Category Archives: Climate (be civil ! )

The volcanos did it

Why did the glaciers below the equator retreat 17,700 years ago (17.7 ka)?  A series of volcanic eruptions spanning 192 years down there did it according to Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. vol. 114 pp. 10035 – 10040 ’17.  No one was driving SUVs then and mankind had barely invented farming in the old world.   Have we had an usual amount of volcanic activity in the past 100 to 1,000 years? Here’s the summary.

“Glacial-state greenhouse gas concentrations and Southern Hemisphere climate conditions persisted until ∼17.7 ka, when a nearly synchronous acceleration in deglaciation was recorded in paleoclimate proxies in large parts of the Southern Hemisphere, with many changes ascribed to a sudden poleward shift in the Southern Hemisphere westerlies and subsequent climate impacts.

We used high-resolution chemical measurements in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide, Byrd, and other ice cores to document a unique, ∼192-y series of halogen-rich volcanic eruptions exactly at the start of accelerated deglaciation, with tephra identifying the nearby Mount Takahe volcano as the source. Extensive fallout from these massive eruptions has been found >2,800 km from Mount Takahe. Sulfur isotope anomalies and marked decreases in ice core bromine consistent with increased surface UV radiation indicate that the eruptions led to stratospheric ozone depletion. Rather than a highly improbable coincidence, circulation and climate changes extending from the Antarctic Peninsula to the subtropics—similar to those associated with modern stratospheric ozone depletion over Antarctica—plausibly link the Mount Takahe eruptions to the onset of accelerated Southern Hemisphere deglaciation ∼17.7 ka.”


Correctly taken to task by two readers and some breaking news

I should have amended the previous post to say I mistrust unverified models.  Here are two comments

#1 Andyextance

  • “Leaving aside the questions of the reliability of models in different subjects, and whether all of your six reasons truly relate to models, I have one core question: Without models, how can we have any idea about what the future might hold? Models may not always be right – but as long as they have some level of predictive skill they can often at least be a guide.”

    Absolutely correct — it’s all about prediction, not plausibility.

#2 Former Bell Labs denizen

“And yet you board a commercial airliner without hesitation, freely trusting your life to the models of aerodynamics, materials science, control system theory, electronics, etc. that were used in designing the aircraft. Similar comments apply to entering a modern skyscraper, or even pushing the brake pedal on your automobile.
Perhaps what you are really saying is that you don’t trust models until their correctness is demonstrated by experience; after that, you trust them. Hey, nothing to disagree with there.”
Correct again
Breaking news
This just in — too late for yesterday’s post — the climate models have overestimated the amount of warming to be expected this century — the source  is an article  in
Nature Geoscience (2017) doi:10.1038/ngeo2973 — behind a paywall — but here’s the abstract
In the early twenty-first century, satellite-derived tropospheric warming trends were generally smaller than trends estimated from a large multi-model ensemble. Because observations and coupled model simulations do not have the same phasing of natural internal variability, such decadal differences in simulated and observed warming rates invariably occur. Here we analyse global-mean tropospheric temperatures from satellites and climate model simulations to examine whether warming rate differences over the satellite era can be explained by internal climate variability alone. We find that in the last two decades of the twentieth century, differences between modelled and observed tropospheric temperature trends are broadly consistent with internal variability. Over most of the early twenty-first century, however, model tropospheric warming is substantially larger than observed; warming rate differences are generally outside the range of trends arising from internal variability. The probability that multi-decadal internal variability fully explains the asymmetry between the late twentieth and early twenty-first century results is low (between zero and about 9%). It is also unlikely that this asymmetry is due to the combined effects of internal variability and a model error in climate sensitivity. We conclude that model overestimation of tropospheric warming in the early twenty-first century is partly due to systematic deficiencies in some of the post-2000 external forcings used in the model simulations.
Unfortunately the abstract doesn’t quantify generally smaller.
Models whose predictions are falsified by data are not to be trusted.
Yet another reason Trump was correct to get the US out of the Paris accords— in addition to the reasons he used — no method of verification, no penalties for failure to reduce CO2 etc. etc.  The US would tie itself in economic knots trying to live up to it, while other countries would emit pious goals for reduction and do very little. 
In addition, \ I find it rather intriguing that the article was not published in Nature Climate Change   –, — which would seem to be the appropriate place.  Perhaps it’s just too painful for them.

I mistrust models.

I have no special mistrust of climate models, I mistrust all models of complex systems.  Here are six reasons why.

Reason #1:  My cousin runs an advisory service for institutional investors (hedge funds, retirement funds, stock market funds etc. etc.)  Here is the beginning of his latest post 16 June ’17

There were 3 great reads yesterday. First was Neil Irwin’s article in the NY Times “Janet Yellen, the Fed and the Case of the Missing Inflation.”  He points out that Yellen is a labor market scholar who anticipated the sharp decline in the unemployment rate. However the models on which the Fed has relied anticipate higher levels of inflation. Yet every inflation measure that the Fed uses has fallen well short of the Fed’s 2% stability rate. If they continue raising short-term rates in the face of low inflation, then “real” rates could restrain future economic growth.

Second was Greg Ip’s article “Lousy Raise? It Might Not Get Better.” Greg makes the point that tight labor markets are a global phenomenon in many industrialized countries, yet wage inflation remains muted. Writes Greg “If a labor market this tight can’t generate better pay, quite possibly it never will in Germany & Japan.”

Third was an article by Glenn Hubbard (Dean of Columbia Business School & former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under George W. Bush). His Wall Street Journal op-ed was titled “How to Keep the Fed from Following its Models off a Cliff.”  Hubbard suggests that Fed officials should interact more with market participants and business people. And Fed governors should be selected because of their varied life experiences, and they should encourage a healthy skepticism of prevailing economic models.

Serious money was spent developing these models.  Do you think that climate is in some way simpler than the US economy, so that they are more likely to be accurate?  I do not.

Reason #2: Americans are getting fatter yet living longer, contradicting the model that being mildly overweight is bad for you.  It is far too long to go into so here’s the link —

The first part is particularly fascinating, in that data showed that overweight (not obese) people tended to live longer.  The article describes how people who had spent their research careers telling the public that being overweight was bad, tried to discount the data. The best quote in the article is the following ““We’re scientists. We pay attention to data, we don’t try to un-explain them.”,

Reason #3: The economic predictions of the Congressional Budget Office on just about anything –inflation, gross national product, economic growth, the deficit — are consistently wrong —

Addendum 28 June “White house economists overestimated annual economic growth by about 80 percent on average for a six year stretch during Barack Obama’s presidency, according to Freedom Works economic consultant Stephen Moore.

Economists predicted growth between 3.2 to 4.6 percent for the years 2010 through 2015. Actual economic growth never hit above 2.6 percent.”

Reason #4:  Animal models of stroke:  There were at least 60, in which some therapy or other was of benefit.  None of them worked in people. It got so bad I stopped reading the literature about it.  We still have no useful treatment for garden variety strokes

Reason #5:  The Club of Rome,  — dire prediction based on a computer model which got a lot of play in the 70s.  For details see —  The post also has a lot about “The Population Bomb” and its failed predictions and also a review of a book about “The Bet” between Paul Ehrlich and Simon

Reason #6: Live by the model, die by the model. A fascinating book “Shattered” about the Hillary Clinton campaign, explains why the campaign did no polling in the final 3 weeks of the campaign. The man running the ‘data analytics’ (translation: model) Robby Mook, thought the analytics were better and more accurate (p. 367).


Did these guys just repeal the second law of thermodynamics and solve the global warming problem?

Did these guys just repeal the second law of thermodynamics and solve the global warming problem to boot? [ Science vol. 355 pp. 1023 – 1024, 1062 -1066 ’17 ] Heady stuff. But they can put a sheet of metamaterial over water during the day in Arizona and cool it by 8 degrees Centigrade in two hours!

How did they do it? Time for a little atmospheric physics. There is nothing in the Earth’s atmosphere which absorbs light of wavelength between 8 and 13 microns (this is called the atmospheric window). So anything radiating energy in this range sends it out into space. This is called radiative cooling. It doesn’t work during the day because most materials absorb sunlight in the visible and near infrared range (.7 -2.5 microns) heating them up. Solar power density overwhelms the room temperature radiation spectrum shorter than 4 microns. So for daytime cooling you need a material reflecting all the light shorter than 4 microns, while being fully emissive for longer wavelengths.

This work describes a metamaterial– — in which small (average diameter 4 microns) spheres ofSiO2 (glass) are randomly dispersed in a polymer matrix transparent to visible and infrared light. The matrix is 50 microns thick. The whole shebang is backed by a very thin (.2 micron) silver mirror. So light easily passes through the film and is then bounced back by the mirror without being absorbed.

Chemists have already studied the Carnot cycle, which gives the maximum efficiency of a heat engine. This is always proportional to the temperature difference between phases of the cycle. That’s why the biggest thing about a nuclear power plant is the cooling tower (and almost as important). Well few things are colder than the cosmic microwave background (2.7 degrees Centigrade above absolute zero).

So while the entropy of the universe increases as the heat goes somewhere, locally it looks like the second law of thermodynamics is being violated. No work is done (as far as i can tell) yet the objects spontaneously cool.

Perhaps the physics mavens out there can help. I seem to remember Feynman and Wheeler once saying something to the effect that radiation is impossible without something around to absorb it. If I haven’t totally garbled the physics, it almost sounds like emitter and absorber are entangled.

Anyway beaming heat out into space through the atmospheric window sounds like a good way to combat global warming.

No wonder DARPA supported this research.

The peculiar blindness of the highly intelligent

This is not a scientific post. While at Graduate Alumni day last April at Harvard, I listened to the main speaker go on and on about how irrational (translation: stupid) people were when it came to risk, particularly that of flying after 9/11. In terms of miles traversed, flying is far safer than driving. The speaker was Louise Richardson
PhD ’89, government, presently Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews. Her topic was “Terrorism: what have we learned?”

Here’s who she is and what she’s done. In the years after 9/11, in addition to her teaching and management roles, Professor Richardson gave over 300 talks and lectures on terrorism and counter-terrorism to educational and private groups as well as policy makers, the military, intelligence, and business communities. She has testified before the United States Senate and has appeared on CNN, NBC, the BBC, PBS, NPR, Fox and a host of other broadcast outlets. Her work has been featured in numerous international periodicals.

Clearly, she’s listened to. As I sat there I wondered how her advice for society could be any good, given her contempt for the way most of its members think. I’m sure in the several hundred of so listeners there were some adamantly opposed nuclear power. Two years previously we heard professor Daniel Schrag talk on a geologist’s perspective on global warming, saying there was no such thing as ‘clean coal’ and how slowly carbon dioxide is cleared from the atmosphere. Clearly, nuclear power is cleanest mode of energy production, with the lowest risk etc. etc. Why are some highly educated (and presumably intelligent) people against it?

Which brings us to the mind set of Professor Gruber. Amazingly, Howard Dean (a man of the left) had the following to say about Professor Gruber and Obamacare on MSNBC

First Gruber: “The problem is not that Gruber said it– the problem is that he thinks it”

Then ObamaCare “The core problem under the damn law is that it was put together by a bunch of elitists who don’t fundamentally understand the American people. That’s what the problem is”

How could free health care be so unpopular.

The common delusion of the highly intelligent is that since they think so well, everyone should think like them, and if they don’t their behavior and institutions should be directed by their intellectual betters. Nothing much has changed in Cambridge in 54 years. This mindset was just as common then as it is now. You can see how well it’s working.

Well, probably most readers of this blog are highly educated (technically at least), and years away from dealing with the mass of humanity. Most doctors in practice see the full spectrum of the populace, because everyone gets sick.

Here’s what’s out there. Part of the neurologic examination is the mental status examination. One assesses a variety of things — orientation, speech, affect, calculation, memory etc. etc. One part often used to assess higher cognitive function is the ability to abstract. People are asked things like, what’s similar about an apple and an orange, a table and a chair. What’s different about a river and a lake. They can be asked for the meaning of familial proverbs “a stitch in time saves nine, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The point of the mental status is to separate the normal from the abnormal.

I pretty much had to abandon similarities and differences because so many normally functioning people thought extremely concretely. For the apple/orange similarity I’d get back they’re both round, or (worse) one is red the other is orange (not a similarity), or the proverb would be repeated back verbatim. I’d guess that 1/3 of people think this concretely.That table and chair were both furniture or that apples and oranges were both fruit was only the response about 60% of the time. You can either call the 1/3 abnormal (which means you need to redefine normal) or decide that the test is useless for picking up pathology. I chose the latter.

This is why I’ll only interview high school students for my Ivy league alma mater (Princeton). Princeton needs them as much as they need Princeton. They bring a dose of reality to a very cloistered environment.

The climate gods have a sardonic sense of humor

Things haven’t been going too well for Global Warming. First, there has been essentially no change in global mean temperature for 14 – 17 years (depending on which of 4 measures you use). So Global Warming was rebranded as Climate Change. Then, we’ve been told that climate change would lead to more and more ‘extreme weather events’ (translation hurricanes, tornadoes etc. etc.) So in one of the coolest New England summers within memory and with nearly half of the 6 month hurricane season gone, we have a very quiet, not to say comatose, hurricane season.

At the onset of the 2014 season NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) predicted a 70% chance of a below average season. The numbers they expected were

8 – 13 Named storms (top winds over 39 mph — not very impressive)

3 – 6 Hurricanes (top winds over 74 mph)

1 – 2 Category 3 storms (sustained winds over 110 mph)

This was updated 7 August to a 70% probability of an even less exciting season

7 – 12 Named storms (top winds over 39 mph — not very impressive)

3 – 6 Hurricanes (top winds over 74 mph)

0 – 2 Category 3 storms (sustained winds over 110 mph)

So instead of extreme weather events, we have extremely boring (but pleasant) weather and just 2 named storms which turned into hurricanes. No category 3 events, and as of this writing, the Atlantic is extremely quiet. This has been blamed on dry air from Africa and (amazingly enough) unusually cool water temperatures in the Atlantic. Recall that it has been argued that the stability of global temperature over the past decade is due to heat going into the deep ocean where we can’t see it.

To be noted if you look at the graph in, which is of hurricane frequency vs. date, and try to mentally integrate the area under the curve in your head, that only about 20% of the hurricanes have occurred by this time. Peak frequency is 2 weeks from now (11 September) and the frequency of 20 August is half maximal.

Would anyone like to guess when (not if) this will be blamed on Global Warming/Climate Change? I’d be very surprised if it weren’t, and if it is, remember that a theory which can explain anything explains nothing.

At the Alumni Day

‘It’s Complicated’. No this isn’t about the movie where Meryl Streep made a feeble attempt to be a porn star. It’s what I heard from a bunch of Harvard PhD physicists who had listened to John Kovac talk about the BICEP2 experiment a day earlier. I had figured as a humble chemist that if anyone would understand why polarized light from the Cosmic Background Radiation would occur in pinwheels they would. But all the ones I talked to admitted that they didn’t.

The experiment is huge for physics and several articles explain why this is so [ Science vol. 343 pp. 1296 – 1297m vol. 344 pp. 19 – 20 ’14, Nature vol. 507 pp. 281 – 283 ’14 ]. BICEP2 provided strong evidence for gravitational waves, cosmic inflation, and the existence of a quantum theory of gravity (assuming it holds up and something called SPIDER confirms it next year). The nice thing about the experiment is that it found something predicted by theory years ago. This is the way Science is supposed to operate. Contrast this with the climate models which have been totally unable to predict the more than decade of unchanged mean global temperature that we are currently experiencing.

Well we know gravity can affect light — this was the spectacular experimental conformation of General Relativity by Eddington nearly a century ago. But how quantum fluctuations in the gravitational field lead to gravitational waves, and how these waves lead to the polarization of the background electromagnetic radiation occurring in pinwheels is a mystery to me and a bunch of physicists had more high powered than I’ll ever be. If someone can explain this, please write a comment. The articles cited above are very good to explain context and significance, but they don’t even try to explain why the data looks the way it does.

The opening talk was about terrorism, and what had been learned about it by studying worldwide governmental responses to a variety of terrorist organizations (Baader Meinhof, Shining Path, Red Brigades). The speaker thought our response to 9/11 was irrational — refusing to fly when driving is clearly more dangerous etc. etc. It was the typical arrogance of the intelligent, who cannot comprehend why everyone does not think the way they do.

I thought it was remarkable that a sociologist would essentially deprecate the way people think about risk. I’m sure that many in the room were against any form of nuclear power, despite its safety compared to everything else and absent carbon footprint.

Addendum 7 April — The comment by Handles and link he provided is quite helpful, although I still don’t understand it as well as I’d like. Here’s the link

The Empire Blinks

Physicists 100+ years ago were perturbed that the precession of the perihelion of Mercury as predicted by Newtonian mechanics was off by 38 arc seconds (roughly one part in 1/100,000). It took relativity to straighten things out.

None of the climate models mentioned in Science in 2009 [ Science vol. 326 pp. 28 – 29 ’09 (2 Oct ’09 ) ] predicted a pause in warming as long as we are currently experiencing (17 years and counting), even when they were run for a total of 700 years. The longest pause found was 15. They should be run again for many more years with the faster computers of today, to see if they produce the present pause. If not, the models, and their recommendations should be abandoned.

It is a perversion of language to call the absence of continued warming a pause, because this implies (without actually saying so) that the warming will continue after a bit, something for which there is no evidence. Global warming in fact has stopped for 17 years. What it does when there is some sort of change from the stasis, is anyone’s guess. Models which didn’t predict the stasis are of no help.

The mainstream scientific press is finally sitting up and taking notice. This week’s Nature (16 Jan ’14) has an editorial (pp. 261 – 262) and a news item (pp. 276 – 278) concerning the pause. It is claimed that the Pacific is taking up the heat, without heating up much. The heat capacity of water is USED to define the calorie — it is 1 calorie per gram of water — in contrast the heat capacity of methane with the same molecular mass is 1/116th of water. So there’s plenty of heat capacity in the ocean.

Adding a new parameter to explain unexpected results is good science when the system being explained is complex. Consider the additions to the central dogma of molecular biology — introns, exons, microRNAs, ceRNAs, reverse transcription etc. etc. Certainly global climate is equally complex. However, more than a little humility is in order.

This begs the point about whether the ocean as a heat sink was included in the model cited in 2009. If it was, the model had better predict the pause. If it wasn’t and if the latest explanation given for the pause is correct, the model should be thrown out along with its recommendations.

There Is Nothing So Tragic As A Beautiful Theory Destroyed By An Ugly Fact. — Sherlock Holmes

The fact that Nature came to deal with the pause is significant. They were quite defensive when ClimateGate came out — see

Count Floyd rides again

We were fortunate to live close enough to Canada in the ’80’s that we could watch SCTV each week, a 90 minute mockery of Canadian TV put on by Second City, Toronto contingent. They were an incredibly talented bunch — John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Howard Ramis, Martin Short. One character was Count Floyd (Joe Flaherty), the host of Monster Chiller Horror Theater. Dressed like a vampire from Transylvania, he would howl, look at the camera and say ‘scary kids, scary’. The films were invariably terrible and not scary, so the Count was reduced to saying things like “Vow, kids…vasn’t it SCARY vhen the vaitress put ketchup on those french fries?”

Which brings us to the predictions about the late hurricane season– As late as early August, when very little had happened (see the previous link) NOAA was predicting an above average Hurricane season — Scary kids, scary

Well, we know what happened. A better way to measure how severe a hurricane season actually was, is something called ACE (Accumulated Cyclonic Energy). It essentially multiplies the the square of the maximum wind speed of hurricanes and tropical storms by the time the storm stays strong. (Why the square? Answer at the end). It’s a much better indicator of seasonal strength than the number of named storms, which are gamed to make the predicted numbers. Several tropical storms this year lasted less than a day with wind speeds under 45 miles an hour.

The ACE this year was the 6th lowest (35) since 1951. The range is 17 to 250, and the median is in the 90s.

It’s been a bad year for the Climate Change crowd. Global mean temperature has now entered its 18th year without any increase. So what used to be called Global Warming has been rebranded as Climate Change.

Even worse, a recent event could have been scripted by the Onion: “Ship carrying Climate Scientists to Antarctica to Publicize Sea Ice loss due to Global Warming trapped in Sea Ice. Rescue by helicopter is Planned.” I’m not making this up.

Addendum 3 Jan ’14 — Now the Chinese Icebreaker to which the climate scientists were brought by helicopter is also stuck in the ice. Life imitates the Onion. Al Gore — call your office.

Addendum 4 Jan ’14 — Clearly the affair was partly (or entirely) a publicity stunt as reporters from the BBC and the Guardian were members of the expedition. Fox News apparently wasn’t invited.

Addendum 5 Jan ’14 — A picture is shown of a Green Party Senator elect in Australia doing calisthenics on board the Russian ship. Certainly, all scientific expeditions must have a politician of the Green persuasion on board — in order to be free of any sort of bias.

Addendum 7 Jan ’14 — The Times covered the event quite fairly in today’s Science section. They say the ship was ‘carrying scientists and adventure tourists’– no mention of the press or the Green senator from Australia. Skeptics are quoted fairly ‘they pointed out that a group whose journey was meant to highlight the effects of global warming was trapped by a substance that was supposed to be melting’ All this in the first paragraph, not buried later on.

Then lots of technical detail was added, in particular that comparing the two poles is really comparing apples and oranges — the North pole being open ocean surrounded by land while the South pole is land surrounded by open ocean. They do note that Antarctic ice is increasing in some areas and decreasing in others, but the net increase is 1%/decade. No figures are given for the % of Arctic ice loss.

Here’s a link from Guardian Look at the figure showing the extent of ice for each month and its standard deviation over a 30 year period. The maximum extent occurs in March and the standard deviation range is between 14.5 and 16 for the past few 30 years. The minimum extent occurs in September and ranges between 5 and 8 — 2012 was a record low. This year will come in (according to their chart) at the low end of the range (but within it). So it doesn’t look as though maximum Arctic sea ice extent has budged in the past 30 years. The September range has always been twice that of the the March range. Whether this is cherry picking the data I leave up to you.

The question could easily be settled, and hopefully someone has done it, simply by integrating the area under the curve for each year and plotting the results vs the year. A trend should be obvious.

Addendum 8 Jan ’14 — The leader of the expedition (Chris Turney) was given space to defend its purpose in the current Nature vol. 505 p. 133 ’14. The 19 comments so far are brutal. Have fun.

Closer to home, after seeing a movie the day after Christmas, we went to a bar for some food. Playing on the zillions of flat screens (they must be pretty cheap now) was something called the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsetta Bowl. I’m not making this up either.

The wind velocity is squared because kinetic energy is mass times velocity squared.

The short (but useful) life of Gabrielle

In an appalling use of the definition of Tropical Storm we now have Gabrielle. Recall that to be a Tropical Storm winds must exceed 38 mph. Many such storms were predicted, and like a high school wrestler taking diuretics and laxatives to make weight Tropical Storm Gabrielle was born today between 000 and 300 Greenwich Mean time. Winds have been no higher than 40 miles/hour, until its demise today between 1200 – 1500 GMT when its winds sunk to 35 mph and it became a Tropical Depression. It is about to cross over the island of Hispaniola (fortunately not its Haitian western end). It lasted about as long as Tropical Storm #6 Fernand.

At least they are not calling it a Tropical Cyclone, which they did in previous years, linguistically correct but semantically confusing it with the much worse Cyclones in the Pacific (which have a different definition).

It’s one way to make what increasingly appears to be a defective model work. For more details see —

Addendum 10 Sep ’13 — Gabrielle has strengthened in the past few hours, and is now a tropical storm again, with winds 2 mph over the minimum. I’m surprised they didn’t rename it so they could count it twice.