Thursday, November 15, 2007

New finding: Arctic melting caused by change in ocean circulation

Global warming over the past decade or so isn't all about coal, gasoline and other greenhouse gases, space scientists said Tuesday. Melting Arctic Ocean sea ice may have been caused by a reversal in the ocean's circulation that had been going on for about a decade, scientists from NASA and the University of Colorado said. Whether that reversal in direction was caused in large part by warmth generated by greenhouse gas is a question for another day.

The scientists used both deep-sea pressure gauges and NASA's twin satellites, the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, to measure tiny changes in the weight of columns of water from the surface to the ocean bottom, between 2002 and 2006. The two GRACE satellites travel in tandem and monitor tiny hair's-breadth changes in Earth's gravity field caused by the movement of water. Meanwhile, the pressure gauges on the sea floor directly measure water pressure there. "The close agreement between the North Pole pressure gauges and GRACE data demonstrates GRACE's potential for tracking world ocean circulation," said CU-Boulder physics Professor John Wahr, who co-authored the study that appears in the current issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

The weight of a column of water in the ocean is influenced by such things as the height of the ocean's surface and its salinity. A saltier ocean is heavier and circulates differently than one with less salt. The scientists found a 10-millibar decrease in water pressure at the bottom of the Ocean at the North Pole between 2002 and 2006. That is equal to removing the weight of four inches of water from the ocean, Wahr said. That much drop in water pressure suggests that the Arctic Ocean changed back to a clockwise circulation, the scientists said. The Arctic Ocean had been circulating clockwise prior to 1990, but had been turning counterclockwise in the 1990s.

The change was sparked by a weakened Arctic Oscillation, which reduced the amount of salt in the upper ocean near the North Pole. That slightly decreased the weight of a column of water, changing the water's circulation direction. "Our study confirms that many changes seen in upper Arctic Ocean circulation in the 1990s were mostly decadal in nature, rather than trends caused by global warming," said project leader James Morrison of the University of Washington's Polar Science Center Applied Physics Laboratory.

The Arctic Oscillation was fairly stable until about 1970, but has varied on an approximate 10-year time scale since then. It was turning strongly counterclockwise in the 1990s, during which time the Arctic Ocean lost a lot of its ice, prompting many scientists to view the changes as evidence of an ongoing climate shift. The fact that it can change every decade or so indicates how short-term the oscillations can be, Morrison said.

In fact, the Arctic Ocean circulation seemed to have shifted again in the winter of 2006-07, commensurate with the lowest ice expanse in recorded history. While there is no direct connection between global warming and the Arctic Oscillation, most climate models predict the oscillation will become more strongly counterclockwise in the future, Morrison said. "The events of the 1990s may well be a preview of how the Arctic will respond over longer periods of time in a warming world," he said


The BBC finally looks seriously at the skeptics. See below:

Have all the BBC scandals and staff cuts scared some of them into a little more objectivity?

What do "climate sceptics" believe? You might think that you know the answer, having heard, seen and read numerous counter-blasts aimed at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over the course of this year, as the three components of its landmark climate assessment were published.

Despite having reported on climate change for more than a decade, I realised at the beginning of the year that I was not entirely sure. On a sceptic's blog I would read "global warming isn't happening". Then I would read an op-ed saying "warming is happening but it's entirely natural". Later, someone would tell me "it is happening, it is caused by greenhouse gases, but the effect is so small it won't matter". Either there was a genuine divergence in the views of the sceptical science community, I concluded, or their analyses were somehow getting scrambled in transmission through blogs, newsletters, and the mainstream media.

The sceptics' top 10: What sceptics believe is an important question, because their voices are heard in governments, editors' offices, boardrooms, and - most importantly - the street. Their arguments sway the political approaches of some important countries, notably the US, which in turn influence the global discussions on whether to do anything about rising CO2 levels. So I decided I had better try to find out.

The best approach seemed to be the simplest - just ask them. But first I had to define who I meant by "them". Rather than choosing a group of people myself, I decided to use a group which had already been compiled by sceptics' organisations. In April 2006, a group of 61 self-styled "accredited experts in climate and related scientific disciplines" wrote an open letter to Canada's newly elected prime minister, Stephen Harper, asking his government to initiate hearings into the scientific foundations of the nation's climate change plan.

The letter, complete with a list of signatories, was published in Canada's Financial Post newspaper. Many, though not all, of the signatories were indeed scientists active in fields relating to climate science. And the group was large enough to suggest I might receive a workable number of replies. So I compiled a questionnaire about their views on climate change science, with a dose of politics thrown in, and mailed it out.

I cannot guarantee that all 61 received it; I was unable to obtain contact details for one person, and was less than certain that I had correct details for three of the others. On the other hand, I was fairly sure that the questionnaire would be spread through the blogosphere and - what should we call it? - the emailosphere? - which turned out to be so.

I went into this exercise not completely knowing what to expect; I guessed I would receive a wide variety of responses, and I was right. Fourteen of the group filled in the questionnaire, in varying degrees of detail; another 11 replied without filling it in. Of these, some sent links to articles explaining their position. Some replied with academic papers, for which I am grateful, especially to Doug Hoyt who mailed a number of references that I had not previously seen. Some said this was a worthwhile exercise. Some, in circulated emails, said the opposite, in terms which were sometimes so frank that others of the group apologised on their behalf.

So to the results. Ten out of the 14 agreed that the Earth's surface temperature had risen over the last 50 years; three said it had not, with one equivocal response. Nine agreed that atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide had risen over the last century, with two saying decidedly that levels had not risen. Eight said that human factors were principally driving the rise. Twelve of the fourteen agreed that in principle, rising greenhouse gas concentrations should increase temperatures. But eight cited the Sun as the principal factor behind the observed temperature increase. And nine said the "urban heat island" effect - where progressive urbanisation around weather stations has increased the amount of heat generated locally - had affected the record of historical temperatures. Eleven believed rising greenhouse gas concentrations would not result in "dangerous" climate change, and 12 said it would be unwise for the global community to restrain production of carbon dioxide and the other relevant gases, with several suggesting that such restraint would bring economic disruption.

One of my more gracious respondents, Arthur Rorsch, suggested that rising CO2 might help "green" the world, with increases in food supply. There was general disdain for the Kyoto Protocol, with respondents split roughly equally between saying it was the wrong approach to an important issue, and a meaningless exercise because there was no point in trying to curb emissions. There was general agreement, too, that computer models which try to project the climate of the future are unreliable. Several respondents said the climate system was inherently unpredictable and therefore impossible to model in a computer.

The other questions produced sets of responses which I could not boil down into anything approaching a consensus view. I do not think that anyone would take this exercise as a comprehensive assessment of the views of climate sceptics, which is probably an impossible task. They are a disparate community, and if you put any two together they would surely disagree on some aspect of the science - just as would any two researchers you picked out from any discipline. But I hope it provides a snapshot of where the scientific disagreements that sceptics have with the IPCC begin and end - for one thing, scotching the view (prevalent in my in-box) that sceptical scientists generally believe the Earth's surface is not really getting warmer.

The IPCC and many of the world's climate scientists would, of course, profoundly disagree with the conclusions evidenced by this small group, and I have linked to some articles which detail some of the science behind their disagreement.


Skepticism and the IPCC

By John Christy, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Alabama. This was published by the Beeb too!

The IPCC is a framework around which hundreds of scientists and other participants are organised to mine the panoply of climate change literature to produce a synthesis of the most important and relevant findings. These findings are published every few years to help policymakers keep tabs on where the participants chosen for the IPCC believe the Earth's climate has been, where it is going, and what might be done to adapt to and/or even adjust the predicted outcome. While most participants are scientists and bring the aura of objectivity, there are two things to note:

* this is a political process to some extent (anytime governments are involved it ends up that way)

* scientists are mere mortals casting their gaze on a system so complex we cannot precisely predict its future state even five days ahead

The political process begins with the selection of the Lead Authors because they are nominated by their own governments. Thus at the outset, the political apparatus of the member nations has a role in pre-selecting the main participants. But, it may go further. At an IPCC Lead Authors' meeting in New Zealand, I well remember a conversation over lunch with three Europeans, unknown to me but who served as authors on other chapters. I sat at their table because it was convenient. After introducing myself, I sat in silence as their discussion continued, which boiled down to this: "We must write this report so strongly that it will convince the US to sign the Kyoto Protocol." Politics, at least for a few of the Lead Authors, was very much part and parcel of the process.

And, while the 2001 report was being written, Dr Robert Watson, IPCC Chair at the time, testified to the US Senate in 2000 adamantly advocating on behalf of the Kyoto Protocol, which even the journal Nature now reports is a failure.

As I said above - and this may come as a surprise - scientists are mere mortals. The tendency to succumb to group-think and the herd-instinct (now formally called the "informational cascade") is perhaps as tempting among scientists as any group because we, by definition, must be the "ones who know" (from the Latin sciere , to know). You dare not be thought of as "one who does not know"; hence we may succumb to the pressure to be perceived as "one who knows". This leads, in my opinion, to an overstatement of confidence in the published findings and to a ready acceptance of the views of anointed authorities.

Scepticism, a hallmark of science, is frowned upon. (I suspect the IPCC bureaucracy cringes whenever I'm identified as an IPCC Lead Author.) The signature statement of the 2007 IPCC report may be paraphrased as this: "We are 90% confident that most of the warming in the past 50 years is due to humans." We are not told here that this assertion is based on computer model output, not direct observation. The simple fact is we don't have thermometers marked with "this much is human-caused" and "this much is natural".

So, I would have written this conclusion as "Our climate models are incapable of reproducing the last 50 years of surface temperatures without a push from how we think greenhouse gases influence the climate. Other processes may also account for much of this change."

To me, the elevation of climate models to the status of definitive tools for prediction has led to the temptation to be over-confident. Here is how this can work. Computer models are the basic tools which are used to estimate the future climate. Many scientists (ie the mere mortals) have been captivated by an IPCC image in which the actual global surface temperature curve for the 20th Century is overlaid on a band of model simulations of temperature for the same period. The observations seem to fit right in the middle of the model band, implying that models are formulated so capably and completely that they can reproduce the past very well. Without knowing much about climate models, any group will be persuaded by this image to believe models are quite precise.

However, there is a fundamental flaw with this thinking. You see, every modeller knew what the answer was ahead of time. (Those groans you just heard were the protestations of my colleagues in the modelling community - they know what's coming). In my view, on the other hand, this persuasive image is not a scientific experiment at all. The agreement displayed is just as likely to do with clever software engineering as to the first principles of science. The proper and objective experiment is to test model output against quantities not known ahead of time.

Our group is one of the few that builds a variety of climate datasets from scratch for tests just like this. Since we build the datasets here, we have an urge to be sceptical about arguments-from-authority in favour of the real, though imperfect, observations. In these model vs data comparisons, we find gross inconsistencies - hence I am sceptical of our ability to claim cause and effect about both past and future climate states. Mother Nature is incredibly complex, and to think we mortals are so clever and so perceptive that we can create computer code that accurately reproduces the millions of processes that determine climate is hubris (think of predicting the complexities of clouds).

Of all scientists, climate scientists should be the most humble. Our cousins in the one-to-five-day weather prediction business learned this long ago, partly because they were held accountable for their predictions every day. Answering the question about how much warming has occurred because of increases in greenhouse gases and what we may expect in the future still holds enormous uncertainty, in my view.

How could the situation be improved? At one time I stated that the IPCC-like process was the worst way to compile scientific knowledge, except for all the others. Improvements have been adopted through the years, most notably the publication of the comments and responses. Bravo. I would think a simple way to let the world know there are other opinions about various aspects emerging from the IPCC font would be to provide some quasi-official forum to allow those views to be expressed. These alternative-view authors should be afforded the same protocol as the IPCC authors, ie they themselves are their own final reviewers and thus would have final say on what is published. At that point, I suppose, the blogosphere would erupt and, amidst the fire and smoke, hopefully, enlightenment may appear.

I continue to participate in the IPCC (unless an IPCC functionary reads this missive and blackballs me) because I not only am able to contribute from my own research, but there are numerous opportunities to learn something new - to feed the curiosity that attends a scientist's soul. I can live with the disagreements concerning nuances and subjective assertions as they simply remind me that all scientists are people, and do not prevent me from speaking my mind anyway.

Don't misunderstand me. Atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to increase due to the undisputed benefits that carbon-based energy brings to humanity. This increase will have some climate impact through CO2's radiation properties. However, fundamental knowledge is meagre here, and our own research indicates that alarming changes in the key observations are not occurring.

The best advice regarding scientific knowledge, which certainly applies to climate, came to me from Mr Mallory, my high school physics teacher. He proposed that we should always begin our scientific pronouncements with this statement: "At our present level of ignorance, we think we know..." Good advice for the IPCC, and all of us.


Mind Games of the Big Green Scare Machine

Lord, what fools these mortals be - Shakespeare

With each passing day, Americans are increasingly behaving as though Al Gore's mantra "the debate [over man-made global warming] is over" were true. Warming folklore is deserving of incredulity as the extreme left's latest armament in its ongoing battle against capitalism and globalization. But instead it has found insinuation into virtually every corner of our culture. Not by any occasion of scientific merit. Certainly not by outcome of an imaginary debate whose time never came, let alone ever concluded. But rather by the actions of ideologues who have successfully gagged the opposing voice in that very discussion while widely dispensing the resultantly accepted tenets of their own.

And while the gags used held no corporal form, but were instead woven from a variety of longstanding reason-skewing techniques (aka logical fallacies), their effect was scarcely diminished. Consider these recent events.

Frustrated by the Bush Administration's submissively proposed market-friendly voluntary measures, Congress is now earnestly considering elsewhere disastrous mandatory Carbon emissions abatement legislation and consumption-penalizing tax policies. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-MI), who believes the U.S should reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 60-80% by 2050, is looking to levy a 50 cent per gallon additional gasoline tax on an already pump-price-shocked America. For good measure, he'll further threaten the struggling airline industry by including jet fuel. On top of that, he'll require all energy companies to pay $50 per ton for carbon released by burning coal, petroleum or natural gas. He'll also phase out mortgage tax deductions for homes over 3,000 sq ft and eliminate them altogether for homes exceeding 4,200 sq feet.

On the Senate side, Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner (R-VA) have introduced their own "pollution permit" bill, amusingly dubbed America's Climate Security Act [1], to "reduce global warming pollution." It proposes both carbon cap-and-trade and monetary transition assistance to current carbon slobs. Never to be outdone, Democratic White House frontrunner Hillary Clinton -- no political dummy -- is promising she'd broker and sign a globally binding post Kyoto emissions treaty, a full 2 years before the current failed accord is set to expire.

And closer to people's homes, NBC dedicated last week to "green" programming which, amid its silly how to be a good little greenie tips, spotlighted both Democrats and Republicans vowing to save the planet from "global warming pollution." Automaker Ford wasn't alone in hysteria capitulation when it released a commercial wherein a little girl asks her dad to drop her off a block short of her destination to avoid the humiliation of being seen in a non-hybrid SUV.

It's becoming painfully apparent that the public is buying into this rubbish. An October CNN/Research Corp. poll found 56% of respondents believing that "the phenomenon of global warming has been proven, and can be largely blamed on human endeavors, such as power plants and factories." And a Harris poll that same month revealed 71% believing that "increased carbon dioxide and other gases released into the atmosphere will, if unchecked, lead to global warming and an increase in average temperatures."

Mind you, while science attests that the planet is, indeed, at an apex of a historically natural vacillation of cold and warm phases, there exists absolutely no proven influence on climate by man-made CO2 emissions. And yet, the Big Green Scare Machine (TBGSM), its MSM cogs, and Gorebot drones have managed to convince enough people otherwise to successfully engrain this nonsense into the very conscience of society, primarily by silencing dissent with ploys of flawed reason.

Clearing the Corridor to Clouded Correlation

We've all seen them present evidence of an undeniable upward cycle, then label anthropogenic global warming (AGW) skeptics as "warming deniers" who rebuff the proof right before their eyes. This dishonest little dodge is an inverted Straw man argument [2] as it blatantly misrepresents a position, proves its own distortion, and then concludes that the real position has been affirmed. The upshot of this fraud is a population that largely believes skeptics doubt the warming trend itself, not its anthropogenic influence, and that thereby lies about the"debate." Moreover, this implied association blurs that distinction, leaving many with the very false yet very real impression that they have witnessed convincing evidence of both. Pretty neat trick -- turning a skeptic questioning the impact of manmade greenhouse gases into a boogieman denying the planet is warming to imply all cynics are obviously wrong about both.

However, as with stage magic, logical illusions require audience receptivity preparation. Here, instilling an assumed connection is paramount. In An Inconvenient Truth, Gore sermonized before a graph he claimed depicted both unprecedented modern temperatures and startling correlations between temperature and CO2 fluctuations over eons of time. In truth, even were the representations honest -- they were based upon the so-called "hockeystick" graph produced by Dr. Michael Mann which has been proven inaccurate, particularly in its record heat claims -- viewers had no way of discerning the key issue of whether temperature increases followed or preceded rises in CO2.

Of course, had the CO2 increases trailed those of temperature -- as many believe to be the case (solar and/or volcanically warmed oceans emit more CO2) -- then the entire GHG theory crumbles. Indeed, without such temporal reference, Gore is employing a common correlation versus causation confusion trick called Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (with this, therefore because of this). The absurdity of such illogic was cleverly lampooned by Bobby Henderson, who wrote in a May 2005 letter to the Kansas School Board:

"You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature."

More here

Believe me Greenies, I tried the bus but it is a lost cause

By Andrew Gall, writing from Sydney, Australia

I drove to work the other day. Walk out the door, hop in the car, 15 minutes later I am at my desk after parking at the early-bird rate of $18. Going home is just as low fuss. Problem is I felt a bit guilty with all the talk about greenhouse emissions and carbon footprints, so I caught the bus to work today. As I live in Annandale and work near Wynyard, how hard can it be?

Walk out the door, 50 metres to the bus stop and wait. One hour and seven minutes later I am at my desk, realising I could have walked it quicker. The first thing you notice is that the timetable is just a selection of random times with no relevance to buses actually arriving. Although the timetable suggests there is a bus every four or five minutes the reality is actually no buses for 25 minutes and then four or five buses simultaneously. My neighbour tells me the record is eight buses at once. With narrow streets precluding passing, the result is one or two hugely overcrowded buses followed closely by three almost empty buses.

Once on the bus I discover another problem. The bureaucrats apparently claim that buses are designed to fit the "95th percentile adult". Unfortunately this data appears to be based on 19th-century Lancashire miners or hobbits. I am just over 180 centimetres and I have to bend over while standing in the back of the bus. Jamming my legs into the seats is almost impossible.

The next problem is the route appears to be have been designed by Soviet Central Planning. Annandale is five kilometres west of the city, and as three-quarters of the passengers go into the CBD you would expect the bus route to be generally easterly. Not so. It meanders through the back streets of Camperdown and Glebe before coming out on Broadway and going down George Street. Once the bus turns onto Broadway and joins up with all the other Parramatta Road and King Street services it becomes almost comical as we leave the realm of professional commuters with their TravelTens and weeklies and enter the world of tourists who try to pay with a $50 note.

As people trickle off through Railway Square and Haymarket the buses creep on and begin to clump together until by the Queen Victoria Building, George Street is one long bus queue. Eventually we arrive at Wynyard and I give thanks for one small mercy - that I am not the driver. Today I am driving to work.



Aesop would have had little trouble seeking inspiration if he were writing his fables today. The Tortoise and the Hare might have become The Hamilton and the Raikkonen. The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs might have been known to us as The Fisherman and the Cod. And parents might now be reading The Sub-Prime Mortgage and the Investor instead of The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing.

But one moral tale that certainly isn't lacking any inspiration today is The Boy Who Cried Wolf. We live in an age where we seem to revel in the scare story. Some would argue that climate change is just such a story. Day after day we read scientific reports pointing to an ever worsening outlook for our species. But the law of diminishing returns says that no matter how pressing or compelling the message, the more we hear it, the less impact it has on us over time.

Rather predictably, talk of "eco fatigue" is beginning to surface. An ICM survey of 2,000 British adults found recently that 23% of those surveyed admitted they were "bored with eco news". You could say 77% are still engaged, but it would be a mistake to ignore the fact that some have gone from "aware" to "despair" in a very short period of time.

What has caused this? Earlier this year, Professor Mike Hulme, then director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, warned scientists and the media against the use of hyperbolic language when speaking about climate change scenarios. In particular, he warned against using the words "disaster", "apocalypse" and "catastrophe". His own research showed that such terms generated apathy among the intended audience. "Sod it," people would conclude, "we all might as well live for the now, then. What time does Top Gear start?"

Another factor I sense playing its part in generating "eco fatigue" is that some people clearly see it as a passing fashion. Our "build 'em up, knock 'em down" culture demands that we constantly check the shelf life of any trend, and now the environment has gone "mainstream" many instinctively want to retain their cool by getting off this carousel. Tellingly, the ICM survey found that 18% of those surveyed admitted to exaggerating their commitment to environmentally friendly lifestyle choices because it is "fashionable".



For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL 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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