Sunday, February 10, 2013

A climate of scepticism - Part II

The first part of this piece described the weakness of the hypothetical link between increasing carbon dioxide and increasing global temperatures.  In this part, I consider the question of whether there are models which can strengthen the hypothesis and whether those models can tell us anything about other aspects of climate such as rainfall.

The proponents of the anthropogenic warming thesis claim to have models that show how added carbon dioxide will lead to a warmer world[i].  There are major problems with these models, not least of which is the fact that the proponents claim that doubling the CO2 in the atmosphere will increase the temperature by over 3oC. This is well above any physical reason[ii]. It results from arguments about the effect of water vapour in the atmosphere, which is supposed to exacerbate the effect of increased CO2

The doubling effect is so far invisible.  Other estimates have suggested that doubling the CO2 may increase the global temperatures by less than 1oC[iii].  The evidence for this is building. For instance, there has been about a 40% increase in atmospheric CO2 since 1945, which would imply perhaps 1.2oC of warming if doubling the CO2 caused a 3oC rise.  Figure 1 in the previous posting showed that the actual warming over this period has only been about 0.4oC. Has the globe cooled by 0.8oC while the added CO2 has been warming us? It seems unlikely.

There are further reasons to doubt the models.  For instance, Figure 5 reproduces Figure 10.7 from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report[iv]. The sections are from the South Pole on the left to the North Pole on the right.  In the atmosphere, altitude is expressed in terms of pressure, with sea level at 1000hPa and 11km being about 200hPa. Stippling on the figures shows regions where all the models agree within narrow limits.
Figure 5. Model predictions of global temperature changes: atmospheric upper, oceanic lower

The area of particular interest is the ‘blob’ in the atmosphere over the equator and centred at about 200hPa. In 2011-2030 it is just less than 1.5oC above today’s ground level temperatures. By 2046-2065 it is expected to be about 3oC warmer, and by 2080-2099 about 5oC warmer. Thus this region is expected to warm by about 0.6oC per decade, if the models are to be believed.

For about the last 60 years, balloons carrying instruments have been flown into this region to obtain data for weather forecasts.  Examination of the temperature records has failed to reveal any heating whatsoever[v].  Satellites have been flown since the late 1970’s, and some of their views through the atmosphere can be interpreted as average temperatures of particular regions[vi].  The satellites show very slight warming – but nothing like 0.6oC per decade.

In science, a single experiment can suffice to disprove a theory.  Any theory whose predictions fail experimental tests must be abandoned without further ado. In the present case, the anthropogenic warming hypothesis has led to theoretical models, but those models have failed experimental proof.  Such is the strength of belief in the anthropogenic thesis, however, that the modellers are most reluctant to abandon – or even revise – their models. This is one of the strongest reasons for scepticism.

The anthropogenic thesis has also led to many predictions of the possible conditions in a warmer world.  Some, such as the impact on the cryosphere, seem to be borne out. However, the models which, as noted earlier, are highly suspect, suggest such things as dramatic changes in precipitation.  The evidence is negligible.

For instance, there is a very long record of rainfall for England and Wales, shown in Figure 6[vii]. There is absolutely no sign of any change in the rainfall pattern over the last 60 years. Over the entire period, the annual average over 25 years is 913 ±42mm. The 42mm is the maximum deviation, not the standard deviation!

Figure 6. A 240-year rainfall record

Similarly, there are repeated suggestions that the sea level will increase rapidly due to the melting of ice and the warming of the oceans (warm water is less dense than cold, so it occupies a larger volume).  It is true that the sea level is rising, but you seek in vain for any evidence that it has risen significantly faster since 1945 than before.  Figure 7 illustrates this, using the tide gauge data from New York which extends back to 1858 with a gap from 1879 to 1892[viii]. The regression line for all the data from 1870 to 2011 has a slope of 2.947mm/a; that from 1945 to 2011 has a slope of 2.948mm/a.  There has been no significant increase in the rate of sea level rise at New York for the past 140 years.

Figure 7. A 150-year sea-level record.

Many of the fears about sea level rise are unfounded.  Yes, the sea is rising slowly.  Satellite measurements since the early 1990’s confirm a rate of rise of about 3mm/a[ix]. However, there are already defences against the sea. It is necessary to allow for tides, storm surges and even tsunamis.  The existing defences are measured in metres, not mm. An increase in the average level of 3mm/a can be offset by raising the defences by an additional brick every 30 years or so. The rising sea level is not a threat.

Of course, there are events where the defences prove inadequate.  This was the case when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.  Several years previously, it had been reported that the levees were likely to fail[x]. They were old, and lacked modern design features. They failed, as anticipated, when the storm surge arrived. Their failure had nothing to do with ongoing rise in sea levels, and everything to do with weak defences. 

However, there are repeated references in the literature to the New Orleans levee failure being the result of “climate change.” This illustrates a feature of the debate that reinforces scepticism.  Disasters that have nothing to do with a changing climate are ascribed to “climate change” as a means of raising awareness about the supposed threats. Do we need to have our awareness raised? Or isn't it better just to be sceptical? 

[i] Randall, D.A., R.A. Wood, S. Bony, R. Colman, T. Fichefet, J. Fyfe, V. Kattsov, A. Pitman, J. Shukla, J. Srinivasan, R.J. Stouffer, A. Sumi and K.E. Taylor, 2007: Climate Models and Their Evaluation. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. WG1, Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S. et al, (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
[ii] See Randall, D.A. et al, op cit p. 640: “A number of diagnostic tests have been proposed…but few of them have been applied to a majority of the models currently in use. Moreover, it is not yet clear which tests are critical for constraining future projections (of warming). Consequently, a set of model metrics that might be used to narrow the range of plausible climate change feedbacks and climate sensitivity has yet to be developed.
[iii] Spencer, R.W. and Braswell, W.D  Potential Biases in Feedback Diagnosis from Observational Data: A Simple Model Demonstration, J Climate 21 5624-5627, 2008 DOI: 10.1175/2008JCLI2253.1
[iv] Meehl, G.A., T.F. Stocker, W.D. Collins, P. Friedlingstein, A.T. Gaye, J.M. Gregory, A. Kitoh, R. Knutti, J.M. Murphy, A. Noda, S.C.B. Raper, I.G. Watterson, A.J. Weaver and Z.-C. Zhao, 2007: Global Climate Projections. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. WG1, Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., et al (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
[v] Douglass, D. H., Christy, J. R., Pearson, B. D. and Singer, S. F. (2008), A comparison of tropical temperature trends with model predictions. Int. J. Climatol., 28: 1693–1701. doi: 10.1002/joc.1651
[vi] Spencer, R.W. and Christy, J.R. 1992: Precision and Radiosonde Validation of Satellite Gridpoint Temperature Anomalies. Part I: MSU Channel 2. J. Climate, 5, 847–857.
[ix] Accessed January 2013
[x] Fischetti, M. Drowning New Orleans. Scientific American, October 2001, pp34-42

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