Thursday, May 13, 2010

Getting Climate Science Right

Here is most of the content of a post by Roy Spencer, climatologist and a Principal Research Scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville, as well as the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. He has served as senior scientist for climate studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama:
Despite its relative simplicity, I continue to find myself trying to explain to experts and lay persons alike how scientists made the Great Global Warming Blunder when it comes to predictions of global warming.

On the bright side, this morning I received an e-mail from a chemist who looked at the math of the problem after reading my new book, and then came to the understanding on his own. And that’s great!

For the most part, though, the climate community continues to suffer from a mental block when it comes to the true role of clouds in global warming. All climate models now change clouds with CO2 warming in ways that amplify that warming, some by a catastrophic amount.

As my latest book [Great Global Warming Blunder] describes, I contend that they have been fooled by Mother Nature, and that in fact warming alters clouds in ways that mitigate – not amplify — the small amount of direct warming caused by increasing atmospheric CO2.

The difference between clouds magnifying versus mitigating warming could be the difference between global warming being little more than an academic curiosity…or a disaster for life on Earth.

So, once again I find myself trying to explain a concept that I find the public understands better than the climate experts do: when it comes to clouds and temperature, the direction of causation really does matter.

Why Are There Fewer Clouds when it is Warm?

The “scientific consensus” has been that, because unusually warm conditions are observed to be accompanied by less cloud cover, warming obviously causes cloud cover to decrease. This would be bad news, since decreasing cloud cover in response to warming would let more sunlight in, and amplify the initial warming. That’s called positive cloud feedback.

But what they have difficulty understanding is that causation in the opposite direction (cloud changes causing temperature changes) gives the ILLUSION of positive cloud feedback. It turns out that, when less cloud cover causes warmer temperatures, the cloud feedback in response to that warming is almost totally obscured.

Believe it, the experts have not accounted for this effect. I find it bizarre that most are not even aware it is an issue! As far as I know, I am the only one actively researching the issue.

As a result, the experts have fooled themselves into believing cloud feedbacks are positive. We have demonstrated theoretically in our new paper now accepted for publication in JGR [Journal of Geophysical Research] that, even if strong negative cloud feedback exists, cloud changes causing temperature change will make it LOOK like positive cloud feedback.

And this indeed happens in the real climate system. The only time cloud feedback can be clearly seen in the real climate system is when temperature changes are caused by something other than clouds. And in those cases, we find that the net feedback is strongly negative (around 6 Watts per sq. meter of extra energy lost by the Earth per deg. C of global-average warming).

Unfortunately, those events only occur on relatively short climate time scales: 1 month or so. Whether this negative feedback also exists for long-term climate warming is less certain.

Do Climate Models Agree With Satellite Observations of Clouds and Temperature?

The fact that all the climate models which produce substantial global warming also approximate what we measure from satellites is NOT a validation of the feedbacks in those models. So far, after analyzing thousands of years of climate model runs, I have found no convincing way to validate the climate models’ long-term feedbacks with short-term (approx. 10 years or so) satellite observations. The reason is the same: all models have cloud variations causing temperature variations, which then obscures the feedback we are trying to measure.

But there’s another test that could be made. The modelers’ case would be stronger if they could demonstrate that 20 additional climate models, all with various amounts of negative – rather than positive — cloud feedback, are less consistent with our satellite observations than the current crop of models, all of which had positive cloud feedback.

I suspect they do not spend much time on that possibility. A climate model that does not produce much climate change is going to have difficult time getting continued funding for its support.
Go to the original post to get all the links to external material pointed to by Dr. Spencer.

It is hard to believe that all the uproar over global warming could be based on bad science, but that is what Dr. Spencer is saying. This post points to a couple of reasons that they got it wrong:
  • They got the direction of causation wrong. Hard to believe, but scientists are not expert in everything, and as Dr. Spencer points out, he is the "only one actively researching the issue". So it is conceivable that the rest have got it wrong (or at least ignore this negative feedback while over-attributing efficacy to a positive feedback).

  • Funding directs scientist's interests. This is a kind of "soft corruption". They are not being bought to produce "false science" but they are being paid to look here and not there. So as he points out, any climate model that doesn't show "global warming" doesn't get funding and doesn't get considered. This skews the science of climatology. This makes the fanatics happy, but it creates a situation where society is being asked to make wrenching changes at great cost for a scientific illusion.

So what has all this ignoring of cloud physics produced? Here is a glimpse from a post by Steve Goddard at the Watts Up With That? web site:
The experts at East Anglia and CRU told us in 2000 that :
(March, 2000) According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”. “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said.

David Parker, at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Berkshire, says ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of snow. Via the internet, they might wonder at polar scenes – or eventually “feel” virtual cold.
The 255 experts at the AAAS denouncing “climate deniers” in an open letter described this past winter in these cleverly sarcastic terms :
The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.
I appreciate that government bureaucrats believe that there is no world outside Washington, yet nature has given us the opportunity to grade both the predictive and observational skills of the experts. And it looks like they deserve a rather poor grade. According to data collected by Rutgers University Global Snow Lab, this past October through March period was the snowiest on record in the Northern Hemisphere – with an average monthly snow cover of 39,720,106 km2. Second place occurred in 1970 at 39,574,224 km2.

Click to Enlarge
Does that graph convince you that we are up past the knee of the hockey stick graph and into runaway global warming?

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