What’s On Your Mind?

Open Thread for June 2013.

Suggested Topic: The recent slowdown in global mean surface temperature has nevertheless been accompanied by increasingly severe large scale circulation anomalies. Should we regard this as good news – that the temperature increase is slow – or bad – that the circulation anomalies are happening even at a somewhat lower temperature than was expected?



  1. Your right! In fact the head of the IPCC recently said that the earth's mean surface temperatures seems to have plateaued for the last 17 years. But after looking at several graphs that contain the last 17 years I don't see what you are talking about with regards to large scale circulation anomalies. Over that same 17 years there is no obvious trend in the total cyclonic energy index, droughts, floods, or tornadoes. In fact, recently tornadoes seem to be inversely related to temperature. 2012-2013 had the longest period ever before measured without someone being killed by a tornado in the United States (220 days) but 2012 was a very warm year for the U.S. This spring was the coldest in recollection in the U.S. but so far has had severe outbreaks of tornadoes indicating that cold is the harbinger of Tornadoes, not Global Warming. Thermometers don't lie, if it is cold where a tornado forms you can't blame in on Global Warming! But still there is no long term trend in tornadoes. The U.S. has had very few sever Hurricanes recently. This has been the longest period since the civil war without a powerful F3,4,or5 Hurricane hitting the United states (I believe it has been about 2780 days). You have to learn to distinguish the power of a Hurricane from what it happens to hit. There are more and less vulnerable areas a Hurricane can hit and New York City obviously is very vulnerable even though storm Sandy was downgraded from a category 1 Hurricane to an extra-tropical storm 51 minutes before it hit land it happened to hit at high tide and full moon (It wasn't even a Hurricane let a lone a category 3,4,or 5 hurricane when it hit land). Unless someone can point to a study which says that Global Warming is Anthropomorphic in addition Anthropogenic... i.e. it has intelligence, in fact evil intelligence, that wants to hit vulnerable places and hurt people instead of just empty land then you can't attribute such unfortunate circumstances to Global Warming. We have always had Hurricanes, Tornadoes, floods, and droughts. The IPCC agrees in there SREX report on severe weather published on March 28th 2012 that there is no observable trend to date for Floods, Droughts, Hurricanes, or Tornadoes world wide although they do predict a trend in some of these events for the future.

  2. Reporting from Bavaria: Yet another "hundred year flood". I have already seen 2 in Regenburg. This one is worse. In Passau the level is now above the one of 1501 CE. Still rising a bit.


    One of my ancestors died in a flood of the little river Alz. I heard it roaring this night.

    The Bavarian TV meteorologist called it an "anomaly". Well, for c20th meteorology perhaps...

  3. This diatribe is remarkably off topic. The denier's interpretation of SRES (SREX?) is amazing, since normally they will disregard anything from IPCC, and it's overblown, but it's off topic.

    We are talking here about increased jet stream blocking in the last couple of years. With the various publication lags and the IPCC cutoff date, the report is necessarily several years behind.

    I do not think increased blocking was predicted by IPCC. So if the present pattern persists it is a failure of climate science. First, climate science failed to predict the rapid retreat of Arctic Sea Ice. If the current jet stream disruption is, as many believe, a consequence of Arctic ice retreat, the failure to predict it is perhaps connected. But in both cases the extent of climate disruption has been underpredicted. Bad news for climate science? Perhaps. But good news for the planet? Nope.

  4. From the modelled precipitation pattern for the Neckar catchment and its neighbouring areas (Fig. 9), it can be seen that the highest precipitation with values up to 230 mm in 36 hours
    occurred in the western crest of the northern parts of the Black Forest. This is approximately twice as much as the average precipitation amount for October in the climate standard period
    1961-1990 (DWD, 2002). The lowest precipitation amount was determined for the area in the Upper Neckar Valley. This corresponds very well to the descriptive weather observations
    from various historical records in this area. The upper areas of the Neckar catchment were not so severely affected by the flood in 1824 as the areas in the Black Forest nor in the northern
    and eastern part of the Neckar catchment. The rainfall distribution can be explained by the atmospheric circulation pattern and local orographic features.

    A flood event with the dimension of 1824 would have devastating
    consequences for the riparian owners. The flood event of 1882 in the lower course of the Neckar River is comparable with a 100 year flood.

    For the Plochingen gauging station situated in the middle course of the Neckar River, annual peak discharge data are available from the observation period 1921-2006. The highest observed value in this time span was a flood event in 1978 with a peak discharge of 1150 m3s−1. This data series was extended by incorporating peak discharge values obtained from the reconstruction of the historical flood events in 1824 and 1882, which yielded 1650 m3s−1 and 1200 m3s−1, respectively.

    Furthermore, the historical sources revealed information about a flood event in 1851 at this site, for which the peak discharge could be narrowed down to a range between 1200 and 1500 m3s−1.

    These results individually show that all three major historical flood events in the 19th century had higher peak discharge values than those of the observation period from 1921-2006.


  5. Different thread: just saw this funding call come through. "The oil and gas sector is vital to the UK economy and a key sector for economic growth. The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills recently published its oil and gas industrial strategy, which highlights the importance to the sector of research councils' investment in research, skills and technologies."

    Key sector for growth huh? Again, one's mind boggles at the level of doublethink that's possible at the collective governance level. On a related point, we have this research centre where I am too.

    So a question then: what should researchers be doing, if anything, about a research environment that continues to act like we don't need to keep the carbon in the ground, and that in fact carbon is still a growth industry? (Which, to be fair, it still is - at the moment.)

  6. I'm impressed with the escalating intensity of climate science supporters and found therein this IMO valuable phrase:

    The economy is a subset of the environment.

    A useful locution, I thought.

  7. Mr. Scarborough, some very clever PR goes into the manipulation of information. The IPCC (there have been four, not including the SREX) is an organization that summarizes the state of science. For facts you need to go to the original work. It's a relatively new science, and interesting because it needs to work with the real world, because there is pressure from time and events (as well as politics), and it is multidisciplinary.

    If you were really interested in the IPCC, you would read the late (and much lamented) Dr. Schneider's fascinating insider story of how this all came about:
    "Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate"
    (I see it's going cheap on Amazon)

    As to the recent flurry of secondhand second-rate glosses on the SREX, once again, try the original:


    "Special Report: Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX"

    The site provides shorter version, so unless you feel it would be poisoning your mind to take a look at that instead of careful misrepresentations from secondary sources with agendas and biases, try it. You might even like it!

  8. This really deserves a post of its own, but some friends pointed it out and it's both amusing and interesting. I'm going to put the climate tie-in first so I can end with the relevant YouTube.

    That's great. Jeff Masters mentioned resonance with planetary waves in a recent post, which I thought was really really interesting.

    The new Potsdam Institute paper gives us a mathematical description of exactly how global warming may be triggering observed fundamental changes in large-scale atmospheric flow patterns, resulting in the observed increase in unusually intense and long-lasting periods of extreme weather over the past eleven years. The paper also adds important theoretical support to the research published in 2012 by Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, which found that the amplitude of Earth's planetary waves had increased by over 100 miles (161 km) in summer over the past decade in the Northern Hemisphere. Dr. Francis theorized that this change was connected to increased heating of the Arctic relative to the rest of the Earth, due to the observed decline in late spring Northern Hemisphere snow cover. Humans tend to think linearly--one plus one equals two. However, the atmosphere is fundamentally non-linear. What may seem to be modest changes in Earth's climate can trigger unexpected resonances that will amplify into extreme changes--cases where one plus one equals four, or eight, or sixteen. In some cases, when you rock the boat too far, it won't simply roll a bit more, it will reach a tipping point where it suddenly capsizes. Similarly, human-caused global warming is capable of pushing the climate past a tipping point where we enter a new climate regime, one far more disruptive than what we are used to.
    The Potsdam Institute's research lists sixteen July and August periods since 1980 that have had extreme atmospheric flow patterns due to quasiresonance. These months featured severe regional heat waves and destructive floods in the Northern Hemisphere midlatitudes, detailed below. Half of these months occurred in the most recent 11-year period, 2002 - 2012. During most of these extreme months, there was not a moderate or strong La Niña or El Niño event contributing to the extremes. Summers when a La Niña or El Niño event was present are listed in parentheses, based on the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI).

    So here's the beef, fascinating I thought:


  9. Apologies - the article is behind a pay wall. I get the paper version and read the article. For this post I googled "wall street journal 'We May Live On a Natural Gas Machine'" and found the actual full article. I just verified that that still works. This is the Google link, I tried it a couple of times and got to the article.

  10. Haven't read it yet; considering getting a WSJ subscription just to see how the aristocracy sees things. I picked up a copy yesterday and was astonished to see, a Mansion section instead of a Home section, and an article about "Almost Cut My Hair" David Crosby's yacht.

    Anyway. The idea of natural gas as a non-biotic mineral is not new, and I thought it had long been refuted. I think it's clear that Matt Ridley is not a reliable correspondent on technical issues. Tentatively at least, this purported news does not worry me.

    In haste.

  11. As I understand it, CO2 seeps upwards almost everywhere (with rather slow rates, usually). One form of methanogen has a metabolism utilizing a CO2 to CH4 series of reactions (which I don't understand, either chemically or energetically). In any case, the result is a slow seep upwards of methane. Much of this is trapped in clathrates, provided the water is cold enough and the pressure is high enough.

  12. Freeman Dyson has an anecdote regarding this, from his new book:

    "Later in his life, Tommy Gold promoted another heretical idea, that the oil and natural gas in the ground come up from deep in the mantle of the earth and have nothing to do with biology. Again the experts are sure that he is wrong, and he did not live long enough to change their minds. Just a few weeks before he died, some chemists at the Carnegie Institution in Washington did a beautiful experiment in a diamond anvil cell, [Scott et al., 2004]. They mixed together tiny quantities of three things that we know exist in the mantle of the earth, and observed them at the pressure and temperature appropriate to the mantle about two hundred kilometers down. The three things were calcium carbonate which is sedimentary rock, iron oxide which is a component of igneous rock, and water. These three things are certainly present when a slab of subducted ocean floor descends from a deep ocean trench into the mantle. The experiment showed that they react quickly to produce lots of methane, which is natural gas. Knowing the result of the experiment, we can be sure that big quantities of natural gas exist in the mantle two hundred kilometers down. We do not know how much of this natural gas pushes its way up through cracks and channels in the overlying rock to form the shallow reservoirs of natural gas that we are now burning. If the gas moves up rapidly enough, it will arrive intact in the cooler regions where the reservoirs are found. If it moves too slowly through the hot region, the methane may be reconverted to carbonate rock and water. The Carnegie Institute experiment shows that there is at least a possibility that Tommy Gold was right and the natural gas reservoirs are fed from deep below. The chemists sent an E-mail to Tommy Gold to tell him their result, and got back a message that he had died three days earlier. Now that he is dead, we need more heretics to take his place."

  13. AFAIK all sea-floor methanogens that use CO2 metabolize CO2 and H2 to methane and water. The reaction is slightly forward, enough to power the methanogens as well as symbiotic organisms that produce the H2. They also produce a variety of compounds including CO2, so the reaction doesn't really need extra from geological sources.

    You could see my latest post for some summary info, much of which is based on:

    Physiology, Ecology, Phylogeny, and Genomics of Microorganisms Capable of Syntrophic Metabolism by Michael J. McInerney, Christopher G. Struchtemeyer, Jessica Sieber, Housna Mouttaki, Alfons J. M. Stams, Bernhard Schink, Lars Rohlin, Robert P. Gunsalus Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (2008) DOI: 10.1196/annals.1419.005

  14. So, just for clarification, are you saying that there is an observable trend to date in floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, extreme heat, extreme cold (the latter two in relation to what would be expected for the period in question)?

    Is this quantified somewhere? Is the blocking to which you refer and which is discussed in the linked "whipsaw" video increased in a measurable way? I'm not trying to be contentious but this would be a good thing to know and I don't.

    According to the Danish Meteorological Institute Arctic sea ice is well above levels seen in the last three years though, per NSIDC, it's about two sigma below the 1979-2000 average. I'm just trying to get my amateur arms around just how unusual things are.

  15. Extreme events are by their nature rare, and consequently their statistics are noisy. So it is difficult to extract a trend - this does not mean the trend is not there.

    Hansen Sato and Ruedy ( Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. , 109, 14726-14727,) recently identified an extraordinary increase in heat waves. It's hard to attribute to anything but anthropic forcing.

    There are increases in flooding and drought globally that are suggestive that the models are getting the large scale right, but these are less spectacular.

    Roger Pielke Jr focuses on US data (decreasing the data set) and financial damage (increasing the noise) and finds no trends from a number of severe event types. Roger has a weak grasp of statistics that has been demonstrated on various occasions so it's not clear whether he is really being mendacious. It is a fact that there is no trend in dollar value or mortality from various class of storm in the US. But this fact has far less substantive importance than is being attributed to it, and it may change at any time.

    This year's sea ice formation is what Neven calls a "deat cat bounce"; usually the years of most severe melt have been followed by a recovery because there is more fresh water floating on the surface, enhancing freezing. On the whole, the Arctic is melting far faster than predicted. This is the most notable failure of climate science to date, and it is a severe underprediction.

    As for the blocking, it is in principle measurable objectively. I'm not familiar with the state of the literature on it. Will ask around - that's a good question. But my impression is that we are in a new world starting around 2009, so the record is short. It may be too soon for a purely statistical detection.

    The most recent word on all of this is perhaps this:


    "The unprecedented meteorological events listed in Table  1
    occurred in a decade that was likely the warmest globally for at least
    a millennium.

    But are these two observations linked? ...

    Many climate scientists (including ourselves) routinely answer
    media calls after extreme events with the phrase that a particular
    event cannot be directly attributed to global warming. This is often
    misunderstood by the public to mean that the event is not linked to
    global warming, even though that may be the case — we just can’t be
    certain. If a loaded dice rolls a six, we cannot say that this particular
    outcome was due to the manipulation — the question is ill-posed.
    What we can say is that the number of sixes rolled is greater with
    the loaded dice (perhaps even much greater). Likewise, the odds
    for certain types of weather extremes increase in a warming climate
    (perhaps very much so). Attribution is not a ‘yes or no’ issue as the
    media might prefer, it is an issue of probability. It is very likely that
    several of the unprecedented extremes of the past decade would not
    have occurred without anthropogenic global warming."

  16. mt, Neven mentions "dead cat bounce" but is still watching and collecting data. I don't think we will know the sum total of Arctic events until mid-September. What is clear is that there is a lot less multi-year ice and therefore a lot more fracturing and other kinds of deterioration. I wouldn't assume that this year will involve a mild recovery, though it's as likely as not.

  17. A recent review of Dyson's book has this to say (but I'm prejudiced, the reviewer is my father):

    "we can see traces of the mathematical physicist’s reluctance to tackle the ambiguous or deeply puzzling question, or to go out mathematically even a little bit on a limb – something that contrasts sharply with his joyful interest in bizarre futurology. Perhaps this is the source of Dyson’s dreadful misjudgment on the climate question: he sees that the possible errors are large, but does not factor in that they are likely to be large in the wrong direction, and does not credit obvious qualitative arguments from simple laws of physics."

  18. Not really. Dyson has paid no attention to the problem since he tossed off a couple of papers suggesting biological sequestration. He has been making an utter fool of himself on climate since. You are placing your money on what you want to hear, not on actual relevant expertise.


  19. You might like to look him up (PW). He has a very high opinion of Dyson and says he's one of the most brilliant men ever, somebody he always admired. The word he uses is technocrat, and one example of his dangerously brilliant and impractical ideas was to fuel early spacecraft with nuclear, before they knew about the consequences of fallout. Imagine Cape Canaveral with the atmospherics of Hiroshima. I know there are legitimate voices that suggest the newer technology on nuclear is quite safe (I'm trying to understand this) but back then it was definitively not safe.

    This brings up a related problem of how to evaluate expertise in those whose intelligence has been demonstrated to be of a very high order. I tend to think that knowing what one does not know is perhaps one of the most valuable kinds of knowledge. Unfortunately, there are quite a few top contrarians whose brilliance is undoubted in other fields who leverage that reputation to support assertions that are not well founded. If they had used that kind of hubris in the days when they were doing the work that earned their reputations, they would never have made it to the top in their own fields.

    As for Hawking, I'm sorry to say I find a lot of what goes on there a mite boring but willingly admit that I don't know enough to evaluate his science. The atmospherics are overdone.

    While I'm at it, I did manage to be part of an artists social group that socialized with Feynman at the end of his life. I find his strictures entirely brilliant in all areas, but as a fellow artist, some of his work was quite amateurish, though some of the examples now surviving are beautiful. We are all beginners in some areas, no matter how skilled we might become in others. Contrarians are fond of citing his strictures on cargo cult science (in some cases I have to admit because it always gets a rise out of me when I find it) but in fact they are the cargo cultists (he was referring to engineers and administrators who didn't want to admit that an o ring could freeze and break, and the like, because they were wedded to their ideas).

  20. I happened on this via a headline gadget on my browser and though, given Michael's oft times thoughtful focus on econ and policy - as really are readers of the Planet who aren’t principally more interested a scrap - might be worth glance this weekend.


    The gadget produced this of link, providing broad hints of the red meat that the usual suspects may or may not be regurgitating soon.


  21. Oh, and if you are gambling, you will eventually lose your money, along with the rest of us who didn't choose to gamble that all the simple physics and obvious phenomena could be overcome by a PR machine and a small group of honest contrarians among a vast mass of purchasable opinions.

    Curiosity should lead you to check out the data from real sources, not the secondhand rehashes that leave out so much and carefully pick isolated data. There are none so deaf as those who will not hear.

  22. I also very strongly recommend mt's guest post - that is just terrific and bang in the bullseye. Repeat link:


  23. I still think Dyson’s “super tree” idea worth pursuing, not as the magic wand as Dyson frames it, but as one of the silver bee-bees. I’ve been interested in possibly getting a bit ahead of some the things I see going on in the “developing” areas of the planet and think the idea has merit for many places, particularly in those where regional climate supports only scrubby hinterlands and that have growing populations. The idea of bio-fuels, at least from a policy implementation standpoint in the OEDC nations, has been largely centered on use as a feedstock for concentration to support transportation. Really, a wasted effort, a bridge to far.

    Billion use charcoal as a major, often the major, source of energy they consume and I think that practice will continue long enough for the expenditure of effort to be worth while. I’m stymied in my search for elegance - coming up with a way to utilize the syngas precursor that the woody feedstock to charcoal torrefaction process produces that’s practical at the technology level of charcoal used for cooking, space heating, and “craft style” metal working and also operates well over a dispersed area with many small charcoal production operations. A major obstacle for bio-fuels’ is transport of low energy density material. Charcoal, produced near where wood is grown, not only considerably reduces that, but also burns much cleaner than coal without further flue gas treatment or elaborate combustion management. In the rapidly urbanizing “third” world, that property, as well as exploitation of a local rather than an imported energy source, is driving its use and avoiding of some of the effects from coal burning in and around many Asian urban centers much in the news lately.

  24. Dr. Tobis, you are rightly irritated by those who slam people like James Hansen just because they hold different views.

    Freeman Dyson spent a decade working on climate science, with JASON and the Institute for Natural Sciences. The INS more or less pioneered the multi-disciplinary approach to climate studies.

    Why can't you just be silent when you don't know what you're talking about?

  25. I read an article at the Resilience site by one Kurt Cobb, whom I consider to be a thoughtful proponent of many of the viewpoints held by the denizens of this site. In particular, he's an excellent commentator on all things energy, such as the so-called "shale gas and tight oil revolution" and the much vaunted "U.S. Energy Independence" meme (is meme still a word?). His own blog is at Resource Insights and would, in my opinion, be a valuable addition to the P3 blog aggregator (since it's not my blog, I can't suggest it in the form at the P3 site made for that purpose). His posts are typically mirrored at the Resilience site. I link both from my own little blog which I'm contemplating suggesting to the blog aggregator form. Just because.

  26. Hmm... like Susan often does 🙂 , I feel the need to expand on my comment. The linked post is discusses the fact that reducing the rate of CO2 emission is insufficient, that it's the actual amount of CO2 accumulated in the atmosphere by ANY positive net rate (emission-absorption). He also discusses tipping points, other GHGs, and a variety of other topics.

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