the weeks following our interview, Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News soon found six separate papers about Antarctic ice core studies, published in peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1999 and 2006. The ice core data allowed researchers to examine multiple climate changes reaching back over the past 650,000 years. All six studies found atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations tracking closely with temperatures, but with CO2 lagging behind changes in temperature, rather than leading them. The time lag between temperatures moving up-or down-and carbon dioxide following ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand years.

Renaissance Man, Marathon Man

When others were laughing at the concept, Reid Bryson was laying the ground floor for scientific investigation of human impacts on climate. We asked UW Professor Ed Hopkins, the assistant state climatologist, about the significance of Bryson's work in advancing the science he's now practiced for six decades.

"His contributions are manifold," Hopkins said. "He wrote Climates of Hunger back in the 1970s looking at how climate changes over the last several thousand years have affected human activity and human cultures."

This, he suggests, is traceable to Bryson's high-school interest in archaeology, followed by college degrees in geology, then meteorology, and studies in oceanography, limnology, and other disciplines. "He's looked at the interconnections of all these things and their impact on human societies," Hopkins says. "He's one of those people I would say is a Renaissance person."

The Renaissance, of course, produced its share of heretics, and 21 years after he supposedly retired, one could ponder whether Bryson's work today is a tale of continuing heresy, or of conventional wisdom being outpaced by an octogenarian.

Without addressing-or being asked-that question, UW Green Bay Emeritus Professor Joseph Moran agrees that Bryson qualifies as "the father of the science of modern climatology."

"In his lifetime, in his career, he has shaped the future as well as the present state of climatology," Moran says, adding, "We're going to see his legacy with us for many generations to come."

Holding bachelor's and master's degrees from Boston College, Moran became a doctoral candidate under Bryson in the late 1960s and early '70s. "I came to Wisconsin because he was there," Moran told us.

With Hopkins, Moran co-authored Wisconsin's Weather and Climate, a book aimed at teachers, students, outdoor enthusiasts, and workers with a need to understand what the weather does and why. Bryson wrote a preface for the book but Hopkins told us the editors "couldn't fathom" certain comments, thinking he was being too flippant with the remark that "Wisconsin is not for wimps when it comes to weather."

Clearly what those editors couldn't fathom was that Bryson simply enjoys mulling over the reasons weather and climate behave as they do and what might make them-and consequently us-behave differently. This was immediately obvious when we asked him why, at his age, he keeps showing up for work at a job he's no longer paid to do.

"It's fun!" he said. Ed Hopkins and Joe Moran would undoubtedly agree.

"I think that's one of the reasons for his longevity," Moran says. "He's so interested and inquisitive. I regard him as a pot-stirrer. Sometimes people don't react well when you challenge their long-held ideas, but that's how real science takes place."


China Boasts One Child Policy has Reduced Green House Gas Emissions

Hu Tao of China's State Environmental Protection Administration praised his country's One Child population control policy for its contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases. The policy, introduced in the early 1980's, has been condemned by international human rights agencies for including forced abortion, infanticide and sterilization as well as heavy financial and legal penalties for having children.

Speaking last month at a meeting in Oslo on the UN's Kyoto Protocol, Hu claimed that the coercive abortion and sterilization policy has had the side effect of slowing "global warming" by limiting the population to 1.3 billion. "This has reduced greenhouse gas emissions," he said.

China's One Child policy has been identified as the cause of a looming demographic crisis in which, given the cultural preference for boys, too few girls are being allowed to live to birth to maintain a gender balance in the population. Demographers predict that there will be 40 million unmarried men in China by 2020 and the situation is already creating a dramatic rise in prostitution and the buying and selling of women.

The close connection between the environmental lobby and the population control and international abortion movement is well established. In 1968 Paul R. Erlich, a renowned entomologist specializing in butterflies, published the book the Population Bomb that posited a connection between environmental degradation and overpopulation. Ehrlich went on to found the lobby group Zero Population Growth (ZPG) in 1968, that was instrumental in bringing about changes in US law to make contraception and abortion legal and widely available.

Although Erlich's predictions of worldwide famine and environmental disaster have repeatedly failed materialize, the claims of ZPG, now called the Population Connection, continue to guide international policy. The group claims credit, along with the abortion lobby groups National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood of America, and the American Civil Liberties Union, and the U.S. Supreme Court for helping to establish an international movement to decrease human population, particularly in the developing world.



European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has slated German plans to build at least 26 new power stations fired with low-energy, high-polluting brown coal, in an interview published in yesterday's edition of Germany's mass-circulation Bild. "Brown coal is the least favourable choice when it comes to greenhouse gases," Dimas said. Brown coal, also known as lignite, produces less energy and more carbon dioxide a ton than do hard coals such as anthracite "Those still building new coal-fired power stations must be aware that this policy could be expensive for all of us in the long term," Dimas was quoted as saying.

The commissioner was speaking following the publication in Bangkok on Friday of a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report said the target of containing global temperature rises to an average 2øC in the long term was achievable but required rapid action to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Dimas noted that the European Union, under Germany's presidency, had earlier this year committed it to cutting carbon dioxide emissions 20% from 1990 levels by 2020. Germany plans to build the power stations, making use of its large lignite reserves.


Coral reef nonsense dying?

Since coral flourishes best in warm water, the idea that global warming would be bad for coral was always absurd. It now seems that the real reason for coral dieoff is beginning to emerge -- though a hypothetical link to global warming is still being clung to:

Researchers trying to find the causes of coral bleaching that has devastated reefs around the world have identified a virus that may be responsible. It is believed to be naturally present in symbiotic algae within corals, but with temperatures and levels of ultraviolet light increasing because of global warming it is multiplying, with deadly effect.

The algae that provide the corals with carbohydrates and sugars die, leaving the corals too weak to prevent larger algal lifeforms smothering the reefs. An estimated 30 per cent of corals are expected to disappear in the next 30 years, with bleaching playing a major role.

Microbiologists at the University of Plymouth used electron microscopy images to study and name the virus as ZFV1, with their findings published in the journal Applied and Enviromental Microbiology. The virus was identified by Jayme Lohr, a Phd student.

Dr Colin Munn, of the University of Plymouth, said "This could explain how climate change alone is not responsible for the destruction of coral reefs."


Pesticide-Free Schools Full of Rats

Our local radio station is encouraging parents to protest the use of pesticides in our schools. The station is broadcasting "public service announcements" saying pesticides used in the schools are "linked" to cancer, asthma and lower IQ scores among the kids. Probably you are hearing the same announcements on your radio stations. They're produced by Earthworks, a consortium of eco-groups, and sponsored by The Ad Council.

Pesticide fears are clearly mainstream these days. The reality is that we worry about pesticides because so few of today's parents have actually seen the diseases that rats, mice, and roaches have historically brought with them. Public health officials are certain that if vermin took over today's schools, as they took over 19th-century cities before modern pesticides were developed, our children would not be safe in schools from diseases we have been able to forget.

The dried urine and feces from rats and mice can spread such diseases as leptospirosis, rat-bite fever, and at least one form of meningitis. Rats are the historic vehicle for epidemics of Black Plague. Cockroaches can spread typhoid fever, dysentery, gastroenteritis, and carry in their guts the bacteria that cause salmonella and staphylococcus infections.

Nor is there any evidence that the pesticides approved for use in schools pose any dangers to the kids-or anybody else. The source materials cited by Earthworks don't provide any peer-reviewed documentation of pesticide harm. Their statements are full of weasel-words such as "linked," with the linkage perhaps just somebody's printed accusation. Or they say "researchers hypothesize," which is the professional's word for guessing.

Earthworks says researchers "hypothesize that pesticides are among the preventable causes of asthma in children." In fact, the evidence says it's the discarded casings of cockroaches that are a major cause of asthma. If you don't control the roaches, you get more asthma attacks among the kids.

The EPA once told us we could control cockroaches just by taping up our windows, doors and the cracks along the baseboards-but I never found anyone who believed that. If you can't control cockroaches at home by taping up the cracks around the house, don't expect it to work in a public building. Especially with eggs sacks hiding in lunch sacks and grocery bags, just waiting for a free ride into the building.

Even uncontrolled weeds in the schoolyards pose danger. More ragweed means more allergy attacks. But the anti-pesticide activists oppose even the use of herbicides such as glyphosate, which health authorities say is about as toxic as tea and talcum powder.

However, the members of the Pesticide Action Network apparently cannot emotionally tolerate the use of any pesticide anywhere, any time, no matter what dangers to our children they prevent. We should be able to rely on the Ad Council to check out their "public service" announcements. In this case they should take another look at the Earthworks' agenda.



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is generally to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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