Saturday, January 12, 2008

Huge upset: Global warming may not affect sea levels

Reality trumps model-based predictions

The most pessimistic predictions of sea level rises as ice sheets are melted by global warming may have to be scaled back as a result of an extraordinary discovery that ice persisted when the Earth was much hotter than today. Scientists have discovered that glaciers survived for hundreds of thousands of years during an extraordinary era when crocodiles roamed the Arctic and the tropical Atlantic Ocean was as warm as human blood.

They had thought that Earth was ice free during the so called Turonian period, a "super greenhouse world" between 93.5 million and 89.3 million years ago. But now evidence has been found of hothouse glaciers that persisted by studies of tiny plankton and other marine organisms.

Large ice-sheets existed about 91 million years ago, during one of the warmest periods in the past 500 million years, an international team of scientists reports in Science. The scientists from the UK, Germany, USA and Netherlands found evidence of an approximate 200,000 year period of widespread glaciation, with ice sheets about 60 per cent the size of the modern Antarctic ice cap.

The team obtained their evidence from analyses of organic carbon-rich sediments that were deposited in the western Equatorial Atlantic at Demerara Rise off Surinam at that time. They contained glassy carbonate shells of tiny sea creatures, foraminifera. These shells 'captured' the chemical conditions that were present at the time, providing clues about the temperature, composition and salinity of the seawater in the hot tub oceans.

By analysing the different types of oxygen atoms (isotopes) in these shells scientists were able to reconstruct sea temperature, both at the surface and at depth. Meanwhile, a European team at the Universities of Newcastle and Cologne in the UK and Germany, and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research in the Netherlands studied the composition of organic molecules from other organisms in the sediments, providing an independent temperature record of surface waters for the Cretaceous western tropical Atlantic.

Professor Thomas Wagner, of Newcastle University, says: "Speculation about whether large ice caps could have formed during short periods of the Earth's warmest interval has a long history in geology and climate research, but there has never been final conclusive evidence. Our research from tropical marine sediments provides strong evidence that large ice sheets indeed did exist for short periods of the Cretaceous, despite the fact that the world was a much hotter place than it is today, or is likely to be in the near future',

Today, the Antarctic ice cap stores enough water to raise sea level by about 60 metres if the whole mass melted and flowed back into the ocean. But the new results are consistent with independent evidence that sea level fell by about 25-40 metres at this time. Sea level is known to fall as water is removed from the oceans to build continental ice-sheets and to rise as ice melts and returns to the sea.

Dr Andre Bornemann, who led the research at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, University of California, and who has since moved to Leipzig University, Germany, says it is not clear where such a large mass of ice could have existed when the Earth was so hot or how ice growth could have started. 'This study demonstrates that even these super-warm climates were not warm enough to always prevent ice growth. "However, paradoxically past greenhouse climates may actually have aided ice growth by increasing the amount of moisture in the atmosphere and creating more winter snowfall at high elevations and high latitudes,' he said.

The findings support for another related study from The University of Sheffield and Yale University in the journal, Nature Geoscience which suggested there could still be cold spells in a general greenhouse world. Although such work might someday help researchers to better evaluate global warming on geological timescales, Dr Bornemann emphasised global climate change is now happening on a completely different, much more rapid, time scale. [He would. He has to]


Journal abstract follows:

Isotopic Evidence for Glaciation During the Cretaceous Supergreenhouse

By Andre Bornemann et al.

The Turonian (93.5 to 89.3 million years ago) was one of the warmest periods of the Phanerozoic eon, with tropical sea surface temperatures over 35°C. High-amplitude sea-level changes and positive delta18O data from the tropical Atlantic show synchronous shifts ~91.2 million years ago for both the surface and deep ocean that are consistent with an approximately 200,000-year period of glaciation, with ice sheets of about half the size of the modern Antarctic ice cap. Even the prevailing supergreenhouse climate was not a barrier to the formation of large ice sheets, calling into question the common assumption that the poles were always ice-free during past periods of intense global warming.

Science, 11 January 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5860, pp. 189 - 192

A skeptic speaks out

Blog post below by by William M. Briggs, Statistician. Prof. Briggs specializes in the statistics of forecast evaluation, serves on the American Meteorological Society's Probability and Statistics Committee and is an Associate Editor of Monthly Weather Review. Briggs, a visiting mathematics professor at Central Michigan University and a Biostatistician at New York Methodist Hospital, has a new paper coming out in the peer-reviewed Journal of Climate which finds that hurricanes have not increased in number or intensity in the North Atlantic.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works has released an addendum to its list of 400-plus scientists who express some level of skepticism about man-made global warming. I highlight this because, well, it turns out that my name has made its way onto the list, so I now have to explain why and what it means to be a "skeptic."

I should first explain that I am on this list reluctantly, because, as I have been quoted as saying, "Most scientists just don't want the publicity [associated with speaking out on climate matters] one way or another. Generally, publicity is not good for one's academic career." I do not think, then, that my being on that list, and starting this blog, will bring a tremendous boost in my own professional life. Scientists like to see discussions about uncertainty in their methods and results kept inside peer-reviewed journals and not dragged through the press. They have strong opinions on this. Witness the scorn heaped up the physicists Fleishman and Pons when they first released their "cold fusion" theory to the press and not to other scientists; for example, see this article which says that what the pair did was a "`classic' example of what not to do as" scientists. Actually, this is an odd statement because the incident ended well-because it was the initial public announcement that spurred the flurry of research that showed that cold fusion was false.

The only reason that I have been able to think of about why research should be confined to journals is that it is in these places that scientists expect to find new results. Scientists are not in the habit of scanning the newspaper or trolling the internet looking for press releases. There just isn't the time to do so.

But climatology has, unfortunately, become a different sort of creature. Far too much speculation shows up in the headlines. Prominent scientists have taken to using the press as a bludgeon to discourage reasonable dissent. An example: R K Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC, and now co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has compared anybody that dared question mad-made climate change to those who believe in a flat earth.

"Well, there will always be some skeptics," Pachauri said. "As you know, there is still in existence something called the Flat Earth Society. There are people - a very limited number, thank God - who believe the Earth is flat." Source: Washington Post

These excruciating comments are asinine and irresponsible, and they must be answered publicly.

I am not skeptical that man causes changes in his environment; in fact, I argue man must cause changes (see this post). I am only skeptical about the extent of these changes and about our ability to understand them. I am skeptical of the results from climate models that are used to posit large and harmful shifts in the earth's temperature.

The vast majority of pronouncements about climate change are based on forecasts, guesses made about the future which are conditional on the multitude of assumptions underlying the models being true and on the forecasts having only small error. My specialty is in forecast evaluation (not just climate models, but any kind), and I do not feel that climate models have shown their ability to make accurate predictions thus far. This is why I said that the "error associated with climate predictions is also much larger than that usually ascribed to them; meaning, of course, that people are far too sure of themselves and their models."

Overconfidence is a common human trait, and it holds in scientists just as much as it does with civilians. Typically, however, the excessive surety of scientists is tempered by the peer-criticism process, which has the effect of reducing, but never eliminating, prediction error. But this service won't work well if experts are made to feel squeamish about making their critiques because of a public browbeating by autocratic scientists, politicians, and "activists."

There is also a shade of "groupthink"-bandwagon research-not so much with climatologists, but with the mass of secondary and tertiary investigators who use climate model output as input to their own models of economics, public health, sociology, and so on. These models invariably show what they were programmed to show: that climate change of any kind is bad. This is, of course, physically impossible; but these are not physicists who are making these remarks-which of course quickly find their way into the press-and thus they are not held accountable in that sense.

Of course, if global climate models eventually show skill, then I will believe what they have to say.


The warming effect of CO2 is a fallacy

I have received by email the following comment which adds a bit of physics expertise to Prof. Briggs' statistical expertise (above)

I want to comment on a point Briggs brings up in another of his posts, a non-sequitur that too many of us fall into.

...some changes to the environment due to mankind are inevitable and irreversible, and... the best political will cannot change this. It is even likely that we are unaware of what most of these changes are; but we do know of others. The most commonly known one, of course, is that man adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and that, all other things being equal, more carbon dioxide means more infrared energy absorption in the atmosphere, hence a warmer planet.

Yes, you hear that time and again, so often that it's become axiomatic. But it isn't true and here's why. Because absorption is only half of the story; the other half is emission. To the extent CO2 (or any object) absorbs heat it releases heat. And as soon as one pins down where CO2 is absorbing heat FROM, our planet's surface, it becomes very clear where it must release that heat TO, the vacuum of space. For that's how heat moves, from warmer to colder. No laboratory has ever verified that CO2 has the special property of absorbing energy and radiating that energy and yet holding onto that energy. No gas does. No gas can. In short, what CO2 gains it loses, making its supposed impact on temperature a zero-sum game.

If that's not enough, however, the deal-killer is satellite observations. Satellites see the earth emitting the same amount of energy as it absorbs, 240 watts per square meter. It holds onto nothing. What it captures it frees. The word "hence" thus does not belong in Briggs's sentence.

Try building a winter shelter out of metal, on the premise that metal is a good absorber of thermal IR (which it is) and will therefore keep you warm. Your logical error will become evident very shortly. This is why you find full metal jackets in military armories but never in clothing stores.

The continuing Greenie faith in abuse rather than observed fact and rational argument

[Canadian] Green Leader Elizabeth May said Wednesday that Al Gore's recent remarks comparing the world's response to the Nazi threat and climate change demonstrate that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was wrong to condemn her for making similar comments last year.

The former U.S. vice-president, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 because of his campaign to promote awareness of global warming, made the comparisons twice last month as he accepted his award in Norway and later during a speech at the United Nations climate change summit in Indonesia. His speeches made numerous historical references to such prominent personalities as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill and Charles Dickens.

May said Gore's warning that many world leaders were now ignoring the threat of climate change in the same way that former British prime minister Churchill said they had ignored the "threat posed by Adolf Hitler," were similar to the comments that landed her in hot water when she accused Harper of a moral failure for not adequately responding to the climate crisis.

"Why Al Gore got no trouble is because the remarks were not controversial. Mr. Harper seized on my remarks in a way that was blown out of proportion by headline writers," said May in an interview. "I don't expect to see anyone, anywhere else in the world to be abused for making these comparisons."

Environment Minister John Baird was shocked by the comments, suggesting that they should force the federal Liberals to end their agreement not to field a candidate against her in a Nova Scotia riding in the next federal election."Her comments are beyond belief. They're outrageous, they're offensive and unacceptable. She continues to invoke comparisons to the Nazis," said Baird in an interview on Wednesday. "It's time that Stephane Dion dumped her as a candidate in (the) Central Nova (riding). This is unacceptable for any mainstream political party to have someone who first says it, then denies it, and then repeats it."

But May stressed her comments were appropriate since they spoke about society's moral failure to address a challenge like the Second World War. While many others such as Prince Charles, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Conservative Defence Minister Peter MacKay have also made comparisons about former British prime minister Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Nazi Germany, she said Harper acted like a bully by criticizing her in the House of Commons where she was not present to defend herself.

"It's not a literal comparison that says somehow climate change is like Hitler," she said. "Climate change is not like Hitler. Hitler is an individual who managed to construct a political party and then through democratic elections a nation that was prepared to go along with genocide. This is not like that. But the moral failure of those who stand by - that's the comparison."

Baird said he did not have the quotes from other Canadian politicians in front of him, and did not want to speak about Gore to avoid venturing into U.S. politics. But a representative of an umbrella group of Canadian Jewish organizations said that it's "obscene and absolutely unnecessary" for anyone, including Gore, to compare the "demonic evil" of Adolf Hitler to another key issue that the world is struggling with because it belittles and lessens the evil. "I wonder if Winston Churchill would be rolling in his grave today, seeing the way that Mr. Gore really has misappropriated his words," said Bernie Farber, chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, in an interview. "With the understanding that the environment is key and it is important, it is in my view unbecoming of a Nobel laureate to make this kind of a comparison."

Although the CJC wrote a letter condemning May's comments last year, Farber said he would only express his views about Gore in the media."I wish people would just stop invoking Adolf Hitler and (inappropriately) using words," said Farber, the son of a holocaust survivor who lost his entire family. "The English language is made up of millions of great words and Mr. Gore knows many of them. Surely he can find better ways of explaining himself than having to draw on the Hitler card."


British nukes under way

It takes one Greenie mania (Warmism) to cancel out another (nuclear-phobia). Lots of Greenie priorities are in conflict with one another -- such as fluorescent light globes versus mercury phobia -- such as those evil plastic bags versus cutting down trees for paper bags.

The race to a nuclear future began last night, as operators promised the first new power stations within a decade, and French and British companies vied for the contracts. Ministers ended years of uncertainty by declaring that nuclear power was “clean, secure and affordable”, but they declined to put a limit on the number of new stations nor the amount of electricity they could supply, prompting companies to set the battle lines for their share of the 36 billion pounds construction programme.

Boosted by government promises to help fast-track a fresh breed of reactors, Areva, the French energy company, rushed in with a bid to build six plants, with the first operational by the end of 2017. Four would be in partnership with another French company, EDF, and the other two with different partners. British Energy, the UK’s main generator, said it would announce one or two proposals in March. Centrica, the owner of British Gas, voiced an interest in a new plant and the German companies E.On and RWE, which own Powergen and nPower in Britain, are also likely to want to take part.

John Hutton, the Business Secretary, who outlined the plans, said last night that all electricity generated in Britain should be produced without emitting any carbon by the middle of the century. The problems posed by climate change were so grave that the nation needed to eradicate all carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation, he said.

The stations will almost certainly be built on or close to existing nuclear sites, where they have been accepted by local communities. With demand for power high in the South East and around London four sites - Sizewell, Bradwell, Hinkley and Dungeness – have already been identified as prime places for the new stations, with Wylfa in Anglesey, Hartlepool and Heysham next in line. The two Scottish sites at Hunterston and Torness would be obvious candidates but the ruling Scottish National Party in Scotland has threatened to block their development.

All the stations will be built by the private sector but the Government has promised to streamline planning procedures to prevent protesters from delaying them unreasonably, and there will be a standard approved design so that individual local debates can be cut in time. The companies will be expected to pay decommissioning costs and their full share of the costs of managing waste.

Mr Hutton insisted that there would be no subsidies, although he accepted that public funds would have to come forward in “very unlikely circumstances of an emergency at a nuclear plant”. He said: “If there is a catastrophic event then I think that it is right that the Government steps in.” That statement is viewed as a crucial guarantee for investors to ensure that developers will be able to obtain insurance for the industry in future. The Government rejected the argument that a permanent solution to the disposal of nuclear waste should be found before plants were approved.

Existing “interim” storage facilities were adequate until a permanent underground site for the disposal of waste could be identified, Mr Hutton said. That is likely to be under the sea off Cumbria, or in an underground bunker.

The Government did hint at the possibility of tax breaks to allay the huge costs of decommissioning. Yesterday’s White Paper said that the Treasury “was exploring action to ensure a level fiscal playing field between nuclear power and other forms of electricity generation”.

Luc Oursel, the chief executive of Areva, said that his company was already in talks with 11 European utilities, including Centrica and British Energy, about building the new plants that would generate 15 per cent of Britain’s electrical capacity. “Our ambition is to build at least four, probably six, in the UK - the first by 2017 – and to provide these utilities with all the services and fuel necessary for their operations,” Mr Oursel said.

The Royal Society called the announcement “an ambitious package, which should provide the means of meeting our energy needs, but much remains to be done to meet our greenhouse gas emission objectives. The Government has given a strong signal on key elements of the required energy mix such as nuclear power and the development of existing and new renewables.”

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said: “New reactors are not the answer to UK energy problems and will do little to tackle climate change. We could meet our energy requirements by investing in cleaner, safer solutions such as renewables, combined heat and power, energy efficiency and the more efficient use of fossil fuels.”



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