Climate Change Cloud War

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Fighting words over clouds.

Climate change scientific politics can be really vicious. The latest outbreak of nastiness is over a recent paper [PDF] published by University of Alabama climatologists Roy Spencer and William Braswell in the journal Remote Sensing. In general, computer climate models find that increases in temperature drive changes in cloud cover which drive further increases in temperature. Simplifying considerably, Spencer and Braswell find that changes in clouds can actually drive temperatures. In other words, casuality can work both ways. The upshot is that if Spencer and Braswell are correct then the computer computer models are likley projecting higher global temperatures than may actually occur as a result of adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. (Go to Spencer's blog for a "primer" on the paper's findings. Scroll down.) 

In addition, Massachusetts Institute of Technology climatologist Richard Lindzen and Yong-Sang Choi of Ewha Womans University in South Korea also published a new paper [PDF] in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Sciences analyzing the feedback effects of sea surface temperature changes and clouds. What they are trying to get at is climate sensitivity which is defined as "how much the average global surface temperature will increase if there is a doubling of greenhouse gases (expressed as carbon dioxide equivalents)." Lindzen and Choi found "that all current models seem to exaggerate climate sensitivity (some greatly)." 

Now these results are quite at variance with the "consensus" of "mainstream" climate scientists. To trot out Carl Sagan's old (but good) slogan: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In any case, the two papers apparently provoked considerable angst (even backlash) from mainstream researchers.

Earlier this week, Texas A&M atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler published a paper in Geophysical Research Letters that aims at directly refuting the findings of Spencer and Braswell. Dessler's energy budget analysis argues that the two papers are, among other things, confusing changes in the El Nino Southern Oscillation system in the Pacific Ocean with changes in cloud feedback dynamics. In addition, Dessler accuses Spencer and Braswell of cherrypicking data. Dessler reports that Spencer and Braswell ran 14 climate models with their specifications, but reported the results of only the six that supported their claims. Dessler published the figure below which he asserts shows all the model runs that together tend to support the notion that rising temperatures produce positive cloud feedbacks.

Climate model runs

Thus Dessler concludes: 

…the observations presented by [Lindzen & Choi] and [Spencer & Braswell] are not in fundamental disagreement with mainstream climate models, nor do they provide evidence that clouds are causing climate change. Suggestions that significant revisions to mainstream climate science are required are therefore not supported." 

Now this is how the process of science is supposed to work: a researcher makes a claim and other researchers look at the claim and try to refute it. This back-and-forth eventually yields something close to reality. And I still have confidence that it will here. But passions run high when it comes to climate change. After all, both sides make apocalyptic claims: the end of the world vs. the end of the economy.

One of the odder features of the current battle over clouds is that the editor of the journal that published the Spencer and Braswell paper, Remote Sensing, has resigned. The editor, Wolfgang Wagner declared…

…the problem I see with the paper by Spencer and Braswell is not that it declared a minority view (which was later unfortunately much exaggerated by the public media) but that it essentially ignored the scientific arguments of its opponents. This latter point was missed in the review process, explaining why I perceive this paper to be fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted by the journal. This regrettably brought me to the decision to resign as Editor-in-Chief…

For their part, Spencer and Braswell assert that they did not "ignore the scientific arguments of its opponents," but, in fact, that was the whole point of their article. In any case, if the claims made by Wagner are true, then the proper thing to do is to retract the paper, something which Wagner did not do, nor has he even suggested it. 

The explosion of comment caused by this contretemps in the blogosphere can be found on the more "skeptical" side of climate science at Spencer's blog, Wattsupwiththat, ClimateAudit, and Roger Pielke, Sr.'s Climate Science. For the more "alarmist" take go to RealClimate, DailyClimate, ClimateProgress, and Deltoid.

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  1. Ron,

    You left out the recent work from Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark (he leads sun-climate research at the Danish National Space Institute) who’s been working on modeling the close relationship between solar variations and changes in the earth’s surface temperature since 1860, as well as CERN physicist Jasper Kirkby, who is leading today’s ongoing cloud-chamber experiment at the CERN labs.

    The WSJ had a piece about it today here-

    http://online.wsj.com/article/…..on_LEADTop

    Mr. Kirkby says that Mr. Svensmark’s hypothesis “started me thinking: There’s good evidence that pre-industrial climate has frequently varied on 100-year timescales, and what’s been found is that often these variations correlate with changes in solar activity, solar wind. You see correlations in the atmosphere between cosmic rays and clouds?that’s what Svensmark reported. But these correlations don’t prove cause and effect, and it’s very difficult to isolate what’s due to cosmic rays and what’s due to other things.”

    In 1997 he decided that “the best way to settle it would be to use the CERN particle beam as an artificial source of cosmic rays and reconstruct an artificial atmosphere in the lab.” He predicted to reporters at the time that, based on Mr. Svensmark’s paper, the theory would “probably be able to account for somewhere between a half and the whole” of 20th-century warming. He gathered a team of scientists, including Mr. Svensmark, and proposed the groundbreaking experiment to his bosses at CERN.

    1. And the mere existence of a scheme to “reconstruct an artificial atmosphere in the lab” and test it will no doubt be more convincing to GW skeptics than the decades of science based on the simple physics of the greenhouse effect.

      1. Uh, “simple physics” ARE done in the lab.

        Analyses based only on observations of the greenhouse effect involve a lot of unknown variables. To reduce something to simple physics, or chemistry, or whatever, lab work is required. That’s true across all the physical sciences. Otherwise, laboratories would be a waste of money.

        1. Not to disparage lab work at all… just saying that I have a feeling shooting CERN lasers at artificial atmospheres will probably be heralded as landmark science to deniers who find reasons to be totally skeptical of the methods of mainstream climate science.

          1. who find have valid reasons to be totally skeptical of the methods of mainstream climate science computer models and popularity contests.

            ftfy

          2. Please ignore Tony, he doesn’t argue in good faith and simply mucks up these threads with constant goal post moving and strawmen construction.

            1. What goal post? All I’ve ever said is acknowledge factual reality as science currently understands it.

          3. Off the mark.

            My point was that “simple physics” is done in the lab, to get accurate numbers to apply to real-world situations. The observed greenhouse effect is not simple physics.

            Name-calling doesn’t make you right.

          4. “I have a feeling shooting CERN lasers at artificial atmospheres”

            Tony, your ignorance is showing.

            Gasp!

          5. just saying that I have a feeling shooting CERN lasers at artificial atmospheres will probably be heralded as landmark science to deniers who find reasons to be totally skeptical of the methods of mainstream climate science.

            Have you checked ‘mainstream’ climate science? Epic-complex video games based on fundamental code and parameters derived from 1950’s thermonuclear weapons tests? Never error-checked? Never validated by any entity – other than the creators – as reliable software, much less an accurate simulation? Mainstream indeed.

        2. Uh, “simple physics” ARE done in the lab.

          You should have just left it at that.

          and maybe added “dipshit” at the end.

          anyway +1 for giving us one more Tony facepalming moment. The guy not only steps into it he picks it up and smears it all over his face on a regular basis.

          1. The climate is anything but simple.

            Anyone who says they know all the variables and can accurately account for them in a software simulation is either delusional or saying what some check writing bureaucrat wants to hear.

            1. You’re the one who claims to understand it better than 98% of the experts.

              1. Go suck your straw man’s dick Tony.

              2. 98% of the experts

                I don’t know about 98% of the experts but looking at the graph at about the 4 lag months point on the x axis i will have to say that the white part between the black lines and the red and blue shading is as blank as the space between your ears.

    2. The CLOUD project definitely throws a wrench in the climate models. It’s to soon to know if this research will strengthen, or weaken the case for AGW. Either way, the data does mean that we still don’t understand what drives the earth’s climate, at least not with enough certainty to influence energy policy.

      The CLOUD results show that a few kilometres up in the atmosphere sulphuric acid and water vapour can rapidly form clusters. The research also showed that cosmic ray ionisation can accelerate the formation ten-fold or more.

      “We’ve found that cosmic rays significantly enhance the formation of aerosol particles in the mid troposphere and above. These aerosols can eventually grow into seeds for clouds,” he says.

      But the authors say that within about one kilometre of the Earth’s surface additional vapours such as ammonia are needed.

      The CLOUD results also show that even with the action of cosmic rays, sulphuric acid, ammonia and water vapour are not enough to explain actual observations of aerosol formation. This, the team says, means as yet unknown additional vapours must be involved in the process.

      “It was a big surprise to find that aerosol formation in the lower atmosphere isn’t due to sulphuric acid, water and ammonia alone,” Kirkby says.

      “Now it’s vitally important to discover which additional vapours are involved, whether they are natural or of human origin, and how they influence clouds,” he says. “This will be our next job.”

      The CLOUD group also aims to investigate the extent to which cosmic rays affect cloud cover; and to understand how solar activity may affect climate change.

      1. From the scientists on CLOUD:

        Ion?enhancement is particularly pronounced in the cool temperatures of the mid?troposphere and above, where CLOUD has found that sulphuric acid and water vapour can nucleate without the need for additional vapours. This result leaves open the possibility that cosmic rays could also influence climate. However, it is premature to conclude that cosmic rays have a significant influence on climate until the additional nucleating vapours have been identified, their ion enhancement measured, and the ultimate effects on clouds have been confirmed.

        1. NM – The upshot of your quote is that it’s too early to tell what actually influences climate.

          That’s the problem with AGW theory – that and zero accuracy in the predictions from their own models.

        2. However, it is premature to conclude that cosmic rays have a significant influence on climate

          Hey look at that New Mex has discovered how a real scientist describes his work.

          Congratulations New Mex.

          Now go back and read Mann 1998 and look at how not to do it.

  2. This paper may be of interest as well:

    http://pubs.amstat.org/doi/abs…..11.ap09508

  3. Tman: Thanks very much for the link, but I hope you understand that I can’t deal with every climate change controversy in single blogpost.

    1. No worries Ron, I understand that you were focusing on the Spencer/Braswell controversy.

      It just seems that the CERN experiments with Mr. Kirkby and the work of Mr. Svensmark (who is working off a 1991 paper by Eigil Friis-Christensen and Knud Lassen) appear to have more actual scientific testing of said hypotheses instead of speculation and arguments over who did what with which data.

      I don’t think you were purposefully ignoring anything though, just trying to add to the conversation.

    2. I can’t deal with every climate change controversy in single blogpost.

      Not with that attitude, you can’t.

  4. What is most amusing is that Dreslers own paper showed that clouds have a negative feedback rather then the “alarmist” view that clouds are a positive feedback.

    So the Alarmists are running around defending a paper that refutes their claims because part of it refutes Spencer’s claims.

    One should also note that the models Spencer chose are irrelevant. His paper shows real world data that refutes those models…ie lag is real and the models claim that the effect is instantaneous which is wrong…and if you ask me a little stupid…climate does not run on an Intel processor.

    1. I like how the graph says “Observation chosen by Spencer…

      How can an observation be chosen?

      Either the instruments on satellites picked up the data or it did not.

      1. Apparently the satellites have shown the troposphere cooling, but since the scientists decided that can’t possibly be true, they have decided to assume that the satellites are broken and there are competing estimates for how broken the satellites are.

        1. Witty but dumb. I like watching climate threads to see how you crazy libertarians measure up to your own ideals. Climate change is the ultimate acid test for you: a reality which demands collective action. You guys see yourselves as sceptical and clever, but there’s a point beyond which scepticism becomes dumb. So which is it to be? Sceptical or smart?

          1. Climate change is the ultimate acid test for you: a reality which demands collective action.

            For us to know if “collective action” makes sense, we need to know the cost of action and the cost of inaction.

            For the United States.

            And so far no one has offered me any information about the costs to the US of global warming other than the barest generalities.

            1. Is only the United States important, or do the effects on the rest of the world count? If they do then you could start by looking at the UN report. But I suppose that’s a conspiracy too, and that therefore it is useless thinking or doing anything.

          2. Sceptical or smart?

            Look at the graph dipshit.

            See the blank area between the Red shaded area and the black lines?

            Now explain to me what that means in terms of the accuracy of the models vs observations?

            Sceptical

            also joe’s law. I think we have to drink now but i can’t remember all the rules.

          3. And BTW – my anecdote about the satellites showing troposphere cooling is true.

            An entire cottage industry arose in papers showing how the satellites “had” to be broken.

            And yeah – that’s amusing to me.

  5. “So the Alarmists are running around defending a paper that refutes their claims because part of it refutes Spencer’s claims.”

    That’s the problem in a nutshell.

    Scientists might be expected to assemble what they consider to be the valid parts of different researchers’ work into their own work, in order to get closer to an accurate model. Taking sides isn’t science. It’s human, of course, and scientists are human. But there is a distinct difference between “science” and “anything that scientists do”.

    Otherwise, frisbee golf and drinking Scotch would be called “science”.

    1. scotch is science of the highest order. And a noble pursuit.

  6. Since when did the scientific method become “come to a consensus then ridicule and mock anyone who doesn’t fall into line”?

    1. Since man discovered that tweaking me can score big grant money.

  7. Dessler – Our models show that the sun did not come up yesterday

    Spencer – here is a photograph of the sun coming up yesterday.

    Dessler – But but the models….you chose a picture during the day..you cherry picked!!!

  8. After all, both sides make apocalyptic claims: the end of the world vs. the end of the economy.

    That actually isn’t true.

    No mainstream pro-AGW climate scientist makes any apocalyptic claims.

    The claims made by real scientists about temperature increases are actually quite modest.

    Science fiction writers, Al Gore, and pantswetting environmentalist hysterics talk about the end of the world. The scientists don’t.

    The scientists talk about incremental mean temperature changes and sea level changes that may fuck you if you live in Micronesia or Bangladesh, but the net impact of which in temperate zones is highly debatable.

    1. No mainstream pro-AGW climate scientist makes any apocalyptic claims.

      Fluffy meet James Hansen

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Hansen

      1. Quit a few of us written off James Hansen as real science more than a decade ago.

        1. Och aye! He’s nae scientist laddie!

      2. Ultimately, Hansen does not make any apocalyptic claims either.

        “Maybe in a couple of centuries the ice sheets will melt in a non-linear way,” is a very tenuous basis for recommending policy.

        Especially since the pro-AGW left actively disdains accounting for the long-run when dealing with their Keynesian economic policies.

        1. Fluffy: You might want to read Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren (I have). This excerpt from a DailyKos review of the book accurately captures some of its apocalyptic tone:

          After walking us carefully but steadily through the fundamental concepts in his field, stopping to lucidly explain the earth’s incredible climate sensitivity to tiny perturbations past and present, the author skillfully lays out the case that we are closing in on tipping points beyond which the climate will soon spin out of control. How bad? You’ll have to read the book to get a feel for the range of possibilities, but under one set of hypothetical assumptions Hansen states point blank that he concludes the Venus Syndrome is a “dead certainty”.

          1. OK, I was not aware of that.

            Isn’t that a tad ridiculous, considering the fact that the % of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere was much higher in the past than even the most dire projections of the models, and no Venus syndrome resulted?

            I guess I’m taking the “mainstream scientific pro-AGW” position to be the 2007 IPCC report, which anticipates a .15 degree C warming per decade and an 8 inch increase in sea level per decade. Which ain’t Venus and ain’t Waterworld.

            1. Isn’t that a tad ridiculous

              Way more than a tad – and you’re right. If the measurements are accurate, the earth has had 10 times the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in the past.

  9. I like how the blue line has an error bar (shaded blue area) and all the red lines fall into that error bar and the black lines do not…In fact they don’t even fall into the red line error bar, yet Dessler complains about cherry picking observational data.

    This puts this obviously false statment into perspective:

    …the observations presented by [Lindzen & Choi] and [Spencer & Braswell] are not in fundamental disagreement with mainstream climate models

    AGW climate science is the art of seeing compete and utter refutation of your claims then denying you ever say it.

  10. “The upshot is that if Spencer and Braswell are correct then the computer computer models are likley projecting higher global temperatures than may actually occur as a result of adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.”

    The other side seems to be deathly afraid of this potential upshot.

  11. The extraordinary claim is the mainstream climate scientist’s insistence that the world is coming to an end, not the claim that it may not be.

  12. Would playing Microsoft Flight Simulator on your personal computer be an acceptable substitute for hands-on flight training in a Boeing 747?

    If something works in SimCity, should it become law in New York and Los Angeles?

    There are no good models – just varying degrees of bad ones.

    Models are great for entertainment.

    Models are great for education and training. (But not enough to warrant doing away with hands-on flight training altogether.)

    Models are useful for planning and researching.

    Models, however, are worse than useless as PROOF.

    A computer model is essentially an example of a priori reasoning put on a machine by a person. It cannot be put forward as evidence of the phenomena it purports to describe.

    1. Models can also be pretty hot if they’re the Victoria Secret-type.

  13. Holy shit this graph just keeps on giving and giving and giving.

    Anyone notice how the observational lines have error bars…

    and the models don’t?

    Wow…just fucking wow.

    Dessler is not only wrong, and a terrible scientist, he is a huge pile of shit.

    Ron, I know this a reprint of someone else figure….but i think a correction about the figure and noting the lack of error bars for the model lines is in order.

    1. Sorry, complex models don’t always get error bars put on them, by those of us who do that kind of work. Just sayin’.

      Which doesn’t change the fact that uncertainties must always, necessarily exit.

      Unless you’re one of Tony’s experts, in which case there can be no doubt.

      1. Sorry, complex models don’t always get error bars put on them

        There is a difference between a peer reviewed graph that compares models without error bars to observational data with error bars then an in house graph just looking at what the model puts out.

        Also my suspicion is that the error bars of the models probably don’t even fit on the graph. So of course nearly any observation would be in the margin of error….which means that if Dessler actually put the error bars up he would expose how worthless the models are at predicting anything.

        This is why he is a fraud and no lame excuse like “this is how all modelers do it” has any validity.

  14. This stuff is way out there. All I want to know is if I’m gonna get blown tonight.

  15. This back-and-forth eventually yields something close to reality. And I still have confidence that it will here.

    Probably. But not in our life times Ron. Too much religion involved in it these days.

    Personally I’ve done just enough complex systems modeling to strongly doubt the climate models are anywhere near the truth yet.

    But then I’m not one of Tony’s “experts” so I couldn’t possibly know what I’m talking about.

    I wonder how many differential equations Tony has solved….. I suspect not enough of them to make him even remotely qualified to know who is or isn’t an “expert” on climate change.

    But Tony has his faith, and doan-you mess it!

  16. I agree with Tman. Dressler and the warmers have been shown to be wrong by the Svensmark CRF theory, which gained a great deal of support from the CERN experiment, plus the Svensmark paper which found that low altitude clouds contained less liquid water following Forbush decreases. Observations showed a 7% decline for the most influential events.

    The problem for the warmers is that these experiments show that cloud cover is not simply regulated by temperature change but that other natural factors play a role. I found it interesting that even Gavin Schmidt thought that the CERN results may be significant. If their friends admit that there is empirical evidence that falsify the assumptions made by Dressler and the warmer team.

  17. Carl Sagan quite spoiled the effect by substituting an excellent PR firm for extraordinary evidence in selling ‘nuclear winter to the public. The erstwhile climate skeptics seem to be following suit.

    http://i52.tinypic.com/fuyws8.jpg

  18. That’s not the right use of Sagan’s line. The extraordinary claim is that the earth’s climate is moving off its normal trend-line because of a particular emission and a long sequence of contingent feedback phenomena. It is not extraordinary to say: “everything is as it always was.”

  19. The “extraordinary claim” is that complex, highly “parameterized” climate models over-estimate the earth’s climate’s sensitivity to increases in CO2 concentration?

    Doesn’t seem all that extraordinary to me, but I ain’t no climate scientist.

  20. “In any case, if the claims made by Wagner are true, then the proper thing to do is to retract the paper, something which Wagner did not do, nor has he even suggested it.”

    Why would he retract the paper? In peer review papers are rarely retracted and only for reasons like confirmed plagiarism or if the authors suggest it like in the event of errors found by other peers once published.

    The proper way to handle this is not retraction but by the normal process of peer review where others point out the failings or publish more conclusive work.

    This has already happened in this case.

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  22. The only thing I can say is that climate change politicians can really get bat crazy if you provoke them.

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