A Bill Gray sighting

Last hurricane season, I blogged a few times about Bill Gray, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University. For those of you out of the atmosci loop, CSU is actually a top-notch meteorology/atmspheric dynamics program, and Bill Gray was a pioneer of seasonal forecasting for tropical activity. I emphasize was, as now is mostly a climate change denier. He still does seasonal prediction, and his group is still respected in that area, but he doesn't seem very active in that work any longer. Apparently he's at the AMS meeting on hurricanes and tropical meteorology this week, where he is presenting a paper [LINK]. He seems to think that global warming is due to variations in the thermohaline circulation; I don't think there is any observational evidence for links of decadal scale variability in the THC and global surface temperature (I could be wrong about that). In any case, RealClimate has posted a limited response to the extended abstract by Gray [LINK]. The didn't go looking for it, but it is a response to a CNN article, which undoubtedly has been picked up by other outlets [LINK]. The article doesn't go into depth about Gray, but uses him as the "other side" of the "debate." The RealClimate guys (and girls) have taken Gray to task, pointing out "scientific absurdities" in the argument, and also pointing out that Gray's theory has conveniently changed over the years to account of contrary evidence. It is worth a quick read if you are interested.


"In fact, let's call it science fiction," says Orrin Hatch

In an interview with Salt Lake City Tribune, Senator Orrin Hatch gives his opinion of climate change [LINK]. The article is fairly timid, but does manage to paint a picture of Orrin Hatch, showing he is firmly in that bizarro neo-Conservative reality where there is little scientific consensus, or at least where that consensus is part of some kind of vast scientific conspiracy. Suddenly I'm reminded that I never got a chance to read Chris Mooney's The Republican War On Science; maybe it is time to pick that up.

Maybe I'm wrong about Hatch though. After all, as the article says, he has read Michael Crichton's State of Fear, and "took note of the scientific citations at the end of the book." No, he couldn't remember any of them, or what they said, but he noted them.... of course, that might just mean that he saw that Crichton "did research," so the novel must be true. Conservatives are getting funnier and funnier.

Oh, just in case anybody has missed the news, climate change, and by that I mean global warming caused by human activity increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere along with all the associated effects, is not in dispute in the scientific community. The temperature trends are quantitatively different from the observed natural variability, and recent years are among the warmest in the past 1000 years.

An article in The Register reports that a study published in Nature decreases the uncertainty in our estimate in climate sensitivity [LINK]. Actually, the study just shows that it is extremely unlikely to get what are already considered implausible temperature changes (without some seriously catastrophic conditions). The work is by Hegerl, Crowley, Hyde, and Frame, who use a simple hemispheric energy balance model and reconstructions of climate for the past 1,000 years or so to examine the statistical relationship between our best guess of past climate and our estimate of climate sensitivity. It is an interesting study, though the limitations of their model may be such that the result is not as relevant for anthropogenic global warming as the authors believe. It is, however, as good an estimate for climate sensitivity as we have right now. The paper is in Nature: Climate sensitivity constrained by temperature reconstructions over the past seven centuries
Gabriele C. Hegerl, Thomas J. Crowley, William T. Hyde and David J. Frame

In a not-quite-related story in Nature, the climateprediction.net project found an error in their aerosol forcing that caused the simulation to crash at 2013 [LINK]. This is for a sub-project focusing on climate change in the UK, and has set the schedule back by a couple months. It isn't all that bad, really, because the error will allow the investigation of the effects of aerosols on global warming.


Alarmists! Alarmists!

I haven't posted a response to Richard Lindzen's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal [LINK]. The main reason is that I'm really not fast enough to beat the folks at RealClimate [LINK], who do an outstanding job of addressing the scientific points of these kinds of things. Definitely read the op-ed, take a drink to wash that bad taste away, and then go read the posts at RealClimate. Today, Jeff Masters at wunderground.com has taken a swing at the Lindzen piece, and done a really nice job [LINK].

As a recap, the Lindzen rant is basically saying that there are all kinds of "alarmist" climate scientists who rely on the public being afraid of global warming in order to get funding to, you guessed it, study global warming. This idea has been around almost as long as the global warming deniers have. (By the way, I am not going to use the word 'skeptic' for these folks, since I think being skeptical is a virtue and relates to having an open mind and rational thought process. The deniers are closing their minds to basic scientific principles, and have ceased to be skeptical.) The problem with the idea that climate science is self-perpetuating is that it can't really be true. If it were, and this response is now standard among climate scientists addressing the question, climate scientists would be encouraging much more investment in climate research, but instead the most "alarmist" among us are calling for huge investments in energy research and mitigation strategies. That doesn't sound like self-interested activity to me. There are a few other points in Lindzen's rant, but you can read more about that elsewhere.

As a point of clarification, in case you go read Jeff Master's post, the description of Lindzen's iris hypothesis is not correct there. The idea behind the iris hypothesis is that precipitation efficiency (how much of evaporated water in tropical convection gets rained out versus deposited in the upper troposphere) will increase in a warming environment, which would have the effect of reducing the area covered by cirrus anvils. That would essentially let more terrestrial infrared radiation escape to space (in the tropics) and be a cooling influence on the climate, like the iris of the eye opening and closing to change the amount of light passing through. The problems with this theory are numerous, actually, though it can not yet be completely discredited. The main problem is that there is no evidence for this change in precipitation efficiency, either from observations or simulations. It is still a possibility, and if it were ever to be found in nature, it is likely that climate models would have to incorporate a new microphysics parameterization because this effect is not currently modeled. Other criticisms have pointed out errors with the statistical methods Lindzen and colleagues used in the original paper, as well as ambiguities between local and nonlocal effects.


iris hypothesis paper (Lindzen et al)
statistical response (Harrison)
local v. nonlocal effects (Hartmann & Michelsen)
Obervational study to test iris hypothesis (Lin et al)


NOAA, USGS scientists struggle to inform public

In another article about the current USA administration putting pressure on scientists to avoid talking publicly about the impact of global warming, Juliet Eilperin at the Washington post describes several cases of the administration censoring or obstructing scientists trying to discuss global warming publicly [LINK]. This time the problem is at NOAA and the USGS. I hadn't heard anything about trouble at USGS, but probably because most of their work doesn't directly involve climate change. The NOAA stories I had heard about, especially about the CO2 conference in Boulder, where the organizer, Pieter Tans, was asked to have the presenters avoid using climate change buzz words in the publicly available parts of the talks (the titles and abstracts). I was outraged when I heard about that, which was during the meeting. Luckily that request was ignored, since having a conference about carbon dioxide and not talking about climate change would be pretty silly. 

I think there's something to this behavior by the administration, but I haven't got it straight in my head yet. There might be some reasoning behind keeping government agencies from interacting with the public about climage change, and leaving university-types to do it. There's something sinister, but I don't know how to articulate it yet. Comments would be helpful in that regard.