Monthly Archives: March 2012

Cold in Alaska, warm in Chicago

I’ll bet you right now that the record warmth in the eastern USA this past winter will be used as justification to claim global warming in accelerating.   After all the twin centers of the universe, DC and NYC both have been warm…so the world must be warming!  I don’t think so.

I live in Anchorage, in South-central Alaska.  The region is bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the south and the Alaska Range (which includes Denali, the tallest mountain in North America) on the north.  We have a maritime climate that is warm for the region because of our proximity to the water.

We  have had a really cold winter this year with near record snowfall.  February was a very cold month in the Arctic too with rapid expansion of the Arctic Ice Pack.  All the while Chicago had 80 degree F weather in March.  Record warmth all over the north-eastern USA and near record cold in Alaska.

One might be tempted to draw climate conclusions from regional weather variations…and that would be a mistake.   Regional variations are common and very difficult to predict .   When the data is looked at worldwide the highs and lows tend to cancel each other out.

That is exactly what is happening this year.

Routinely Alaska has warm winter weather when Chicago is cold and vise versa.   When South-central Alaska has mild winter weather it is because the jet stream develops a long north south loop and warm air gets pulled up from the Pacific.  This same loop pulls cold air from western Canada into the mid western USA.

This year the tropical jet is sending warm air to Chicago from the Gulf of Mexico and we Alaskans have been left out in the cold.

An easy way to demonstrate the assertion that regional climate is not important climatically is to look at global temperature sets.  My favorite sites use low troposphere satellite data.   The data provides a global temperature that does not rely on surface temperature data and I like that.   Global warming theory predicts warming of the low troposphere before the surface, so it should be an indicator of future warming.

Four different agencies calculate the global  temperature using satellite data.  There are slight variations in how the data is interpreted, but they all paint a similar picture.    UAH, the University of Alabama at Huntsville is one of the four sites.   One of the principal scientists at UAH is Dr. Roy Spencer.  Each month he provides an update to their data set on his website  Here is the link to that website.

http://www.drroyspencer.com/latest-global-temperatures/

And here is the chart updated in early March, complete with February 2012 data.

As you can see, the world has been cooling slightly for about 6 months, and was just a bit below the average of  the last 33 years in February.  In fact this data supports the notion that, if anything, we have been in a slight cooling cycle since 1998.

Temperature data confusion

Temperature data sets confuse me.  When I look at satellite based weather data, I draw one conclusion.  When I look at land/sea surface based data I draw different conclusions…and so many experts say both data sets are right.

And the sets keep changing.   The sudden rapid cooling scientists saw between 1940 and the mid 1970’s  when we were worrying about global cooling in 1974 no longer exists in  official temperature records.  The very warm weather in the 1930’s is less warm.  Throw in a bit of Climategate chicanery and  I believe I have some justification for my confusion.

Who would have thought the temperature of the world in 1940 was subject to so much interpretation?  Were we guessing in 1940 or 1975?  Are we guessing now?

A few years ago NASA world surface temperature data sets went back to 1866, now they begin in 1880.  Why NASA made this change is beyond me…but I do know 1877 and 1878 were very warm years in the old data set…and just about everybody in the Climate game likes to cherry pick data.

There are four main places to go for Satellite based Tropospheric data sets.  NASA’s GISStemp, the Hadley Center’s HadCRU in the UK, Remote Sensing Systems’ RSS in California, and the University of Alabama, Huntsville’s UAH.

GISStemp and HadCRU combine surface and Tropospheric data together, UAH and RSS only use Satellite data.  All give similar but different interpretations to the same data.  UAH and RSS insist 1998 was the warmest year while NASA and Hadley both like more recent years, like 2005  and 2010.

Generally surface data sets and satellite data sets produce similar results, one exception appears to be 1998, a year that featured an El Nino.  In 1998, Satellite data was much warmer than surface data.  I suspect this is because the  Oceans are a particular problem for surface data sets. The best ocean surface data comes from floating buoys.  Relatively few data points and  the data points move around with the ocean currents.

I like Satellite data, there is just too much SWAG in surface data.  Many surface data sets appear to demonstrate that global warming appears has continued into the 21st century.  Satellite data sets peaked in 1998, cooled slightly for several years before peaking again in 2010.  So far 2012 has been a fairly cool year….just a bit below the average of the last 32 years.

Is it warmer in 2012 than in 1998 or 1877 and does it really matter when trying to predict world climate centuries into the future?

Climate Propaganda at San Diego Zoo

Last month I visited the San Diego Zoo.  The Polar Bear exhibit featured a display showing a shrinking polar ice cap and a bunch of global warming propaganda.  Whenever global warming theory is presented as a fact, I get a bit testy.

Sure, the world is warmer and the ice cap has been shrinking….but is it because of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?  Maybe, maybe not.

I personally think particulate air pollution, mostly from China, is more important than carbon dioxide when evaluating Arctic Ice melting.  The particulate matter has been making the snow slightly less white.  The snow then absorbs heat faster and melts faster.   Of course I don’t know for sure….but recent studies support my view.   Perhaps the display is older than the new data studies that began surfacing in 2009.

The display doesn’t talk about air pollution, or solar winds, or variations in the Earth’s orbit; just about carbon dioxide, as if that is the only variable worth considering.

And then the display cherry picks data.  The exhibit includes a model of the North Pole showing the change in summer melting of ice  that begins in the late 1970’s and ends in 2007.  2007 was the peak year in recent history for Arctic Ice melting.  Since then the ice has actually been growing.  February of 2012 had the 5th lowest February ice accumulation in the 32 year history of the data, still low but way up from 2007.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center provides regular updates at:

http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

Time magazine ran a cover story on global cooling in 1974.  In that article the Polar Ice Cap was expanding rapidly and had been expanding for over 20 years.   Carbon dioxide has been increasing at a fairly regular rate for the entire 20th century.   From 1940 to the mid 1970’s carbon dioxide was steadily rising and the Earth was cooling.  Clearly it is not the only variable worth considering.

Let’s return to the Zoo display. Carbon dioxide levels were prominently displayed in a large graph.  The most prominent feature of the chart was a label titled Optimum Level.   Give me a break. The associated text does say some scientists say the optimum level is…..but the data is displayed so that you notice the optimum level first…and maybe notice the qualifier if you read the fine print.

The notion that 1) there is an optimum level, 2) we know that level is and 3) that level is a constant value must be at least a bit speculative.  I wonder if that was a Scientific Wild Ass Guess (SWAG) or just a wild ass guess…either way it was a guess.

There is also a chart displaying carbon dioxide levels in our recent past.  The chart begins just after the end of the medieval warming period.   Data from Antarctic  ice cores  show the relationship between carbon dioxide and temperature that goes back 700,000 years.   The Zoo decided to limit the display to the last 1000 years.

The notion that the recent past is more important that the rest of the 2.5 million year old Ice Age Cycle we live in seems a tiny bit presumptuous. Is it wise to concentrate on the  last 50 years of the last 1000  when trying to evaluate climate?

An honest evaluation of historic data graphically demonstrates the wild natural variation in climate.  It was 6 degrees Celsius warmer 130,000 years ago and 10 degrees Celsius cooler 20,000 years ago and sudden rapid change within a cycle is fairly common.  Why are we worrying so much about an increase of less than 1 degree Celsius in the 20th century, a change that is not spectacular historically?

The people that run the San Diego Zoo are smart folks, they know about the ice age cycle we live in.  Just about everybody in climate science knows that we do not live in a world that has static climate.  And yet the scientific community is constantly presenting data that  presumes that the world would be static were it not for man-made carbon dioxide.

Politics and Science – Strange Bedfellows

The UN’s first international global warming summit took place  in Rio in 1992.   After two weeks of meeting a protocol for reducing global warming by slowing man-made carbon dioxide production emerged. (A SWAG if ever there was one)

In 1997 an agreement at a  meeting in Kyoto turned some of the Rio protocols into a Treaty.  The treaty was ratified by most of the countries in the world and went into effect  on February 16,2005.  The treaty will expire at the end of 2012.

The Kyoto treaty is a political agreement attempting to address a perceived science problem.  The UN is both the political body in charge of negotiations and the keeper of the science; the opportunity for mischief is almost endless.

Because the Kyoto Treaty is a political solution; it does many strange things in order to get countries to go along.  The agreement uses a 1990 base line year and allows all sorts of adjustments to that year for the various countries involved.

Kyoto mandates levels 5% below the 1990 levels for 14 developed countries and 20 other countries in transition (Russia and Eastern Europe), collectively called Annex I countries. The rest of the world is considered developing countries and they are not required to do anything.  Kyoto assumes the greenhouse gas goals will be met in 2012.

The strange nature of the Kyoto treaty begins with the list of Annex I countries.  These are the developed countries that are expected to make the sacrifices for the benefit of the group. Annex I countries include Turkey, Romania, Iceland (that recently went bankrupt), Bulgaria, Luxemburg and Liechtenstein; but not China or India, the two most populous countries in the world and two of the three largest carbon producers.

Canada (a very high per capita user) is given credit for trees, Britain credit for converting coal to natural gas because of North Sea production and Western Europe gets to count all the “dirty” stuff in Eastern Europe that they would improve or already had improved.  Australia is given credit for all the trees it destroyed in 1990 as its baseline.

The collapse of the Soviet Union completely destroyed the Soviet economy and Russia was given the benefit of the former USSR usage, Japan and Germany got carbon sinks to be counted.

The treaty is expensive.  Countries were jockeying, trying to agree to their obligations without hurting their economies too much.

Climate change politics and climate science have been intertwined since before the first Rio meeting.  This political, scientific and economic reality leads to lots of bizarre behavior.

When the individual countries first met to discuss global warming in Rio in 1992, China was  a small player.   Way back in 1992, nobody knew China was going to become the second largest economy in the world and the biggest carbon producer by far.  China was given a pass.

Sometime in 2012 or perhaps 2013, China will produce as much man-made carbon dioxide as the USA and all of Western Europe combined.  We in the west are preparing to spend huge amounts to limit a product that China is producing in abundance.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Why do Al Gore and his mentor,  James Hansen,  continue to give China a pass while bashing the USA, Germany and Britain?   Global warming politics.  Mr. Gore and Dr. Hansen are all about motivating all of us to act…and act now.

If  China can and does overwhelm anything and everything we do…..why bother?   Mr. Gore needs  all of us in the Western world to feel responsible for the horrible events he is predicting.   We will not do what he wants us to do, if we don’t feel responsible.

And he doesn’t want us to notice the mega-doses of  wild ass guessing included in his predictions.

Al Gore regularly bashes the USA for our poor environmental record and is strangely silent on China.  Mr. Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, was released in 2006.  It is full of condemnation of the USA and is almost silent on China.  While the film was in theaters, China passed the USA to become the worlds biggest man-made carbon emitter, but you’d never know it from the rhetoric displayed in the film.

James Hansen has testified against an individual new coal fired power plant in Britain, insisting that one incremental plant will do horrible harm, while standing silent as China opens a new coal plant every week.

Japan will likely be replacing Nuclear plants with coal plants because of the disaster at Fukashima.  They will probably fall short of their Kyoto obligations because of that change.  Japan will continue to have difficulty meeting Kyoto obligations in the future, and it will almost certainly impact how Japan negotiates in the future.

Wind and Solar will not work as electric base load, they are only available when mother nature cooperates.  Power utilities need predictable power…and Nuclear is the only carbon dioxide free fuel available today in large quantities.  Before the March 11, 2011 tsunami, articles about the future Nuclear world were everywhere.   Now….silence is golden.   The science hasn’t change, but the politics sure did.

Oil is a transportation fuel, wind and solar are power generation sources.    The USA uses only domestic sources for power generation (except in Hawaii) so wind power and solar have absolutely no impact on energy independence….but they are linked by politicians and environmentalists all the time.

I am sure many scientists, environmentalists, and politicians know that carbon dioxide emanating  from an automobile tailpipe will not be changed by building a wind farm in North Dakota; but the two are constantly linked together.  President Obama did just that last week.  He brought up renewable energy efforts while touting his energy policy in an effort to tap dance around high gasoline prices.

S.W.A.G. An Introduction

SWAG is an acronym from my youth, a scientific wild ass guess.  Gather all the information you can about a subject and take your best shot.  Science  is a SWAG process.  There will always be much we do not know and yet we must make assumptions (guesses) about all sorts of things if science is to progress.  Many of these guesses will prove to be wrong.  The SWAG mistake of today is discovered tomorrow by the process that is scientific research and science advances.

The less we know, the more guessing we must do.   And what we know is subject to change with time.  I fear the notion of scientific guessing has been lost by our population.  The latest theory is presented as a fact, some sort of absolute known quantity.   Somehow the public has come to believe that long range worldwide weather forecasting (climate science) is an exact science.

Climate scientists SWAG a lot.  Some, I fear, skip the science and just WAG.

There are four big misconceptions (or beliefs or perhaps lies) often repeated by former Vice President Gore whenever he talks about global climate change.  They have infiltrated global warming science as it is perceived by the public.

  1.  The science is simple.
  2. There is a consensus among scientists.
  3. We know all we need to know to act right now.
  4. It is urgent that we act immediately.

The science is extraordinarily complex.  We know very little scientifically about the oceans, clouds or the sun; and all are important variables when attempting to predict climate.

Well qualified scientists from all around the world have publicly disagreed with the consensus Mr. Gore touts.  There never has been and there probably never will be consensus.  And as Mr. Gore notes in his film, the conventional wisdom that generates consensus is frequently wrong.

The warmest year in recent memory was 1998.  2008 was a particularly cool year and 2010 was about as warm as 1998.  1877-1878 was another relatively warm period in recent history and 1964 was among the coldest in the last 100 years. There have been warm years and cool years and there is a trend of gradual warming that began with the end of the little ice age about 250 years ago.

Consider this contrarian thought: global warming is good, or at least preferable to the alternative, global cooling.  The world does not have static climate. One need only look at the data prepared when evaluating Antarctic Ice cores to see that periods of stable warm climate are rare.  We know much colder is awful, and if history can be used as a guide, much colder is probable within 10,000 years, maybe sooner, maybe much sooner.

Allow me to repeat what I just said, the world does not have static climate. Anything man does to alter the climate alters a moving baseline.  We as a society are making changes to a climate ecosystem that varies wildly all by itself.  This fluctuation makes global climate change prediction extraordinarily difficult.  We do not have sufficient knowledge to accurately differentiate between normal ecosystem changes and man made changes.

If we cannot accurately quantify the moving baseline and we can’t, how do we know what and when action is warranted?   Things we do today will impact climate tomorrow and in the future.  Exactly what that impact might be is a very difficult science problem.

S.W.A.G. is everywhere in climate science.