Sunday, October 30, 2011

Increased illness due to warming?

I do a terrible, wicked thing when I read press reports about scientific findings that surprise me. I look up the original journal article that the report is based on! Doing so very often gives me a chuckle. In the present case, I was surpised to hear how very ill I and my family must have been as we grew up in the very warm weather of the tropics. And, true to expectation the journal abstract behind the report below is amusing. It reveals something you would never guess from the article.

Excerpt: "A total of 211,697 inpatient BSIs were reported during 9,423 hospital-months. Adjusting for long-term trends, BSIs caused by each Gram-negative organism examined were more frequent in summer months compared with winter months, with increases ranging from 12.2% for E. coli (95% CI 9.2–15.4) to 51.8% for Acinetobacter (95% CI 41.1–63.2). Summer season was associated with 8.7% fewer Enterococcus BSIs (95% CI 11.0–5.8) and no significant change in S. aureus BSI frequency relative to winter."

In other words, some types of infection rose but other types FELL during summer. So conclusions about a systematic effect of warming are unjustified

What makes hospital-acquired infections so intractable? There’s no question that some of the organisms that cause them are tricky: MRSA hangs out on the skin and and in the nostrils, and E. coli resides in the gut, making it easy for them to be carried into hospitals undetected. Hospital workers’ poor performance on hand-washing is well-documented. And recently, researchers have begun to wonder whether hospitals have missed an opportunity by not emphasizing environmental cleaning —- of rooms, computers and equipment, for instance -— given how persistently some bacteria can linger.

A new paper in PLoS One, though, says there’s another factor contributing to the problem, one that has missed consideration until now: weather. An 8-year study of infection data from 132 hospitals finds that as outside temperatures rise, in-hospital infections with some of the most problematic pathogens rise also.

The analysis is a warning to healthcare institutions to be additionally on guard when it is warm outside. But the authors say it’s also a warning to the rest of us: If global climate change raises ambient temperatures, it could increase the likelihood of deadly hospital infections as well.

The study — by researchers from the University of Iowa, University of Maryland, Princeton University and the nonprofit Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy — used a privately maintained national database of almost 212,000 clinical bloodstream cultures taken between Jan. 1999 and Sept. 2006. It plotted the infections’ incidence against data on mean temperature and dew point and total precipitation from the US National Climate Data Center. It accounted for the potentially confounding effect of seasonal variation in hospital admissions.

And it found: From winter to summer, Gram-negative bacteria, the most problematic hospital pathogens, rose anywhere from slightly to dramatically. E. coli infections rose 12.2 percent; Pseudomonas infections rose 28.1 percent; Klebsiella infections rose 28.6 percent; and Acinetobacter infections rose 51.8 percent.

Moreover, for every 10-degree Fahrenheit rise in mean temperature, there was a rise in infections with those same Gram-negatives. The increase varied from 3.5 percent for E. coli to 10.8 percent for Acinetobacter, independent of any changes in the season, the humidity or amounts of precipitation. Changes in temperature also affected S. aureus and MRSA, but much less: Those infections rose 2.2 percent for every 10-degree change.


Global warming strikes again!

Early snow storm wreaks havoc on US East coast

SNOW and icy rain has pelted the US east coast, with forecasters warning the "historic early season'' storm could dump up to a foot (30cm) of snow in some areas.

The rare October snowstorm was wreaking havoc on air and road traffic from Washington to Boston, with the National Weather Service warning that travel at night would be "extremely hazardous.''

Air travellers were seeing an average delay of six hours on flights to and from Newark International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Similar problems were affecting New York's Kennedy international airport.

Forecasters issued a winter storm warning for large parts of the northeast, predicting heavy snow, freezing temperatures and strong winds with gusts up to 60 miles per hour (100 km/ph).

Up to a foot of snow was expected in parts of Connecticut and New Jersey, the weather service said. In Manhattan, forecasters said up to 10 inches (25cm) could fall.

Trees that have yet to shed their leaves toppled from the weight of the snow and knocked out power to thousands of homes, the National Weather Service said.

Unseasonably cold air was pouring into the northeast, and deep tropical moisture was set to surge northward along the east coast and "fuel an expanding area of heavy rain and snow''.

Much of the region was socked in August by Hurricane Irene, whose heavy rains and wind left millions without power, destroyed homes and caused record flooding. More than 40 people died.


Consensus? What consensus?

There is a consensus that global warming is not happening but no consensus about why

There is a news release by Paul Voosen on Greenwire titled

Provoked scientists try to explain lag in global warming (Tuesday, October 25, 2011)

There are some interesting quotes from climate scientists in this article that highlight a large degree of uncertainty with respect to the climate system, and the human role in it, even among scientists closely involved with the IPCC reports. The long article focuses on the question

‘Why, despite steadily accumulating greenhouse gases, did the rise of the planet’s temperature stall for the past decade?”

Interesting quotes and text {rearranged to order the persons’ quoted; I highly recommend reading the entire article include [highlight added]:

From John Barnes [Barnes's specialty is measuring stratospheric aerosols].

If you look at the last decade of global temperature, it’s not increasing,” Barnes said. “There’s a lot of scatter to it. But the [climate] models go up. And that has to be explained. Why didn’t we warm up?”

Barnes has kept a lonely watch for 20 years [at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii]. Driving the winding, pothole-strewn road to this government-run lab, he has spent evening after evening waiting for the big one. His specialty is measuring stratospheric aerosols, reflective particles caused by volcanoes that are known to temporarily cool the planet. Only the most violent volcanic eruptions are able to loft emissions above the clouds, scientists thought, and so Barnes, after building the laser, waited for his time.

To this day, there hasn’t been a major volcanic eruption since 1991, when Mount Pinatubo scorched the Philippines, causing the Earth to cool by about a half degree for several years. But Barnes diligently monitored this radio silence, identifying the background level of particles in the stratosphere. And then, sitting in his prefab lab four years ago, not far from where Charles Keeling first made his historic measure of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, Barnes saw something odd in his aerosol records.

Barnes laments the boggling complexity of separating all the small forcings on the climate. It makes Charles Keeling’s careful work identifying rising CO2 levels seem downright simple.

“It’s really subtle,” he said. “It’s hard to track how much is going into the oceans, because the oceans are soaking up some of the heat. And in a lot of places the measurements just aren’t accurate enough. We do have satellites that can measure the energy budget, but there’s still assumptions there. There’s assumptions about the oceans, because we don’t have a whole lot of measurements in the ocean.”

From Jean-Paul Vernier

Five years ago, a balloon released over Saharan sands changed Jean-Paul Vernier’s life.

Climbing above the baked sand of Niger, the balloon, rigged to catch aerosols, the melange of natural and man-made particles suspended in the atmosphere, soared above the clouds and into the stratosphere. There, Vernier expected to find clear skies; after all, there had been no eruption like Pinatubo for more than a decade. But he was wrong. Twelve miles up, the balloon discovered a lode of aerosols.

Vernier had found one slice of the trend identified by Barnes at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. It was astonishing. Where could these heat-reflecting aerosols be originating? Vernier was unsure, but Barnes and his team hazarded a guess when announcing their finding. It was, they suggested, a rapidly increasing activity in China that has drawn plenty of alarm.

A French scientist who moved to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia to study aerosols, Vernier, like Barnes, turned toward a laser to understand these rogue sulfates. But rather than using a laser lashed to the ground, he used a laser in space.

The same year as the Niger balloon campaign, NASA had launched a laser-equipped satellite aimed at observing aerosols among the clouds. Vernier and his peers suspected, with enough algorithmic ingenuity, that they could get the laser, CALIPSO, to speak clearly about the stratosphere. The avalanche of data streaming out of the satellite was chaotic — too noisy for Barnes’ taste, when he took a look — but several years on, Vernier had gotten a hold of it. He had found an answer.

Mostly, the aerosols didn’t seem to be China’s fault.

From Kevin Trenberth

The hiatus [in warming] was not unexpected. Variability in the climate can suppress rising temperatures temporarily, though before this decade scientists were uncertain how long such pauses could last. In any case, one decade is not long enough to say anything about human effects on climate; as one forthcoming paper lays out, 17 years is required.

For some scientists, chalking the hiatus up to the planet’s natural variability was enough. Temperatures would soon rise again, driven up inexorably by the ever-thickening blanket thrown on the atmosphere by greenhouse gases. People would forget about it.

But for others, this simple answer was a failure. If scientists were going to attribute the stall to natural variability, they faced a burden to explain, in a precise way, how this variation worked. Without evidence, their statements were no better than the unsubstantiated theories circulated by climate skeptics on the Internet.

“It has always bothered me,” said Kevin Trenberth, head of the climate analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “Natural variability is not a cause. One has to say what aspect of natural variability.”

Until 2003, scientists had a reasonable understanding where the sun’s trapped heat was going; it was reflected in rising sea levels and temperatures. Since then, however, heat in the upper ocean has barely increased and the rate of sea level rise slowed, while data from a satellite monitoring incoming and outgoing heat — the Earth’s energy budget — found that an ever increasing amount of energy should be trapped on the planet. (Some scientists question relying on this satellite data too heavily, since the observed energy must be drastically revised downward, guided by climate models.) Given this budget ostensibly included the solar cycle and aerosols, something was missing.

Where was the heat going? Trenberth repeated the question time and again.

Recently, working with Gerald Meehl and others, Trenberth proposed one answer. In a paper published last month, they put forward a climate model showing that decade-long pauses in temperature rise, and its attendant missing energy, could arise by the heat sinking into the deep, frigid ocean waters, more than 2,000 feet down. The team used a new model, one prepared for the next U.N. climate assessment; unlike past models, it handles the Pacific’s variability well, which ”seems to be important,” Trenberth said.

“In La Niña, the colder sea surface temperatures in the Pacific mean there is less convective action there — fewer tropical storms, etc., and less clouds, but thus more sun,” he said. “The heat goes into the ocean but gets moved around by the ocean currents. So ironically colder conditions lead to more heat being sequestered.”

It is a compelling illustration of how natural variability, at least in this model, could overcome the influence of increasing greenhouse gases for a decade or more, several scientists said. However, according to one prominent researcher — NASA’s Hansen — it’s a search for an answer that doesn’t need to be solved.

That is because, according to Hansen, there is no missing energy.

Trenberth questions whether the Argo measurements are mature enough to tell as definite a story as Hansen lays out. He has seen many discrepancies among analyses of the data, and there are still “issues of missing and erroneous data and calibration,” he said. The Argo floats are valuable, he added, but “they’re not there yet.”

From Susan Solomon

“What’s really been exciting to me about this last 10-year period is that it has made people think about decadal variability much more carefully than they probably have before,” said Susan Solomon, an atmospheric chemist and former lead author of the United Nations’ climate change report, during a recent visit to MIT. “And that’s all good. There is no silver bullet. In this case, it’s four pieces or five pieces of silver buckshot.”

Already Solomon had shown that between 2000 and 2009, the amount of water vapor in the stratosphere declined by about 10 percent. This decline, caused either by natural variability — perhaps related to El Niño — or as a feedback to climate change, likely countered 25 percent of the warming that would have been caused by rising greenhouse gases. (Some scientists have found that estimate to be high.) Now, another dynamic seemed to be playing out above the clouds.

In a paper published this summer, Solomon, Vernier and others brought these discrete facts to their conclusion, estimating that these aerosols caused a cooling trend of 0.07 degrees Celsius over the past decade. Like the water vapor, it was not a single answer, but it was a small player. These are the type of low-grade influences that future climate models will have to incorporate, Livermore’s Santer said.

Solomon was surprised to see Vernier’s work. She remembered the Soufrière eruption, thinking “that one’s never going to make it into the stratosphere.” The received wisdom then quickly changed. ”You can actually see that all these little eruptions, which we thought didn’t matter, were mattering,” she said.

From Jim Hansen

These revelations are prompting the science’s biggest names to change their views.

Indeed, the most important outcome from the energy hunt may be that researchers are chronically underestimating air pollution’s reflective effect, said NASA’s James Hansen, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Recent data has forced him to revise his views on how much of the sun’s energy is stored in the oceans, committing the planet to warming. Instead, he says, air pollution from fossil fuel burning, directly and indirectly, has been masking greenhouse warming more than anyone knew.

It was in no “way affected by the nonsensical statements of contrarians,” Hansen said. “These are fundamental matters that the science has always been focused on. The problem has been the absence of [scientific] observations.”

NASA’s Hansen disputes that worry about skeptics drove climate scientists to ignore the sun’s climate influence. His team, he said, has “always included solar forcing based on observations and Judith’s estimates for the period prior to accurate observations.”

“That makes the sun a bit more important, because the solar variability modulates the net planetary energy imbalance,” Hansen said. “But the solar forcing is too small to make the net imbalance negative, i.e., solar variations are not going to cause global cooling.”

“Unfortunately, when we focus on volcanic aerosol forcing, solar forcing and stratospheric water vapor changes, it is a case of looking for our lost keys under the streetlight,” Hansen said. “What we need to look at is the tropospheric aerosol forcing, but it is not under the street light.”

“I suspect that there has been increased aerosols with the surge in coal use over the past half decade or so,” he said. “There is semi-quantitative evidence of that in the regions where it is expected. Unfortunately, the problem is that we are not measuring aerosols well enough to determine their forcing and how it is changing.”

More fundamentally, the Argo probe data has prompted Hansen to revise his understanding of how the climate works in a fundamental way, a change he lays out in a sure-to-be-controversial paper to be published later this year.

For decades, scientists have known that most of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases was going into the ocean, not the atmosphere; as a result, even if emissions stopped tomorrow, they said, the atmosphere would continue to warm as it sought balance with the overheated oceans. In a term Hansen coined, this extra warming would be “in the pipeline,” its effects lingering for years and years. But exactly how much warming would be in the pipeline depended on how efficiently heat mixed down into the oceans.

Hansen now believes he has an answer: All the climate models, compared to the Argo data and a tracer study soon to be released by several NASA peers, exaggerate how efficiently the ocean mixes heat into its recesses. Their unanimity in this efficient mixing could be due to some shared ancestry in their code. Whatever the case, it means that climate models have been overestimating the amount of energy in the climate, seeking to match the surface warming that would occur with efficient oceans. They were solving a problem, Hansen says, that didn’t exist.

At first glance, this could easily sound like good news, if true. But it’s not.

“Less efficient mixing, other things being equal, would mean that there is less warming ‘in the pipeline,’” Hansen said. “But it also implies that the negative aerosol forcing is probably larger than most models assumed. So the Faustian aerosol bargain is probably more of a problem than had been assumed.”

From John Daniel [a researcher at the Earth System Research Lab of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]

When the record came in 1998, though, scientists faltered. It’s a pattern often seen with high temperatures. They cut out too much nuance, said John Daniel, a researcher at the Earth System Research Lab of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We make a mistake, anytime the temperature goes up, you imply this is due to global warming,” he said. “If you make a big deal about every time it goes up, it seems like you should make a big deal about every time it goes down.”

From Ben Santer

For a decade, that’s exactly what happened. Skeptics made exaggerated claims about “global cooling,” pointing to 1998. (For one representative example, two years ago columnist George Will referred to 1998 as warming’s “apogee.”) Scientists had to play defense, said Ben Santer, a climate modeler at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

“This no-warming-since-1998 discussion has prompted people to think about the why and try to understand the why,” Santer said. “But it’s also prompted people to correct these incorrect claims.”

“Susan’s stuff is particularly important,” Santer said. “Even if you have the hypothetical perfect model, if you leave out the wrong forcings, you will get the wrong answer.”

From Judith Lean

The answer to the hiatus, according to Judith Lean, is all in the stars. Or rather, one star.

Only recently have climate modelers followed how that 0.1 percent can influence the world’s climate over decade-long spans. (According to best estimates, it gooses temperatures by 0.1 degrees Celsius.) Before then, the sun, to quote the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, got no respect, according to Lean, a voluble solar scientist working out of the the space science division of the Naval Research Laboratory, a radar-bedecked facility tucked away down in the southwest tail of Washington, D.C.

Climate models failed to reflect the sun’s cyclical influence on the climate and “that has led to a sense that the sun isn’t a player,” Lean said. “And that they have to absolutely prove that it’s not a player.”

According to Lean, the combination of multiple La Niñas and the solar minimum, bottoming out for an unusually extended time in 2008 from its peak in 2001, are all that’s needed to cancel out the increased warming from rising greenhouse gases. Now that the sun has begun to gain in activity again, Lean suspects that temperatures will rise in parallel as the sun peaks around 2014.

This consistent trend has prompted Lean to take a rare step for a climate scientist: She’s made a short-term prediction. By 2014, she projects global surface temperatures to increase by 0.14 degrees Celsius, she says, driven by human warming and the sun.

More HERE (See the original for links)

The outstanding hypocrisy and lack of standards at "Nature" magazine

A comment by Nigel Calder below on a matter I used as my lead post on 27th

As a science writer I’m well used to picking my way through the minefield of embargoes on papers not yet published. I know, too, of possible risks to scientists as well as journalists, when quoting from preprints or even reporting results presented at a conference. Publication can be cancelled.

You’d expect clear guidance from leading journals on that subject. How bewildering then, to read an editorial “Scientific climate” in today’s Nature (vol. 478, p. 428). It’s on the subject of the Berkeley Earth / Richard Muller furore noted in my recent posts. The editorial’s sub-heading is: "Results confirming climate change are welcome, even when released before peer review."

… Where “climate change” is to be understood, I suppose, as “catastrophic manmade global warming”. Other points from the editorial are, as I construe them:
The welcome is the stronger because the Muller results can be used against the Republicans in the USA.

But Muller really should not have publicised his work as he did.

Muller is wrong to claim that Science and Nature forbid the discussion of unpublished results – Nature only opposes pre-publicity.

All that said, it was fine for physicists to give pre-publicity to apparent evidence of neutrinos travelling faster than light.

What on earth does all that mean, to scientists and journalists who are just trying to tell their stories promptly? Here are three extracts from Nature’s instructions to authors concerning embargoes, which can be seen in full here
“Material submitted to Nature journals must not be discussed with the media, except in the case of accepted contributions, which can be discussed with the media no more than a week before the publication date under our embargo conditions. We reserve the right to halt the consideration or publication of a paper if this condition is broken.”

“The benefits of peer review as a means of giving journalists confidence in new work published in journals are self-evident. Premature release to the media denies journalists that confidence. It also removes journalists’ ability to obtain informed reactions about the work from independent researchers in the field.”

“… communicate with other researchers as much as you wish, whether on a recognised community preprint server, on Nature Precedings, by discussion at scientific meetings (publication of abstracts in conference proceedings is allowed), in an academic thesis, or by online collaborative sites such as wikis; but do not encourage premature publication by discussion with the press (beyond a formal presentation, if at a conference).”

What the new editorial means, in my opinion, is that the politicisation of science has now penetrated right through to the workaday rituals of publication. On no account must you publicise your new work prematurely, unless you do it to bash the climate sceptics or the Republican Party or supporters of Special Relativity or anyone else the editors happen to dislike today. In that case they’ll forgive you.


How junk science is done: Start with a bogus model and fiddle with the parameters until you get the desired answer

From: "Global warming: Middle East's vital wet winters are disappearing -"
The team estimates that average precipitation from November through April in the region between 1971 and 2010 fell 6.8 percent below the average from 1902 to 1970.

The team began the hunt for causes.
...The team began using computer models to assess the effect of this ocean warming on the Mediterranean's winter precipitation.

The team found that warming all the oceans by a uniform 0.5 degrees Celsius (about 1 degree Fahrenheit) would dry out the eastern Mediterranean.

But the oceans haven't warmed uniformly. The greatest warming has come to tropical oceans. So the team focused next on warming the tropical oceans uniformly in their virtual world. The team got a Mediterranean-wide drying and a wetter northern Europe.

Still, neither of these experiments produced the strong positive North Atlantic Oscillation-like signal with enhanced drying to the south and heavier precipitation to the north.

But by adding another 0.5 degrees C to the Indian Ocean alone, model produced the strong north-south differences in precipitation associated with a positive phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation.

Comment on Overfitting:

With four parameters I can fit an elephant and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk -- John von Neumann


British government subsidy cut pulls plug on solar panels

Homeowners who decide to save money by generating their own renewable energy for the National Grid are to lose almost half their Government subsidy, prematurely published documents suggested yesterday.

Drastic cuts to the feed-in tariff (FIT) for solar power, the guaranteed income to anyone who installs working solar panels in their roof, are likely to be announced by the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, on Monday.

And the precise level of the cut – from 43.3p per kilowatt hour of solar electricity to just 21p – appeared to be made clear yesterday in a document inadvertently published on the website of the Energy Saving Trust, the public advice body, and quickly taken down.

Although the Department for Energy and Climate Change said later that the published document was "neither final nor accurate", the swingeing 50 per cent cut in the subsidy it revealed was in linewith what observers have been expecting.

The feed-in tariff scheme, introduced 18 months ago, has been a huge success and has led to 100,000 households installing solar power.

This is because the levels on return on a typical £10,000 investment have been very generous, at about seven per cent per annum – far in excess of rates that can be found in the banks.

This has sparked a mini-solar boom, and from fewer than 500 companies employing about 3,000 people before the FIT was introduced, there are now 3,000 companies with a 25,000 workforce, which has been predicted to expand to 360,000 by 2020.

Yet the Government has become nervous of the subsidy's cost, as it is paid not from the Treasury but by a levy on household electricity bills – an increasingly sensitive subject – and wants to limit it.

Although it has been expected that the FIT level would drop as the cost of solar installation itself drops – it has come down 30 per cent in the time of the subsidy – the likely high level of the cut to be announced on Monday is dismaying the solar professionals.

"Coming from a Government that said it would be the greenest ever, this is completely misguided and will be a devastating blow for the solar industry," said Howard Johns of Solar Trade Association.

"Solar installation will be limited to a few rich people, and all the installation going on in solar housing will stop. Hundreds of companies will go bankrupt."



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