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Thursday, March 11

Silly mistake replicated over past century invalidates temperature records used to 'prove' global warming but IPCC says Let's not dwell on the past

The computer programmer's dictum, "Garbage in, garbage out," applies as well to scientific research. The truth is that you can't turn the question, 'Is the planet getting warmer?' into a rational working hypothesis. That this was done anyhow, and that an equally dead-end question for a scientist, 'Do humans contribute significantly to global warming?' was tacked onto the first unscientific question, points to a crisis in the teaching of scientific epistemology and the practice of scientific method. Now just see where the crisis has led:

It turns out that manually-taken temperature records are worthless as an indicator of global temperatures because weather stations around the world have been compromised. This is because nobody thought to factor in environmental differences that artificially raise readings taken by the thermometers. (See report, below.)

What kind of environmental differences are we talking about here? Some thermometers at the temperature-collecting stations are located next to air-conditioning units, which as everyone who's ever had an air-conditioner knows blow hot air outside. One weather station is next to a waste incinerator. Then there's the weather station at Rome airport, which catches the hot exhaust fumes of jets taxiing down the runways. (1)

The more run-of-the mill oversights are simply that many of the stations were built before urbanization placed buildings, which generate heat, in close proximity to the weather stations. (1)

So in a very literal sense it's blowing hot air to claim that temperature records show the planet is warming:
“The temperature records cannot be relied on as indicators of global change,” said John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a former lead author on the IPCC [The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change].

The doubts of Christy and a number of other researchers focus on the thousands of weather stations around the world, which have been used to collect temperature data over the past 150 years.

These stations, they believe, have been seriously compromised by factors such as urbanisation, changes in land use and, in many cases, being moved from site to site.

Christy has published research papers looking at these effects in three different regions: east Africa, and the American states of California and Alabama.

“The story is the same for each one,” he said. “The popular data sets show a lot of warming but the apparent temperature rise was actually caused by local factors affecting the weather stations, such as land development.”

The IPCC faces similar criticisms from Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph, Canada, who was invited by the panel to review its last report.

The experience turned him into a strong critic and he has since published a research paper questioning its methods.

“We concluded, with overwhelming statistical significance, that the IPCC’s climate data are contaminated with surface effects from industrialisation and data quality problems. These add up to a large warming bias,” he said.

Such warnings are supported by a study of US weather stations co-written by Anthony Watts, an American meteorologist and climate change sceptic.

His study, which has not been peer reviewed, is illustrated with photographs of weather stations in locations where their readings are distorted by heat-generating equipment.

[...]

Terry Mills, professor of applied statistics and econometrics at Loughborough University, looked at the same data as the IPCC. He found that the warming trend it reported over the past 30 years or so was just as likely to be due to random fluctuations as to the impacts of greenhouse gases. Mills’s findings are to be published in Climatic Change, an environmental journal.

“The earth has gone through warming spells like these at least twice before in the last 1,000 years,” he said.(1)
If you're a scientist who staked your professional reputation on defending global warming, what is your response in the face of a massive reality check? Naturally, you brazen it out:
Kevin Trenberth, a lead author of the chapter of the IPCC report that deals with the observed temperature changes, said he accepted there were problems with the global thermometer record but these had been accounted for in the final report.

“It’s not just temperature rises that tell us the world is warming,” he said. “We also have physical changes like the fact that sea levels have risen around five inches since 1972, the Arctic icecap has declined by 40% and snow cover in the northern hemisphere has declined.”

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts has recently issued a new set of global temperature readings covering the past 30 years, with thermometer readings augmented by satellite data.

Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the [U.K.] Met Office, said: “This new set of data confirms the trend towards rising global temperatures and suggest that, if anything, the world is warming even more quickly than we had thought.” (1)
Actually, the latest findings suggest the world is entering a cooling period.(2) And it's beyond me how augmenting irretrievably bad historical data with satellite data could produce a definitive conclusion of any kind.

As for Kevin Trenberth's assertions, he's a victim of bad timing. In January the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado released findings that Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 409,000 square miles, or 26 per cent, since 2007.(2) And just days after the Times Online quoted Trenberth's observation about rising sea levels (see footnote 1), the scientists who published the findings publicly retracted their conclusions after other scientists pointed out technical errors in the research.(3)

I hasten to add this doesn't mean sea levels aren't rising; for all anyone knows the levels are even higher than the figure given by Trenberth. Nor does the evidence of expanding Arctic sea ice necessarily invalidate claims that each year multiyear Arctic ice (the ice which has built up over years), is being replaced by thinner first-year ice.(4) What it does mean is that science has to go back to the drawing board -- an exercise that defines scientific inquiry. However, this exercise is too uncertain for governments that have invested heavily in climate change legislation and taxation, so a creative compromise has been reached:
Review of U.N. panel's report on climate change won't reexamine errors

by David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010

An outside review of a U.N. panel -- promised after flaws were uncovered in the panel's most recent report on climate change -- will not recheck that report's conclusions and will instead focus on improving procedures for the future, officials said Wednesday.

U.N. officials defended their decision, saying that there is still no reason to doubt the most important conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In a landmark report in 2007, the panel found "unequivocal" evidence that the climate was warming.

"Let me be clear: The threat posed by climate change is real," Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said during a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York. "Nothing that has been alleged or revealed in the media recently alters the fundamental scientific consensus on climate change, nor does it diminish the unique importance of the IPCC work."

[...]

In recent months, scientists have questioned several items in the report. In one case, the panel said incorrectly that Himalayan glaciers were expected to melt by 2035. Critics also said the panel relied improperly on data from advocacy groups, not peer-reviewed science.

On Wednesday, U.N. officials said the outside review of the panel will be overseen by the InterAcademy Council, an association of national academies of science from around the world.

Robbert Dijkgraaf, a Dutch professor who will serve as co-leader of the review, said the flaws identified in the 2007 report could be used as "case studies." But, he said, the review's focus will be on the future -- on examining the panel's leadership, methods of sourcing and conflict-of-interest policies -- in preparation for its next report, due in 2013.[...]
David Fahrenthold should have examined the InterAcademy Council's website more carefully because terming the council an "association of national academies of science from around the world" is a very incomplete description. Here are the IAC's "Partner Organizations:"
InterAcademy Panel (IAP)
InterAcademy Medical Panel (IAMP)
International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences (CAETS)
International Council for Science (ICSU)
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)

Other international organizations include:

United Nations
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
World Health Organization (WHO)
World Bank
Asian Development Bank (ADB)
Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)
African Development Bank (AFDB)
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
European Union (EU)
From their own description of their organization, the InterAcademy Council exists to advise national governments and international organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations "on the great global challenges of our time."

So while it's technically true that the IAC does not work for the United Nations it's misleading to call it an "outside" reviewer of a UN-sponsored project. The IAC advises the United Nations on projects that the UN has already deemed worthy, which is the case for the UN panel on climate change.

As to conducting a "reexamination" of data that support the IPCC conclusions -- there hasn't yet been an examination. There has only been ad hoc criticism of various aspects of data related to climate change research.

However, I'll concede that a comprehensive evaluation of the climate change data can't be done without a convocation that would match the Council of Trent in length. That's because the flaws in climate change research are actually 'the crisis in modern science' spelled backward.

The industrialization of scientific research has meant that huge issues, such as the overuse of computer modeling in lieu of sound research paradigms, have not been tackled in meaningful fashion by the scientific community. To be human is to err and science is allowed its fair share of mistakes. But the large number of 'stupid' mistakes being turned up in connection with climate change research points to a broken system.

1) World may not be warming, say scientists; Jonathan Leake; (U.K.) Times Online, February 14, 2010

2) The mini ice age starts here; David Rose; (U.K.) Mail Online; January 10, 2010

3) Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels; David Adam; (U.K.) Guardian; February 21, 2010

4) Is Global Warming Real? Here's the Evidence, Part III: The Arctic Ice Cap; William R. Wilson; Hub Pages website; January 2010
Comments:
Well, it seems to be turning out that Michael Crichton, in his 2004 book "State of Fear", may have the last laugh after all. Almost all of the absurd claims of the AGW crowd were soundly trashed in this novel and Crichton backed up his claims with 20 pages of scientific footnotes, something unheard of in a novel. Reading the now-outdated Wikipedia entry for "State of Fear" shows the pompous posturing of the AGW "scientific" and political crowd and it is fun to now see them exposed for the deceitful buffoons that they are.

Hangtown Bob
 
I agree with the IPCC! Science is practiced the way it always is, nothing to see here, move it along. Science is irrelevant until you make something with it. Things are just getting back to normal now with all this.

What is really exciting is that now we can ignore the IPCC and have rational discussions about what kinds of energy the US wants to use in the future and how we manage cost and availability and supply and balance of trade and efficiency and all the rest. There are many jobs that can be created around sustainable energy systems - Obama and Al Gore and George Soros are correct about that too.

Using carbon intensity as a dimensionless number to normalize the various energy plans and uses around is a very convenient yardstick and something useful from the IPCC that we now have.

We are becoming unstuck from this tar baby now and can move on to actually doing something that matters now - and to take the good parts of the science that were done over the last 20 years and make useful things with it.

Yes, the IPCC is correct. It is time to get over it on both sides and move on to real stuff.
 
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