Questioning the soundness of climate-related science should not be the realm solely of climate skeptics. That’s what makes the following even more welcome.
“Get the science straight on climate change and disease – Climate change’s complex links with insect-borne disease need solid research — not alarmism that distracts from other crucial factors“
That’s the start of a courageous, no-holds-barred Sep 9, 2009 editorial by Sian Lewis on SciDev.net (“a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing reliable and authoritative information about science and technology for the developing world“).
In normal times, Lewis’ words would sound obvious in the extreme (and no: SciDev.net is not a hotbed of hard-core AGW skeptics – read also this). But these times of “climate porn” (see also here and here) are not normal times at all.
A few excerpts from Lewis’ article:
- research agendas must both respond to social needs and offer good science
- fulfilling the second condition is more tricky
- There is clearly a link between insect-borne diseases and climate
- But a whole host of non-climate factors also influence disease transmission…
- So we mustn’t go overboard, reading too much into the role of climate change at the expense of research into other triggers of these major diseases
- good science is crucial for good policy
- The task is urgent — but this must not lead to short-cuts
The editorial is an introduction to
“a series of articles [that] explore the evidence for (and against) the notion that climate change will worsen the burden of insect-borne disease, highlights gaps in our knowledge, and provides advice to policymakers“
Interestingly, given that
“the solution, according to Jonathan Cox, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is to forget predictive modelling for the moment and focus on research with a better chance of improving disease control“.
“Forget predictive modelling”…if only!!
Andy Revkin at DotEarth’s “Welcome to Earth’s ‘New’ Ocean: The Arctic” (about the navigation of the “Northeast Passage” by two German ships) has not yet found time to reply to my question as outlined below:
In Tom Nelson’s blog there is a link at Answer.com where several sources (including Wikipedia) repeat information about the Northeast Passage (Northern Sea Route) progressively becoming more and more easy to navigate during the last few centuries, of several expeditions going all the way decades ago, of commercial exploitation from 1877. Would Mr Revkin be so kind as to comment, and perhaps clarify what he and/or Lawson W Brigham exactly meant with “this is, indeed, a first“. – thank you in advance
Revkin’s actual words include “first known commercial shipment” and “Lawson W. Brigham, a longtime source for anything related to Arctic shipping, confirmed that this is, indeed, a first“. Yes but…a first of what? If “commercial exploitation began in 1877” then the latest “first” needs some good qualifier. Here’s what the Company managing those German ships actually claims in their website (sep 9):
We are all very proud and delighted to be the first western shipping company which has successfully transited the legendary Northeast-Passage
The two vessels will then be the first non-Russian commercial vessels to make it through the Northeast Passage from Asia to Europe
Was this all too difficult to read and understand? Would the explanation of the “non-Russian” bit have removed too much from the news for it to get any space in the newspaper?
I am not sure if I will ever get an answer from Revkin.
What I am sure of though is that a little less ambiguity and a little more explanation on his part would have been quite welcome. Otherwise readers might get the impression that either the Northeast Passage is ready for leisure yachts, or that it has been forever closed by giant chunks of ice for millennia…
Another gem from the August issue of Scientific American, a few pages after David Appell’s climate double-entendre titled “Stumbling Over Data“: it’s time now for Kate Wong’s “The Mysterious Downfall of the Neandertals“, given the pride of cover to discuss the most up-to-date theories about the disappearance of those “bygone humans” around 28,000 years ago.
Here’s a detail of one of the theories:
[…] the isotope data reveal that far from progressing steadily from mild to frigid, [between roughly 65,000 and 25,000 years] the climate became increasingly unstable heading into the last glacial maximum, swinging severely and abruptly. With that flux came profound ecological change: forests gave way to treeless grassland; reindeer replaced certain kinds of rhinoceroses. So rapid were these oscillations that over the course of an individual’s lifetime, all the plants and animals that a person had grown up with could vanish and be replaced with unfamiliar flora and fauna. And then, just as quickly, the environment could change back again. […]
What else goes extinct then with our barrel-chested, stocky-limbed cousins in the space of a few sentences? Let’s see: unprecedented climate change; global warming endangering polar bears; life on Earth threatened by wild climate swings; collapsing global ecosystems; disappearing coral reefs; upcoming biodiversity crisis; etc etc etc.
Not only that…if our direct ancestors’ “somewhat wider range of cultural adaptations provided a slightly superior buffer against hard times“, why would those characteristics fail us now, their direct descendants more than 280 centuries later?
Unless of course we force ouselves to admit that our forefathers were wiser than us, stuck as we are into asking our so-called leaders to stop the solar cycle, or elicit volcanic eruptions…
(via Piero Vietti’s Cambi di Stagione. My translation of course)
17 JUN 2009 From the ongoing OGS conference on Observational Oceanography in Trieste, Italy – Rome, 17 June (Apcom) – No water warming processes are likely to be undergoing in the Mediterranean. It’s one of the preliminary results obtained under MedArgo, the “sister project”, coordinated by OGS [the Italian National Institute on Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics].
MedArgo deals specifically with the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding countries and is part of EuroArgo, the European component of the international Argo project.
Argo’s objective is an intensive analysis of the seas to see what are the impacts of climate change and global warming on the waters of our planet and, consequently, also on its ecosystems. That is why 60 European scientists are comparing data and knowledge at the Second EuroArgo Conference on Observational Oceanography, being held in Trieste, and organized by OGS.
In order to study the chemical and physical parameters of the waters of the seas, OGS uses special tools called “float profilers” [?], battery-powered cylindrical tubes released into sea currents. Devices last between 3 and 4 years and collect 150-200 profiles before being abandones.
“These instruments – says Pierre-Marie Poulain, Head of the Remote Sensing Group at OGS and coordinator of MedArgo – go down to an average depth of 350 meters and remain there for five days. Then they do a quick foray to 2,000 meters and come back up, measuring the physical parameters of the water column and transmitting the data via satellite. Everything is done in real time: the data arrives at research centers, scattered throughout the world, where it is processed, managed and disseminated to the community of scientists.”
At present, there are around 3,000 profilers worldwide, spaced apart by about 300 kilometers. In the European seas there are 800 profiles, 23 of which in the Mediterranean Sea, with the objective of bringing the total to 30 for a complete coverage of the basin.
As well as coordinating the launching of the profilers, OGS is also involved in collecting the data recorded on the characteristics of currents, temperature and salinity. The researchers from Trieste are, in fact, among the few with the oceanographical skills needed to perform the necessary quality control.
MedArgo so far has collected a series of data that illustrate what is happening in the Mediterranean. “The Mediterranean current – adds Poulain – is an important engine of the local circulation, because it influences all motions of this enclosed sea. On the basis of information gathered so far, all we can anticipate is that at the moment there are no processes warming the waters. But we will have more details only at the end of the project, with the final data in hand.”
Twenty-third century historians debating who would be so anti-scientific as to associate an episode of extreme weather to climate, and especially to global warming, will have to look no further than two recent blogs on the recent Australian disaster:
- “Is there a link between Adelaide’s heatwave and global warming?” by Barry Brook on BraveNewClimate
- “Bushfires and extreme heat in south-east Australia” by David Karoly on RealClimate
A few things need to be firmly kept in mind:
- as I keep reminding everybody, the debate on Attribution is still open, it is part of a big conference in less than a month, and if anything big would be ready to be presented we would have likely heard about it already
- much of the aforementioned attribution may unfortunately be based just on the GCMs ability to replicate observations, implicitly relying on the modelers’ own mysterious art rather than on actual physics. Doesn’t anybody realize that any pattern can be replicated with any precision given enough degrees of freedom, with or without equations that have anything to do with reality?
- uncertainties working against any present thought of global cooling could honestly be used the other way around
With that in the background, let’s have a look at Brook’s work first. And it is not a pleasant one:
So, in Adelaide we have two freakishly rare extreme events happening with a 10 month period. How likely is that? Well, if the events are totally independent, we’d expect the joint likelihood of two such heatwaves (of 0.25% probability per year [the 2009 event] and 0.033% per year [2008 event], respectively), occurring within the same 12 month period, to happen about once every 1,200,000 years. Is that unlikely enough for you? But if there is ‘autocorrelation’ (dependencies between the two events due to a linked cause — such as climate change), this calculated probability is not valid.
If that isn’t a true example of why statistics have such a bad reputation (“lies, damned lies, and…”), then I do not know what is. And if that doesn’t show that Brook cannot properly talk about climate, as he doesn’t look like having even the faintest clue of what makes some days warmer than others, then I do not know what does.
And what does make some days warmer than others? Weather. By definition.
The 2009 Australian summer around Adelaide and Melbourne has seen some particularly hot days because of a peculiar weather pattern, with winds bringing hot, dry desert air towards the inhabited coast (there might have been also an intervening Foehn (warming) effect, but let’s keep that aside for the moment).
The underlying weather pattern has been described by the National Climate Centre at the Australian Government’s Bureau of Metereology:
The presence of a slow-moving high pressure system in the Tasman Sea, combined with an intense tropical low off the northwest coast of Western Australia and an active monsoon trough, provided the ideal conditions for hot tropical air to be directed over the southern parts of the continent
NASA’s Land Surface Temperature Anomaly picture reinforces this point: one can clearly see how warm air has been pushed towards Victoria, just as cool air towards Queensland. And an intervening band in the middle has then experienced whatever temperatures it usually experiences.
It’s just the same air movement. If you push “oceanic air” over Queensland, the existing “Queensland air” will move towards Victoria, and so on and so forth closing the high-pressure system circle somewhere to the East of Australia. You can get a similar result with a low-pressure system somewhere to the West too. If the two combine, so much more evident the Queensland cooling and Victoria warming. Does one need to be a veteran metereologist to understand such an easy point?
Even the briefest introduction to metereology and climatology should make very clear to everybody how incredibly naïve and totally anti-scientific is the belief that “global warming” means hotter days in this or that part of the planet. In fact, the question Brook should have asked is: do that “slow-moving high-pressure system” and “intense tropical low” in those particular places, and that “monsoon trough”, have anything to do with (anthropogenic) climate change?
But of course Brook just about cannot get anywhere in that direction
Who knows, one day he may wake up to a 2007 paper, three years later that is, by Chase et al. published in the Geophysical Research Letters, asking “Was the 2003 European summer heat wave unusual in a global context?” and responding
Regression analyses do not provide strong support for the idea that regional heat or cold waves are significantly increasing or decreasing with time during the period considered here (1979–2003)
I am all for free speech, and Brook and the likes can keep on blaming perversity for the worst kind of climate change denial but there must be a point where they have to recognize how silly it is to appeal to science without understanding a iota of it.
Karoly’s contribution is of a different quality, with no absolute-weather-beginner mistaken mention of reality-divorced probabilities (Karoly even talks, briefly, about weather patterns…).
His point appears to be a rather old one though. Why would heatwaves be attributable to anthropogenic global warming? Because Karoly himself, with Braganza, managed some time ago to simulate observations using climate models that include “increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases and aerosols” (see his 2004 paper referred to in the blog).
Actually, to be more precise, what happened is that Karoly and Braganza were unable to simulate observations using “natural climate variations alone“. Perish the thought that the problem might have been an inappropriate definition of those “natural climate variations”…
In any case, given the apparent strength of Karoly’s convictions dating from 2004, one might start wondering why the Chair for the “Detection and Attribution: State of Play in 2009” (Parallel Session 9) in Copenhagen would be Ann Henderson-Sellers of all people. Who she? The one claiming in the session’s very description that
the detection and attribution story was incomplete [at the time of the IPCC AR4 in 2007] due to ‘Key Uncertainties’ listed by IPCC
and listing in a September 2008 article, among the seven “Serious inadequacies in climate change prediction that are of real concern”
- The rush to emphasize regional climate does not have a scientifically sound basis […]
- Until and unless major oscillations in the Earth System (El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) etc.) can be predicted to the extent that they are predictable, regional climate is not a well defined problem. […]
Notice how Henderson-Sellers goes on to say that “WGII is easily the weakest of the three reports. The reasons seem to be two-fold: (i) poor downscaling and (ii) the lack of a coherent methodology for impact study“.
I am sorry for Prof. Karoly but either Prof. Henderson-Sellers is very wrong on more than one point (and then what would she be doing as Chair of one session in Copenhagen?); or Karoly’s own 2004 work, and his present stance are just an example of what Henderson-Sellers describes as the rushed, scientifically unsound regional climate emphasis around a non-well-defined problem, plagued by poor downscaling and dealing with a climatic impact without a well-recognized methodology.
Does Karoly understand this problem? I think he does. Cue his large caveat about his large claim
Although formal attribution studies quantifying the influence of climate change on the increased likelihood of extreme fire danger in south-east Australia have not yet been undertaken, it is very likely that there has been such an influence
Karoly’s own language gymnastics is remarkable, with just about the right mix of “clear” and “likely” to pass most logic tests, in case things don’t turn up as expected. He’s not the first athlete to enter such a competition though.
Finally, it certainly doesn’t look too good when Karoly provides three papers linking “observed and expected increases in forest fire activity […] to climate change” but no mention of the lack of any comprehensive analysis (think of the absence of trends in fires around the Mediterranean region for example).
It is rather sad to see what started as the science of climate turning pretty much into a parody, with reports and explanations forever running after the latest disaster. Very simply, this cannot be right.
For a bit of Sunday fun, compare the picture of the official NOAA USHCN climate station of record in Fairbury, NE (from WUWT’s “How not to measure temperature, part 75” of Nov 20, 2008) with the cartoon published on WUWT’s “Grilling the Data” of Sep 19, 2007
They have substituted a tree for the happy “I love UHI” chap and the sausages…perhaps the NOAA USHCN people are starting to get inspiration from WUWT jokes to locate their climate stations?