Climate Change

Amazing Climate Predictions Revealed—Climate Models Reviled

The Day-Two Dispatch from the International Climate Change Conference

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Editor's Note: reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey will be filing a series of regular dispatches from the Heartland Institute's controversial International Conference on Climate Change. Below is the second in that series.

New York, March 3—I spent the second day of the Heartland Institute's International Climate Change Conference listening to presentations in the climatology track. This means that I missed all of the presentations on paleoclimatology, the politics of climate change, the economics of climate change, and the impacts of climate change, not to mention the four different documentaries questioning climate change alarmism.

News flash: Climate skeptics don't agree among themselves about what, if anything, is going on with the world's climate. Occasionally there was something of a camp-meeting atmosphere among participants. It is clear that some feel victimized by those who are promoting the idea that man-made global warming is a big problem requiring immediate action. In any case, the climate skeptics began their day early with well-attended breakfast presentations starting at 7:00 a.m. One of the breakfast presenters was University of Guelph environmental economist Ross McKitrick. McKitrick and statistician Stephen McIntyre are the duo that pointed out the flaws in the famous "hockey stick" reconstruction of historical climate data by climatologist Michael Mann. The "hockey stick" purported to show that the 20th century was the warmest century in 1,000 years. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) featured it as evidence for climate change prominently in its Third Assessment Report.

In 2006, a National Research Council report dealing with controversy concluded that it was "plausible" that temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere were warmer in the 20th century than for any comparable period in the last 1,000 years. However, McKitrick and Ross were more or less vindicated when the NRC report added tellingly that "substantial uncertainties" in the data undermined confidence in any assessment of temperature changes prior to the year 1600 which just happened to have been near the nadir of the Little Ice Age. Furthermore, the NRC noted, "Even less confidence can be placed in the original conclusions by Mann et al. (1999) that 'the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium' because the uncertainties inherent in temperature reconstructions for individual years and decades are larger than those for longer time periods and because not all of the available proxies record temperature information on such short timescales."

Over breakfast, McKitrick presented recently published work in the Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR) showing that the surface temperature dataset are seriously contaminated by extraneous factors. Basically, climatologists try to take into account effects like urbanization, industrialization, and other land use changes and adjust temperature data accordingly to reveal the actual temperature trends. McKitrick tested the hypothesis that all these surface processes had been correctly filtered out which would imply that their effect on temperature data would be zero. He reported to the audience that this was not so. It turns out that the richer the country, the higher the temperature. McKitrick estimates that properly accounting for these non-climatic socioeconomic effects would cut "the estimated 1980-2002 global average temperature trend over land by about half."

Naturally such a conclusion has not gone unnoticed by those scientists concerned about the dangers of man-made global warming. McKitrick says that he has in fact run further tests to take into account their criticisms and asked to publish his additional results as a reply in the JGR. However, the editor told him that since no one had sent in a critique, there was reason to publish a reply. McKitrick said that he has asked one of his chief critics to write up his critique and submit it, so that he could reply in the peer-reviewed literature.

So after breakfast, I settled into the room where the climatology track took place. A good bit of the climatology track was devoted to critiquing the general circulation climate models (GCMs) For example, University of Rochester physicist David Douglass presented the results of his recent study that compared the outputs of 22 different climate models with observational temperature data in the tropical troposphere. According to Douglass, the models show that tropical troposphere should warm as much as 3 times faster than surface. However, when this result is checked against observational temperature data from satellites and weather balloons, it turns out the surface and troposphere warm at about the same rate. Thus, Douglass concludes, greenhouse gases must be having only a minor impact on global temperature trends. Naturally, this study is controversial.

One of the more remarkable performances was by Australian entrepreneur David C. Archibald during one of the afternoon panels. Archibald is described in the conference materials as "a scientist operating in the fields of cancer research, climate science, and oil exploration." He also appears to have business interests in some oil fields in Australia. In any case, Archibald made it very clear that he is a big believer in the idea that climate change is primarily driven by the sun. Archibald's basic theory is that when the sun's magnetic field strength drops there are fewer sunspots which reduce the amount of particles ejected as the solar wind. Less solar wind allows more galactic cosmic rays to enter the Earth's atmosphere. Archibald is here relying on studies by Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark which find that cosmic rays do produce cloud condensation nuclei which then might create low level clouds that reflect more sunlight back into space thus making the Earth colder.

Archibald predicts that the next solar cycle, Cycle 24, will produce a weak magnetic field which means that more cosmic rays will enter the atmosphere to create clouds and thus cool the earth. Actually, a 2007 NASA scientific panel was evenly split on the strong/weak prediction for Cycle 24. However, many researchers expect that Cycle 25 may be one the weakest in centuries. Archibald ended by boldly predicting that the world will see average temperatures drop by -2.2 degrees centigrade in the coming decade. That's more than three times the amount of warming the world has experienced over the last century. He also predicted as a consequence that the growing seasons in the United States would be shortened by a total of four weeks, dramatically reducing food production.

So as I puzzled over these presentations, it seems to me that we're being offered three different sets of predictions. First, there's the IPCC prediction that the next couple of decades should warm up at a rate of +0.2 degrees centigrade per decade (which is not all that different from climatologist Patrick Michael's rate of +0.17 degrees per decade.) Interestingly, as I've mentioned many times before, the U.K.'s Hadley Centre is predicting that average global temperatures in 2014 will be +0.3 degrees warmer than they were in 2004. Second, there are the climate skeptics who do not believe that warming will continue and expect a bit of cooling. And for those of an apocalyptic frame of mind, they have Archibald's -2.2 degrees of cooling over the next decade.

Finally, one of the more disquieting presentations was by retired TV meteorologist Anthony Watts. Part of Watts' training back when he was getting his degree in 1970s was to construct a Stevenson screen in which to shelter weather instruments. When he was putting it together his hands got covered in whitewash. He complained to his professor and suggested that he paint it with latex paint instead. His professor objected that whitewash had been used since 1892 and new paints would change the way the instruments functioned and possibly bias the data they collected. The U.S. Weather Bureau changed paints in the late 1970s.

With time on his hands, a retired Watts decided to run a back yard test with Stevenson screens using whitewash, white latex paint, unpainted wood and an aspirated temperature shield. He measured for several months, but typical among his results was one day in August when he found that the bare screen registered a maximum daytime temperature of 98.47 degrees, the latex screen was 97.74 degrees, the whitewashed one was 96.94 and the aspirated temperature shield reported 95.03 degrees.

Watts decided to check to see how the Stevenson screens housing nearby weather stations that were part of the U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) had been painted. What Watts discovered was much more disturbing—many USHCN weather stations were deplorably placed near parking lots, air conditioning vents, under shade trees, at sewage treatment plants, and so forth.

Watts then proceeded to show the audience slide after slide of badly, even absurdly, sited weather stations. Watts has now created a website of volunteers who are working to identify and audit the siting of all USHCN weather stations. The results are reported at SurfaceStations.org (regrettably down for maintenance at the moment. But for 50 examples of badly sited stations, go here.) So far Watts' volunteers have reported 502 of the 1221 stations in the U.S., and only 13 percent of the network so far conforms to the National Weather Service's own best practices manual. This is shocking when one considers that these are the same surface stations that climatologists rely upon to detect temperature trends.

The International Conference on Climate Change wraps up tomorrow with presentations by, among other notables, Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic (again at the 7:00 am breakfast slot), hurricane expert William Gray, and University of Alabama at Huntsville climatologist Roy Spencer.

Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His most recent book, Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution, is available from Prometheus Books.

NEXT: The Mukasey Paradox

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  1. Watts then proceeded to show the audience slide after slide of badly, even absurdly, sited weather stations. . . . So far Watts’ volunteers have reported 502 of the 1221 stations in the U.S., and only 13 percent of the network so far conforms to the National Weather Service’s own best practices manual.

    Stunning

  2. This is a bunch of BS, Ron. Remember that one time that you changed your mind about global warming? Yeah, what about that, huh? What about that?

  3. Wow, sage, you sure do love you some victimology.

    Imagine, people criticizing the record of a pundit you like!

  4. What is shocking is that Watts’ results are presented as new. The sloppy surface temperature field measurements that has now been documented (over the last year+) validates McKitrick’s statistical conclusion of false positive temperature contamination.

    The sun worshipers might have a point, but they seem to be selling cold like the RealClimate government cheese scientists are selling heat.

    Global Warming is the Hennie Pennie version of scientology. Tell it like it is L Ron!

  5. Apparently, the surface measurements are so bad that they…um…match the atmosphereic measurements.

  6. That was a great Twilight Zone episode. Maybe Serling was profound, and instead of global warming we’ll actually face global cooling.

  7. Apparently, the surface measurements are so bad that they…um…match the atmosphereic measurements.

    Which makes you wonder….

  8. Phillips, flathead, dime, what’s the difference?

  9. Of course it would be better to have standardized and appropriate surface stations, to avoid issues of heat islands from pavement, etc.

    But unless the conditions surrounding the stations changed – a parking lot was added next to the station, which had formerly been in a field – the data should still be reliable in terms of capturing trends.

  10. nothing to see here folks…..move along to the global carbon tax line. These thermometers next to the exhaust vents are all legit. Changing the paint on the boxes doesn’t matter. This is science, jsut ask Richard Lindzen. It’s a consensus, all the psychiatrist agree we have global warming. Most of Florida is getting washed away as we speak….those glaciers are melting quick and there is only one polar bear left, he may drown any day now because polar bears can’t even swim in cold water.

  11. this is dispiritingly hilarious! i am less well informed about whether global warming is or is not happening than i was before reading this report. dammit! what do i do now?!?

  12. Dammit, global warming is settled science. The debate is over. Quit bringing up actual facts and ruining a perfectly good theory.

    /sarcasm

  13. But unless the conditions surrounding the stations changed – a parking lot was added next to the station, which had formerly been in a field – the data should still be reliable in terms of capturing trends.

    Judging from the blog, that’s pretty much exactly what Watts suggests has been happening in a good number of cases.

  14. But now they only block the sun
    They rain and snow on evryone
    So many things I would have done
    But clouds got in my way
    Ive looked at clouds from both sides now
    From up and down, and still somehow
    Its cloud illusions I recall
    I really dont know clouds at all

  15. So if the Hadley Centre is right, I bake in January 2014.

    If Archibald is right, I freeze my ass off in July 2014.

    With my luck, they?ll both be right.

  16. Ron,
    Rate this conference; the most boring you ever been to, one of the most boring, or just really boring.

    Any hot babes there?(Pictures please) How are the bars and resturants?
    Thanks

  17. It just keeps getting funnier.

  18. any futures markets on this stuff? intrade? let’s really make it interesting…

  19. Most awesomely subtle post pic ever. Good job, guys.

    I didn’t realize until a few days ago (when I saw a YouTube posting of her on ’70s “Pyramid”) that Lois Nettleton died in January.

  20. But unless the conditions surrounding the stations changed – a parking lot was added next to the station, which had formerly been in a field – the data should still be reliable in terms of capturing trends.

    Given that they have been collecting data for decades, it would be impossible for these service stations to not have experienced a significant change in local environment.

  21. Speaking of warming, there are robins in my yard.

    Yay!

  22. Ask someone else whether the robins are really there. They may be another symptom of joebal warming.

  23. Speaking of warming, there are robins in my yard.

    Currently at about 4th place and “inching” closer every day towards the highest snowfall in a single winter season since record keeping began.

    We won’t see grass for weeks after it warms up let alone robins.

  24. Surface stations have been supplanted by atmospheric measurements — satellites work so much better and certainly get the bulk of the money.

    I’m not surprised the US surface-based weather stations are in disrepair. It matches the roads and bridges, and fits into decades of budgetary neglect.

    I’m sure it’ll show up into anti-GW screeds by people who keep “forgetting” that satellites make the same measurements, and provide better data.

  25. “Apparently, the surface measurements are so bad that they…um…match the atmosphereic measurements.”

    No, the adjusted surface record since 1980 matches the adjusted satellite interpretation of temperature apparently calibrated via balloon measurements.

    The rationale for the adjustments of the surface record both pre- and post-satellite are not available to the public, however, the results of most adjustments of surface measurements before satellite make the 1930’s cooler.

    The graphics you see are not measurements but adjusted data. But I agree, we should not question the adjusters since they work for Uncle Sugar.

    Hey Joe, do you collect a paycheck like all of the other faux freemen of H&R? or are you a real Libertarian (like Angelina) and are self employed?

  26. Satellite data shows no change in temperature over the last 400 years.

  27. Shows no similarity either….

  28. I don’t know, that’s not what this expert observer says

    https://www.reason.com/news/show/34079.html

  29. “What Watts discovered … weather stations were deplorably placed near parking lots, air conditioning vents, under shade trees, at sewage treatment plants…these are the same surface stations that climatologists rely upon to detect temperature trends.”

    How can research studies be reliable if the methods and equipment they use to come to their conclusions are not.

    Garbage in…garbage out.

    -RY

  30. joe – Apparently, the surface measurements are so bad that they…um…match the atmosphereic measurements.

    Which does indeed make you wonder, as Pain pointed out…but probably not in the way he meant. If the theory of AGW due to greenhouse gas is true, the atmosphere should warm *faster* than the surface, since the atmosphere is where IR light radiated from the surface would be absorbed by GHG and transformed into retained heat. If the atmosphere isn’t warming faster than the surface, it points out a flaw in the theory of AGW.

  31. only 13 percent of the network so far conforms to the National Weather Service’s own best practices manual. This is shocking when one considers that these are the same surface stations that climatologists rely upon to detect temperature trends.

    I think it’s clear what’s happened here: denialists have been sabotaging all the weather stations.

    Apparently, the surface measurements are so bad that they…um…match the atmosphereic measurements.

    O rly?

    http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2000/ast21jul_1m.htm

    A recent National Research Council report states: “For the time period from 1979-1998, it is estimated that on average, over the globe, surface temperature has increased by 0.25 to 0.4 degrees C and lower to mid-tropospheric temperature has increased by 0.0 to 0.2 degrees C.” These are stated as ranges because of measurement uncertainties in each. Current climate models predict that the layer of the atmosphere called the “lower troposphere” — which extends from the surface to an altitude of about 5 miles — would be warming at a slightly faster rate than the surface.

    But satellite measurements of temperatures in the lower troposphere over the last 21 years don’t agree with that prediction. Collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s TIROS-N series of weather satellites, the data show only a slight net warming of 0.05 degrees Celsius per decade.

    http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2000/ast21jul_1m.htm

  32. But unless the conditions surrounding the stations changed – a parking lot was added next to the station, which had formerly been in a field – the data should still be reliable in terms of capturing trends.

    Ever heard of urban sprawl? I think we had some of that over the last 40 years.

    Of course, I’ve also been setting fire to every temperature station I see.

  33. i set fires next to every temperature station i see.

  34. Satellite data shows no change in temperature over the last 400 years.

    Yeah, but how accurate were satellites in the 1600s? Did they even have email back then?

  35. Speaking of warming, there are robins in my yard.

    Really? I have a family of Kamchatkans huddled in mine. They claim they crossed the Bering land bridge after their homeland was invaded by glaciers, but I am skeptical as their Nikes show little scuffing or salt marks.

  36. joe – Apparently, the surface measurements are so bad that they…um…match the atmosphereic measurements.

    Which does indeed make you wonder, as Pain pointed out…but probably not in the way he meant. If the theory of AGW due to greenhouse gas is true, the atmosphere should warm *faster* than the surface, since the atmosphere is where IR light radiated from the surface would be absorbed by GHG and transformed into retained heat. If the atmosphere isn’t warming faster than the surface, it points out a flaw in the theory of AGW.

    Actually that’s pretty much what I was implying. Thanks for elaborating though.

  37. March 4, 2040-Scientists from around the world gather to debate whether the earth is cooling due to increased carbon fixation in crops. Actually, the consensus is that it is. “We have to stop planting so many high-yield crops. They’re starving the planet of its much-needed natural blanket,” says a scientist from Norway. Meanwhile, there are still those who are skeptical of what has been agreed upon by the majority of scientists. Stereotype Republican said “thirty years ago, these people said global warming was going to kill us all. Now they’ve changed the story again.” No one believes him, however, because his research is funded by a big agricultural corporation.

  38. Even the founder of the Weather Channel is fed up with the global warming debate.

    http://www.businessandmedia.org/articles/2008/20080303175301.aspx

  39. “We have evidence to show that global warming will actually strike two days before the day after tomorrow.”

    “But that’s…Oh My God!”

    GLOBAL WARMIIINNGG! RUN! WE DIDN’T LISTEN!!! AARGH! IT’S COMING FROM THAT WAY. NO, THAT WAY!!

  40. What is shocking is that Watts’ results are presented as new. The

    Like…totally. The whole Stevenson Screen problem was highlighted way back in the 90’s, showing urban development occurring around them. Stevenson screen put up in a field, ten years later, it’s in a parking lot next to a metal building. Of course there’s going to be a large warming trend.

    This is where the UHI (urban heat island) discussions came from, because it was noted that most of the warming seemed to be occurring in urban and developed areas. John Daly used to have a “station of the day” segment on his website where he would take rural stations which had remained rural, and often, there was no warming trend.

  41. There’s a simple solution to this problem.

    Take all rural stations that are not near buildings or parking lots or whatever (as indicated on the website about this, many rural stations are actually located between a parking lot and the air conditioning unit of a forest ranger station or some such, and therefore are just as bad as the urban ones), all the ones that are actually in empty fields where they should be, and throw out all the other ones. Also throw out ones that have moved; only keep ones that have been in the same spot for at least a decade.

    Now, you’ll probably have to throw out 80-90% of the stations, but you should still have at least a hundred stations that are well placed. Average them up and see if there’s a warming trend in just the well placed stations.

    I’ll bet they still will show a warming trend, although possibly less of one that the larger data. But, of course, one couldn’t know for sure until one did all the above work.

  42. Well, as Global Warming threads go, this one hasn’t been too contentious. Unfortunately, it’s as unnecessary as all the others. The only sage words spoken about this issue were by NASA’s Michael Griffin:

    “I have no doubt that a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.”

    “To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth’s climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn’t change. I guess I would ask which human beings – where and when – are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.”

  43. Geotpf — (Take all rural stations that are not near buildings or parking lots or whatever…)

    But… you can’t take purely rural stations and assume they’re OK. Land use changes (e.g. farmland acreage additions) contaminate even rural data; same effect as UHI. Then there’s the documented HO-83 sensor problem that biases too high and doesn’t look to be accounted for, and it looks to be difficult to tell when these were used at rural stations…

    If only it were a quick fix.

  44. Two things Ron Bailey wrote about David Archibalds presentation were inaccurate.
    1)David does not rely on any cosmic ray or other theory – It`s just correlations from data from the 200 plus years of records between sunspot cycle length and the earths temperature as recorded at two different observatories
    2) David`s work extrapolates a prediction of minus 1.2 degrees over the next 12 years – not minus 2.2 degrees

    Leon Ashby (videographer of David Archibalds presentations)

  45. A century of reliable data out of 4.7 billion
    years was bad enough. Now even that data can’t be trusted. We know two things: pollution is waste, and waste is bad for business; and that prosperity tends to flatten out consumption and population increase, over time. If humankind can’t rely on its common sense, maybe the next hominids should get their chance.

  46. This is great work here by Ronald Bailey, as always.

    It seem to me that the biggest news in here is that the IPCC, by far the most alarmist of all the respectable organziations, has dramatically revised downward their predictions to almost exactly the prediction of Patrick Michaels. What a dramatic change from what they were saying just a few years ago! I can’t wait to see this reported in the mainstream news (yeah right).

  47. I have little faith in bureaucracies especially gvernmental – I have too much knowledge of them to trust them as a source of relaible data. I have no faith in NASA at all. Two shuttles were lost because of NASA not in spite of them. Global warming? Probably. CO2 the cause? Not unless Volcanic activity has tripled starting in the 1940’s. Just because two things – increase in CO2 and warming – happen at the same time does not automatically prove correlation no matter if it looks like it. Predictions of massive hurricanes in 2007, 2006 as proof of warming shows stupidity not proof of anything. How much has NH4 increased, factoring its power as a very strong GH gas? Who studies this? What about the Sun? Who has done any valid studies? Who knows anything valid?

  48. kenneth,
    I don’t have much time for detailed answer, but here is an overview: http://www.aip.org/history/climate/timeline.htm

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