Monthly Archives: January 2014

IF you see something, say something

Last week I saw a SundayReview Opinion in the New York Times “If You See Something, Say Something” written by Michael Mann. It was an argument in favor of scientists being activists when it comes to climate change and it goes like this: if climate scientists see “clear and present danger”, they can not sit aside and they have to “communicate the urgency of acting to avert potential disaster”. In order to tell his daughter later that he saw the threat and did speak up about it. As such I can understand his reasoning. If we see something wrong it is perfectly okay saying something about it.

This is how it starts:

The overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that human-caused climate change is happening. Yet a fringe minority of our populace clings to an irrational rejection of well-established science. This virulent strain of anti-science infects the halls of Congress, the pages of leading newspapers and what we see on TV, leading to the appearance of a debate where none should exist.

In fact, there is broad agreement among climate scientists not only that climate change is real (a survey and a review of the scientific literature published say about 97 percent agree), but that we must respond to the dangers of a warming planet. If one is looking for real differences among mainstream scientists, they can be found on two fronts: the precise implications of those higher temperatures, and which technologies and policies offer the best solution to reducing, on a global scale, the emission of greenhouse gases.

What makes me shiver is that he claims there should not be a debate. Really? Is the science (by the way, of a chaotic system) really that clear? Mann points out his own hockey stick graph that “proves” that the average warmth of the Northern Hemisphere is unprecedented in the last 1000 years. But how clear is this signal? It was derived from proxy data and the result was very dependent on a couple of sets (out of a total of 110) of Bristlecone datasets, which are not a good proxy for temperature anyway. Put that together with incorrect use of PCA technique, therefor mining for hockey stick shapes. Leave the Bristlecone sets out and suddenly no signal at all was shown. So, taken this into account, how strong this evidence actually is? This was an important milestone for my journey from believer to a more skeptical view.

The consensus and the 97% agree: I am not really impressed. Consensus has no bearing in science. Although it can be nice to know for the public that a number of scientists have the same opinion, consensus doesn’t really prove anything. There is also the question how this consensus is determined. The ones from Doran & Zimmermann, Oreskes and Cook didn’t give me much confidence that this number is a correct representation of reality. And hey, the consensus changes with time, in the 1970s the new ice age was also brought as “The Consensus”.

He continues to say that scientists can be activists. First he mentions James Hansen (Nasa) and his activist approach. Ending with the statement that “there is nothing inappropriate at all about drawing on our scientific knowledge to speak out about the very real implications of our research”. True, I have no problem with that. But Hansen is not just a scientist, he is maintaining one of the datasets of the average global temperature. This specific dataset is the one that shows the most warming globally, but it also changed dramatically over time. For me as a member of the public it is difficult to know if the data changed because of a real change in temperature (in intensity not picked up by others, but also not found in earlier versions) or because of the adjustments of that data over time.

Secondly he mentions Stephen Schneider. I agree that “scientist-advocate is not an oxymoron” and that “just because someone is a scientist it does not mean that (s)he should check their citizenship at the door of a public meeting” and that “fighting for scientific truth and an informed debate is nothing to apologize for”. But this is not the issue. Schneider was not really a school example of someone that found communicating truth that important. He was in more for the shock effect than for the truth.

He also mentions drought and wildfires, which he claims are on the increase. Huh? The observations doesn’t tell us that. US forest fires seems to be going down at least in the last decade and in the Midwest the percentage area with no drought is also going down, not up.

The urgency for action was underscored this past week by a draft United Nations report warning that another 15 years of failure to cut heat-trapping emissions would make the problem virtually impossible to solve with known technologies and thus impose enormous costs on future generations. It confirmed that the sooner we act, the less it will cost.

The United Nations is a political organization and the “we have to act NOW” is a proven method within politics. The report was from the IPCC. Again a “leaked” report. Was this to destract from the deep freeze temperatures in the US? It followed after the first draft report in September in which was said that “humans were are almost certainly to blame for climate change” (but when looking closer it even backpedaled from the previous report…oops).

To summarize: after a standstill of global temperatures for about 13 – 17 years (which baffles the investigators and they try to find a plausible explanation for it, underscoring their limited grasp of climate in reality), with global storm activity at a low, forest fires on the decrease, the melting Arctic back within 2 standard deviations since November 2012 and the Antarctic see ice at its all time maximum, yet we are suppose to believe that the global warming issue became even more urgent? In this situation it should get less urgent, not more.

Then the final appeal to the emotions:

How will history judge us if we watch the threat unfold before our eyes, but fail to communicate the urgency of acting to avert potential disaster? How would I explain to the future children of my 8-year-old daughter that their grandfather saw the threat, but didn’t speak up in time?

As a mayor and very vocal proponent of The Cause, his arguments seems to be very weak and are based more on politics and emotions than on science. But what if the theory turns out not to be correct? We have been there many times before. How would history judge us then? What would we than say to our children? That we saw a non-existing threat, stifled debate about it and forced governments to put so much money in it that we jeopardized their future?

Everybody agrees that everything indicates that insurance companies love climate change

Saturday evening a fierce thunderstorm moved through Belgium. Locally it was very strong, especially the coastal areas were hit. A lot of damage was done by wind shear, heavy rain and lightning to properties. Fortunately the area were I live was hardly affected. Winter storms in Belgium are quite rare, but from time to time they do happen and they can do quite some damage.

My guess was that soon someone, somewhere will surely attribute this to climate change. I didn’t had to wait for long. Reading the newspaper “Het Nieuwsblad” I read what Wauthier Robyns of the insurance umbrella organisation Assuralia said (my emphasis)

Robyns says the insurance companies increasingly have to take into account extreme weather events such as this weekend. “Because everyone agrees that gradual climate change lead to more storms, and in any case to more rainfall,” he says. Everything indicates that we will face this type of storm more often in the future.

Quite dramatic, but completely devoid of observational evidence. I was very surprised to see those “everyone knows” and “everything indicates” statements when no data points in that direction. Luckily the reporter showed both sides:

But weather forecasters Dehenauw and Sabine Hagedoren don’t want to confirm that. “There is no statistical data that proves that thunder storms are now worse than before, or that we now experience more wind shear or whirlwinds than before,” says Dehenauw.

I heard the same from another weatherman, that those severe storms are not on the increase. On the contrary, we were spared in recent years. On average the frequency of those fierce storms is not higher or lower than before.

So what is this insurance guys talking about? They study the risk of extreme events, so he should know if the frequency of storms increases or not, without relying on ad populum arguments. He obviously didn’t look at the data at all and just parroted what he heard from others. It worries me to hear such absolute certainties, in the face of contrary observations, from someone who should know better.

Climate change is causing more storms, politically speaking that is

On the VRT news of January 22, 2014 there was the item of the new climate plan of the European Commission. It was brought as some kind of triumph. Although there are no binding targets to the member states, we, the European, were doing their part, now it is waiting for the rest of the world. Something like that.

New is that also some objections from some politicians were noted and there was even a representative of the industry who was asked for their standpoint. The representative was, how would you guessed it, very sympathetic to the cause, although making the remark that less binding targets is good for the industry.

But of course there was the rigid hyperbole from the environmental organization, this time from Mathias Bienstman of Bond Beter Leefmilieu (translatable as Federation Better Environment). This is what he, clearly displeased, said (translated from Dutch):

The proposal falls somewhat short. The first objective of the plan is to protect the population against dangerous climate change. Against more storms, rising sea levels. And we know from the science that these objectives being pushed forward, do not do that sufficient. So we demand a larger reduction of pollution from greenhouse gases by 2030.

They didn’t like the plan, no surprises here. The statements that the population has “to be protected against dangerous climate change” and pollution from greenhouse gases are rather dramatic. In a situation that gets better than any time before. Crying wolf come to mind. As far as I know the greenhouse gas theory is still a theory, something that is not proven yet. But yet it was stated as if it is the absolute truth with a certainty that frightens me. I didn’t expect anything else. Het probably didn’t even questioned it anymore, he took that for granted.

But what surprised me was very much was that he said “more storms”, huh, more STORMS?!?! Did he really say that? Yes, he certainly said that. But this belief that greenhouse gases create more storms has been debunked thoroughly. The observations show a decline of storm events. Even the IPCC didn’t had much faith in it.

That is not surpising. In a world where the poles warm faster than the rest of the planet, wouldn’t it be more logical that there is less temperature difference and therefor less storms?

Did scientists said that storms would be more frequent? As far as I know scientists exhaust themselfs that they can’t attribute a storm to global warming or climate change? At best they compare it to a loaded dice, but add much more studies still need to be done. Even the IPCC had low confidence in an increase in storms due to anthropogenic causes.

But maybe he meant storms not somewhere else in the world, but here in our area? So, are there more storms in our little country? Not according to Frank Deboosere (a Belgian weatherman) (translated from Dutch)

[…]

Between January 25, 1990 and March 1, 1990 our country was hit by several severe storms. Back then it was stated that there would be more such storms in the future. That has not happened. On the contrary, Belgium was spared from fierce storms in recent years.

[…]

On average, the frequency of storms is not higher or lower than before. However it is true that bad weather is now much more discussed in the media than before.

That is something I can agree with, storms do have more covearge by the media than ever in the past, therefor it could give the impression that storms are more frequent or stronger than before. This is more frequent coverage of storms, not more frequent storms. This is also true globally.

But maybe he meant there are more heavy storms in our area? I couldn’t find data from Belgium, but I did find data about strong storms in The Netherlands (Dutch). There is a list of storms with winds of at least 100 km/hour (highest value per hour):

Year Date
1911 September 30-Okt 1
1913 December 26-27
1914 December 28-29
1920 January 11
1921 November 6
1928 November 25
1943 April 7
1944 September 7
1949 March 1
1953 January 31-February 1
1954 December 21
1972 November 13
1973 April 2
1976 January 2-3
1978 March 16
1983 November 27
1990 January 25
2002 Oktober 27
2013 Oktober 28

What strikes me when looking at the numbers is that there were much more heavy storms in the first half than the second half of this period. If we calculate the number of days of storms, this becomes even more clear. This seem to be in line with global data.

vrtnieuws_donderwolk

But maybe he meant thunderstorms? The background in the newstudio was a picture of a thunderstorm. But in Dutch there is no “storm” in thunderstorm, we call it “onweer”.

But, but, weren’t there many reports and articles that stated that there would be an increase and that storms are linked to global warming? Well yes, there were numerous. Just look at the coverage of Katrina, Sandy, Haiyan. Politicians and green activists did their very best to claim this link. The climate expert from Bond Beter Leefmilieu seems to be no exception.

Solar power much cheaper than other sources, at least if not all costs are counted

The assumed now self sufficient solar energy kept on intriguing me. To recapitulate, last Friday I heard the news that solar panels became so cheap and so efficient that subsidies were not needed anymore. In the media basically the same thing was repeated without any criticism. It looked like a triumph for solar energy that suddenly became mature enough to stand on its own feet and cheaper than other sources. It looked like a good-news-story to me and the media fell for it.

To me it didn’t make much sense. The initial warning light was that the solar panel sector was pleased with the decision to no longer subsidizing it anymore. It surprised me because in the past they were frantically fighting lowering subsidies. The answer of the sector was that it is good that there is “clarity” now. Indeed, in the last years nobody knew if the green certificates (a payment according to produced electricity paid by the net manager) would still last and how high it would be. In that sense, those who wanted to invest had no certainty how high the return of their investment would be and that certainly withheld investors to buy solar panels.

But is this any better now than before for an investor? As far as I know it was always said people could gain money from it, whatever the subsidy was at the time. It was only a matter of how high the subsidy was to get a rate of 5% profit (this rate was communicated by the Minister on several occasions). But a few years ago there was an oversubsidising and many individuals and companies gained (loads of) money from it. The subsidies were very lucrative during several years. Some green companies even installed solar panels for free and let the owners have the advantage of the low price (when the panels produced electricity, the meter spins backwards). The only thing they wanted were the green certificates. So probably there was much more to gain than that 5%. The green certificates were granted for fifteen year, so those contracts are still in effect and we will have to pay for them for the next ten/fifteen years.

In 2012 the green certificates for solar energy amounted to €626,000 per year and growing, this for an energy source that is insignificant in our current energy mix. Sure, it is a nice thing there is not subsidized anymore, but the good-news-show distracts from the high costs still waiting for us in the next decade (and a half) and other subsidies are still in effect.

This is an example how the news was brought (translated from Dutch):

[…]

“Those who have solar panels pay 80 euro less for one megawatt hour of green electricity than for traditional power” says Alex Polfliet, the chairman of PV-Vlaanderen, the sector federation of solar panel suppliers.. A study of the Flemish Energy Agency confirms that solar panels also yield a lot of money without subsidies. They are now cheaper and more efficient than before.

[…]

The end of subsidies seems to be the deathblow for the sector, though there is some good news: since January 1, 2014, all new homes need to be more energy friendly. And according to Polfliet solar panels remain the best choice to generate renewable energy.

[…]

Sounds impressive, it lets us think that solar power is much cheaper than traditional power. The big question is of course how this 80 euro is calculated. I have seen many calculations of performance of solar panels and they come to rather different results in savings or payback time.

Yet, the fact that the money of the purchase/installation of the panels can be recuperated by an individual is only part of the story. As confirmed by Agoria (association of the technology industry), there is a hidden costs of solar energy when used in a power grid in which electricity needs to be available all time. Storing electricity is very tricky and therefor very expensive. People who live off grid proof it is possible, but it means saving as much energy as possible, sometimes renewing appliances, have batteries or a backup generator,… Which is not accounted for in these calculations of those individuals nor in our national power grid. Agoria rightfully called this an hidden subsidy, because the panel owner don’t need to invest in storage or don’t need to adjust their demand, so in fact they use the net as free storage or a free to use battery.

This is not hard to understand. Electricity by solar is produced when the conditions are right, not necessarily when electricity is needed. This seems a small detail, but it isn’t. It means that something else have to take over when there is none/not enough, meaning a backup plant spinning in the background or having the ability to store enough energy for the time it is needed. The cost for building and maintaining of this backup system is not accounted for. Individuals that have panels don’t have this backup capacity themselves and therefor put the produced electricity on the grid, whether it is needed or not. The responsibility for it is now in the hands of the netmanager, who will have to take measures to balance the load. The netmanager will invoice this costs to the consumers (which the panel owner is also part of) or when government is funding it will be the taxpayers (which the panel owner is probably also part of) will pay the bill.

Becoming curious about the study of the Flemish Energy Agency (VEA) I downloaded their final report for projects with a start date from January 1, 2014. But to my surpise I found that the unprofitable top (the amount of euro needed per MWh so the investment over the life of the project achieves the required rate of return) was 26.0 euro per MWh (1 certificate per 3.731 MWh). Meaning they still need subsidies to be profitable. So I am a bit puzzled about this statement. Maybe I don’t have the right report? Or maybe the report referred to in the article is not yet published?

Finally, that “best choice to generate renewable energy” depends on how you look at it. As seen above it depends on whether you look at it through the eyes of the panel owner (will benefit if no indirect costs are taken into account) or as the country as a whole (meaning higher energy prices and taxes). But I agree that the solar panel owners will loose less than non panel owners. But that would not be the smartest way to put it of course.

The miraculous “cheapening” of Belgian solar power

Today came the news that the decision was made to stop subsidies on solar panels in Belgium. The discontinuation of subsidies from February 1 applies to all individuals who placed solar panels on the roof of their house after January 1, 2014. I thought there would come a wave of protest of the green technology companies like they did in 2012 and 2013. Yet, surprising, no such thing happened… On the contrary, Agoria (association of the technology industry) even applauded the decision.

It is brought like this: until now the solar panels were very expensive and the government helped a hand so people would install the expensive solution on their roofs. Now solar panels are dirt cheap and with a better performance, subsidies are not needed anymore. Alex Polfliet, President of PV Vlaanderen (the PV industry association in Flanders) even triumphantly stated (translated from Dutch):

The decision proves that today you have cheaper energy from solar panels than from the conventional electricity grid.

Hoooooray! A green miracle has come to us!

But solar energy was only a year ago BY FAR the most expensive form of generating electricity. The same PV Vlaanderen, that now applaud the cut of the subsidies, only a year ago protested loudly against just a LOWERING of the subsidies, because this would make solar panels not competitive with other sources of energy generation. Their petition is still online and active. Yet, now suddenly the price would have dropped so low that NO subsidies would be needed anymore and solar panels would not only be cost effective without these subsidies, but even profitable!!!

Something is not right here.

Why didn’t other countries find this also? Many countries went back to coal and even lignite to lower energy cost. Why don’t they think about solar in order to lower electricity prices? Why do these organizations, previously completely against the cutback of the subsidies, now suddenly agree, even applaud it?!?!

Then I went to the Agoria website to read what they had written. This is the part that struck me (translated from Dutch):

[…]
It is not entirely true that all subsidies disappear. Owners of residential solar panels do not pay a grid allowance while they use the grid constantly to store when production exceeds their consumption. This is a substantial subsidy.

Focus on innovation subsidies
This “subsidy” which actually amounts to a “free storage / battery” has the side effect that consumers will not be looking for solutions to invest in energy storage technology itself or in shifting their energy demand. This will not be good for innovation in energy storage and energy management systems. However, breakthroughs in this area is crucial for a further transition to CO2-free electricity. Agoria therefore requires the Flemish government to quickly draw a modern subsidy policy that fosters innovation in energy storage and management.

Aha, that makes sense. There is still a subsidy, it is only called something else. Even more, Agoria demands new subsidies for solar power in the near future!

These are more hidden subsidies. Because intermittent renewables tend to disrupt the electricity grid, extra measures need to be installed to balance it. Like more peak shavers, backup capacity, extra adaptations to the grid,.. Payed by the government, so by the tax payer.

That is something completely different than was communicated to the public via the media. But I agree, the word “subsidy” is not used anymore. But that doesn’t mean it suddenly is more cost effective than before.

Global warming politics explained in 2 minutes

While in Europe winter temperatures were very balmy, the United States plunged into a deep freeze and skeptics were having a field day. The United States government was apparently not amused and made a video, starring John Holren, to assure the public that global warming is still there. The video is called “The Polar Vortex explained in 2 minutes” and it starts like this:

If you have been hearing that extreme cold spells, like the one we are having in the United States now, disproves global warming, don’t believe it.

Logically I can agree with that. A cold spell doesn’t disprove global warming, although this statement is not a big deal anyway. But I don’t think it is used this way in this video. Probably the author meant to say something like this: “global warming is still true, despite the cold snap, so don’t believe those who question it”. But global warming still being a theory, it is something that can’t be proved nor disproved yet. A single weather event can not disprove it, but when it is contradictory to the theory, it can weaken its case.

It continues:

The fact is that no single weather episode can either prove or disprove global climate change. Climate is the pattern of weather that we observe geographically and over the seasons and is described in terms of averages, variations and probabilities. But a growing body of evidence suggest that the kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States as we speak, is a pattern that we can expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues.

Also here, indeed, I can agree that a single weather episode can neither prove nor disprove global climate change. Yet this new event is promoted to climate…because there is a growing body of evidence that suggest this pattern is expected to increase when global warming continues.

See the carefully change from global warming to “global climate change”, whatever that means. Climate changes all the time and there is not one global climate as there is not one global temperature. That seems replacing one meaningless term by another. Why the shift? Probably because global warming sounds a bit silly in the face of 12-17 years of no global warming.

Now this cold spell that was portrayed a couple sentences ago as a single weather event is suddenly a pattern? How many times such a similar event happened in the last decade or so? It surely doesn’t prove anything, but promoting it to something that is going to happen frequent in the future on basis of an accumulation of assumptions is a bridge too far.

And the reason is this: in the warming world that we’re experiencing the far north, the Arctic, is warming roughly twice as rapidly as the mid latitudes, such as the United States. That means that the temperature difference between the Arctic and the mid latitude is shrinking. And that temperature difference is what drives what is called circumpolar vortex, which is the great counterclockwise wise swirling mass of cold air that hovers over the Arctic. As the temperature difference between the Arctic and mid latitudes declines the polar vortex weakens and it becomes wavier. The waviness means that there can be increased larger excursions of cold air southward, that is into the mid latitudes. And in the other face of the wave increased excursions of relatively warmer mid latitude air in the far north.

What struck me is the mixing of “global and “local”. He definitively uses global warming/global climate change to describe the process, but if you read it carefully it is not about global warming at all, but about LOCAL warming! It is the warming of the Arctic, twice the rate of the mid latitudes. That is not global warming, that is local warming. And how can GLOBAL warming increase cold patterns when the global temperature didn’t change in 12-17 years and the pattern is dependent on LOCAL warming?

Computer models tell us that there are many different factors influencing these patterns. And as in all science there will be continuous debate about exactly what is happening. But I believe that the odds are we can expect, as a result of global warming, to see more of this pattern of extreme cold in the mid latitudes and some extreme warmth in the far north.

Couldn’t help chuckling when hearing the “computer models tell us” phrase. What he didn’t want to say is that computer models have it difficult to model these patterns. What he also didn’t tell with that many words is that not all different factors are known yet. He unveils it a bit in the next sentence in which he states that there is a continuous debate about what is happening (not with skeptics I think) and also he believes that the odds are that we can expect more of these things. Hey, but that is suddenly something different. He is not sure, but maybe, just maybe, this could be true. Or not.

But not only the words are important, what is being seen is as well. Let’s look at the first thing in the background that caught my eye:

Polar vortex in 2 minutes video sceencap

Polar vortex in 2 minutes video sceencap – hurricanes?

Are this the tracks of hurricanes? What are they doing in this video? Sure, it has being said that hurricanes are on the increase because of global warming, but observational evidence is stacked against this. So do they want to keep the suggestion that hurricanes are still a threat?

Polar vortex in 2 minutes video sceencap

Polar vortex in 2 minutes video sceencap – Glowing earth

And what is it with the red glowing earth? Europe, most of Asia/Russia and almost complet of Africa has a close to maximum anomaly of somewhere around 5 – 6 °C? And do I see it right that the North Pole region is blue?!?! That is contrary what Holdren was telling all along. I don’t know any dataset with 5-6 °C anomaly in such large regions. Is this the result of a model?

Polar vortex in 2 minutes video sceencap

Polar vortex in 2 minutes video sceencap – Sea ice extent

Of course the mandatory Arctic sea ice … until 2012! We are in 2014, The data of 2013 should already known. Looking for the source, it seemed that NASA is the source for the graph and animation (see “Arctic Sea Ice”). It is the annual Arctic sea ice minimum area from 1979 to 2012. Looking further they seem to mix area with extent and omit that the data is about the yearly minimum extent. They got their data from NSIDC (which uses extent, not area). In 2012 the extent was indeed 3.413 million km2. In 2013 the lowest extent was 5.103 km2 on September 16, 2013. This makes the omission of the data point of 2013 even worse: the minimum extent of 2013 at the time of the video is already known for almost 4 months!

So being curious, when drawing the minimum extent of 2013 on this graph we get this:

Polar vortex in 2 minutes video sceencap

Sea ice data + added extent of 2013 to the graph

That is not really convenient when one tries to explain that this cold snap was caused by the Arctic ice melt. That obviously didn’t melt as much as the last years and now on the level of 2005.

Again being curious, I found an animation of the Arctic Ice extent in September 2013 by NASA and made a screenshot of the extent of September 12, 2013 (a few days before minimum extent):

Arctic Ice extent on September 12, 2013 Source: Nasa

Arctic Ice extent on September 12, 2013
Source: Nasa

Quite a diffence when one compares it with low 2012 extent from the video. It is obvious they couldn’t possibly show that. It wouldn’t advance their cause.

The video shows us that the voices of those who question global warming start getting threatening to the party line. That became so uncomfortable that they had to do something. Like making a video. Questioning the party line, we can’t have that, can’t we?

The polar Vortex doesn’t disprove global warming. Sure, but that is no big deal actually.

There was lots of talking about the polar vortex this week. Even in this tiny country, which wasn’t affected by the freezing temperatures (yet), the media was full of the polar vortex that made the freezing temperatures in Northern America possible. The media was assuring us that this cold snap was the result of global warming (but a lot carefully avoided calling it global warming and diplomatically called it climate change).

This is basically how the media said it works: it is the result of the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice because of climate change. This decreases the albedo of the Arctic region and as a result it heats up faster than other parts of the Earth. The temperature difference between the Arctic and the southern regions determines the strength of the jet stream. If the jet stream is strong, it isolates the cold Arctic from the warmer mid latitudes. But because of this melt the jet stream becomes weaker and more wavy, allowing cold air (usually confined to the poles) to reach further into the mid latitudes. Et voilà, global warming/climate change caused the severe cold snap. John Holdren, the science advisor of President Obama, even went that far to state that because of this process those deep freeze cold snaps will occur more frequent in the future.

But in general, I can agree with the statement that current cold wave doesn’t disprove global warming. Yet, while it is a nice explanation of the assumed mechanism, it doesn’t prove global warming either. It only proves that media and scientists are creative in finding new ways to fit new events into the theory. AFTER the facts, that is. That’s not difficult, that is what humans are good at, finding connections between seemingly unconnected things.

But deep freeze winters due to the weakening of the jet stream is nothing new. In the 1970s it was used to explain the coming of a new ice age. Younger people may think the weather we see now is unprecedented, but it is not that extreme, nor unprecedented when looking at it over a larger time frame. Remove the hype and there is not much of a story left. Holdren, as a crusader of the coming new Ice Age in the 1970s, should at least recognize that.

How much of this is due to anthropogenic causes? The theory seem to rely on polar amplification. That is a real process, but it doesn’t prove anything about the anthropogenic nature of the warming. Any warming would have that effect, whether it is natural, anthropogenic or both. By the way, the outbreak of cold is also part of the negative phase of the Northern Atlantic Oscillation, which is a natural pattern.

To me it seems yet another patch on a wound of a heavily bruised theory that continue to limp further. I didn’t hear anything about having a higher frequency of very cold winters as a result of global warming/climate change until recently. On the contrary. I heard a lot about more heatwaves, higher temperatures at night, more droughts, more storms, less to no snow,… sure, but very cold winters? No. When it started to snow massively in 2010, suddenly snow became a result of global warming or at least not impossible in a warming world. It seems the same with the cold winters due to the melting ice. Just adding to the possible explanations and covering an additional hole without elimination other ones.

I would be more impressed if scientists came with new falsifiable hypotheses/predictions (based on the global warming theory) about these snowy winters. Now we only hear after the facts that this is not impossible in a warming world or doesn’t disprove global warming. Which is not a big deal actually.

Recovery or dead cat bounce?

Picture my surprise when I found someone declaring that the Arctic had a record low in the comment section of The Guardian:

TheGuardian20140102comment1a

Okay, the comment is rather bullying and show a deep lack of respect, but in the end what matters is: is it true? I was surprised to read there was an record low in Arctic. I check the extent regularly and last time I did (somewhere end of last year) nothing really worrisome was seen. If there was a record low, then it should be something rather recent. I looked at the several datasets, but found nothing out of the ordinary. I went back to the thread and looked deeper and found a response on the quote above.

TheGuardian20140102comment2a

Aha, someone else saw it too and added a link. The link was to the NSIDC site. I already looked at that one and wasn’t aware of a record low in that dataset. As far as I can see, the extent is still within the 2 standard deviations as it has been consistently since more than a year. Contrary to 2012 when the extent took an excursion way south of the 2 standard sigma area.

Source: NSIDC

Source: NSIDC

The 2014 line is moving close to the 2013 line, at least in the January 2 point, but just below the 2012 point. Then it dawned on me. This is probably what the commenters were hinting at: last year the extent increased (50% more ice in comparison to the same low point at the end of previous summer), but then after just five month the extent of January 2, 2014 is even lower than the extent of January 2, 2012. Hey pronto, the extent is at back at a record low!

But this is not the complete story, even not with the generous the low just is noise in the signal (this was probably said because 2011 and 2013 were a bit lower, so technically no record low). There are other things to consider. The January 2-extent is only one point in a year. Take another point and that could change the outcome. More, it is a point that is in one of the least interesting parts of the year. When looking at the values over the year, those from November until March are all very close to each other. Smallest are June and December. If one want to pick just one point in the year, the lowest extent would be a better choice.

More pronounced is in the end of summer (from August until October with a minimum around half of September). The difference in extent between years is much, much bigger. So looking at one specific date in one year alone doesn’t say much. Let’s look at the defense between two years, 2012 (dotted green) and 2013 (solid brown). The black line is the 1981-2010 average.

Source: NSIDC

Source: NSIDC

If one would pick the best year between those two, there is no doubt which one that would be. 2013 stayed within the 2 standard deviations all year long, while 2012 was (sometimes far) below that area between half of June and half of November. That paints a different picture than picking just one meaningless point in a year.

Does this mean that extent doesn’t decline? No, if one look at the data from the beginning (1979) there is a obvious decrease in extent, even if you average the years. But we have to see it in perspective. There is more sea ice than in the Arctic alone. Arctic sea ice is at a low, but Antarctic sea ice is at a record high. Together they are above average. This is called the polar see-saw. Only focusing on the Arctic can give cause for alarm. I have seen this before. There seems to be a shift in focus from global to local. From climate to individual weather events. From averages to day records. More cause for alarm.

Then there is the question: how much is known about the natural variation at the poles? There is only 30+ years worth of reliable data. How could be known that the current variation is natural or not? How can it be certain that the decrease is (partly) anthropogenic if we don’t know what the long term variation really is? How can we know that our emissions and more specifically CO2, is the cause?

On the other hand, does the increase over 2012 means this is the long awaited recovery? Maybe. Maybe not. There was some improvement over last years. How it will pan out in the future is an open question, but at least 2013 looked better than was expected. The future will learn. But it is certainly too soon to call it a dead cat bounce either.

Trapped in Antarctic ice because of weather or climate change?

aksh

When looking at the developments of the Antarctic vessel Academik Shokalskiy that stranded in the ice during its touristic/research mission, it reminded me of an expedition in the Arctic: the Mainstream Last First Expedition in 2013. For those who don’t remember or didn’t follow these expeditions some background.

The Mainstream Last First Expedition was trying to cross (a part of) the Northwest Passage in an (uninforced) row boat. They communicated to the world that their trip would prove global warming because it would be the first time this trip was done on human power alone. After about two months they realized there was much more ice they ever anticipated and it blocked their passage. This made them abort their trip about half way.

The Spirit of Mawson expedition was inspired by the expedition of the Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson, one of Antarctica’s earliest pioneers. Lawson led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition between 1911 and 1914 in which scientific measurements were done. The idea was to redo his measurements and study the effect of climate change on the Antarctic. Everything went well until Christmas Eve, when the ship got stuck in ice. Not being an icebreaker it couldn’t get out and help from icebreakers was requested. The Australian icebreaker Aurora australis couldn’t get trough and the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) even got stuck in the attempt. In the end the helicopter of the Xue Long rescued the passengers from the stranded vessel. Both vessels are still stuck in the ice at this moment.

Both expeditions didn’t expect to encounter much sea ice. The Mainstream Last First expedition rowed in a non-reinforced boat of fiberglass, very vulnerable for ruptures by the ice. Their assumption was that the passage was virtually ice free and they would have a clear way. If they were expecting significant amounts of ice they would not choose this type of boat to do their trip.
The Spirit of Mawson expedition, despite the Antarctic sea ice being at an all time high, didn’t expect much sea ice in that area in December. Therefor they didn’t do the trip in an icebreaker, but in a vessel with a reinforced hull. They also took with them tourists and journalists (BBC, The Guardian and the Radio New Zealand). They were quite sure there was not much danger.

Both expeditions also had an extensive media campaign and a scientific aspect (far more in the Mawson expedition than in the Mainstream Last First expedition).

The stranded vessel generated a lot of media attention. The expedition was criticized for doing tourism disguised as science, the inadequate vessel, for being naive in the dangers they put children and tourists in a a harsh environment, the poor communication with the Russian crew. Even other polar scientists seemed not amused (in French) with the touristic/scientific expedition that consumed other scientists resources and put rescuers at risk. But most saw the irony of scientists who studied climate change being themselves being trapped by the ice they clearly weren’t expecting. Although they should have know that sea ice extent in the Antarctic was at an all time high and the bay they were heading to was notorious for its increased sea ice because an ice berg crashed into a glacier tongue three years ago.

Being frustrated about the criticism, Turney explained his view in the Guardian

Let’s be clear. Us becoming locked in ice was not caused by climate change. Instead it seems to have been an aftershock of the arrival of iceberg B09B which triggered a massive reconfiguration of sea ice in the area.

He didn’t add that the calving of the Ross glacier (where iceberg B09B was originally from) IS attributed to global warming, so at least indirect the cause. And the storm (explained as being unexpected) was not unpredictable.

An article in the Guardian by John Turner explains a bit more:

[…]

In fact, the local weather patterns that brought about the rapid build up of ice that trapped the Academik Shokalskiy tell us very little about global warming. This is weather, not climate.

Regionally, climate change can vary markedly across the Earth so to detect human influences on the climate system climate scientists must consider the Earth as a whole.

What is clear is that the impact of climate change on ice at both poles is complex.

In the area where the Akademik Shokalskiy is trapped there has been an increase in sea ice extent for the year as a whole since the late 1970s, although not for the month of December (see attached graph). The amount of ice in the area can vary considerably from year to year making ship operations difficult. The December ice extent in 2011 and 2012 was much larger than the long-term mean, and the ice in 2013 has obviously been of comparable magnitude.

[…]

I agree there in this point of view this is an example of weather, not climate. But this area had an increase of ice since the late 1970s. That’s not simply weather anymore and they should be prepared for that. Especially when they knew the amount could vary considerably from year to year and make things difficult.

I have to admit that Turney himself didn’t talk about disappearing sea ice in the Antarctic. The only thing I found was:

However there is an increasing body of evidence, including by the AAE members, that have identified parts of the East Antarctic which are highly susceptible to melting and collapse from ocean warming.

This is deliciously vague, it could well be melting of the ice shelf and/or sea ice. But at least the BBC saw that differently:

[…]

One of the aims was to track how quickly the Antarctic’s sea ice was disappearing.

[…]

Ooops…this was being said by a broadcast station that should have FIRST HAND INFORMATION about the project! Was the reporter not informed about this part of the project? Did he (or the home base) wrote this on their own initiative? Or was this really a part of the project?

This brings me to a final reflection. What if there hadn’t been (much) ice when they got there? Does anybody think things like this would have been written: “This is weather, not climate”, “We must consider the Earth as a whole” or “The impact of climate change on ice at both poles is complex”? With journalists from at least two alarmist media, we would probably have a barrage of articles that claim that this voyage proved that global warming is alive and kicking in the Antarctic…

2013, the year that was

A look back at a fun and eventful year 2013. I remember it as the year in which Mother Earth was not really nice to alarmist minds. Not surprisingly the media excelled themselves in consistently looking the other way, yet regained full strength when something, anything came along that could confirm the narrative. A fun compilation.

2013 was the year that the pause was already 17 years old (according to the RSS satellite dataset). Although the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere rose to unprecedented levels, temperatures didn’t collaborated well. Scientists were baffled and still trying to figure out what the hell is going on here. This is something we were hoping for all along. We were told that global warming is something really bad, a 17 year standstill would be a desirable thing.
Yet we hardly hear anything about this pause in the media and when it did get mention, it is quickly added that the scientists declare that the warmth mysteriously jumped into the deep ocean and it would only a matter of time when it would jump back out. No word that the increase of the deep ocean was an assumption of the scientists, not something that was actually measured or compared. If it paused even in face of an unprecedented increase of its supposed main cause, that should make humble those who were so damned sure about this connection. Yet, what we hear is that scientists are more sure now than ever. How could that be?

In the part of the world I live, it was the year without a spring and the beginning of a summer began also cold. One would think people would jump for joy: one year less global warming.
Yet the mainstream media exhausted themselves in explaining the cold weather was due to the melting ice of the Arctic. Global warming obviously did it.
Now North America is cold and snowy again this year, what will this get attributed to?

In August a team tried to row (a part of) the Northwest passage. Crossing the passage on human power alone would prove once and for all that global warming was there, really. But got stuck in the ice. You would expect them to be humbled because they were stopped by the very thing they were saying would hardly be there any more.
Yet they were claiming that, whatever happened, global warming was still there, even stronger than ever and their failure didn’t prove anything. In the end they were even more sure about global warming?!?

We had a record extent of the Antarctic and the Arctic ice was growing again. 50%-60% extra in a couple seasons. Global ice extent was also highest. One would think this would be a good thing. Higher albedo, you know.
Yet the mainstream media was sooooo incredibly focused on the Arctic melt of last year. Although a year pasted since then, they simply couldn’t get enough of it! Ignoring completely the current growth against a year ago.

The IPCC wrote in their fifth report that there was only low certainty on increases of droughts and tropical storms due to anthropogenic global warming. Also before the release the models that confirmed global warming were criticized.
Yet no mention in the media about how the models failed. In stead it focused on the, ahem, “increase of certainty” of the AR5 in the face of the contrary. The poor sods, it was not in the press release, so how could they know. Also, the politicians in COP19 jostled each other to attribute Haiyan to our emissions. Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa. Mea Maxima Culpa. Even the UN secretary general ignored its own report and in no uncertain terms connected Haiyan to global warming and our emissions.

Then came a very nice November, temperature wise. According to the satellite dataset, globally it was not remarkable comparing to their recorded history.
Yet it was reported as the warmest November everrrrrr. When one carefully select the surface station data and compared it with hardly existing data until a couple decades or so, a record month could be squeezed out. And yes, no effort was spared to breathlessly broadcast this fact to the world.

At the end of the year there was a ship stuck in the Antarctic sea ice. On it were tourists but also (climate) scientists and journalists that by doing this trip want to tell the story of global warming. That would be a nice opportunity for the media to be a little bit critical. Tell us for example a little bit more about the all time record ice extent…ever. Also think of the headlines it could make: scientists who want to show the ice is disappearing, trapped in the ice…in the Antarctic summer…
Yet the only news we got were the shipwrecked partying and enjoying the sight of the penguins. The mainstream media failed to mention the reason why those climate scientists were going to the Antarctic.

Nothing new here.