Tag Archives: Climate Science

Climate Science, To The Edge Of Irrelevance

After days of extremely-silly reports trying to argue that a warming world means a colder world or part of it, as if a winter or two meant anything in the context of climate (usually defined as a 30-year average), a ray of hope for the serious parts of climate science has shone at DotEarth. After all, whenever a rabid warmist claims success after having fished around for any instance of weather extreme anywhere in the world, it’s hard to tell the ensuing climate looting from any claim about Nostradamus.

The whole brouhaha about the cold weather of December 2010 actually highlights three issues that are pushing climate science towards irrelevance:

  • If somebody like Judah Cohen publishes a NYT Op-Ed focused on explaining how to “reconcile” the “snow and record cold” with “a World Meteorological Organization report showing that 2010 will probably be among the three warmest years on record“, then what exactly are climate projections for?

As every newspaper reader outside of North Korea should know by now, a warmer world is expected to be a world perhaps with more snow, perhaps with less snow, perhaps with both; perhaps with more floods, perhaps with more droughts, perhaps with both; perhaps with more cold, perhaps with more heat, perhaps with both…That covers more or less every possibility, apart from “no change at all”, hence it is similar to expecting at the roulette table any number between 0 and 14 and between 16 and 36, having seen “15” come out several times in a row. There is no need of peer-review or statistical analysis to do that. There is not even any need to model the roulette wheel and its pockets. And as any trip to the Casino can show, there is no reward at all in betting upon such an extremely-wide-ranging set of “projections”.

  • In a new blog, Revkin mentions “Jay Fein, program director in N.S.F.’s climate dynamics program” as saying “weather impacts peoples’ lives and the global economy on a daily basis

Why then should anybody care about 30-year averages? What is the meaning of spending considerable resources to mitigate or even adapt to some hard-to-tell thing that might or might happen in 2050AD when the impact of atmospheric patterns is felt “on a daily basis“? Imagine asking anybody in 1900 to put aside money for good use in 1940…

  • And even if one willingly forgets the two objections above…as mentioned here already a few weeks ago, and independently reaffirmed at Real Science, the very concept of a “global anomaly” by which we can measure a “warming planet” might be meaningless, as an unevenly-warming world might see everybody having to face a life of cold

Imagine if a cold place where the average temperature is -20C warms by 4C, and a temperate place where the average temperature is 10C cools by 2C. Obviously the resulting “average anomaly” is +2C and people can run around screaming about “global warming”. Apparently logical…and yet: the result is that people will have a choice between living at -16C or leaving at 8C, i.e. between where it’s still as cold as ever, and where it’s not warm enough any longer.

In such a situation, as in trying to build an effective policy from an extremely-wide range of expected scenarios, and as in trying to convince the people of today to suffer for something that we don’t know and might or might not happen far in the future, politicians actively applying what contemporary climate science tells them will find themselves victims of unintended consequences at best, and of complete misleading at worst. The most likely outcome? Nobody in their right mind will ever listen to a climate scientist again…

Climate Forecasts: Intrinsically All For Nought?

It is commonly accepted that all it will take for us to be able to predict future climate, is faster computers with gigantic computing power, in a progression analogous to meteorology’s.

I find that unlikely. And that’s why climate forecasting is likely to go nowhere, just like…alchemy. Not due to anybody’s fault: rather, because it is intrinsically impossible for it to do otherwise.

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Climatology is the study of the long term behavior of something that is stable, and predictable, but only until it goes through a state change, perhaps all of a sudden.

Imagine what if anything would nuclear physicists be able to study if there were not even sure if today’s proton-proton accelerators would or would not transform themselves into proton-neutron accelerators, in ten, thirty or a hundred years, thereby completely changing all results and all predictions?

Add to that the climatological possibility, or shall I say the absolute certainty, that in any meaningful (i.e. multi-decadal) period of study, there will be external, uncontrollable, unpredictable inputs such as volcano eruptions and changes in the Sun…as if the energy available to power the LHC would vary at random.

Check for example this statement from German climate scientists, just published on the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

“If we had had 10% more cloudiness over Germany, that would have compensated for the warming of the past 30 years”

In other words, a minor change in a climate detail is enough to modify the end result altogether.

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How do you study in a scientifically appropriate manner a system whose simplest scientifically appropriate representation is…itself?

You don’t. You cannot even follow the usual statistical route, because in the long term every possible solution is equally probable. And if you don’t work on the long term, on the decadal or secular scale, then you are not doing climatology.

The problem of climate forecasting is therefore unassailable, just as it is not possible to predict the stock market, another system that is heavily influenced by external factors.

Think of the money thrown for nothing in the financial forecasting route. Then, think of the results.

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Of course, the above does not mean that we can not do any climatological study, for example to determine which crops appear to be more suitable for a certain territory…just as one can play the stock market using reasonably objective parameters and computer models without falling necessarily into financial ruin.

But climate forecasting might be the one and only science where “blacks swans”, the events that throw all predictions up in the air, are ironically the one thing that can be predicted.

ADDENDUM 00:27GMT June 5: Isn’t it beautiful to write something on your own in the middle of the night, and then to discover that even Roger Pielke Sr. has just been dealing with a very similar topic?

ADDENDUM #2: There is one point that needs to be clarified in the above.

The climate forecasts I am talking about are multi-decadal. The stuff just criticised by Pielke Sr.  Those, I am educately guessing, are impossible, even if we knew all the physics and we had vast amounts of computing power.

The simplest way to compute the climate of 20-30 or more years in the future, is to build a system at least as complex as the climate own’s . In other words, the Earth’s climate is its own simplest multidecadal computer.

Since “climate” is usually taken as a multi-decadal concept, then perhaps we can move the forecast of what next season will bring, into meteorology.  Of course, before anybody says anything, no, I do not think meteorology is “inferior” to climatology.

ADDENDUM #3: many thanks to Douglas Hoyt for pointing out that Roger Pielke Jr. has just published a blog and article along the same lines of thought

Rather than basing decision-making on a predict (probabilistically of course) then act model, we may have to face up to the fact that skillful prediction of variables of interest to decision makers may simply not be possible. And even if it were possible, we would not be able to identify skill on the same time scales as decisions need to be made. The consequence of this line of argument is that if stationarity is indeed dead, then it has likely taken along with it fanciful notions of foreseeing the future as the basis for optimal actions. Instead, it may be time to rethink how we make decisions in the face of not simply uncertainty, but fundamental and irreducible ignorance

Venus Atmosphere Still A Mystery

From Universe Today: “Although the bright haze of Venus’s atmosphere has been identified, many dark patches have also been observed. So far, there is no explanation for these patches of atmospheric chemicals absorbing solar UV“.

In the meanwhile, raypierre of RealClimate summarizes the latest info about the atmosphere of Venus, but somehow forgets to include the UV absorption mystery (it only shows up as an afterthought, comment #2).

One wonders why? Obsession with consensus and the need to demonstrate there exist such a thing as “climate science” spring to mind.