Climate Scoreboard

A neat way to follow COP15 from ClimateInteractive.org.


Go read Eric Steig's & Kevin Wood's analysis at RC

A great comparison of raw weather station data with the CRU temperature reconstruction. Pretty much puts to bed any allegations that the CRU data is fraudulent.


Friday means a comic (2)

Well, I've been working on a follow-up to the CRU email fiasco, including a cameo by Sarah Palin, but it isn't done. Instead, please enjoy a terrific PhD comic:


Climate Index

I just saw this article about a new climate-change index [LINK]. I'm not sure whether I agree with how they are defining the index, but I do totally support the existence of these kinds of indices. If one (or a few) can gain popularity, I think they will be a great way to communicate the degree of climate change the Earth is experiencing. One pitfall of these indices is that you want to measure the climate change, and not things that are not part of the changing climate. For example, this index includes atmospheric CO2 concentration, but this is the forcing on the system, not the response of the system. So imagine we stop CO2 emissions, then the CO2 levels in the atmosphere will stay about the same or decrease, but that doesn't mean the climate won't be changing still (cf. Soloman et al. 2009). On the other hand, arctic sea-ice extent, which is also included in this new index, has potentially large natural variability. I think this comes out when we consider the rapid sea-ice melt season of 2007, which was largely due to a high pressure system sitting in one place for a while (e.g., Zhang et al. 2008). Depending on how they implement the index then, the arctic sea-ice term might be diminishing the overall climate change "factor" because the short-term trend is for sea-ice recovery, but the long-term trend remains and shows decreasing summer sea-ice extent. I'm sure they thought about these issues when designing the index, but I have a feeling we're going to see a bunch of these indices come and go over the next few years. Eventually a few will get picked up and become standard.


Updates on the climategate fallout

Over the course of the last week, I've been begrudgingly following the CRU stolen email story. It seems that the story is finally starting to dwindle, though it is still more prominent than I would have expected. Also, the consequences for those involved are still to be seen.

There have been quite a few notable responses to the story. Ben Santer has sent around an open letter, mostly defending Phil Jones and the work at CRU [link]. The IPCC has issued an official statement defending the science supporting the Assessment reports [link]. The American Geophysical Union also defended the science and condemned the theft of private email [LINK]. The American Meteorological Society has also reaffirmed its official position on climate change, though without coming to the defense of the scientists that have been "scandalized" [LINK]. The UK "science community" has also stepped up to defend climate science [LINK].

There has been some fun coverage from the blogosphere too, and I couldn't resist including the following video, which sums things up pretty neatly.
Of course, this doesn't seem to pacify Sarah Palin, who has a ridiculous Op-Ed in the Washington Post [LINK], where George Will has also been spouting the now standard nonsense [LINK]. Thankfully, Alan Leshner was able to get a response to Palin's crazy into the WaPo [LINK]. Peter Sinclair has produced one of the best Climate Crock of the Week videos to date covering some of this stuff:

Besides the emails stolen from the University of East Anglia's CRU, there are scattered reports of other suspicious activity. The most blatant and most credible of these is that some people tried to gain access (in person) to computers at the Canadian Center for Climate Modeling and Analysis at the University of Victoria [LINK]. Apparently these people identified themselves as technicians initially, but left the premises when confronted by an employee. How weird is that? This may or may not be related to some reported break-ins to a U. Victoria professor's office [LINK]. What in the world is going on here?

All this is now going on at the same time as the big Copenhagen meeting. Again, no coincidence, I'm convinced. In a positive sign, 56 newspapers last week ran an editorial in support of the meeting, and urged the participants to come to some agreement, essentially to save the world [copy of editorial at RealClimate.org]. But the impact of this manufactured controversy has been felt in Copenhagen, not only by demanding attention of legitimate policymakers [e.g.], but has been prominently featured in the denialist activities taking place [e.g.]. It should also be noted that Saudi Arabia has latched on to the misinterpretation of these stolen emails in order to go backward in their stance on climate change [LINK].


Ok, fine, the emails

I wanted to avoid it, I wanted to ignore it, I wanted it to blow over and be forgotten. Unfortunately, these leaked emails continue to cause headaches for the whole climate science community.

The background, which I'm sure you know, is that the Climatic Research Unit (usually abbreviated CRU) at the University of East Anglia had a cyber-security issue in which a server was compromised and data stolen. This happened on 17 November. The stolen data was published to a Russian server and made accessible to the internet; at the same time, someone tried to post the emails to RealClimate.org [see posts: 1, 2, 3]. I first became aware of the attack and theft on 23 November through an email warning that colleagues at my institution were involved in email exchanges that had been illegally published (and assuring us that our web servers were not compromised). If I hadn't been busy with other things, though, I'd have seen it sooner, as people like Frank Bi were already blogging important details by 20 November (read his follow ups as well). The news was also hitting the mainstream media (e.g., NYTimes.com, Wired.com) by 2o November.

The hoopla is not, however, that a prominent university was hacked and personal data stolen, but rather that the contents of these personal emails was combed through by climate change deniers who then announced that these were proof of some sort of conspiracy. The links above, and those contained therein along with web searches for terms like "climategate" will provide plenty of examples of the emails that are so "provocative," analysis from media, skeptics, and climate scientists.

The media has failed in many cases to properly parse this story. Setting much of the story straight, though, is Elizabeth May [deSmogBlog]. She read all the emails, and summarizes over a decade of exchanges in a well-written post. She's not really a journalist though, and isn't completely impartial, for whatever impartialiality is worth. This week's editorial in Nature also comes to the defense of the science and the scientists, and is worth a look [link, plus additional Nature coverage: 1, 2]. It is worth noting that there seems to be a lot of almost-finger-pointing at Steve McIntyre, who runs ClimateAudit and has been needling people for data for a while; case in point, a Nature news piece about a deluge of requests for CRU's raw data in August [link]. This doesn't directly implicate McIntyre in the break-in, but it should start sounding alarm bells, and, frankly, I would be surprised if the investigators don't eventually talk to him.

The consequences are serious. As of 3 December, the director of CRU, Dr. Phil Jones, has stepped down (at least temporarily) [Wunderground]. An investigation at UEA is pending, headed by Sir Muir Russell [UEA]. That is the investigation that will see if the CRU has been handling itself properly. There is also an ongoing police investigation into the break-in and theft, though there doesn't seem to be a lot of information about that. In the USA, Senator James Inhofe (a notorious climate change denier) has called for a senate investigation [link]. Of course, this whole ordeal is also fodder for the fringe of climate change deniers and the media who court them [e.g.]. All of this also is happening in the lead-up to next week's UN meeting in Copenhagen, and I can not believe that the timing is coincidental.

The irony, as far as I can tell so far, is that the denialists are yelling that these emails are evidence for some kind of vast conspiracy [e.g.], meanwhile all the evidence that I can see suggests that the situation is exactly reversed. There is a history of these deniers using PR tactics to manufacture doubt about human-caused global warming [cf.], there is a recent account of information requests to the CRU which seem to be connected to McIntyre and ClimateAudit, and suddenly there is the break-in and theft, with the published file name FOIA.zip (freedom of information act), and the first people to find these emails on the internet seem to be the denialist bloggers. It's not an airtight case, but this is much more connection than I've seen an any right-wing conspiracy theory lately.