Tag Archives: Global warming

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   –,http://www.nature.com/nclimate/index.html — which would seem to be the appropriate place.  Perhaps it’s just too painful for them.
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A bit of history

I’ve been reading Nature since I’ve been able to afford a subscription, e.g. since about 1972. To put their undoubted coming hysteria about Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement into perspective, consider the fact that they bought the arguments of the Club of Rome, hook line and sinker. The Wikipedia article is quite sanitized, but here’s a direct quote from the jacket flap of the club’s book “The Limits to Growth” which came out in 1972.

“Will this be the world that your grandchildren with thank you for? A world where industrial production has sunk to zero. Where population has suffered a catastrophic decline. Where the air, sea and land are polluted beyond redemption. Where civilization is a distant memory. This is the world that the computer forecasts. What is even more alarming, the collapse will not come gradually, but with awsome suddenness, with no way of stopping it”

Well, it’s 45 years later and their grandchildren have seen no such thing. Nature’s online available archives go back to 1975, but I’ve been unable to find a link to one of their articles. If anyone out there has found one, post a comment.

When we were down in New Haven, I picked up a book by a Yale Prof, Paul Sabin called “The Bet” concerning the intellectual conflict between Paul Ehrlich — he of the population bomb and Julian Simon. Ehrlich said we’d run out of just about everything shortly (presumably because of too many people), so economist Simon bet him that we wouldn’t. The intellectual war began in earnest in the 80’s and dragged on for a decade or so.

I recommend the book. In it you will find John Holdren, Obama’s ‘science’ advisor, also a devout malthusian, although with a degree in physics.

Perhaps Nature has it right this time, and that the models of warming which failed to predict the climate stasis of 17 years duration (the term pause gives away the game implying that temperature will continue to increase) are a reliable guide to the future.

Even if Nature is right, the Paris Agreement was terrible, no verification, no penalties for missing targets etc. etc. A massive expansion of governmental control and clamps on economic expansion, for minimal benefit.

So relax. Protest if you wish, it’s a cheap display of virtue which costs you nothing, even though you’re quite willing to fight global warming down to the last coal miner.

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– https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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.

Yes it’s hot, but

A few years ago, before things calmed down, hurricanes were predicted to become more frequent and more severe. So although global warming fans predicted higher temperatures, they also predicted this. Here’s an example

http://www.climatecentral.org/news/study-projects-more-frequent-and-stronger-hurricanes-worldwide-1620
and another — http://time.com/3706888/hurricane-warning-study/

So far this year (and the major part of the hurricane season is about to begin) the Atlantic hurricane season is the quietest it’s ever been. There have only been 4 tropical storms this year and no hurricanes at all not even one. One of the 4 storms occurred in January, which is rather bizarre.

Scientific theories when faced with a falsified prediction are usually modified or abandoned.  Not so with global warming.  It’s just been rebranded as climate change.

There is a rather imperfect measure of the amount of power produced by the storms of the season, called Accumulated Cyclonic Energy (ACE). The average per year is an ACE of 110. This year (so far) it’s only 6.

ACE is calculated as the square of the wind speed every 6 hours, and is then scaled by a factor of 10,000 for usability. The ACE of a season is the sum of the ACE for each storm and takes into account the number, strength, and duration of all the tropical storms in the season. The caveat to using ACE as a measure of the activity of a season is that it does not take the physical size of the hurricane or tropical storm into account which is why it’s imperfect.

If you know any physics, ACE is velocity squared * time — which is not the dimension of energy (it’s acceleration). I wonder if satellite radar is good enough to give us ground windspeed over small areas, which could be summed over the hurricane area if the division was fine enough. This would allow us to tell big storms from smaller ones. Unfortunately, there would be no way to compare this new measure to ones in the past such as ACE.

A climate treaty based on a failed model, a victory for the political class

Scientific theories stand or fall based on the accuracy of their predictions. Exactly 100 years ago Einstein’s theory of  gravity was welcomed because it corrected an inacurate prediction of Newton’s theory.

It’s worth staying the course to follow what I’m about to describe. The orbits of all our planets are nearly circular — but not exactly so. A circle has a single center; an ellipse has two ‘centers’ (focal points). Planetary orbits have the sun at one focal point of the ellipse (this was known even before Newton). This means that every orbit has a point at which the planet is farthest from the sun (called the aphelion) and a point at which it is closest (the perihelion).

The perihelion doesn’t stay in the same place with each succesive orbit. Rather it moves — this is called the precession of the perihelion. Newton’s formulation of gravity predicted a certain rate at which the perihelion of the planet Mercury moved between sucessive planetary orbits — which was not corroborated by actual measurement.

Physicists a century ago were seriously exercised by this inaccuracy. So how large was it? Quite small. Recall that a circle contains 360 degrees. A degree is far too large for astronomical work. So each degree contains 60 minutes and each minute contains 60 seconds. So a second is 1/3600 of a degree. The discrepancy was a mere 43 seconds per CENTURY.

Contrast this with the inaccuracy of the models of global warming, NONE of which predicted the current stability of global atmospheric temperature as measured by satellite for the past 18+ years. It’s not that CO2 isn’t a greenhouse gas the accumulation of which (other things being equal) should reflect radiation back to earth and warm the planet. No one disputes that. It is the magnitude of the CO2 effect and the importance of other factors determining global temperature which is crucial. Clearly global temperature should have continued to rise in the past 19 years as CO2 rose. This is what the models on which the Paris agreement is predicated predicted But there has been  no rise.

It’s also fairly sleazy that all the ‘adjustments’ being made to temperatures as measured on the surface of the earth mostly adjust past temperatures downward to preserve the rise. Note that satellite temperatures are the most accurate we have and there is no way to adjust them. Unfortunately they just don’t go back that far.

It is far more accurate to say that global warming has stopped for the past 18+ years. Saying that it has paused implies that it will continue.  Some 50 post-hoc explanations of ‘the pause’ have been published.

Bottom line: the concern over global warming is based on models which have failed in their predictions of the present. There is little reason to regard them as more accurate for their predictions of the future.

The dietary guidelines have been changed — what are the faithful to believe now ?

While we were in China dietary guidelines shifted. Cholesterol is no longer bad. Shades of Woody Allen and “Sleeper”. It’s life imitating art.

Sleeper is one of the great Woody Allen movies from the 70s. Woody plays Miles Monroe, the owner of (what else?) a health food store who through some medical mishap is frozen in nitrogen and is awakened 200 years later. He finds that scientific research has shown that cigarettes and fats are good for you. A McDonald’s restaurant is shown with a sign “Over 795 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 Served”

Seriously then, should you believe any dietary guidelines? In my opinion you shouldn’t. In particular I’d forget the guidelines for salt intake (unless you actually have high blood pressure in which case you should definitely limit your salt). People have been fighting over salt guidelines for decades, studies have been done and the results have been claimed to support both sides.

So what’s a body to do? Well here are 4 things which are pretty solid (which few docs would disagree with, myself included)

l. Don’t smoke
2. Don’t drink too much (over 2 drinks a day), or too little (no drinks). Study after study has shown that mortality is lowest with 1 – 2 drinks/day
3. Don’t get fat — by this I mean fat (Body Mass Index over 30) not overweight (Body Mass Index over 25). The mortality curve for BMI in this range is pretty flat. So eat whatever you want, it’s the quantities you must control.
4. Get some exercise — walking a few miles a week is incredibly much better than no exercise at all — it’s probably half as good as intense workouts — compared to doing nothing.

Not very sexy, but you’re very unlikely to find anyone telling you the opposite 50years from now.

It’s off topic, but I’d use the same degree of skepticism about the dire predictions of the Global Warming (AKA Climate change) people, particularly since there has been no change in global mean temperature this century.

The New York Times and NOAA flunk Chem 101

As soon as budding freshman chemists get into their first lab they are taught about significant figures. Thus 3/7 = .4 (not .428571 which is true numerically but not experimentally) Data should never be numerically reported with more significant figures than given by the actual measurement.

This brings us to yesterday’s front page story (with the map colored in red) “2014 Breaks Heat Record, Challenging Global Warming Skeptics“. Well it did if you believe that a .02 degree centigrade difference in global mean temperature is significant. The inconvenient fact that the change was this small was not mentioned until the 10th paragraph. It was also noted there that .02 C is within experimental error. Do you have a thermometer that measures temperatures that exactly? Most don’t, and I doubt that NOAA does either. Amusingly, the eastern USA was the one area which didn’t show the rise. Do you think that measurements here are less accurate than in Africa, South America Eurasia? Could it be the other way around?

It is far more correct to say that Global warming has essentially stopped for the past 14 years, as mean global temperature has been basically the same during that time. This is not to say that we aren’t in a warm spell. Global warming skeptics (myself included) are not saying that CO2 isn’t a greenhouse gas, and they are not denying that it has been warm. However, I am extremely skeptical of models predicting a steady rise in temperature that have failed to predict the current decade and a half stasis in global mean temperature. Why should such models be trusted to predict the future when they haven’t successfully predicted the present.

It reminds me of the central dogma of molecular biology years ago “DNA makes RNA makes Protein”, and the statements that man and chimpanzee would be regarded as the same species given the similarity of their proteins. We were far from knowing all the players in the cell and the organism back then, and we may be equally far from knowing all the climate players and how they interact now.

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 http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/atlantic-tropical-threat-possible-gulf-coast/32555368, 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 https://medium.com/p/25c5d719187b