RealClimate in Nature

As all my readers know, I'm also part of the RealClimate blog which has now been awarded the accolade of an editorial and comment piece in Nature! Hurrah for us. I only look forward to the time that Mustelid achieves the same status.

See: post 89 for more.

Update (2004/12/23): we made Science too: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/current/netwatch.shtml


My CO2

Or rather, not mine, but my employers. BAS's fuel bills went up by £0.8M this year because of the rise in fuel prices (most of that is ship oil, and some is AVTA). Taking some wild rough guesses, the total fuel bill must be about £2M, and assuming BAS has about 500 employees then my share is about £4k (of course I'm a humble modeller and never mess with ships and stuff so really that wildly overestimates my share. But I use the ships data sometimes). Guessing on, £4k would get you about 5k litres of petrol, but ship fuel must be cheaper and there is no tax, so say 10k litres at least.

Moving over to the domestic side, we tend to fill up the car with 60L about once a month, so say 1kL/y. So (via my employer) I'm using up about 10 times as much fossil fuel as in my car (which is anyway /2, as its shared with my wife).

Not that there is much I can do about it, but its interesting.

And if you want to know where the ships are, they are here. The PS isn't ours, of course.


Britannica is rubbish...

Post title a bit over provocative but this site is for me to have fun after all...

There is a bit of an ongoing debate about the relative virtues of wikipedia and "traditional" encyclopaedias like britannica (soufron; Angela). So I thought I'd look a bit at the bits I know, which is climate change related. This is a controversial topic and hard to keep wiki on the straight and narrow (see previous post). I don't have a britannica subscription so I'm only writing about the online bits of it. Britannica would lose hopelessly on comprehensiveness if judged only from the bits it lets you see online, so I'll be fair and only look at accuracy and existence.

Err, given that I contribute to wiki and so on, you'll understand that I'm somewhat biased, but I've tried to be fair. Read for yourself...

Greenhouse effect: Britannica makes the classic error - asserting that the GH effect is analogous to the glass in a greenhouse. Wiki gets it correct, and even provides a link to a paper from 1909 proving this (I know all this because I put it in myself...).

Global warming: Britannica concentrates on the future and (at least in the snippet) ignores the current temperature rise, which I consider odd. Wiki does both.

Climate change: Britannica seems to subsume this within "environment" which is odd. The wiki page has a nice intro, and then a discussionof various forcing factors, which I think is better.

IPCC: Britannica doesn't seem to have an article on this. Wiki has a useful article.

Kyoto protocol: Britannica seems to file this within environment. Wiki has a good article on this. Apart from actually being available in full, there is no clear distinction.

Score: 2-0 to wiki. For the others, it was impossible to judge without the full Britannica article.


NPOV blues

The wiki page on Global warming is having a bout of warfare. I'm going to write about the process, since its interesting (to me).

The virtue of wiki is that it is a constructive process. There is debate, but the article grows and grows better, usually. Unlike, say, newsgroups where there is quite often intelligent debate but no end product. And the collaborative process is good too: many points of view get put in. But... of course the downside is that its one person one vote. Skill and knowledge count for something: those who are foolish eventually realise this or, ultimately, get kicked off if they push things too far. But it can be a long road. It also makes referring to wiki pages a bit of a lottery: it may have been (temporarily) turned into rubbish by the time you read this.

Anyway, the current (2004/12/17) version of the GW page is the subject of an NPOV dispute. Which means someone (a septic in this case) doesn't like the text. Now, of course, I'm right and they are wrong, but rather than bias you further I'll direct you to the version of the talk page I mean and you can judge for yourself:



Me in Nature (sort of)

I have a translation of Fourier's 1827 paper "MEMOIR on the temperature of the earth and planetary spaces" at http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/fourier_1827/. I did the translation because I thought it was the original GH paper; it isn't, but it was fun to translate anyway. Maybe it will be fun for you to read it...

Anyway, R T Pierrehumbert has a recent article in Nature about the Fourier paper: Warming the world (December 13, 2004) RAYMOND T. PIERREHUMBERT. Greenhouse effect: Fourier's concept of planetary energy balance is still relevant today. You'll find RTP's translation here. Note the ref to my trans :-)

RTP makes the interesting point that Fourier, incorrectly, believed that the temperature of space was somewhat less than the temperature of the poles; a point I made quite a few years ago... :-(



A quick post, to recommend you to read this powerpoint presentation by Peter Thorne, Simon Tett, David Parker of the Hadley Centre, in particular slide 11, perhaps with the wiki Sat Temps page for background. FE is keen on the ppt - see his comment at RealClimate. For myself, I wouldn't over emphasise it - its a puzzle, to be sure, perhaps like the precession of the perihelion of mercury.


Sea level rise

A science post again. It was about time.

The standard septic lines-of-retreat are something like this:

  1. Global warming isn't happening
  2. OK, so its happening, but its not our fault
  3. OK, so its happening and its our fault but it won't continue
  4. OK, so its happening and its our fault and it will continue but its not a problem

Now whether it will be a problem is (to my mind at least) quite hard to say: certainly a harder problem than the first three points. My best guess is that rapid warming would be a problem because it will change things that we have got used to. Thats in terms of temperature, precipitation, crops. But one area where its pretty hard to say "its not a problem" is sea level rise, which is one reason people are interested in it.

If you're interested in future sea level changes, then a good place to start is... the future section of IPCC chapter on sea level and the table here. Note that (though numbers vary from different models) the biggest contributor is thermal expansion of the oceans as they warm. Next biggest is glaciers and small ice caps. Antarctica tends to contribute a reduction. And this is all on the assumption of no surprises.

However, I didn't want to write about the future but the present. Because the sea level rise over the past century is a slight puzzle - "The Enigma", according to Munk - because different estimates produce different results. Much of what I'm writing here is based on a recent Reviews of Geophysics paper by A Cazenave and R S Nerem VOL. 42, RG3001, doi:10.1029/2003RG000139, 2004 Present-day sea level change: Observations and causes (argh, I included a DOI: ah well) and the IPCC tar ch 12, section 11.4: Can 20th Century Sea Level Changes be Explained?.

So: there are essentially two ways to estimate sea level changes over the last century: firstly, you can total up (over the last century) thermal expansion, glacier melt, ice sheets, terrestrial storage and so on, and you get a value of 0.7 +/- 1.5 mm/y. Or, you can take the observations of sea level from tide gauges (having done your best to remove or avoid effects from the land movements) and you get 1.8 mm/y (+/- something like 0.5). And since the satellite era in 1992, you can do it from satellite altimetry (if you're clever enough) and you get 2.8 +/- 0.4 mm/y (plus maybe a bit from changes in basin shape).

Broadly speaking, to get the central values (0.7 and 1.8) to fit, you have to either push the tide gauge value down, or the individual-contributions value up. Pushing the tide gauge value down is unattractive though, because it then implies a huge acceleration over recent decades to reach the (probably fairly well determined value) from the satellites. Most promising possibilities are an underestimation of the thermal expansion component (which would possibly have consequences for the future projections, i.e. make them larger, but would make the ocean GCM people unhappy); or an underestimate of the extra water from ice melt and terrestrial storage changes.

See-also: SLR on wikipedia.


Which side are you on?

A reference, of course, to the classic Billy Bragg track from Between The Wars EP (but I have it on Back to Basics; BB attributes it to Florence Reece "adapted" by him but the adaption is heavy). Meanwhile...

I mentioned the s(k|c)eptics a post or so back, so now its time to talk about the other sides. The "S" is deliberate: if you listen the the septics they will tell you it is a riotous debate between them and the enviro's and science won't get a look in. But in fact its rather more like this:

  • The vast weight of science - effectively, the IPCC consensus
  • Overenthusiastic enviro's
  • Skeptics

Just like there isn't really a good name for the skeptics, there isn't really a good name for the envio's either. "Zealots" is another term; "Alarmists" another. None really fit. In terms of numbers, the overwhelming majority of the science and the scientists is in the first group: 95% of both or more, by my guess. Of course, "belief" in this area is a spectrum not a 3-class structure: some scientists who would strongly support the IPCC against the septics would nonetheless accept, say, that the temperature record of the last 1000 years isn't as well known as it might be. But those are details.

The other point to make - an obvious one perhaps - is that those in the first group are by far the quietest. Partly, this is because scientists on the whole just get on with doing science. Partly, its because many science organisations don't much like their employees speaking to the media except through their own PR organisations (this isn't toally unreasonable, but its taken too far). And partly (I suspect, though I have no direct experience of it) its through political pressure. The septics are prone to saying that political influence biases science towards what they regard as the alarmist view: but in fact its pretty obvious that in the US at least, the influence is all the other way. If you're a scientist the obvious response to this pressure is to keep quiet and get on with your work.

John Zillman expressed this well, and I shall use a speech of his lightly modified below. The modifications are light but significant, if you want to compare.

Start-of-semi-quote from JZ:

There is of course no shortage of people, these days, providing comment on the science of climate change:

  • The first group is the largest and probably the most boring. It is the mainstream climate community who understand the science pretty well and believe that they have an obligation to present a balanced view of what is known and what is not known in language that can be understood by the non expert. They try to present an objective assessment of both the certainties and the uncertainties and inevitably leave those who are looking for an unequivocal 'is it' or 'isn't it' feeling rather frustrated ;
  • The second group are the fervent believers who have become so convinced that, without drastic action, the world is headed towards climatic catastrophe, that they feel bound to do whatever it takes to get the message across to governments and the community. If they---the fervent believers turned greenhouse zealots---have to dramatise a bit to make people pay attention, they see that as justified by the seriousness of the threat;
  • The third group are the committed sceptics who are convinced that the mainstream scientists have got it wrong, and who believe global warming to be, almost certainly, a non-problem.

There is also, of course, a much larger group of non-expert commentators who have become sufficiently convinced by the arguments of the greenhouse zealots, or the sceptics, that they feel bound to weigh in, in support of one side or the other; and another group, again, who have vested interest in climate change mitigation action, or inaction, and who feel justified in championing the science that supports their interests and discrediting that which does not.

End-of-semi-quote from JZ.



The RealClimate blog is launched today and already we have our first major press coverage in Die Zeit and mentions from Tim Lambert at Deltoid; David Appell at Quark Soup; Matt McIrvin and Chris Mooney. Splendid. I'm proud to be a minor member of this mighty team and look forward to its success. So far, my only post there is on the urban heat island.

In the meantime, you might well be wondering, why have this blog too? Apart, of course, from inertia or vanity? Well of course there is the money (see adsense posting). But more importantly, this is my space and I can fool around. RealClimate is serious and properly so. I can also address more parochial issues like Bellamy which wouldn't be appropriate in the wider world.


Google AdSense

I've signed myself up to the google adsense programme. The purpose, of course, is to make stonking amounts of dosh... though thats being rather optimistic. The purpose is to experiment and see what happens. I think google runs blogger, so it fits together. I have to get to $100 before they give me anything, and I'll be interested to see how much I get per click. I guess clicking myself would be cheating.

I've chosen the "tower" format in the sidebar, which means I get 4 ads. The first one is a perfect fit - well done google - to Tiempo. But the other three show the unfortunate consequences of my using "septic" to label the nay-sayers: sewage treatement and grease traps. Well, its what they need.

Theres also a google search bar. If I've configured it right, it will search this blog.

Feel free to comment if you (dis)like the ads.

Update 2004/12/20: I've made 17 cents so far...


Curry lights

No real post today: I was putting up my mothers christmas tree lights (each year the gingko is a bit taller) and we're off for a curry.

The argument over at wiki:talk:Global_warming_controversy might entertain and inform you, especially if you follow the links.


Septics and skeptics; denialists and contrarians

An astute reader might well ask why I write "septic" where you might expect me to write "skeptic" (e.g. here). Its not a mistake of course. And its not just because I can never remember whether its a c or a k. No, its deeper than that... read on, though I warn you that this post is mostly meanings-of-words, not science.

So: the people who, for one reason or another, disbelieve the standard global warming consenus (if they know enough they will know its the IPCC they disagree with; if they are ignorant they will rant about enviro's or somesuch) are usually called skeptics. Or sceptics (I tend to use the k version, when I'm being polite). But there is a problem with this: the true definition of skeptic in this context is something like:

skeptic [Gr. skeptiko`s thoughtful, reflective, fr. ske`ptesqai to look carefully or about, to view, consider] 1. One who is yet undecided as to what is true; one who is looking or inquiring for what is true; an inquirer after facts or reasons.

(I got that from here and edited it lightly (update 2004/12/11: but! they've changed the page. Argh. OK, so for the moment you can get the version I saw from googles cache, and if that fails, the original source is Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. I've also created an entry at wictionary in frustration; and the same defn is also available from BrainyDictionary. Anyway you know what I mean...)).

This defn of skeptic applies to all scientists: who amongst us is not thoughtful? who does not look carefully? who is not an inquirer after facts? There is a danger of the unthinking saying "aha! these folks call themselves skeptics. Therefore the other side must be careless enthusiasts". And indeed, thats the sort of level of logic that the septics themselves usually operate at. Its like saying "aha! one of the parties in the US are called Democrats. That means the other ones must be totalitatians!" (err, well, whether or not you agree with the conclusion you have to admit the logic is poor).

Which is why I prefer septic. Its close enough that you recognise the term. And it describes their style of debate quite accurately.

While we're here, there are another two terms worth noting, "denialist" (in the sense of global warming denialist) and "contrarian". Neither has really caught on because they carry the wrong associations. The first one is fairly accurate (they define themselves in opposition, rather than having anything of their own to say. See a comment by Eli Rabett on Deltoid) but has perhaps unfortunate connotations of holocaust denial. Contrarian is OK too: they are speaking out against the established consensus. OTOH they tend not to like this themselves, since as far as they are concerned there either is no consensus or (if they are pushing their luck in a forum where they think they might get away with it) they think they are the consensus.


Why do people say... Climate change 'is the norm'?

Well, its understandable why Joe Septic says it, but why does the BBC say it? [1]. Although to be fair, its not by the BBC its by "Dr Martin Keeley, Geologist, and a Visiting Professor at University College London" who just happens to be... Visiting Professor in Petroleum Geology, but you only find that out if you read his tag line at the bottom. Odd they didn't manage to find space for it at the top, no?

Does MK have any kind of track record in publications in the environment? Not according to his own publications list [2]. He does list one publication under environment :In whose interest is this climate of fear ? 29 June 2001 Lloyd's List, London, p8. KEELEY, M.L. in that well known climate journal, Lloyds list. In fact, he doesn't seem to have any publications in the scientific literature since 1998.

But wait... he is a self-declared environmental septic [3]. Funnily enough, no room on the BBC site to mention that, either. Perhaps the electrons are running short. Curiously enough, he quotes that other well-known climate expert I took apart yesterday, David Bellamy. How curious. Now, DB is a prominent enviro-type, but if he was ever a scientist it was a long time ago. But MK needs to pump DB up, so he describes him as a "prominent scientist". Ho ho. He then follows that up with some twaddle by rent-a-septic Philip Stott (also at UCL... coincidence?).

No much science and lots of invective in this post. I'll try to improve it this evening...

(pause for blogger to eat my wisdom. I hate websites that can't cope with the back button)

So, the question was: why do septics say: Climate change 'is the norm'? The answer, of course, is that they are trying to say to you "climate would have varied anyway, so why worry about a bit of warming, please let my oil/gas company go on making lots of money". Their argument is wrong, and fairly easy to demolish, so I'll do so.

The picture in the BBC article gives the impresssion of a wiggly climate. But... what is the scale on the horizontal (time) axis... look closer: its millions of years. yes, it was a lot warmer 4000 million years ago, but so what? Try this: "Global warming is wrong. Proof?: The earth used to be warmer that it is now: 4.5 billion years ago it was molten: so the long term trend is downwards". Convinced? No. In other words, MK and his ilk are ignoring timescales, and the speed of the change. The BBC graph has no scale on the vertical (temperature) axis (did you notice that?) but lets look at the T change between 6.5 Myr and 2 Myr, and assume the change is 20 oC - a passable guess, probably on the high side. That means the trend is a cooling of 20/4.5 oC/Myr, or about 0.0004 oC/century. By comparison, the global temperature has risen about 0.6 oC over the last century (+/- 0.2oC), a rate 1500 times as fast. Current climate change is fast, by comparison with what is seen in the long term record.

But also, the recent climate (excluding the recent rise) has been quite stable, at least since the end of the last ice age: say the last 10 kyr (over which time, it is traditional to point out, human civilisation has developed). Over the past millenium [4] or two [5] global mean temperature has varied by about +/- 0.5 oC, or maybe twice that at the outside. The recent rise is unprecedented in the record; and projected increases for the next century even more so.

To complete his recital of the standard septic canon, MK throws in we still cannot predict next week's weather with any accuracy, probably less because he thinks it makes sense than because its traditional for septics to say such things. Weather and climate aren't the same thing (which is, err, why there are different words for them) and predicting one isn't the same as the other. Consider (analogy: not perfect but not bad) the shore of the ocean and the level of the sea: tides can be predicted with great accuracy years in advance; waves can't be predicted any better than weather.

MK says environmentalists ask whether climate change is anthropogenic, and if so, can it be stopped. I have come across no rigorous proof that wasteful human pollution has caused any significant climate change. If he hasn't come across it, its because he hasn't bothered look. Scientists are studying the problem (for some reason MK seems to think that only env's are interested), and you can find out more [6] if you want to. The bottom line is the IPCC's There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.

Why the BBC bothered publish MK's rubbish is a mystery to me.



David Bellamy has been making some odd statements about global warming, and seems in some danger of turning into a septic. As far as can be told, DB's logic runs like this:

I don't like windfarms [1] [2] etc etc

Windfarms are there to help prevent global warming

Ergo, global warming must be wrong.

The flaw in this logic must be obvious. Sadly, since DB is a known environmentalist, his speaking out against GW [3] is a gift to the septics. He even abused his position as pres of the Wildlife Trusts to write rubbish in their magazine (fortunately the latest issue has several letters rebutting him: sadly not mine). I'm not the first to notice this, of course [4] (from whence I learnt that Badly Mad Evil is an anag).

George Monbiot has a go at DB [5] (during the course of which DB switches over into ALL CAPS presumably due to incompetence rather than shouting).

DB's arguments (as presented in the Mail) are ambarrassingly poor. They are:

global warming is largely a natural phenomenon that has been with us for 13,000 years. Its hard to know quite what this means. The temperature rose sharply from the depths of the last ice age about 10 kyr ago [6] but has probably declined somewhat over the last 6 kyr until about 100 years ago. Since then its gone up [7]. Bellamys comment makes absolutely no sense.

He quotes from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, which has been signed by over 18,000 scientists who are totally opposed to the Kyoto Protocol. Thats almost correct: its been signed by a lot of people who are, indeed, totally opposed to Kyoto. Some of them were scientists. But very few of them were climate scientists. Its astroturf.

He appears to commit the logical fallacy of believing that since cliamte has varied naturally in the past, any variation now must be natural.

He says: If all the water vapour was removed from the atmosphere, the temperature of the planet would fall by 33 degrees Celsius... But remove all the carbon dioxide and the temperature might fall by just 0.3 per cent. In another article, he makes the related claim that water vapour makes up 96% of the greenhouse effect. That simply isn't true [8]. Since DB doesn't source anything he says, its hard to know where he gets his erroneous info from, but a guess is it may be an distorted echo of a Lindzen paper, analysing a theoretical case with no other GHG's present.

DB has gone quiet recently over the issue, and in the most recent of the wildlife trust magazines makes a statement that implies reducing GHG emissions is a good idea. So perhaps he has managed to learn from his mistakes, even if he hasn't apologised for them.


I wasn't going to write much today (though in fact I'm going to write about Bellamy too) but having thought of this, I shall write it.

Compost. I have a heap at the bottom of the garden. Or rather 2; possibly 3 depending on how you count. They aren't in great order, perhaps because I don't keep them terribly well. The rat seems to like them though: rat tunnels are a bit of a dread sign. So today I spent an hour digging them over and reorganising and hopefully that will put the rat off. Sadly rats are fairly disturbance-proof.

So the thought was, would I be better off stuffing all our green rubbish into the green bin, and then buying in compost (I think SCDC sells the compost it makes from our waste). It would save a lot of time, and space in the garden, and would discourage the rat. But the downside is I would feel less real. I'm not going to change in the near future at least. Of course, the SCDC people know about balancing their heaps; they control the moisture so theirs don't turn into soggy masses like mine; and generally manage them well. Whereas I just hope.



Any scientist at work in the fields of climate and/or climate change knows that there is a consensus view on global warming: in brief: its happening, and we're doing it, and the IPCC reports reflect that. But if you're a septic you need to push the opposite POV: if you're a septic then there is either no consensus, or (even more bizarrely) there is one, in favour of... errr, accounts differ, but definitely in favour of not doing anything that would upset the coal or oil industries.

However, although all the scientists involved know where the consensus is (though some chose to misrepresent it), there isn't really a way to communicate this to Joe Public: how is JP supposed to know?

Which is where a recent publication in Science comes in handy (Science, Vol 306, Issue 5702, 1686 , 3 December 2004 - I'll skip the DOI cos I hate them - death to DOIs!). Even more handily, it appears to be on full release, and if they ever pull it off you can find it on
google, here.

The paper says:

The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change... IPCC states unequivocally that the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth's climate is being affected by human activities: "Human activities ... are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents ... that absorb or scatter radiant energy. ... [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations"... In recent years, all major scientific bodies in the United States whose members' expertise bears directly on the matter have issued similar statements. The drafting of such reports and statements involves many opportunities for comment, criticism, and revision, and it is not likely that they would diverge greatly from the opinions of the societies' members. Nevertheless, they might downplay legitimate dissenting opinions. That hypothesis was tested by analyzing 928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords "climate change"... papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

Sensibly, the paper continues:

Many details about climate interactions are not well understood, and there are ample grounds for continued research to provide a better basis for understanding climate dynamics. The question of what to do about climate change is also still open. But there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Climate scientists have repeatedly tried to make this clear. It is time for the rest of us to listen.