Thursday, March 30, 2006

Unexpected warming in Antarctica - "Predicting the Past"

It's frustrating for the media when scientists provide evidence of warming but cannot explain why. In fact, the models used had not predicted the warming, so now the scientists are not sure whether this particular experiment proves natural or human modified climate change.


I suppose the problem here is twofold. First we know we are in a warming trend regardless of man's emergence as a major species on the planet (we're coming out of an ice age). Second, we really have no yardsticks to compare against. I mean, where is the temperature data from the Antarctic middle troposphere taken, say 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago?


So comparisons are made using models that are simplistic in design and subject to gross miscalculations in practice. And now, after all the funding, all the time and all the posturing by those who wish for certain answers, we are back to square one.

But finally, one of the scientists said "We are confident we are able to predict the past, and globally we can predict climate change". Predicting the past! Now that deserves major funding, does it not?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Radiohead - Climatic Experts?

This just in from the BBC. Friends of the Earth "ambassador" Thom Yorke of Radiohead spurns a meeting with Tony Blair because Blair "has no environmental credentials".

Scary stuff, hard to make reasoned comment on, so I'll just leave it at that.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

WWJD? How about WWDS?

Switching to the Evolution/ID discussion, I just had a thought. The WWJD movement seems to have taken off in a big way. I wonder exactly What Would Jesus Do with this website!

But that aside, let's start a new slogan-driven belief system - What Would Darwin Say?

It is not the first of its kind, though. The Darwin fish with feet symbol has been around for quite some time. Here is a rather garish and irreligious secular website that seems to have spawned a bunch of them!

Wired - Tim Flannery Interview

I am not going to get into a knock down drag out discussion about this interview, the first of three on global warming, but instead focus on the Flash intro to Tim Flannery's promotional site. The moving headlines sum up the paranoia that is being pushed by the environmentalists to further their own cause. Not one positive effect has been identified. This introduction passes us onto a page that defines Flannery's world tour, mostly to museums and zoos where I am sure his books will be signed and sold and his ideas promulgated to those who choose to listen. Probably preaching to the choir but nonetheless reinforcing many of the voodoos that have become accepted, as demonstrated in the first sentence from the Wired interviewer:

"The scientific evidence is now overwhelming that unchecked growth in fossil fuel use throughout the next half-century will produce a global climate catastrophe"

Just a little one-sided?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Time Scales

The Climate Change Debate is being discussed on several discrete fronts. Richard Lindzen (see previous post) stresses the scientific community's inherent weaknesses as well as some of the statistical boundaries that are not being reported properly. I tend to focus on the time element of climate change, probably because I am a trained geologist. I donot understand how some researchers believe that a short-lived research program can produce significant results (until I read Lindzen's section on research funding!). And by short-lived I would include the 1,000 year "hockey stick" approach (which in itself appears to have fallen foul of Lindzen's observations of poor statistical analysis).

So, here are a range of time scales to think about, starting short, ending long:

1 day - the life cycle of a daily newspaper

1 week - the life cycle of a weekly magazine

1 month - the life cycle of a monthly magazine

1 year - the minimum time weather patterns can be compared

25 years - one human generation (could range from ~15 up to ~50)

70 years - life span of a human being (based on three score years and ten)

250 years - the period of time since the Period of Enlightenment began (~1750 AD)

1000 years - the duration of a game of hockey played by scientists who "can't find" their original data

6010 years - the precise duration of the Universe according to fundamentalists and creationists (4004 BC + 2006 AD)

10,000 years - the duration since the "end" of the last glacial period (See Note* below)

100,000 to 200,000 years - existence of homo sapiens (not very precise due to poor fossil record)

65 million years - approximate time that dinosaurs have been absent from the Earth (so much for the movie One Million Years BC!)

600 million years - the period of time that life has flourished on planet Earth

4,000 million years - the period of time some form of life has been present on planet Earth

4,600 million years - the period of time since planet Earth formed around the sun

15,000 million years - the period of time since the Big Bang

* This item is confusing in that the "end" of a glacial period is hard to define. It's a bit like the Grand Old Duke of York when "half way up" was neither "up" nor "down". Global ice ages have a periodicy that is somewhere between 100,000 and 40,000 years from peak to peak. The concept of the end of a glacial period implies a reaction to significant warming, melting of ice and reduction and regression of the ice sheets. Thus is could be said that the present cycle of "global warming" started 10,000 years ago.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Richard S. Lindzen

Thanks to Envirospin I got notice of this draft paper (in pdf form and available for download) by Richard S. Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at M.I.T.

I have since read its 24 pages and have to say that this is essential reading for anyone who enters the climate change debate. It would be easy for me to pick a few quotes but I believe it would be better to read the entire article. There are some serious implications about the impact of global warming on the scientific community itself, and in particular on the issue of research funding. Lindzen includes this graphic to illustrate the triangular relationship between science media and politics (I reproduce it in the hope that it will induce you to download the article and read it):

Friday, March 10, 2006

May I use your Greenland photos?

An interesting day. For several weeks I had been planning to re-design the Greenland photo spread that was taken on an unusually northerly route over the glaciers and icecap. Today I uploaded the photos and a Focalplane gallery that shows these images against a black background (much better than in Flickr ;) )

With a few exceptions, nobody views the images. Then I get an e-mail from asking if they can use two photos to support an article on the fact that "2005 was the hottest year since 1880". Well, you can imagine my reaction! So what - in geological terms (and they are the terms) 125 years is nothing, nada, zilch.

So I politely refused. Here is the text of my response:

"Dear ------

I am sorry but I cannot give permission for my photos to be used for an article that supports the concept of anthropogenic global warming. There simply isn't enough evidence for the assumptions being made by the media. When the media understands that geological time spans need to be analyzed, not human life times or research program time scales, then we might be getting somewhere in the climate change debate.

Clearly I am on the other side of the fence from the author. As a professional geologist (Ph.D. 1970) I consider myself qualified to judge whether or not my photos should be used in this context.

I hope this doesn't disappoint - but there you have it.

Best regards"

To the point, friendly and reasonable.

Creationism to hit UK schools. . .

This just in on the BBC website. It sounds like science teachers are to be expected to include references to Intelligent Design (a.k.a. Creationism) in order to explain "the background to theories". Now that would be fine if, as one education expert points out, the teacher is allowed to differentiate between science and faith based theories. And the simplest way to do this, he points out, is to have science teachers explain science and religious education teachers explain faith.

I rather fear (from my ivory tower a long way from a 30+ kids classroom) that this is going to cause serious problems with our youth's comprehension of what science is all about. Science has already become far too emotive a topic. Hence the mess the media gets into when reporting on global warming.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

OK, let's set out to prove what we assume. . .


The BBC has this way of putting bias to almost anything relating to climate change. Here's a good example. I quote:

"A new weather station is expected to show the extent of warming in the Himalayas, one of the world's biggest deposits of ice and a key source of fresh water"

Making such statements before conducting scientific experiment is a dangerous thing - but then the BBC isn't the one making the experiment. Scientists with an open mind might cringe at such reporting. Of course, the scientists in question have placed instruments in such a way that they will be able to answer the basic questions posed by the quote, but in the meantime, what if the experiments happen to show the opposite?

Incidentally, I don't doubt that Himalayan glaciers are retreating. We are, after all, still coming out of the fourth major Ice Age in recent (geological) history.

The other key comment by the BBC sets up a separate hand-wringing conundrum - the Himalyan ice sheet is one of the world's fresh water resources. Yet it can only be a fresh water resource if it isn't ice! As Homer Simpson might say:


Friday, March 03, 2006

Antarctic ice sheet is shrinking, but only by a fraction

This headline will always make the news these days! But the ensuing article in today's Daily Telegraph shows remarkable restraint.

The concept of using satellite gravity measurements to determine how much ice is melting on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is an interesting one. In theory it should be accurate but as the scientists themselves acknowledge that "corrections had to be applied to the signal for this method to work and that the accuracy of the final assessment of ice-sheet mass balance depended on how accurate these corrections were".

The results are not as profound as the headline might have us believe. First of all, the ice sheet is not melting that much. But, and here's the rub, the ice sheet was predicted to expand if global warming is taking place - apparently global warming should induce greater precipitation and accumulation of ice - so now we don't know what to think!

I rather suspect that the results are too close to call one way or the other. But funding must continue. Hence the headline.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

No Wind Farm for Cumbria

The BBC reports that the Government has sided with planning authorities in deciding not to go ahead with a major wind farm project near the Lake District in northern England.

Wind farms are very divisive when you analyze who is for and against them. Personally I don't have a problem with them as long as they are not located in areas of outstanding natural beauty. Although this project would have been located near the Lake District (and not in it per se) the countryside between Kendal and Shap is nonetheless outstanding and is visible to the thousands of travelers who use the M6 motorway.

I am interested in this project because it covers the area where I did my PhD geological fieldwork in the late 1960s. Then they were building the M6 and there were not many people against the idea of carving a huge ribbon of concrete across the moorland. The motorway construction did, incidentally, obliterate one of my main areas of investigation near Shap. Today the opposition to almost any form of change can be vocal or even obdurate (one naturalist had threatened to chain himself to a pylon if construction went ahead!)

And not surprisingly, the BBC throws in "Global Warming" as a paragraph heading, just to make sure we are all paying attention!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Concensus Grows. . . .

This article reported by the BBC is yet another leaked announcement ahead of an IPCC report. This way, it seems, we get two for the price of one as there will be another feature when the report is officially released.

Regardless, the rhetoric is interesting as there are conflicting degrees of certainty within the language of the article. To whit: "the only explanation", "probably to blame", "the only explanation (again)", "must be", "all measurements have been anomalous", "virtually all", "maybe higher", "there is still great uncertainty", "what really worries the scientists", "the world may already be fixed on a path". All this sounds like a lot of scaremongering.

The paragraph I find most interesting is the one that informs us that "stable CO2 concentrations in the pre-industrial era were 270 ppm". I seriously doubt if CO2 concentrations have ever been stable given the huge natural emissions that take place sporadically from volcanos and other natural phenomena. But then I guess 270ppm is the concensus number and therefore it must be right!

Remember: scientific concensus is rarely a good thing, it creates an "establishment" doctrine about how things should be rather than how they are observed to be. The early days of the science of geology suffered from Establishment thinking and Darwin's publication of the Origin of Species was delayed decades because of it.