Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Tropics are on the move (?)

Below is an article summarizing a non-peer-reviewed and unpublished paper which was primarily written by a woman employed by an Australian university Department devoted to climate change (full details of that below). Despite its undistinguished origins, however, it has made the news so I think a few comments are in order.

For a start, she could well be right that the tropical climate zone expanded in recent years. That it might shrink again is her unexamined assumption, however. There WAS global warming in the '80s and '90s and that has more or less plateaued since then, though in the last two years we have seen what seem to be the first signs of a corrective downswing in temperature.

That really is all one needs to say but a couple of minor points just for fun: She characterizes the sub-tropical zone as dry. I live in that zone in Australia, so I wonder if she would like to explain the rain falling outside my window at the moment in what is normally the driest time of the year here (winter)? She seems not to consider that global warming might increase precipitation in ALL areas of the globe -- as it should in theory do (more warmth means more evaporation off the sea and hence more rainfall).

She also concedes that a tropical climate is best for biodiversity -- but seems to imply that that is a bad thing -- an unusual stance for a Greenie!

She also says that disease patterns of the tropics will spead more widely -- completely ignoring that cold weather is a lot more fatal than warm weather and that an expansion of the warm zone should therefore SAVE lives.

She also says that warming will cause more extreme rainfall events in the tropics, with the implication that that is a bad thing. I have news for her. I was born and bred in the middle of an area that CONSTANTLY had extreme rainfall events (Tully to Babinda) and we did quite well there. With around 7 yards of rain a year the crops certainly grew like mad.

I could go on but what is the point in arguing with a religion? -- JR

A review of scientific literature released today by James Cook University shows that the Earth’s tropical zone is expanding and with it the subtropical dry zone is extending into what have been humid temperate climate zones. The authors of the review concluded that the effects of a poleward expansion of the tropical and subtropical zones were immense, resulting in a variety of social, political, economic and environmental implications.

Conducted by Dr Joanne Isaac, Post-Doctoral Fellow at JCU’s Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change, with Professor Steve Turton, from JCU’s School of Earth and Environment Sciences, the review looked at scientific findings from long-term satellite measurements, weather balloon data, climate models and sea surface temperature studies.

Professor Turton said that the review - Expansion of the Tropics: Evidence and Implications - encompassed about 70 peer-reviewed scientific papers and reports from scientists and institutions right around the world. The review found that of particular concern were regions which border the subtropics and currently experience a temperate Mediterranean climate. “Such areas include heavily populated regions of southern Australia, southern Africa, the southern Europe-Mediterranean-Middle East region, the south-western United States, northern Mexico, and southern South America – all of which are predicted to experience severe drying.

“If the dry subtropics expand into these regions, the consequences could be devastating for water resources, natural ecosystems and agriculture, with potentially cascading environmental, social and health implications.”

The survey reveals that scientific data suggests while these areas could experience an increased frequency of droughts, the expansion of the tropical zone could result in extreme rainfall events and floods to regions which have not previously been exposed to such conditions, and a poleward shift in the paths of extra-tropical and possibly tropical cyclones in the next 100 years.

“A further implication of the expansion of the tropical zone is the possible expansion of tropical associated diseases and pests.” The review looked at scientific findings in relation to dengue among other tropical diseases and reports that some models predict the greatest increase in the annual epidemic potential of dengue will be into the subtropical regions, including the southern United States, China and northern Africa in the northern hemisphere, and south America, southern Africa, and most of Australia in the southern hemisphere.

The tropical zone is commonly defined geometrically as the portion of the Earth’s surface that lies between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn at 23.5 degrees latitude north and south respectively.

Evidence accumulating: “In general, atmospheric scientists estimate the climatic boundaries of the tropics extend further from the equator to around 30 degrees latitude north and south,” the review reports. “In recent years a variety of independent studies, employing different methodologies have found evidence for the widening of the topical region, as defined by climate scientists.

“However, while evidence is accumulating for the widening of the tropical belt and shifts in other climatic events, there is still much uncertainty regarding the degree of the expansion and the mechanisms which are driving it. “For example, across the studies reviewed the estimates of the increase in the tropics vary from 2.0 to more than 5 degrees of latitude approximately every 25 years. That makes the minimum agreed expansion of the Topics zone equivalent to around 300 kilometres. “This variation of estimates makes predicting future shifts difficult. Estimates for the expansion of the tropical zone in next 25 years (assuming the rate of movement is the same as the past 25 years) range from approximately 222 kilometres to more than 533 kilometres depending on which estimate is used.”

The tropics currently occupy approximately 40 per cent of the Earth’s land surface and are home to almost half of the world’s human population and account for more than 80 per cent of the Earth’s biodiversity. The majority of the world’s endemic animals and plants, which are found nowhere else on earth, are found in the tropics and are adapted to the specific climatic conditions found there.

“Thus, the implications of a poleward expansion of the tropical and subtropical zones are immense and the effects could result in a variety of social, political, economic and environmental implications,” the review said.


NYT: Polar Bear Populations in Decline

The predicted outcome of the recent polar bear "summit" has been duly delivered. They are "endangered" -- a conclusion reached while the man who has studied them longest, Mitchell Taylor, was barred from the meeting. HE says that the bears are increasing in numbers

There is rising concern among polar bear biologists that the big recent summertime retreats of sea ice in the Arctic are already harming some populations of these seal-hunting predators. That was one conclusion of the Polar Bear Specialist Group, a network of bear experts who met last week in Copenhagen to review the latest data (and data gaps) on the 19 discrete populations of polar bears around the Arctic. The group, part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, includes biologists in academia and government and at nonprofit conservation organizations. Only one bear population is increasing (in the Canadian high Arctic), while eight are declining in numbers, the scientists said. At its last meeting, in 2005, the group concluded that five populations were in decline. Three populations appear to be stable and seven are too poorly monitored to gauge a trend.

The data gaps exist in important regions, including the Russian Arctic, where there are no ongoing population studies despite poaching problems. The group said that in Canada, home to two-thirds of the world’s polar bears, population studies have been so sporadic that there is no reliable way to track trends. The meeting was not without controversy. Mitchell Taylor, a Canadian expert on polar bears who was in the specialists’ group for many years, told some reporters that he was excluded this year because he disputes that the bears are in danger and that human-caused global warming poses a substantial threat to them. But Andrew Derocher, the current chairman of the group, wrote a detailed rebuttal on Tim Lambert’s Deltoid blog rejecting the assertions.

While pressing for cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions and better efforts to control hunting, both legal and illegal, the participating scientists concluded on an optimistic note, saying they were “optimistic that humans can mitigate the effects of global warming and other threats to polar bears, and ensure that they remain a part of the Arctic ecosystem in perpetuity.”


An amusing footnote on the official reason why Dr. Taylor was not allowed at the meeting. Dr Taylor has just recently retired so the convenor of the meeting grabs that as a bureaucratic excuse and says that is why Dr. Taylor's vast knowledge has suddenly become useless: "Involvement with the PBSG is restricted to those active in polar bear research and management and Dr. Taylor no longer fits within our guidelines of involvement". What a laugh!

The convenor concludes: "The PBSG has heard Dr. Taylor's views on climate warming many times. I would note that Dr. Taylor is not a trained climatologist and his perspectives are not relevant to the discussions and intent of this meeting".

But the meeting was (at least ostensibly) about polar bears, not climate! So that conclusion is a total red herring!

U.S. Government Scientist: 'Climate Model Software Doesn't Meet the Best Standards Available'

Plus: Another Gov't Scientist admits 'chaotic component of climate system...is not predictable beyond two weeks, even theoretically'

Two prominent U.S. Government scientists made two separate admissions questioning the reliability of climate models used to predict warming decades and hundreds of years into the future.

Gary Strand, a software engineer at the federally funded National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), admitted climate model software “doesn't meet the best standards available” in a comment he posted on the website Climate Audit. “As a software engineer, I know that climate model software doesn't meet the best standards available. We've made quite a lot of progress, but we've still quite a ways to go,” Strand wrote on July 5, 2009, according to the website WattsUpWithThat.com.

Strand's candid admission prompted WattsUpWithThat's skeptical Meteorologist Anthony Watts to ask the following question: “Do we really want Congress to make trillion dollar tax decisions today based on 'software [that] doesn't meet the best standards available?'”

Meteorologist Watts also critiqued the current climate models, noting, “NASA GISS model E written in some of the worst FORTRAN coding ever seen is a challenge to even get running. NASA GISTEMP is even worse. Yet our government has legislation under consideration significantly based on model output that Jim Hansen [of GISS] started. His 1988 speech to Congress was entirely based on model scenarios.”

Another Government Scientist Admits Climate Model Shortcomings

Another government scientist -- NASA climate modeler Gavin Schmidt -- admitted last week that the "chaotic component of climate system...is not predictable beyond two weeks, even theoretically." Schmidt made his admission during a June 29, 2009 interview about the shortcomings of climate models. Schmidt noted that some climate models “suggest very strongly” that the American Southwest will dry in a warming world. But Schmidt also noted that “other models suggest the exact opposite.”

“With these two models, you have two estimates — one says it's going to get wetter and one says it's going to get drier. What do you do? Is there anything that you can say at all? That is a really difficult question,” Schmidt conceded. “The problem with climate prediction and projections going out to 2030 and 2050 is that we don't anticipate that they can be tested in the way you can test a weather forecast. It takes about 20 years to evaluate because there is so much unforced variability in the system which we can't predict — the chaotic component of the climate system — which is not predictable beyond two weeks, even theoretically. That is something that we can't really get a handle on,” Schmidt lamented.


MIT Climate Scientist on man-made climate fears: 'Ordinary people see thorough this -- but educated people are very vulnerable'

Scientific foundation for climate fears 'falling apart'

MIT climate scientist Dr. Richard Lindzen mocked man-made global warming fears in a July 2, 2009 radio interview on WRKO's Howie Carr program. (Full audio of Lindzen's interview available here.) He noted that man-made climate fears were "divorced from nature" and the scientific foundation for climate fears was "falling apart."

"How did we get a population that can be told something that contradicts their senses and go crazy over it?" Lindzen asked on the program. Lindzen recently co-signed an open letter to Congress with a team of scientists warning: "You Are Being Deceived About Global Warming' -- 'Earth has been cooling for ten years.'

When asked about climate fears, Lindzen dismissed the notion that "ordinary" Americans are buying into former Vice President Al Gore's climate views. "We are too smart for that. You look at the polls, ordinary people see thorough this, but educated people are very vulnerable," Lindzen quipped. (at 09:14 min. mark on audio)

Lindzen noted that people are being told that if they change a lightbulb, they are "saving the Earth", they are "virtuous, they are smart." "Now you are told if you that if you don't understand global warming is going on, you are dumb, but if you agree to it, you are smart," Lindzen explained.


Does climate catastrophe pass the giggle test?

The argument for doing drastic things to prevent global warming has two parts. The first has to do with climate change, with reasons to think that the earth is getting warmer and that the reason is human action, in particular the production of CO2. The second has to do with consequences of climate change for humans.

Most of the criticism I have seen, in comments to this blog and elsewhere, has to do with the first half, with critics arguing that the evidence for global warming, or at least the evidence it is caused by humans and will continue if humans do not mend their ways, is weak. I don not know enough to be sure that those criticisms are wrong; pretty clearly climate is a very complicated and not terribly well understood subject. But my best guess, from watching the debate, is that the first half of the argument is correct, that global climate is warming and that human action is at least an important part of the cause.

What I find unconvincing is the second half of the argument. More precisely, I find unconvincing the claim that climate change on the scale suggested by the results of the IPCC models would have catastrophic consequences for humans. Obviously one can imagine climate change large enough and fast enough to be a very serious problem—a rapid end of the current interglacial, for example. And if, as I believe is the case, climate is not very well understood, one cannot absolutely rule out such changes.

But most of the argument is put in terms not of what might conceivably happen but of what we have good reason to expect to happen, and I think the outer bound of that is provided by the IPCC models. They suggest a temperature increase of about two degrees centigrade over the next hundred years, resulting in a sea level rise of about a foot and a half. What I find implausible is the claim that changes on that scale at that speed would be catastrophic—sufficiently so to justify very expensive measures now to prevent them.

Human beings, after all, currently live, work, grow food in a much wider range of climates than that. Glancing over a U.S. climate map, it looks as though all of the places I have lived are within an hour or two drive of other places with an average temperature at least two degrees centigrade higher. If people can currently live, work, grow crops over a temperature range of much more than two degrees, it is hard to imagine any reason why most of them couldn't continue to do so, about as easily, if average temperature shifted up by that amount—especially if they had a century to adjust to the change. That observation raises the question with which I titled this post: Does climate change catastrophe pass the giggle test? Is the claim that climate change of that scale would have catastrophic consequences one that any reasonable person could take seriously?

I can only see two ways of defending such a claim. The first is some argument to show that present arrangements are, due to divine intervention or some alternative mechanism, optimal, so that any deviation, even a small one, can be expected to make things worse. The second, and less wildly implausible, is the observation that people have adapted their activities—the sort of houses they live in, the varieties of crops they grow—to current conditions. Put in economic terms, we have sunk costs in our present way of doing things. Even if the planet has not been optimized for us, we have optimized our activities for the planet, with the details depending in part on the local climate. Hence any change in either direction can be expected to be a worsening, making our present way of doing things less well adapted to the new conditions.

That would be a persuasive argument if we were talking about a substantial change occurring over five or ten years. But we aren't. We are talking about a not very large change occurring over a century. In the course of a century, most existing houses will be replaced. If temperatures are rising, they will be replaced with houses designed for a (slightly) warmer climate. If sea levels are rising, they will be replaced, in low lying coastal areas, with houses a little farther inland. Over a century, farmers will change at least the varieties they are growing, very possibly the kind of crop, multiple times, in response to the development of new crop varieties, shifting demand, and similar changes. If temperatures are rising, they will gradually shift to crops adapted to a (slightly) warmer climate.

Climate aside, we do not live in a static world—consider the changes that have occurred over the past century. The shifts we can expect to occur due to technological progress alone, even without allowing for political and demograpic shifts, are much larger than the shifts required to deal with climate change on the scale I am discussing.

My conclusion is that this version of climate catastrophe, at least, does not pass the giggle test. There may be other versions, based on more pessimistic predictions of climate change, that do. But the claim that we now have good reason to expect climate change on a scale that will produce not merely problems for some but catastrophe for many is one that no reasonable person should take seriously.


Another Moonwalker Defies Warmists

NASA Astronaut Dr. Buzz Aldrin rejects global warming fears: 'Climate has been changing for billions of years'

At a House global warming hearing on Capitol Hill on April 24, 2009, former Vice President Al Gore once again compared skeptics of man-made climate fears to “people who still believe that the moon landing was staged on a movie lot in Arizona." Gore appears ignorant that his several years old analogy has been refuted by two of NASA's moonwalkers themselves -- Moonwalker and Award-Winning NASA Astronaut/Geologist Jack Schmitt – who recently declared he was a global warming skeptic and now, Award-Winning NASA Astronaut and Moonwalker Dr. Buzz Aldrin.

Gore was not asked during his April 24, 2009 Congressional hearing how he can link climate skeptics to people who believed the moon landing was "staged" when two prominent moonwalkers themselves are man-made global warming skeptics.

NASA's Dr. Aldrin -- who earned a Doctorate of Science in Astronautics at MIT -- declared he was skeptical of man-made climate fears in a July 3, 2009 UK Telegraph interview. "I think the climate has been changing for billions of years," Aldrin, the second person to walk on the Moon, said.

On July 20, 1969, Aldrin and astronaut Neil Armstrong made their historic Apollo 11 moonwalk, becoming the first two humans to set foot on the Moon. According to his bio, "Aldrin has received three U.S. patents for his schematics of a modular space station, Starbooster reusable rockets, and multi-crew modules for space flight." Aldrin was also decorated with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American peacetime award and he has received numerous distinguished awards and medals from 23 other countries.

"If it's warming now, it may cool off later. I'm not in favor of just taking short-term isolated situations and depleting our resources to keep our climate just the way it is today," Aldrin explained. "I'm not necessarily of the school that we are causing it all, I think the world is causing it," Aldrin added.

Aldrin joins fellow moonwalker Schmitt, who flew on the Apollo 17 mission, in declaring their skepticism of man-made global warming fears. "The 'global warming scare' is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making. It has no place in the Society's activities," Schmitt, who flew on the Apollo 17 mission, said in 2008.



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1 comment:

John A said...

So: as I suspected, most - or all - computer climate models are written in ForTran (Formula Translation).

Back in the mid-Seventies, I was approached by the IT gadfly. He had written code in ForTran and COBOL dividing 100 by 8, and wanted to gloat that ForTran had come up with the "more precise" answer of 12.50, while COBOL came up with 12.00. But I noted that while he had defined the answer in both languages as having two decimal places, he had specified no decimal places in either of the operands - so according to the laws of mathematics, COBOL had provided the correct answer (one must not extend decimal places in an answer beyond the least number of decimal places in all concerned operands) while ForTran had introduced a palpable error of perhaps four percent.

Add in the decimal places, use permssible values for 10 and 8, divide 100.00 by 8.49 to a result of 11.79: not quite 12.50, is it? Worse, 99.51 divided by 8.49 gives 11.20... Oh, and I used the calculator from the Operating System, which using operands of two decimal places insisted on returning an answer with digits to about twenty decimal places - another ForTran application?

It is a good language. But people, especially those who assume it is very good, can be misled by placing too much faith in it. Indeed, it is just this sort of thing that started meteorologist Lorenz on the path to the development of modern Chaos Theory.