Saturday, 30 July 2011

"Mark One Eyeball" - an Effective Weapon Against AGW

About a year ago, I read with some amusement, a blog posting by someone who accused sceptics (of AGW) of "cherry picking" temperature data to prove their claims that climate warming had stopped in the current century. "They are looking at the wrong data" he opined "look at this". "This" was a temperature chart showing global temperature from 1900 to 2010. "It's the long-term trend that's important" he continued. I'll use his tip if my bank account goes into the red in the future. When I get the letter from the bank, I can tell them "You're cherry-picking data - It's the long-term trend that's important".

So what's the "Mark One Eyeball" I refer to in the title?
This term is actual British military slang for eyes or eye sight, derived from British Royal Navy nomenclature for distinguishing sequential variations of a piece of equipment (i.e., "Mark 13 Depth Charge"). Since the human eye has not changed, it is called the Mark I Eyeball. The term is typically used when someone relies too much on their equipment: "Use your Mark One Eyeball!". It is used likewise in the United States military and other predominantly English-speaking countries. 
The point I'm making is that the "Mark One Eyeball" used with our "Mark One Brains" (no better versions available currently) is a valuable tool for spotting trends in graphical data, and to a lesser extent in tabular data. The eye/brain combination seeks to identify shapes and lines in collections of dots, blobs or points on a graph. The MOE is also good at spotting conflicting scientific or statistical claims, sometimes made by the same person. In December 2009 Dr. Vicky Pope, who is head of the climate predictions programme at the Hadley Centre of the UK Met Office, was (apparently) quoted in a BBC report "figures indicate that the years since 2000 - the "noughties" - were on average about 0.18C (0.32F) warmer than years in the 1990s; and that since the 1970s, each decade has seen an increase of about the same scale". MOE was telling anyone who cared to look at ANY temperature dataset that this couldn't possibly be true. This is the Hadley Centre's own data for 1991-2009:

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

An Element of Surprise

I'm surprised at how scientists are often surprised, and sometimes even astonished. For example, researchers and marine biologists were surprised by the rapid recovery of nearshore environments along the US coastline of the Gulf of Mexico in the months following the Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010. Marine biologists were surprised at the rapid recovery of bleached areas of coral along the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland, Australia. Others had been surprised at the extent of the bleaching in 2008. Scientists were "Surprised to Find Earth's Biosphere Booming" (abstract here) when they looked for the first time, though whether it was the scientists themselves, or merely reporters who were surprised, is a moot point . Scientists were surprised (some were astonished) to find an "ozone hole" (so-called) over Antarctica several decades ago, when they looked for the first time. Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution were surprised to discover that some shell-building creatures unexpectedly build more shell when exposed to ocean acidification caused by elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).

With all these expressions of surprise (most seem to be confined to press releases or interviews, may be a clue there?), it might be interesting to attempt to analyse the reasons. Had the scientists studied earlier oil spills and ecological impacts? If so why were they surprised at the rapid recovery? (I wasn't, but then I'm not a marine biologist). Large oil spills in colder waters were followed by rapidly reducing impact and fairly quick recovery. In the Gulf the water is much warmer, which should mean more rapid dispersion of the oil, and conditions conducive to oil-gobbling bacterial growth. Sea conditions also favoured skimming and collection of the surface oil close to the US coast, and rougher weather further out dispersed the oil. Perhaps they'd been influenced by all the reports of an ecological disaster which hadn't yet occurred in the first few days and weeks of the spill? Perhaps they just had pre-conceived notions of the likely extent of the damage and slow recovery speed. If so, they go down a notch in my estimation.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A Warm(ists) Look at Glaciers

This caught my eye today (h/t Tom Nelson), titled "Canadians ought to care about the radical changes occurring in the polar regions", by Geoff Green, who describes himself as "Arctic Explorer - Environmental Educator".

In response to the question (the piece masquerades as an interview, though the byline is "by Geoff Green") "What inspired you to start bringing youth on Arctic expeditions?" he replies
What inspired it all was really seeing how incredible the polar regions are – how they are these cornerstones of our global ecosystem; windows to the health of the planet. Not to mention the fact that they are just beautiful places, home to huge concentrations of wildlife.
It's hard to pinpoint an exact moment, but I do remember one day standing on this beach in the Arctic surrounded by about 200,000 chinstrap penguins
It must be "hard to pinpoint an exact moment" because pygoscelis antarcticus, as the name rather gives away, are resident in the Antarctic. He continues
And I thought, “Imagine if we could bring kids or youth to these places at the beginning of their lives – at a time when that type of experience could help define their future and change their perspectives and motivate and inspire them.” I thought, “Wouldn't the polar regions be the greatest classroom on earth?”
For kids to be able to look into the eyes of a bowhead whale or a polar bear, and to experience the unbelievable beauty of the Arctic … I knew that would change them on a personal level and connect them, not just to nature, but to their place in this big global picture.
I suggest that if a kid looked into the eyes of a polar bear, he/she would connect directly to nature by becoming part of the food chain. Still, perhaps I'm being unfair, so let's read more
We are also seeing the affect on glaciers that are shrinking. We often go to Auyuittuq National Park. Auyuittuq is an Inuktitut word meaning “the place that never melts.” They’re going to have to change that name. They had to close the park three years ago because of flash flood warnings due to the rapid melting of the glaciers. Greenland is in the same situation.
"due to the rapid melting of the glaciers" - sounds catastrophic, surely glaciers don't melt, do they? What does the Auyuittuq National Park of Canada site have to say?
Auyuittuq National Park Closure is lifted as of August 8, 2008
Due to rain on snow, two weeks of record breaking warm sunny weather followed by more rain Summit Lake filled well beyond normal limits and burst out through the normal drainage into the Weasel River and scoured the outflow channel to bedrock through permafrost sending a pulse of extreme high water through Akshayuk Pass.
Subsequent to the high water that took out the Windy Lake bridge and some trails, areas of permafrost continued to melt causing erosion, cracking and slumping of affected areas from Crater Lake to Summit Lake. 
Nothing there about glacier melt being a major factor. When did those lakes form? The Great Canadian Parks site tells us
Three of the park's lakes, Crater, Summit and Windy, were created about 100 years ago when moraine ridges of gravel and boulders formed a natural dam that held back the meltwater when the glacier retreated. Much of the land is in the permafrost zone, where the earth's moisture, just centimetres below ground, is frozen solid for all time. In summer, the surface can become a slurry of sand and gravel, a hazard to hikers who must also beware the Owl River valley, where thawing is capable in some sections of creating waist-deep quicksand-like quagmires.
So the glacier had a major retreat 100 years ago, and it doesn't appear that there's any plan to change the name from Auyuittuq "the land that never melts" anytime soon. The previous paragraph gives some background
The buckling of bedrock by continental drift forces formed the Precambrian granite peaks of the jagged Penny Highlands which reach 2100 metres and range over 6000 square kilometres of the park’s landscape. The ice cap produced by the compression of accumulated snow into glaciers covers the highlands to depths of 300 metres. The remaining 2/3 of the park is mainly covered in ice that melts only at its edges and then only during the brief summer. The peninsula's coastline is cut deeply where glaciers shaped the valley floors below sea level, chiseling narrow fjords with 900 metre-high vertical walls. Glacial action that gave the valleys, such as the 97-kilometre Akshayuk Pass, their characteristic U-shape, is still actively shaping the land. 25 kilometre-long glaciers, spawned from the massive ice cap, slide down from the high plateau to the sea at Davis Strait pulled by gravity and their own weight. Glacial moraines - huge mounds of eroded rubble pushed by a moving glacier, and sandy areas where rock was ground into particles have become part of the landscape.
They don't sound as though they're concerned about future job prospects.

I recall an article I read several years ago (link long lost), in which a glaciologist (could it have been Geoff Green?) was recounting his depressing experiences on the Antarctic peninsula. He said "I was kept awake all night by the mournful sound of the melting glaciers". Kept awake? By the sound of flowing water? No, "the sound of the ice crashing into the sea". I haven't got a PhD in physics, but I do know when ice melts it becomes water, and it doesn't "crash into the sea". I'd suggest that scientists who are too emotionally involved with their subject of study might tend to be somewhat less than objective in their conclusions.

A Cool Look at Glaciers

Glaciers are the poster child of those who would have us believe that unstoppable global warming is in progress. We've been told that melting is accelerating just about everywhere, and that hundreds of millions will be affected in the future if glaciers continue to melt and reduce the boost they give to river flow in the dry season in areas like south-east Asia.

Glaciers hit the headlines in a big way in December 2009, when reports of a flawed prediction about Himalayan glaciers began to circulate on the internet. They quoted a statement in the IPCC 2007 AR4 report:
Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world (see Table 10.9) and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km2 by the year 2035 
IPCC AR4 WG2 Ch10, p. 493

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Battle of the Bulge

National Geographic News tells us:

Earth Has "Spare Tire"—And Ice Melt's Keeping It That Way 
Waistline bulge has stopped slimming, thanks to massive melting.
Earth isn't losing its "spare tire" as fast as it should be, according to new research—and it's definitely not because the planet's not getting enough water.
In fact, melting ice from Antarctica and Greenland (map) is giving the oceans huge infusions of water, which then gets pulled toward the Equator—counteracting a millennia-old slimming trend around the planet's middle, experts say. 
Overall, the current ice loss is causing Earth's bulge to grow at a rate of seven millimeters a decade, Wahr and Nerem found—exactly enough to counteract the long-term rebound, at least temporarily.

This must mean that sea-level rise in the equatorial regions is higher than elsewhere, so let's look at a few places. The largest open body of water is the Pacific ocean, and Hawaii isn't that far from the equator (21°N)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

"Slaying the Sky Dragon" - a critique

I had intended to review the book "Slaying the Sky Dragon" (by a number of authors), but I've decided not to buy a copy. Three of its chapters are now available on the 'net in pdf format. I've read the two chapters authored by Claes Johnson, and I have to say that I'm staggered by their assertions. It doesn't take a climate physicist to see the erroneous assumptions that the flawed arguments are based on.

The chapter "Climate Thermodynamics - 4 Lapse Rate and Global Warming/Cooling" starts off badly:
The effective blackbody temperature of the Earth with atmosphere is -18C, which can be allocated to a TOA at an altitude of 5 km at a lapse rate of 6.5C/km connecting TOA to an Earth surface at 15C with a total warming of 5 × 6.5 = 33C. The lapse rate determines the surface temperature since the TOA temperature is determined to balance a basically constant insolation. What is then the main factor determining the lapse rate? Is it radiation or thermodynamics, or both?
Mr Johnson may be a mathematician, but he's not a climatologist nor a physicist. I'm none of those, but I can spot the equivalent of a "schoolboy howler" when I see one. Let's analyse the first sentence; TOA (Top of Atmosphere) is considered to be around 23 km altitude. The "-18C" has to have been calculated using the Stefan-Boltzmann equation, using the average radiation-to-space value of 240 W/m² (watts per sq. metre). This does indeed give a result of -18°C, and the average temperature at a height of 5 km is indeed -18°C, but there's a snag. The radiation to space comes from more than one source, and its profile is not a complete Planck curve, as required if the Stefan-Boltzmann equation is to be used.