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Posts Tagged Climate science

The encroaching sea: new NZ sea level rise maps Gareth Renowden Apr 13

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This guest post is by Jonathan Musther, who has just published an amazing series of highly detailed maps projecting future sea level rise scenarios onto the New Zealand coastline. If you live within cooee of the sea, you need to explore his maps. Below he explains why he embarked on the project.

10mSLR-Christchurch480

The effect of 10m sea level rise on Christchurch: say goodbye to St Albans, prepare to paddle in the CBD. Full map here.

For humans, sea-level rise will almost certainly be the most directly observable effect of climate change, and specifically of global warming. As the climate changes, many of the effects will be subtle, or if not subtle, they will at least be very complex. Summers may be warmer, or cooler; we may experience more rain at some times of year, and less at others; tropical storms may increase and they may be sustained further from the equator, but all of these changes are complex, and not necessarily obvious against the background complexity of any climate system. In contrast, there is something obvious and unstoppable about sea-level rise, there is no question that it will send anyone in its path running for the hills.

For some time I have been involved in searching for land appropriate for specific uses such as arable farming, water catchment, and off-grid living. When searching for land in this way, there are many, many criteria to consider, and of course one of these is potential future sea-level. Using GIS (Geographical Information System) software, and elevation models of the New Zealand landscape, it is possible to visualise sea-level rise, and select sites accordingly. Naturally, the next question is what sea-level rise to consider. It is possible to place an upper-limit on sea-level rise – after all, there’s only a finite amount of ice that could melt – but beyond that, we’re limited to informed guesswork.

25mSLR-Christchurch480

25m sea level rise: a sunken city and Banks Island. Full map here.

What is the maximum possible sea-level rise? It depends who you ask. Many sources place the maximum potential sea-level rise at around 60-64 metres, but these figures are rarely referenced, and don’t concur with the latest research. Other sources place the figure at around 80-81.5 metres, and while this appears to be well referenced and researched, it is based on work that is somewhat out of date. The best estimates I’ve been able to locate, based on recent measurements (and lots of them) are around 70 metres, but quite what the margin of error is remains uncertain. Of course, when considering future sea-level, we must remember that here in the South Pacific, we will likely experience increased numbers of more powerful tropical storms, with associated storm surges.

80mSLR-Christchurch480

At 80m, West Melton is a seaside township. Full map here.

The maps I created showing sea-level rise for the whole of New Zealand depict rises of 10, 25 and 80 metres. I have certainly received criticism for not focussing on more modest sea-level rises (e.g. 1 or 2 metres), but there are some good reasons for this: firstly, the resolution of the elevation models of New Zealand do not allow accurate predictions of such small rises. Secondly, larger sea-level rises pose a huge threat, and are therefore worth considering. I made a point of avoiding time frame predictions when producing the sea-level rise maps, partly because the time frame is largely irrelevant (if 80% of our homes are flooded, it’s bad news, no matter when) and partly because the range of expert estimates is huge. Study after study shows that we have underestimated ice-sheet instability, and it is almost universally accepted that large sea-level rise will be a consequence. Unfortunately, most studies place this sea-level rise at some unspecified time in the future – when, we’re not sure, but it’s far enough away that we needn’t worry…

So is a 10 or 25 metre sea-level rise likely? Unfortunately, the broad answer is yes. The Greenland, West and East Antarctic ice sheets are showing growing instability, and many researchers agree that they may have past a ‘point of no return’. Remember, the Greenland ice sheet alone, if completely melted, would lead to approximately a 7 m rise in global sea-level. Of course, we return to the issue of when this is likely to happen, and on that, the jury is out.

I firmly believe that to be good scientists, we must investigate the possibility of large sea-level rise, and its consequences. The time frame is unclear, the absolute rise is also unclear, but there really is something unstoppable about rising oceans. We are now well outside the sphere of collective human experience and expertise, and we should be very careful to prepare, as best we can, for a range of scenarios.

The Age of Sustainable Development Bryan Walker Apr 01

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It is profoundly depressing to hear pundits and politicians talking about the prospects for economic growth with no reference to either equity or environmental constraints. In the case of New Zealand a “rock star” economy can apparently develop accompanied by dismaying levels of child poverty, excited expectations of new oil and gas discoveries which spell disaster for the climate, and a burgeoning dairy industry paying scant attention to the environmental consequences of its rapid growth.

Fortunately there are more discerning economists on the world stage for whom economic growth is only welcome when it means an end to poverty and when it fully respects strict environmental limits. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute  at Columbia University, is an outstanding example. His latest book The Age of Sustainable Development is heavily focused on the ending of poverty in parts of the world where it remains endemic and is relentless in its recognition of the severe environmental strains that economic development and soaring population growth are placing on the earth systems on which human life depends.

The book was developed as part of a global open online course of the same name offered by the Earth Institute and already taken, Sachs reports, by tens of thousands of students around the world.

 

The book presents a picture of rapid economic growth and population explosion since the industrial revolution got under way in Britain and spread into Europe and America. But it’s an uneven growth and many countries have barely experienced it, not least, Sachs suggests, because of western colonialism which was more interested in the exploitation of the colonies than in their participation in economic development.

Addressing this lag in development and the extreme poverty which often attends it is a primary task for development practitioners. Sachs dismisses sweeping simplistic diagnoses (corruption) or prescriptions (cut government spending) or referrals (to the IMF) and instead urges diagnoses that are accurate and effective for the conditions, history, geography, culture, and economic structure of the countries in question. Many countries are caught in poverty traps through no fault of their own and the aim is to assist them out of that and on to the first rungs of the development ladder.

Sachs is also alert to the relative poverty within developed countries, including the indigenous societies and other ethnic minority groups neglected in the economic development of the societies in which they are placed. Social justice is integral to the concept of development in his book.

Turning to the question of environmental boundaries Sachs asks whether a world that is prosperous and socially inclusive can also be environmentally sustainable. He argues that with careful and science-based attention to growing environmental threats we can harmonise growth and sustainability. That’s not the “balance” that our own government so glibly claims to be achieving between growth and environmental protection. Sachs aims at a full recognition of environmental boundaries.

His treatment of climate change is a prime example of the seriousness with which he takes the environmental challenges to development. In a packed chapter he offers a lucid explanation of the basic science and the consequences of the human-induced changes to the climate. In this he provides yet another example of the fact that there is no excuse for scientific ignorance among educated people in this issue of such moment for human life. One does not need to be a scientist to understand the basic thrust of climate science.  His conclusion is entirely appropriate:

 “The fact is that we should be truly scared, and not just scared, but scared into action—both to mitigate climate change by reducing GHG emissions and to adapt to climate change by raising the preparedness and resilience of our economies and societies.”

Not that it’s an easy task. Sachs describes it as an economic problem beyond comparison with any other, for several reasons the toughest policy problem humanity has ever faced. Climate change is a global crisis, meaning the whole world must be mobilised. It is also an inter-generational crisis and humanity is not good at confronting longer-term challenges. It means forsaking the fossil fuels on which the success of modern economic growth has depended. The crisis is slow-moving, making it difficult to sense urgency. The solutions are operationally complex, covering a wide range of changes. Finally, the energy sector is home to the world’s most powerful companies whose lobbying clout is not directed towards climate solutions.

Against this list one wonders that Sachs finds any confidence, but he works his way through the technologies which exist to enable the transition away from fossil fuels, and concludes that the world has climate solutions but that what it lacks is the time for further delay.

Climate change is only one of the environmental issues he confronts. He is equally rigorous on species extinction and the loss of biodiversity, on the capacity to grow food for a still rapidly expanding population, on ocean acidification and a range of other threats.

It’s a daunting picture. Sachs writes strikingly of the difficulties in addressing it:

“…it is very hard in our noisy, disparate, divided, crowded, congested, distracted, and often overwhelmed world to mobilize any consistency of effort to achieve any of our common purposes.”

In this context he advances the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to be put for adoption to the UN General Assembly this year to cover the period up to 2030, taking the place of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) adopted in 2000. The MDG were mainly focused on poor countries, but the SDG will have universal application, and Sachs sees them as offering a sense of common direction to individuals, organisations, and governments all over the world.

Ideas count. Sachs sees that as his most important message. If it seems a frail defence against the inequality and environmental heedlessness which characterises much of our activity it is nevertheless one he stoutly defends. Ideas can have an effect on public policy far beyond anything that can be imagined by the hard-bitten cynics, he claims. Look at the powerful and embedded economic institution of slavery eventually overcome by the ideas and morality of the anti-slavery campaigners. Consider Ghandi’s lead in helping to end colonialism. Think of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of Martin Luther King, of women’s rights.

So there’s something of the moral idealist underneath all the marshalling of economic facts and figures and the unflinching analysis of environmental threats which Sachs’ book contains. A stance I find much preferable to the complacent acceptance of the existing order which is still all too manifest in government and business and which bodes nothing short of disaster before the century is out.

Totten hots up, ice shelves melting: it’s grim down south Gareth Renowden Mar 30

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AntarcticaCryosat2Much news in recent weeks from Antarctica, and none of it good. An Argentinian base on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula recently reported a new high temperature record for the continent — 17.5ºC. A team of scientists has discovered that East Antarctica’s Totten Glacier — which drains a catchment that contains enough ice to raise sea levels by 3.5 metres — is vulnerable to melting caused by warm ocean water lapping underneath the ice and reaching inland1. Another group has stitched together satellite data on ice shelf thickness gathered from 1994 to 2012 and found that the ice shelves — mostly stable at the beginning of the period, are now losing mass fast2. From the abstract:

Overall, average ice-shelf volume change accelerated from negligible loss at 25 ± 64 km3 per year for 1994-2003 to rapid loss of 310 ± 74 km3 per year for 2003-2012. West Antarctic losses increased by 70% in the last decade, and earlier volume gain by East Antarctic ice shelves ceased. In the Amundsen and Bellingshausen regions, some ice shelves have lost up to 18% of their thickness in less than two decades.

The Amundsen region is home to the Pine Island Glacier, notorious for its current rapid loss of mass, and probably already past the point of no return for long term total melt. The map below shows the big picture: large red dots are ice shelves losing mass. Blue dots are shelves gaining mass.

Antarcticiceshelves

Ice shelves are important features of the Antarctic cryosphere. They buttress the ice piled up on the land, slowing down the flow of ice into the ocean. As the shelves lose mass, the flow of ice from the centre of the continent can speed up, adding to sea level rise. There’s a very good overview of the process — and the findings of the Paulo et al paper — in this excellent Carbon Brief analysis.

The study of the Totten Glacier — one of the fastest thinning glaciers in East Antarctica — is the first to look at the detail of the sea floor and ice thickness in the area. The study finds that there are “tunnels” under the ice leading into a deep trough inland that cold convey warm water inland — the same process that has destabilised the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica. As the authors suggest, rather drily, “coastal processes in this area could have global consequences”.

These signs of rapid changes around the coasts of Antarctica, together with hints that large parts of the huge East Antarctic ice sheet are at risk of following West Antarctica into the sea, suggest that even if sea levels only rise by a metre by the end of this century as the IPCC projected last year, the longer term picture will be a great deal wetter than that. After all, there is the equivalent of 60 metres of sea level rise locked up in East Antarctica.

For a very good overview of the state of our understanding of what’s going on in Antarctica, I recommend a listen to VUW’s Professor Tim Naish being interviewed by Radio New Zealand National’s Kim Hill last Saturday. Naish even covers what’s happening to the sea ice down there, but a longer term study of the sea ice is getting under way, led by another VUW prof — Jim Renwick.

  1. Greenbaum JS et al, (2015), Ocean access to a cavity beneath Totten Glacier in East Antarctica, Nature Geoscience, doi:10.1038/ngeo2388
  2. Paolo, F.S. et al, (2015), Volume loss from Antarctic ice shelves is accelerating, Science, doi/10.1126/science.aaa0940

Leyland and Carter: the rebuttal that isn’t and the hypocrisy that is Gareth Renowden Mar 25

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CarterFlatEarth.jpgSciblogs editor Peter Griffin recently gave climate denial activists Bryan Leyland and Bob Carter a “right of reply” to my post pointing out the errors and inconsistencies in a Dominion Post op-ed penned by the pair. Griffin took this action because of vociferous complaints from Leyland, who took offence at my discussion of his expertise (non-existent) and history of campaigning against action on climate. The result is billed as a “rebuttal”, but it isn’t, as I shall demonstrate.

The Sciblogs “rebuttal” is a mishmash of a so-called “fully referenced” version (pdf) of the op-ed that Leyland says was supplied to the Dominion Post, but he and Carter also prepared a very long-winded “response” (pdf) to the debunking of their piece by David Wratt, Andy Reisinger and Jim Renwick in the DP. The latter is a real eye-opener…

Life is too short to do another point-by-point demolition1, so I’ll select a few key issues that demonstrate that although they claim to be discussing science in a scientific manner, what they are actually doing is having the equivalent of an argument in a pub — prepared to say anything if they think it will help them “win”.

 

It’s instructive to look at the references Leyland and Carter supplied to support their original op-ed, and use in their Sciblogs article. They include a blog post by Roy Spencer and others at µWatts and The Hockey Schtick, graphs that either don’t prove what they claim, or are scaled to make it difficult to see what’s happening, reports at right-wing web sites (Breitbart, International Business Times), and Congressional evidence given by climate denial activists. Precious little real science on display, in other words.

Worse, where they do cite real science they get the reference wrong. To support their claim that climate models have failed to project the slowdown in surface temperature trends, their Sciblogs piece cites “IPCC AR5 Chapter 9, Box 9.3.2″ supporting this sentence:

The IPCC’s 5AR states that 111 out of 114 their climate model runs failed to reproduce the actual temperature record.

No mention of which Working Group report they’re citing, but the phrase “111 out of 114″ appears in Chapter 9 (pdf) of WG1. Unfortunately, it is not in Box 9.3.2 in Chapter 9. There is no Box 9.3.2. There is a Box 9.2, and it does contain a sentence they paraphrase incorrectly:

However, an analysis of the full suite of CMIP5 historical simulations (augmented for the period 2006–2012 by RCP4.5 simulations, Section 9.3.2) reveals that 111 out of 114 realizations show a GMST trend over 1998–2012 that is higher than the entire HadCRUT4 trend ensemble (Box 9.2 Figure 1a; CMIP5 ensemble mean trend is 0.21oC per decade).

A carefully nuanced statement in a long discussion of what the IPCC refers to as “the hiatus” — and certainly not a statement about “failing to reproduce the temperature record”. Worse, if you bother to read the whole thing, you find that Leyland and Carter have been cherry-picking stuff that suits their argument, while ignoring the points that don’t. Also from Box 9.2:

There is hence very high confidence that the CMIP5 models show long-term GMST trends consistent with observations, despite the disagreement over the most recent 15-year period.

Enough of that. Time to dig a little deeper. Leyland and Carter’s “Discussion of remarks made by Wratt, Reisinger & Renwick (WRR) in the Dominion-Post on global warming” (pdf) is worth perusing, because it is a perfect illustration of their approach to the evidence. Recall for a moment that a central claim of their DP op-ed was that “the world has not experienced any significant warming over the last 18 years”. Now read this paragraph from their “discussion”:

Though the statement [that the earth is warmer than 100 years ago] is true, 100 years is too short a period of time to assess true climatic change, consisting as it does of just three climate data points.

Leyland and Carter insist that 18 years is enough to know that warming has stopped, but 100 years isn’t long enough to prove there has been real warming. The sheer intellectual hypocrisy evident here is breathtaking — and very revealing.

This isn’t a scientific debate. This isn’t how people with real expertise in climate science approach the subject. This is posturing trying to pose as academic debate. Serious scientists wouldn’t touch that style of argument with a barge pole.

Leyland and Carter are acting like defence lawyers desperate to convince a jury that their client — man-made emissions of carbon dioxide — is not guilty. They want to create an illusion of doubt to delay action, and their audience is not the climate scientists of the world, it’s the readers of the Dominion Post. Doubt is Leyland and Carter’s product, a technique honed and refined by tobacco defenders decades ago.

One final point. In my original post, I pointed out that Leyland & Carter’s stated confidence that “man-made carbon dioxide does not cause dangerous global warming and that the predictions of computer models of the climate are worthless” was not supported by 97% of climate scientists — the people with real expertise in the field.

Their response both misquotes me and attempts to hide the pea under the thimble:

“In contradiction, Mr. Renowden asserts that “the vast majority – 97% or thereabouts…would beg to differ with our statement”. This is irrelevant. Science is not concerned with consensus. It is about evidence and hypothesis testing.

What that 97% represents is the balance of evidence. The overwhelming majority of people working in the field, however you choose to measure it, think we have a big problem with atmospheric carbon. Those that don’t are a tiny minority — a crank fringe supported by fossil fuel interests — making their arguments in opinion columns instead of the peer-reviewed literature. The rest of us live in the real world. We’ll ignore their attempts to blow smoke in the face of public opinion, and get on with trying to find a solution.

  1. Leyland & Carter may be retired, with nothing better to do than promote their viewpoints, but I have grapes and truffles to nurture through to harvest, and a book to write

[This post was edited 12.31pm on 27/03/15 - Ed]

DomPost denier debacle: science has the last word Gareth Renowden Mar 10

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The Dominion Post, which blotted its editorial copybook last week by publishing a factually incorrect and highly misleading opinion piece by climate denialists, has today published a heavyweight reply by three of NZ’s top climate scientists — David Wratt, Andy Reisinger and Jim Renwick1. Headed “Human role in climate change is clear”, the article is clear about climate reality:

Human influence on the climate system is clear and growing, and impacts are evident on all continents. If left unchecked, climate change will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

We do have options to reduce risks by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to some climate change, but time is running short if we want to limit changes to manageable levels. Ignoring or misconstruing the overwhelming evidence is not a responsible risk management strategy.

It’s not clear whether the DomPost plans any further response to the rubbish they printed from Bryan Leyland and Bob Carter, but the editorial team at the newspaper would do well to reflect on the approach to the subject adopted by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, introducing an important new series of features in that paper:

For the purposes of our coming coverage, we will assume that the scientific consensus about man-made climate change and its likely effects is overwhelming. We will leave the skeptics and deniers to waste their time challenging the science. The mainstream argument has moved on to the politics and economics.

Precisely. Rusbridger — who is retiring after 20 years as editor — wants his newspaper to do justice…

…to this huge, overshadowing, overwhelming issue of how climate change will probably, within the lifetime of our children, cause untold havoc and stress to our species.
So, in the time left to me as editor, I thought I would try to harness the Guardian’s best resources to describe what is happening and what — if we do nothing — is almost certain to occur, a future that one distinguished scientist has termed as “incompatible with any reasonable characterisation of an organised, equitable and civilised global community”.

That’s what a real newspaper does: takes on the big issues. If the Dominion Post wants to be more than a Noddy book newspaper publishing rubbish from the intellectual heirs to Big Ears, it’s high time it took a sensible approach to the climate debate, and followed Rusbridger’s lead.

Meanwhile, Bryan Leyland has posted what his web site describes as a “referenced version” of the text of the article that appeared last week. It’s available here (pdf), and is chiefly remarkable for the quality of what passes as references in crank circles. There are links to blog posts at µWatts and other climate crank sites, conspiracy-riddled pieces from extreme-right “news” services, and barely legible graphs. Where he does link to real science (on sea level rise), the underlying data doesn’t support the contentions in the article. Par for the climate crank Carterist “science” course, in other words.

  1. David Wratt is an Emeritus Climate Scientist at NIWA, an Adjunct Professor in the NZ Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University, and a Vice Chair of Working Group 1 of the IPCC. Andy Reisinger is Deputy Director (International) of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre and served as coordinating lead author in the most recent IPCC report. James Renwick is a Professor of Physical Geography at Victoria University of Wellington and served as a Lead Author on the last two IPCC Reports.

25 ways the DomPost failed its readers by publishing Leyland and Carter’s climate crap Gareth Renowden Mar 06

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The Dominion Post, the newspaper of record for New Zealand’s capital city, today gave great prominence to an opinion piece by high profile climate denialists Bob Carter and Bryan Leyland titled Hypothetical global warming: scepticism needed1. It’s a “Gish Gallop” of untruths, half-truths and misrepresentations — a piece so riddled with deliberate errors and gross misrepresentations that it beggars belief that any quality newspaper would give it space.

I will deal with the factual errors in a moment, but the DomPost‘s lack of editorial judgement extends well beyond any failure to fact check the article. Carter and Leyland’s expertise on the issue is misrepresented. The newspaper’s readers are not given a true picture of their “standing”. They are in fact paid/sponsored propagandists, way out on the crank fringes. Here’s how Carter is credited.

Professor Bob Carter is an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of NZ. His expertise is in geology and paleoclimatology — deducing past climates from geological records. He has written several books on climate change.

All of that is true2, but it is far from a full picture. In fact, Carter has been a propagandist against action on climate change since the 1990s, with a history of paid work with and for far-right wing organisations in Australia and the USA – including being paid by the notorious Heartland Institute in the US to produce shoddy pseudo-academic publications. In the right wing Australian journal Quadrant, where links to right wing organisations obviously play well, Carter’s credit runs like this:

Bob Carter is an Emeritus Fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and Chief Science Advisor to the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC).

The IPA campaigns against climate action, and Carter recently starred in its Climate: Change the facts tour around Australia promoting a new propaganda pamphlet. As an adviser to the ICSC — a group attempting to promote climate denial around the world, he works to:

“…directly educate the public about what science, engineering and economics are really concluding about climate change and the downside of misguided plans (e.g., wind turbines, “carbon sequestration”, etc.) to “solve the crisis”. This includes newspaper articles, letters to the editor, radio and TV interviews, public presentations, regular postings on our, and others’, Web sites and use of all forms of popular social media.”

In other words, Carter and Leyland managed to con the DomPost into playing along with their propaganda campaign.

The DomPost credits Leyland thus:

Bryan Leyland is an engineer specialising in renewable energy. He is an accredited reviewer for the IPCC and has contributed several articles on renewable energy technologies to overseas publications.

In fact, Leyland has a long track record of activism against action to reduce carbon emissions. He was a founder member of the NZ Climate Science Coalition and a trustee of the NZ Climate Science Education Trust — formed to bring a court action against NIWA’s handling of the national temperature record. When the case was lost, the trust was folded so that Leyland and his fellow trustees could avoid paying $90,000 of court-ordered costs.

Leyland is notorious in NZ media circles for his attempts to push climate denial. It beggars belief that the DomPost did not know about his track record, and went ahead with publishing an article under his name without prominently noting his role as an activist.

As propagandists, the product that Leyland and Carter are pushing is doubt — a tactic first used by the tobacco industry, but since refined by fossil fuel interests keen to avoid emissions cuts. Leyland and Carter “win” every time a mainstream media outlet gives their views credence by giving them prominence. Newspapers do not regularly provide platforms for cranks, but that is exactly what Leyland and Carter are, as we shall see in a moment.

24 ways to be wrong about climate

Let’s be clear about this. The errors and misdirections outlined below are not mistakes. They are not reasonable constructions that an independent commentator might make when looking at the totality of the evidence. They are arguments deliberately selected to present a distorted picture of reality.

The article gets off to a bad start with this opening sentence.

1: We are constantly told that man-made carbon dioxide has caused global warming that will bring doom and disaster in a few years.

Wrong. Man-made CO2 has certainly caused global warming (IPCC, 2014), but very few people — and certainly no scientists predict doom and disaster in the near future. All bets are off for the latter half of this century, however.

2: These predictions are largely based on the output of computer models, rather than observations of what is happening in the real world.

Wrong. Paleoclimate — supposedly one of Carter’s specialities — tells us a great deal about what may happen as CO2 rises. The models are useful for giving us an idea of what might happen in the future and what we can do to affect the outcome.

3: – the world has not experienced any significant warming over the last 18 years -

Wrong. There has been some slowdown in the upwards trend of surface temperatures — the so-called “hiatus”, but no reduction in the amount of heat accumulating in the system — mainly in the oceans.

4: – more accurate satellite records -

Wrong. Satellites estimate temperature of layers of the atmosphere by using the same radiation transfer calculations as the climate models so derided by Leyland and Carter. The satellite record is interesting and useful, but cannot stand in or substitute for real temperature measurements taken at the earth’s surface.

5: – models “failed to predict this lack of warming”.

Wrong. There has been no lack of warming. Model runs are not forecasts, but when the model runs are examined, those that most closely match what’s happened over the last 15 years (such as the state of the El Niño Southern Oscillation) track recent temperatures well3.

6: We can now be confident that man-made carbon dioxide does not cause dangerous global warming and that the predictions of computer models of the climate are worthless.

Wrong. Carter and Leyland may assert their personal confidence, but that is not shared by the vast majority — 97% or thereabouts, however it is measured — of the scientists with genuine expertise in this field. To act on their say-so would be like backing a three-legged horse in the Melbourne Cup.

7: Global sea ice area is well above the 1979-2013 average.

Wrong. Over the last 35 years global sea ice area has declined by 35,000 square kilometres per year, or about -1.5% per decade. (Source)

8: In the Arctic it is close to average…

Wrong. This week’s Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis from the NSIDC in the US reports that last month had the third lowest February ice extent in the satellite record, and suggests that there is a possibility that this year could set a new record for lowest sea ice maximum extent.

9: In the Antarctic it is at the highest level since 1979…

Wrong. The February extent of 3.58m km2 according to the NSIDC was the fourth highest summer minimum extent on record, trailing behind 2008 (3.75m km2), 2013, and 2003.

10: Once again, there is a large disparity between the computer based predictions of ever increasing loss of sea ice and reality.

Correct, but misleading. Models have consistently underestimated sea ice decline in the Arctic.

11: …rate of sea level rise has slowed…

Wrong. According to the IPCC, the rate of sea level rise has accelerated in recent decades, and is expected to increase further as warming melts land-based ice.

12: Polar bears

Still listed as endangered, and continued loss of sea ice — their preferred hunting grounds — will increase pressure on bear numbers. See this excellent recent overview for a realistic assessment of the state of the bears.

13: Coral atolls are not disappearing beneath rising oceans.

Misdirection. Coral atolls have not yet disappeared, but conditions for human habitation on a number islands — including Tuvalu — are becoming difficult, and will become impossible later in this century if sea level rise continues as expected by the experts.

14: About 15,000 years ago sea levels were rising at 3m a century and coral atolls and the Great Barrier Reef survived.

True. But there were no human populations on Pacific Islands at the time. 3m per century rise over the next century would be catastrophic for cities and populations all round the world. The “survival” of reefs would be the least of our worries.

15: Glaciers are retreating some areas and advancing in others.

Trivially true but hugely misleading, because the number of retreating glaciers far outweighs the few advancing. The World Glacier Monitoring Service estimates non-polar land ice (glaciers and ice caps) are losing mass at an increasing rate.

16: 5,000 years ago the European Alps had less ice than now and the Canadian tree line lay further north.

Misleading. That was during the Holocene optimum, when northern hemisphere regions were receiving more summer warmth than now due to Milankovitch cycles in the earth’s orbit. It tells us nothing about what will happen when the planet “catches up” with the heating effect of current atmospheric CO2 levels.

17: Historical records show that the world was warmer during the Middle Ages Warm Period.

Wrong. This is a canard, one much beloved of climate cranks, but not supported by current science. Some parts of the world may have been as warm as today, but it was not a global phenomenon.

18: Ocean acidification … the ocean is alkaline and is at no more risk of becoming acidic …

Puerile misdirection. “Acidification” is the process of becoming more acidic, and that is what is measured to be happening as CO2 dissolves into the world’s oceans. CO2 + H2O = carbonic acid. The effect on oceanic ecosystems will be huge.

19: Increased levels of carbon dioxide have boosted plant growth worldwide … modern greenhouses burn natural gas to double the CO2 concentration and hence increase production by 40%.

True, up to a point, but also a huge misdirection. Increasing CO2 will benefit some plants, some of the time, but not all. Any benefits will be offset by increasing droughts, floods and heatwaves and rapid polewards migration and distortion of ecosystems.

20: … an IPCC study shows that the frequency of droughts has hardly changed and cyclones have declined …

Misdirection. Studies show increases in rainfall extremes, heatwaves and other weather extremes, and these will increase (as will droughts) as the climate system warms.

21: The British Meteorological Office has predicted that the current lack of warming will continue until 2018 at least.

But they’re using climate models, and those can’t be trusted! The hypocrisy burns.

22: Scientists who study natural climate cycles and the effect of the sun and sunspot cycles on the climate believe that the world has — or soon will — enter a cooling cycle.

This really is crank fringe nonsense. About as credible as backing that three legged horse for a Melbourne Cup/Aintree Grand National double.

23: Most mainstream climate scientists agree that 2 degrees C extra of warming would not be harmful

Nonsense. “Most mainstream climate scientists” understand that 2 degrees of warming will cause a great deal of damage to the climate system. 2ºC is a political target, not a scientific one.

24: The obvious conclusion is that the science is not settled.

The obvious conclusion is that Carter and Leyland are desperately trying to sell “doubt at any price”. The real climate debate is not a scientific debate, or a debate about the science, it’s about how we deal with an issue which is going to shape the lives of everyone over the next few hundred years. Carter and Leyland are selling all our futures to satisfy their inflated egos — and to please the people who sponsor, support and pay for their activities.

Nothing that I write here or that is written in the Dominion Post is likely to change the views of Carter and Leyland, because they are not wedded to science and a rational assessment of climate risk. Their loyalty is to a cause, and they will be counting their DomPost article as a major triumph. The newspaper, however, faces a very big problem. Their 25th mistake.

Giving climate cranks prominence in the paper, and to allow them to misrepresent the facts in such a cavalier manner, is a gross disservice to the DomPost‘s readers, and a huge blow to the newspaper’s reputation. If the paper is really incapable of spotting nonsense when its offered to them, then what confidence can its readers have in its judgement on other matters? What can we expect next? The paper advocating in its leader column that a homeopath should be appointed minister of health?

Readers and other interested parties may wish to consider making a complaint to the editor, and if a satisfactory response is not received, pursue the matter further with the Press Council. As a bare minimum, I believe the Dominion Post should, as a matter of urgency:

  • Apologise to its readers for publishing an opinion piece so riddled with deliberate errors and misdirection.
  • Provide readers with a more accurate understanding of the activist backgrounds of Leyland and Carter.
  • Publish and give greater prominence to a rejoinder from senior scientists with genuine expertise in climate science.
  • Introduce guidelines that provide that opinion or comment pieces that make controversial or counterfactual claims are provided by authors with significant expertise in the area under discussion, or should be subject to fact-checking by people with the necessary expertise.

The Press Council’s own guidelines state that:

Material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate.

…and that for comment and opinion pieces “requirements for a foundation of fact pertain”.

Leyland and Carter’s propaganda piece clearly falls foul of those guidelines. It is now up to the Dominion Post to address the issue and respond appropriately. It may help them if they consider the 2012 judgement by the Australian Communication and Media Authority against talkback host Alan Jones ands station 2GB, requiring them to take fact checking seriously, or the decision by the LA Times not to publish letters asserting climate change is not real:

Saying “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change” is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.

And factual inaccuracies should have no place in a newspaper that aspires to be a newspaper of record.

  1. On page A7 – opposite the leader. Not currently available on the web, but a scan has been posted on Twitter — see this comment below.
  2. Except perhaps for the professorship. Carter has no current academic affiliation that I know of, so I wonder why the DomPost is granting him that status? Surely he wouldn’t have misrepresented himself to the paper?
  3. See, for example, Huber and Knutti, Natural variability, radiative forcing and climate response in the recent hiatus reconciled, Nature Geoscience 7, 651–656 (2014) doi:10.1038/ngeo2228

Antarctic ice going fast: Larsen C ice shelf primed for giant calving event Gareth Renowden Mar 02

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Analysis of rift propagation using Landsat data. Background image, in which the rift is visible, is from 4 December 2014. Inset graph shows the development of rift length with respect to the 2010 tip position, and rift width at the 2010 tip position, measured from 15 Landsat images (crosses). Circles and labels on the map, and dotted red lines on the graph, show the positions of notable stages of rift development.

The Larsen C ice shelf on the east coast of the Antarctic peninsula is primed for a giant iceberg calving event, and could be heading for total collapse — similar to the fate of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002, according to scientists monitoring the ice. A huge crack (above: hover over the picture for the full caption from the paper) is propagating northwards at an accelerating rate, and could give birth to ice islands of between 4,600 km2 and 6,400 km2 — equivalent to three or four Stewart Islands floating out to sea — according to an open access paper, Jansen et al, Newly developing rift in Larsen C Ice Shelf presents significant risk to stability1 (full pdf), published last month.

From the paper’s conclusions:

It seems inevitable that this rift will lead to a major calving event which will remove between 9 and 12 % of the ice shelf area and leave the ice front at its most retreated observed position. More significantly, our model shows that the remaining ice may be unstable. The Larsen C Ice Shelf may be following the example of its previous neighbour, Larsen B, which collapsed in 2002 following similar events.

The Larsen C ice shelf has been thinning over at least the last decade, and has shown signs of surface melting. Jansen et al developed two calving scenarios — shown below — and analysed the results with a model of the ice shelf.

 Overview of the Larsen C Ice Shelf in late 2014 showing the contemporary location of the developing rift (red line), and a selection of previous and predicted future calving fronts. Background image is MODIS Aqua, 3 December 2014. Geographic features of interest are marked (R = Revelle Inlet, FI = Francis Island, TO = Tonkin Island, TI = Trail Inlet, SI = Solberg Inlet, K = Kenyon Peninsula) and the dashed box shows the extent of Fig. 2. The highlighted flow line indicates the location of the Joerg Peninsula suture zone.

For a good overview of the current state of our knowledge of Antarctic ice melt, see The big melt: Antarctica’s retreating ice may re-shape Earth from the Associated Press, which tipped me off to the Larsen C story. Larsen C is the most northerly of the remaining major Antarctic ice sheets, and the last remnant of an ice shelf that until 1995 stretched up to the tip of the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. After the collapses of Larsen A and B, the glaciers feeding the shelves were observed to speed up — increasing the overall ice sheet mass loss. While the loss of the ice shelf won’t itself cause any sea level rise — because it’s already floating — the resulting speed up will increase sea levels.

  1. The Cryosphere Discuss., 9, 861–872, 2015

Blink and its gone – spectacular time-lapse of ice retreat at Fox Glacier Gareth Renowden Feb 26

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This spectacular time-lapse video1 captures the dramatic retreat of the Fox Glacier in Westland over the last year — 300 metres between January 2015 and January this year. As the ice retreats, the hillside becomes unstable and collapses down into the valley. To get a sense of the scale, you can see people watching from a safe point on the bottom right.

The rapid retreat of both Fox and its neighbour Franz Josef has led to the abandonment of guided walks on the glacier tongues. The ice is now only accessible by helicopter on to the upper reaches.

The collapse of the walls of the valley at Fox (as well as rocks and sediment transported by the ice) has caused the valley floor to rise by a metre over the last two years, as measured by Massey University scientists (see also NZ Herald). They’ve also photographed the retreat over the last decade, but the most marked loss seems to be in the last few years.

NZ’s west coast glaciers are amongst the most dynamic in the world, fed by huge snowfalls in their nevées under Mt Cook — as much as 6 metres a year in the snowfield feeding the Franz-Josef, as Mauri Pelto notes here. At the moment, ice melt in the tongues of both glaciers is outpacing the ice input above, and so the glaciers are retreating fast, but a run of years with heavy snowfalls could reverse the process — at least temporarily.

  1. Created by Victoria University of Wellington with the support of Fox Glacier Guides, Department of Conservation, Snowgrass Solutions, University of Canterbury and the Marsden Fund.

Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences Bryan Walker Jan 28

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James Lawrence Powell is a former geology professor, college president and museum director. He is currently the executive director of the US National Physical Science Consortium. He is also an excellent communicator of science for the general reader. I reviewed two of his climate change-related books back in 2011 here and here. His latest book, Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth, is wider in its scope, and places climate science alongside three other major scientific understandings which emerged in the course of the 20th century, profoundly affecting our knowledge of the planet.

Powell the geologist was familiar with the fact that great geological discoveries of the 20th century had had to struggle for decades to gain acceptance by the community of geologists. It was no easy ride for the propositions that the planet is billions of years old, that continents and sea floors move, and that meteorites crash into the earth. The opposition and the controversy his book narrates were often intense before the theories gained wide acceptance.

Powell had researched modern climate science, but was less familiar with its past history. He discovered that its early proponents had also suffered initial rejection of their theories and it was many decades before the correctness of their discoveries was acknowledged.

We are used to hearing of the fundamental contribution of Arrhenius to our understanding of the effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide on temperature. In the late 19th century he showed that atmospheric carbon dioxide alone, had its amount doubled or halved, would have caused temperature mutations of several degrees. But readers may be less aware that, following initial welcome for the theory, scientists “piled on to reject it”. It was another fifty years before scientists began to investigate greenhouse warming seriously and a further fifty before an international panel of scientists would corroborate Arrhenius’s finding.

 “A century is a long time to wait to affirm a scientific theory, especially one with the dire consequences of global warming.”

Arrhenius did not foresee those dire consequences, assuming, perhaps understandably from a Swedish perspective, that a warmer world would be more pleasant to live in. But by the late 20th century Nasa scientist James Hansen was in no doubt as to the malign consequences of warming for human society. The work of Hansen and his group dominates the latter pages of this section of Powell’s book. Hansen is respected not only for being one of the most productive modern climate scientists but also for being courageous and outspoken in his desire to warn, in every possible forum, of the dangers of global warming.

When Powell wrote his earlier books on climate change a distinguished medical friend challenged him as to why he accepted the theory. To his reply that virtually all publishing scientists accepted anthropogenic global warming his contrarian-inclined friend rejoined that scientists have been wrong before. Powell’s subsequent research into the history of 20th century climate science enabled him to see that the “scientists have been wrong before” route had already been traversed in the years immediately following Arrhenius.  For fifty years the “magisters of meteorology” favoured a debunking of Arrhenius which didn’t stand the course of time. They were wrong. As more scientists examined the data and published their findings the fundamentals became irresistible and the modern consensus emerged. This time it is right. Anthropogenic global warming has taken its place among the known facts of our planet.

The capacity of science to self-correct is in Powell’s eyes its cardinal virtue. In his book we see that process repeated four times over in the scientific revolutions he describes. What moved scientists to first reject for so long the four theories only to have later generations come to regard them as virtually self-evident? Looking back over the record it is plain, says Powell, that scientists accepted the theories when the data demanded that they do so. “To call themselves scientists they had no choice.”

But reaching this point is not necessarily straightforward. Powell comments that where science is concerned we cannot trust our common sense. In all four revolutions covered in book the discoveries are counter-intuitive.  Being able to make them is ”a triumph of human intellect, a testament to our ability to observe effects and reason back to causes”.

“I am not a scientist” is the latest mantra of denial in the US Congress, as if that statement somehow justifies a refusal to act to restrain greenhouse gas emissions or even to understand what is at stake. It’s a disgraceful evasion of intellectual and moral responsibility. One doesn’t need to be a scientist to understand the thrust of the scientific theories explained in this book, as any general reader of the book can attest.

The discovery of anthropogenic climate change may represent a triumph of human intellect, but that doesn’t put it out of reach of average human understanding. No patient reader of Powell’s book could come away confused about the scientific understandings it details, least of all  about how well established is the science of climate change. American scientists have played a prominent part in climate science. It’s hard to understand why any self-respecting American politician should continue to profess ignorance.

The wrinkled retainer returns with a Peer-reviewed Peer Gareth Renowden Jan 22

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There is much ado at Tannochbrae Manor, because the Laird has once again disproved global warming. One equation is all it takes! And an article in a new Chinese science journal with some friends, and lo!

Take away that inappropriate and misapplied equation, remove the unjustifiable tripling and the climate “crisis” vanishes.

You couldn’t make it up1. Although the Laird is a past master of self-parody, his triumphant article at WND is really something else. But enough: there is much ado at Tannochbrae Manor, because Scrotum has returned!

It’s been nearly two years since the last of my Monckton tales, and fully six since Old Scrotum first trod the boards at Hot Topic, so it’s a great pleasure to see someone else picking up the characters and beating around the bush with a pheasant in the hand and a peasant in the pocket. Izen has summoned the wrinkled retainer from retirement in order to help him express his astonishment at the chutzpah of the good Lord in writing and promoting his latest opus, which is being widely greeted with yawns — and some preliminary debunking. There will be more.

There may even be more from Scrotum. I hear rumours that the Laird’s attempts at spoken Mandarin are not going down well…

  1. No, wait a minute. You can. He has. And I might be persuaded…

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