Missing Higgs vs Missing Heat: When Trenberth Is Stranger To Physics

The below elucidates Dr Ivar Giaever’s question about the American Physical Society (APS) attitude to global warming, at the time of his resignation:

In the APS it is ok to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?

In a sentence, the APS’s behavior is perfectly consistent: because Physics goes one way, whilst Climate “Science” goes another. Trenberth, we have a problem.

(inspired by a comment by Foxgoose at Bishop Hill, Feb 6, 2012 at 3:09 PM)

Quite often science finds itself having the work with the unknown, and having to rely on hypotheses that rest on stuff that has not been found yet, missing things that maybe will never be found. What is the best approach in those circumstances?

Let’s start with the CERN page about the Missing Higgs:

The problem is that no one has ever observed the Higgs boson in an experiment to confirm the theory. Finding this particle would give an insight into why particles have certain mass, and help to develop subsequent physics. The technical problem is that we do not know the mass of the Higgs boson itself, which makes it more difficult to identify. Physicists have to look for it by systematically searching a range of mass within which it is predicted to exist. The yet unexplored range is accessible using the Large Hadron Collider, which will determine the existence of the Higgs boson. If it turns out that we cannot find it, this will leave the field wide open for physicists to develop a completely new theory to explain the origin of particle mass.

Read now Kevin Trenberth and his “Missing Heat“:

Current observational tools cannot account for roughly half of the heat that is believed to have built up on Earth in recent years, according to a “Perspectives” article in this week’s issue of Science. Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) warn in the new study that satellite sensors, ocean floats, and other instruments are inadequate to track this “missing” heat, which may be building up in the deep oceans or elsewhere in the climate system.

“The heat will come back to haunt us sooner or later,” says NCAR scientist Kevin Trenberth, the lead author. “The reprieve we’ve had from warming temperatures in the last few years will not continue. It is critical to track the build-up of energy in our climate system so we can understand what is happening and predict our future climate.”

The “Perspectives” article is Trenberth K. E., Fasullo J. T., “Tracking Earth’s Energy“, Science 16 April 2010: Vol. 328 no. 5976 pp. 316-317 DOI: 10.1126/science.1187272 (abstract|full text) .

A summary is available as PDF of a powerpoint presentation here. It contains Trenberth’s direct riposte to one of Climategate’s most famous Trenberth quotes: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t“:

It is quite clear from the paper that I was not questioning the link between anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and warming, or even suggesting that recent temperatures are unusual in the context of short-term natural variability

Perish the thought of leaving the field wide open for climate scientists to develop a completely new theory. What happened of course was that Trenberth ad blamed (see abstract):

either inadequate measurement accuracy or inadequate data processing

That’s a recurring point in Trenberth’s work. Less than two years later, we have Loeb N.G. et al., “Observed changes in top-of-the-atmosphere radiation and upper-ocean heating consistent within uncertainty“, Nature Geoscience (2012)doi:10.1038/ngeo1375 (abstract) claiming:

Earth’s “missing heat” might not be missing after all

Trenberth’s response? More measurements needed, solution is on its way:

A key purpose of our paper was to challenge both the ocean heat content community and the CERES (atmospheric radiation) communities to do better. Both have responded and the situation has improved somewhat. The latest CERES data as reported here has corrected their data and found about 20% of the problem. In addition the OHC communities have improved their estimates and some of the problem has gone away from that standpoint too. But there remain some major problems.

It’s quite hard see how that approach is different, say, from the Homeopathy Research Institute’s. IMNSHO media-prone “Dear Kev” should start taking good care of this issue, because of course CERN is Physics is Science, for the general public. Therefore, it’d be quite easy to present Trenberth’s work as non-CERN, ie non-Science.

And now for the comedy relief. The cheerboys at Skeptical Science happily comply with Trenberth’s excuse system. However, out of habit no doubt, they can’t resist making up a quote. Only thing, this time Trenberth is the victim, as only careful readers will notice he’s never said:

“Global warming is still happening – our planet is still accumulating heat. But our observation systems aren’t able to comprehensively keep track of where all the energy is going. Consequently, we can’t definitively explain why surface temperatures have gone down in the last few years. That’s a travesty!”

Foxgoose might then have been quite right in the parody “[what] if the IPCC had been in charge of the [Higgs] project:

A committee of the world’s most eminent scientists has investigated the evidence for the Higgs boson and, since it fits perfectly with current theory and observations, determined that it’s existence is beyond doubt. The current experiment will seek to improve our knowledge about the particle by establishing it’s exact mass within a predicted range. In the event that we are unable to find the exact mass of the particle by this method we will obviously have to design even more complex and expensive experiments to achieve this. Inability to determine the mass of the Higgs boson will not, of course, cast any doubt on its existence which has been determined beyond doubt and accepted by 97% of physicists working in the field.