Tag Archives: American Scientist

Perspective Amiss At @AmSciMag

Summary of the latest email edition of “Science In The News Weekly“, “a digest of science news stories appearing in the mainstream media. It is delivered every Monday afternoon (or Tuesday afternoon in the case of a Monday holiday) as part of Sigma Xi’s public understanding of science program area, in conjunction with American Scientist magazine

Science-y news

Another science-y news

Yet another science-y news

World to end(*)

More science-y news

More more science-y news

In particular the (*) bit is of the form:

Scientists say that if carbon dioxide emissions don’t begin to decline soon, the complex fabric of marine ecosystems will begin fraying–and eventually unravel completely.

Evidently reason takes a momentary leave of absence at American Scientist like in many other places, whenever carbon dioxide is mentioned.

BTW the link is to the study that used naturally-occurring CO2 seeps to try to figure out what might happen in 2100, an impressive collection of “might’s” if you ask me.

Tipping Points Revisited – The Impossibility Of Action Between Rare Examples And Complex Behavior

“American Scientist”, solidly warmist yet likely to be among the first publications to recognize the failure of AGW sometimes in the future, has a topical book review article (Runaway Change by John R. McNeill) of what appears to be a more-reasoned-than-most “tipping point” book, Marten Scheffer’s “Critical Transitions in Nature and Society“:

Runaway Change by John R. McNeill
November-December 2009, Volume 97, Number 6
Page: 506
DOI: 10.1511/2009.81.506

Scheffer defines “critical transitions” as “sharp shifts in systems driven by runaway change toward a contrasting alternative state once a threshold is exceeded.” His interest includes but also goes beyond doom and gloom, as the aim is to apply system dynamics to nature and of society so that we might in the future have  “the possibility of predicting, preventing, or catalyzing big shifts in nature and society.”

However, Sheffer’s ultimate goal (large-scale “predictability” e.g. in lake ecosystems as it is already possible in “petri dishes“) doesn’t appear easy to reconcile with all the examples he describes.

For one thing, transitions (critical or otherwise) do not necessarily include just one beginning state and one final state. And what a “state” actually is, gets less clear the more an example is studied

Scheffer begins with lakes, one of his areas of expertise. Lakes, especially small and shallow ones, can tip from one fairly stable state to another easily enough. But the more closely one looks, the less the behavior of lakes matches theory, because the theory is too simple. There are more than two possible states; indeed, there are infinite gradations. Moreover, as Scheffer notes, the notion of stability is fraught.

The situation is even more difficult about climate:

Scheffer turns next to climate systems. In contrast to lakes, the opportunities for controlled experiments on climate systems are nil, and our knowledge of critical shifts, positive feedback and runaway trends is all inferred from slim evidence.

Among possible example of climate-related critical tranistions, Scheffer lists “the oxidation of 2.4 billion years ago“, “snowball Earth”, “glaciation“, “Milankovitch cycles“, “Younger Dryas” and ENSO. Buf if McNeil is right in stating that “climate history (as currently understood) presents many examples of critical shifts on various timescales“, then doesn’t that also mean there is no such a thing as a stable climate?

Natural history doesn’t clarify much about tipping points either. The underlying theme is that “critical transitions are rare“:

A chapter on oceans shortens the timescale, discussing regime shifts in Pacific and Atlantic waters and focusing on sardine-anchovy cycles, the famous cod collapse of the North Atlantic, and, in coastal ecosystems, on coral reefs, kelp forests and estuarine oyster beds. These matters remain comparatively mysterious, and the role of human actions in them is uncertain, but the pattern of sudden dramatic shifts from one state to another is unmistakable. Scheffer follows with a chapter on terrestrial ecosystems that includes several more examples of transitions between alternative stable states on geographic scales ranging from the Sahara desert to peat bogs. Here he emphasizes that critical transitions are rare, which is true in other contexts as well, but which he does not emphasize elsewhere in the book.

The argument appears to collapse when human sciences are included, where Sheffer is mostly guided by his own preferences  (Jared Diamond, “the role of charismatic opinion makers“). That is a pity as obviously the most important aspect of being able to manage tipping points, is to be able to effectively inspire people in..managing tipping points.

Consider also the fact that

the existence of alternative states within a system and the nearness of tipping points often prove hard to figure out, especially with larger-scale systems

and, regarding climate change,

We do know that there are potential alternative states and probably tipping points. But we don’t know what those alternative states are; nor do we know where the tipping points lie.

The end result can only be that effective action, of the kind that might benefit all but only if everyone participates, would be next to impossible even if everybody suddenly became an AGW believer.

And so at the end of the day for all the efforts activists will ever put in the idea of AGW, the most likely way forward will be, as usual in the history of humanity, “to act blindly in the future, as we have in the past”.

Gulf Stream Myths (2)

Another March, another collection of scientific half-truths about the Gulf Stream. I do not believe it is a coincidence that I wrote about gulf stream myths a year ago, quoting also Richard Seager, Senior Research Scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory:

“That the Gulf Stream is responsible for Europe’s mild winters is […] nothing more than the earth-science equivalent of an urban legend. […]

All Battisti and I did was put these pieces of evidence together and add in a few more illustrative numerical experiments. Why hadn’t anyone done that before? […]

The blame lies with modern-day climate scientists who either continue to promulgate the Gulf Stream-climate myth or who decline to clarify the relative roles of atmosphere and ocean in determining European climate. This abdication of responsibility leaves decades of folk wisdom unchallenged, still dominating the front pages, airwaves and Internet, ensuring that a well-worn piece of climatological nonsense will be passed down to yet another generation.”

Nothing has changed since. And so yesterday we have learned that the “Atlantic’s Gulf Stream has huge influence on atmosphere“. But is it really so?

(1) Not to mention Prof. Carl Wunsch, let’s have a look at what NASA has to say about oceanic currents:

“The major surface currents are wind generated (as most other oceanic currents are)”

Therefore, rather than discovering that “a band of rain […] tracks the warm surface water” it may very well be the other way around.

(2) In terms of European warming by the Gulf Stream, let’s also compare like-for-like following Seager’s line of thought: and so the cities to choose around latitude 50N are Vancouver (V) and London (L), not Quebec City or the island of Newfoundland.

Vancouver and London, in fact, have an Ocean to their West: while Quebec City, Newfoundland, or the Avachinsky volcano in Kamchatka, all places much cooler on average than London, are just east of a continent.

And so: weather conditions as from the BBC weather site show very little difference between the two cities. Values in the following list are VancouverLondon: for example “Avg Min: -1.3C” means Vancouver is 1.3C cooler in average minimum temperature, than London.

Average Sunlight (hours): 1.2
Temperature (C):
Avg Min: -1.3
Avg Max: 0.2
Rec Min: -3.2
Rec Max: -0.4
Relative humidity am: 11.4
Relative humidity pm: 6.4
Average Precipitation (mm): 72.1
Wet Days (+0.25 mm): 1.6

As it happens, there are warm Oceanic currents that reach Vancouver. But how likely is it that they are as powerful there as the Gulf Stream is in London? What a remarkable coincidence that would be.

Rather, the best explanation in the Occam’s Razor sense is that the warming of Vancouver and London compared to other places around latitude 50N, is due to a metereological (atmospheric) effect, not an Oceanic one.

Gulf Stream Myths

(originally published on 18 March 2007 as “Gulf Stream Myths“. Click here for the March 2008 update “Gulf Stream Myths (2)“.)

Myth #1: The Gulf Stream will fail if a massive outpour of freshwater will come out of Greenland glaciers due to increasing temperatures.

Answer: No, it most definitely will not. As explained by Carl Wunsch, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physical Oceanography at the MIT in Cambridge, Mass. (USA), in a letter published on The Economist:

The Gulf Stream is a wind-driven phenomenon (as explained in a famous 1948 paper by Henry Stommel). […] Shut-off would imply repeal of the law of conservation of angular momentum […] focusing on near-impossible Gulf Stream failure is an unproductive distraction

Myth #2: The Gulf Stream is responsible for the milder weather in the United Kingdom and part of Northern Europe than North American regions at similar latitudes.

Answer: No, it most definitely does not. As explained by Richard Seager, Senior Research Scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in an article published on American Scientist:

That the Gulf Stream is responsible for Europe’s mild winters is […] nothing more than the earth-science equivalent of an urban legend.

=============

Seager’s comments are particularly telling on how current Climatology is self-destroying by way of catastrophism:

Pretty much everything we had found could have been concluded on the basis of results that were already available […]

All Battisti and I did was put these pieces of evidence together and add in a few more illustrative numerical experiments. Why hadn’t anyone done that before? […] The blame lies with modern-day climate scientists who either continue to promulgate the Gulf Stream-climate myth or who decline to clarify the relative roles of atmosphere and ocean in determining European climate. This abdication of responsibility leaves decades of folk wisdom unchallenged, still dominating the front pages, airwaves and Internet, ensuring that a well-worn piece of climatological nonsense will be passed down to yet another generation.