Monthly Archives: June 2013

30 year weather data useless

The National  Snow and Ice Data Center is changing the way they display Arctic Ice information graphically.   For years they have used the period from 1979 to 2000 as a base data set.  They are increasing the period to 30 years ….as the site states:

Until now, we have used the 22-year period 1979 to 2000 when comparing current sea ice extent to past conditions. When NSIDC first began to monitor and analyze sea ice extent, a longer period was not available. Since the satellite record is now extended, we are choosing to move to a more standard 30-year reference period, from 1981 to 2010.

400 years is young for a Glacier

Three posts ago I discussed some plants emerging from 400 year old glaciers in the Canadian Arctic.  I expressed surprise, how could the Canadian Arctic glaciers be so young?

As I thought about the subject it occurred to me that most people do not have the local perspective I have when discussing glaciers.  If you haven’t seen glaciers up close, perhaps it’s difficult to grasp how time and temperature impact these spectacular pieces of moving ice.

Alaskans live with stories of Glaciers.  When one suddenly advances or retreats…it makes the news.   My history of living with and exploring glaciers is relatively small for a 40 year Alaska resident.

I have walked on 3 glaciers (Worthington, Matanuska and Columbia).  I have made repeated visits to two well known glaciers near my home, Exit Glacier and Portage Glacier.  Both Exit Glacier and Portage Glacier have, I believe, aided me in my understanding of time….climatically.

Exit Glacier is in Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward.

The 12 mile drive from Seward includes an 8 mile section up a wide valley.  The last mile and  a half cuts across the valley, following a stream to the visitor center.  A sign at the visitor center (1961) lets you know where the glacier was some 52 years ago.

Inside the visitor center, you learn that some 10,000 years ago the Glacier filled the valley you just entered.  A valley over a mile wide and almost 7 miles long.  That’s a lot of melting.

Portage Glacier offers a similar lesson.

When I first visited Alaska, Portage Glacier was a fresh water marine glacier.  The lake that fronted the glacier ended at a parking lot near where the Portage Glacier Visitor Center sits today.   Large icebergs piled up  in the lake near the parking lot…and in the winter you could walk on the lake and get a good look at these mountains of ice that had broken off the glacier.   That was in 1972.

Today the glacier no longer sits in the lake and is no longer receding.  The lake made the glacier unstable which aided in it’s rapid recession as the following graphic demonstrates:

Much of this area was discovered by Captain Cook on his third voyage in 1778.  Anchorage sits along Cook Inlet that was named for the famous explorer.   Portage Glacier sits near the end of Turnagain Arm.  Captain Cook was looking for a northerly passage back to the Atlantic.  When he got to the end of the arm he had too turn again….or so the legend goes.

It is said, he could see Portage Glacier from his boat in Turnagain Arm.   The Portage Glacier Visitor Center is some 7 miles inland.  That glacier must have been much bigger then than it is today…or was in 1911 when it first became a fresh water marine glacier.

Both Exit Glacier and Portage Glacier have been receding for thousands of years.   The thought of a 400 year old glacier in the Canadian Arctic seemed odd to me.

I suppose the lesson learned must have something to do with regional climate variations in the Arctic.  Still I am a bit surprised that a glacier that formed in the Arctic only 400 years ago required 250 years of warming to melt!?

BBC China Emissions Story makes common mistakes

A recent BBC News article titled China in carbon trading experiment was disappointing. The story makes two significant factual errors.

Mistake #1 – A photo that misrepresents.

The article features the following photo:

This photo is of visible air pollution.  Carbon dioxide is colorless.   China has big time air pollution problems because they burn lots of coal and don’t clean it properly.  The air is full of all sorts of cancer causing crap that China has become famous for.  But if they invested is scrubbing equipment they could significantly improve their air quality and still have the same carbon dioxide problem they have now.

Every carbon dioxide article in the world seems to make this mistake.  But every time I see it I get a bit annoyed.

Mistake #2 – They misquoted the China position on carbon dioxide.

The article says the following:

 Beijing is aiming for a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 from 2005 levels, without specifying how it will achieve that goal.

China plans to reduce their carbon production per unit of GDP by 40% from 2005 levels by 2020.  The two sound almost the same but the difference is huge statistically.   China’s GDP has more than doubled since 2005 as the following China GDP chart demonstratives:

The Economist predicts that in 2020 China will have a GDP of 22.9 Trillion dollars.  Their GDP in 2005 was 2.26 Trillion dollars.   If they reduce their emissions per unit of GDP by 40% then they would increase their carbon dioxide production by about 600%.  The arithmetic looks like this:

(22.9 – .4*22.9)/2.26 = 6.1

The BBC said the Chinese pledged a 40% reduction when the really pledged a 6 fold increase.

Details …details…those pesky details.

I expect the law of large numbers to begin to impact China very soon.   They have an aging population and an economy driven by cheap labor that is becoming less cheap every day.  Perhaps a 4 fold increase is carbon production from 2005 levels is more likely.   A 40% reduction from 2005 levels was never a possibility.

Note to IPCC — World Not Warming

As each day passes, predictions made by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) look stranger and stranger.  Temperature predictions made by the IPCC have been …at least so far….WRONG.  Spectacularly wrong.

The IPCC uses carbon emissions scenarios to predict world temperatures centuries into the future.   How are they doing so far?  Not so good.   Let’s take a peak at some charts.   Emissions are very high (because of huge increases in China and India) as this chart demonstrates:

Emissions are currently running very near the IPCC top estimate (A1F1).  Now lets look at the actual temperature data predicted by the IPCC for the Scenarios in this chart courtesy of the IPCC:

The orange band represents the possible outcomes using all the  IPCC scenarios in the AR4 report.   We have been below the IPCC predicted rate almost every year since their last assessment was prepared in 2007.

This chart begins in 1990 with the IPCC First Assessment of climate (FAR) and the shows changes over time as the Second (SAR), Third (TAR) and Fourth (AR4) assessments were made.   AR4 is the current assessment.  The assessment release date is shown along the X Axis.  AR4 was released in September of 2007 using data that was prepared in 2005.

Observed data is plotted in black.  The most recent data shown on this chart is 2011.  Statistically 2012 was a bit warmer than 2011.  So far, 2013 has continued the cooling trend that began late in 2012.  All temperature data since 2011 has been below the bottom of the  predicted range while carbon emissions have remained high, setting new records every year.

I find the Y axis labeling particularly entertaining.  Cooling in 1992, probably caused by the Mt. Pinatubo volcanic eruption, skewed all the data.   1990 is supposed to be the baseline year and yet it is labeled as a 0.28 degree C anomaly.   Why did they do that?

In 2013 the range of likely values the IPCC predicted in 2007 (the orange on the chart) is from about 0.57 to 0.84 degree C above the baseline set in 1992.

That range of values included all emission scenarios and current carbon dioxide data would indicate a probable value  near the top of the IPCC range.

So just how far off is the IPCC?

I suppose that depends on which temperature data you choose.   The two primary sources of worldwide surface data  (NASA and East Anglia University) do not precisely agree.  And their data changes over time in unpredictable ways.  Until recently East Anglia had 1998 much warmer than it is in current data.  NASA insists 2010 is the warmest year, while East Anglia likes 1998 and 2005 better.   Satellite data sets show 1998 to be the clear winner.

I like Satellite data, so I’ll use the UAH Satellite data set.  Here’s the current data:

The average temperature for 1990 was very close to the 0.0 degree C line on the chart.  We are currently less than 0.1 degree C above that value.   The IPCC expected a value about 0.4 degree C higher than it is today for the A1F1 scenario.  And they are predicting further warming.   It needs to be 0.5 degree C warmer than it is today by 2015 and another 0.3 degree C warmer than that by 2025.

If this were a prediction for 50 or 100 or 500 years from now, being 0.4 degree C off would not be surprising…but 0.4 degress is a lot to be off just 6 years after publication.   The IPCC predicted big changes that didn’t show up.


So far at least ….the IPCC has been wrong.   Their predictions have been wild high.  Could normal climate variation be masking global warming? Sure….but the IPCC prediction set is supposed to be taking that into account.

Stay tuned…if it doesn’t warm soon the international purse strings that fund the IPCC might just dry up…if politicians are actually looking at the data being presented.

400 year old plants come to life in Canadian Arctic

I just finished an article in The Atlantic.  The article is titled Jurassic Park is Real…for 400 year old Arctic Mosses. Yeah, it’s a stupid title ..but just go with it.  It turns out that mosses that have been under glaciers for 400 years come back to life as the glacier melts.   This discovery surprised the scientists doing the research.  They did not expect the glaciers to melt so rapidly and they did not expect the plants to come back to life.

As I read the article I was fascinated by the way the conventional wisdom of the day was being changed by new information….science at work.

And then I got to thinking about climate change.  These plants were on glaciers way up north in Arctic Canada, very near the Arctic Ocean.

Just 400 years ago they were growing plants, that surprised me.  I would have guessed the glacier ice in that specific location to have been around for a longer span of time.   These plants were knocked off by the end of the little ice age.   Wow.   I wonder what it was like up their during the height of the medieval warming period around a 1000 years ago?

This region appears to be changed by fairly small changes in temperature….and it may actually be  trailing rather than a leading indicator of regional climate.    The plants were destroyed near the end a cooling period and it took 250 years of warming to rediscover them.  I suspect the whole Arctic ecosystem could be a trailing rather than a leading indicator.

World temperatures peaked in 1998.  Since then there has been a very slight cooling as this UAH worldwide temperature chart demonstrates.

Ice melting in the Arctic has continued to melt ever more rapidly as 2012 was a  record year with ice being the lowest in history; if you can call a data base that started in 1979 significant.

Small data base, lots of noted change, what does it all mean?   Beats me.   How can one really know.  One thing is certain, the changes the plants saw 400 years ago were a part of natural climate variation.

Each summer our local paper includes several Arctic warming articles full of global warming gloom and doom.  How can we be sure the change we are now seeing is man caused?   I suspect widespread SWAG. I remain convinced that  too many hawkish climate scientists underestimate the power of natural climate variation!