Category Archives: Climate Change

Arctic witness

On September 9, Charles Hedrich (the Arctic rower who was on his way to cross the Northwest Passage solo in a rowboat) made the decision to abort his attempt and to stop at Tuktoyaktuk where he will spend the winter. He rowed 1,700 km, not yet half way his goal. He plans to continue for the second part in the summer of 2014.

It was something that was expected after his message on September 6 and his focusing on past failed attempts to cross the Northwest Passage back in the 1845 and the 1900s.

Although I deeply respect his achievement of rowing solo for 1,700 km, I find the unavoidable mention of climate change strangely funny. This text at the end of the post caught my attention (translated from French):

The Arctic, a particular area, is often seen as a direct witness of changes to our planet. A field testimony to share and distribute via the association “Respectons La Terre” inviting to know and observe the earth through sportive adventurers who live their passions around the world.

The first sentence seems a bit comical after being stopped by ice only expected a month later and after several statements that “climate change is absent this year”. Or did something happen to that sensitivity or to climate change? Yeah, I know that one year doesn’t prove anything. But it indicates how little is known about the Arctic: this wasn’t expected. Not so long ago scientists and the media projected an ice free Arctic in the summer of 2013. As they also projected it for 2000, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2030, 2050,… take your pick. It would be interesting to see what happens next. Will the melting kick in again? Or will there be a slow increase of ice? There are certainly interesting times ahead.

I have to agree that these references to climate change are very, very mild compared to what for example the Mainstream Last First team is spewing to the public. Their theme is totally immersed in the “climate change is transforming the Arctic” and even when they experienced it differently they frantically kept on beating this drum. More on that in following post.

Missing In Action: Climate Change

wanted

Not only the Mainstream Last First project was rowing the Northwest Passage. Another rower, Charles Hedrich, also started rowing from July 1, 2013. Unlike the Mainstream Last First project, he is trying to row the complete Northwest Passage from Bering Strait to the Davis Strait. The Last First project aborted their mission on August 30, 2013. Until now Charles Hedrich is still in the running. But according to his website he also seems to encounter problems. His website is in French and although I speak the language somewhat, it is not a language that I am very comfortable with. So I give the translation for what it is worth (I think it is better than the one of Google Translate, which is a bit funny to say the least):

First narrowing of the Northwest Passage, the ice is located between Sachs Harbor and Cape Bathurst. Will he pass or not?

The cold already arrived, the night lasts 7 hours now and the temperature becomes negative. Gales follow one another with a steady pace.

Passing the blockade seems possible but the row trip is at great risk. The blocks of ice, icebergs or growlers may literally crush the rower. Anyway the passage is already closed between Cambridge Bay and Resolute. As Charles said before leaving “it is dead”. Global warming is missing. In 2012 the passage is closed around October 20, in one month and a half … But that’s Adventure. Theories are abandoned and practice prevails. React to the situation at hand, decide, avoid catastrophe.

I couldn’t really place the “it is dead” statement. What does this refers to? The trip? Climate change? He has quite a poetic language use. That the reason for the funny translations of Google Translate.
Then I found the context of this saying (translated from French):

I need to arrive at the end of September the latest, after this it is dead.

The “it is dead” part refers to the trip, meaning it will be the end. If he doesn’t arrive before the end of September he will have to abort the trip this year. Why the end of September? As he said in the first quote, last year the Passage was open until October 20. But apparently Climate Change forgot to visit the Arctic. The melt season was shorter and the Passage is already closing 1.5 months before the time of closure last year. Resulting in a couple aborted attempts in crossing the “Northwest Passage” or crossing the Arctic. Both Mainstream Last First and Hedrich seemed to count heavily on the effects of Global Warming to get trough the Passage. The Mainstream Last First had misplaced confidence in this effect and it seems to be the same for the Hedrich attempt.

What caught my eye in the Hedrich article was that after the explanation of the difficulties ahead he also wrote about the previous explorations, titled: “The Northwest Passage: a dangerous quest”. Surprisingly, he repeated about the same stuff as the Mainstream Last First FAQ, just a bit less. He only wrote about the fatal attempt of the Franklin Expedition and the first successful expedition of Roald Amundsen with the Gjøa, excluding all the other successful expeditions. I can imagine why. By only mentioning the failed crossing and difficulties and length of the first successful crossing, it will sooth the prospect of the possible failure.

Luckily he also gives his source: the entry of the Northwest Passage in the The Canadian Encyclopedia. This article seemed familiar. Also here only the failed attempts culminating in the Franklin Expedition, the first crossing of Amundsen, the first crossing by the St. Roch and its first one season crossing. In the following text some mention that the crossing was only possible by means of an ice-breaker. No mention about the other 180+ crossings. At the end a large chunk of Climate Change stuff. It seems they both took this as inspiration for their communication to the world.

Don’t get me wrong here. I have no problem with neither attempts of crossing the Northwest Passage by human power alone. This is an incredibly feat and I highly respect that. Rowing for 5,700 km or even 3,000 km or even 1,500 km is quite an achievement, certainly in an unforgiving environment as the Arctic. But I do have a problem with the one-sidedness of the communication about the project. It is not that pronounced with the Hedrich project, but it is the pivot stone in the Mainstream Last First project: this row is only possible because of climate change and the melting ice. But what if the project doesn’t succeed? Will Climate Change still be named, not as a culprit, but as a phenomenon that seemingly was not there this year?

Does crossing (a part of) the Northwest Passage demonstrates the dramatic effect of climate change?

brokennwpassage

With interest I followed the (failed) attempt of the Mainstream Last First Expedition to row across the Northwest passage. They didn’t really stranded in the ice as I was expecting, but aborted their mission about half way their intended route. They ended in beauty before the ice stopped them in their tracks.

Flashback a couple months. This is how they heroically introduced themselves in the media titled “Four adventurers set off this summer to row the Northwest Passage”:

On July 1, 2013 four modern-day explorers from Vancouver will attempt a world first by rowing the 3,000 km Northwest Passage in a specially commissioned boat by human power alone in a single season-a feat only possible now due to the melting ice in the Arctic.

I don’t want to minimize the difficulty and effort needed to row 3,000 km, but technically the Northwest Passage is 5,600 km long from the Davis Strait to the Bering Strait. Sailing from Univuk to Pond Inlet is like climbing from base camp I to base camp II and calling it having conquered Mount Everest.

[…] This area once represented a closed door for mariners who attempted to navigate the sea route, without success due to impassable sea ice. This passage has only become semi-navigable for about three months a year in the summer months when the ice of the Arctic Ocean breaks up and melts before refreezing for the winter. The four men will take advantage of that short window to row the ice-strewn passage.

“It wasn’t long ago that the Northwest Passage was the sole domain of steel-hulled ice-breakers but things have changed,” said Kevin Vallely, lead rower.

As far as I know there were 180+ successful crossings and the earliest were even made with wooden vessels. Things have changed indeed, but things can change rapidly as they experienced themselves.

A question that caught my attention in the FAQ:

When was the last time an Arctic / NW Passage expedition such as this was conducted and by whom?
Franklin and his crew died trying in the 1845-7. Many others died too. Roald Amundsen succeeded at the first traverse between 1903-06, taking three years to do it. The Canadian Ice Breaker the St. Roche, housed at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, made the second successful crossing of the passage between 1940-42. A handful of people have sailed it in recent years (mostly under motor) and a handful of people have kayaked it over several seasons. No one has traversed it solely under human power in one season. No one has come close.

True, but a very odd selection of the facts. It gives the false impression that only ice-breakers can do the trip and just barely. The first successful crossing was done with a strengthened wooden vessel, the Gjøa. How did that vessel even got through that “closed door” and that “impassable sea ice”?

They also give only three examples: first one that didn’t make it, the second example was the first actual (multi-season) crossing and the third example the second (multi-year) crossing. He conveniently forgot to mention anything after 1942 (that are 180+ crossings). Those examples seemed to be picked for impact and give the false impression that the previous crossing were all multi year attempts. It is true that the first attempts were all multi-season crossing, but they were not just sailing trough, they were still looking for a route. They were explorers mapping the area. At the end he vaguely mentioned a handful of people in a kayak which didn’t make it in one season. According his story there was nothing in between and now the passage becomes open they will give it a try…

The first one-season crossing was in 1944 by the same St. Roch (a sail/diesel engined reinforced wooden ship). According to northwestpassage2013.blogspot.com only 19 of 185 transits (with 138 different vessels) took more than one season to complete the passage. 5 even did a return in the same season.

But I can agree there were no Northwest Passage crossing by hand power alone. With the remark that even if they would succeed rowing this route, they wouldn’t technically rowed the Northwest Passage either.

Now back to reality. On August 30, 2013 they aborted their attempt because of … too much ice ahead. The ice that shouldn’t be there because of climate change. They said that their trip would only made possible because of the lack of ice. They ended their journey about halfway the intended route, which was already half of the official Northwest passage.

[…] At many Eastern places of NWP locals have not seen this type ice conditions. Residents of Resolute say 20 years have not seen anything like. Its, ice, ice and more ice. Larsen, Peel, Bellot, Regent and Barrow Strait are all choked. That is the only route to East. Already West Lancaster received -2C temperature expecting -7C on Tuesday with the snow. […]

[…] This has been the coldest season with the most ice since we started Arctic Watch in 2000. Almost no whales. The NWPassage is still blocked with ice. Some of the bays still have not melted! […]

[…] The expedition challenged us in ways we couldn’t have imagined and we dodged a number bullets along the way. The bullets came in the form of a pan of multi-year ice intent on running us over in Franklin Bay, in the form of wind, storm and current wanting us to experience the grinding pack ice of Darnley Bay all close-up and personal, in the form of a southerly wind so strong we’re powerless as it pushes us out into the Amundsen Gulf. […]

The reality seem to be ice, ice and more ice, different straits that are being choked, low temperatures, coldest season with the most ice since 2000, some bays haven’t even melted, multi year ice threatening running them over and pack ice driven by the wind. Apparently not what they were expecting. How did they validate their belief in the opening of the Northwest-passage after their “first-hand experience”? Apparently they did not such a thing:

Our message remains unaffected though, bringing awareness to the pressing issues of climate change in the arctic.

The expedition has opened our eyes to the issues like we never imagined. We’ve experienced the arctic in a truly unique way and have had the privilege to speak with the people that live here and to hear their stories on climate change. And they’ve told us lots.

What? Suddenly that first-hand information thingy isn’t important anymore. One would expect him to be humbled in the face of reality and at least reassess the premise with this new information. In stead his information source suddenly changes from the icefree passage to the stories of the locals. The same locals that told him that climate change is happening, but also that there is ice, ice, ice. Apparently the locals told him whatever he wanted to hear.

From their presentation I had the impression they thought climate change would open the Northwest passage and they would easily get trough. It did not happen. But he was not deterred by it and went on and, surprise, surprise, claiming climate change is still alive and kicking, a belief strengthened by the new found information source.

That’s strange. Let’s look back to their original core statement in the heroic message to the press:

“Climate change is transforming the Arctic and the world. By traversing the Northwest Passage completely under human power in a rowboat, without sail or motor, the Mainstream Last First team will be able to demonstrate first-hand the dramatic effects climate change is having on our planet. Something like this has never been done before. It is only now possible due to the increase in seasonal sea ice melt and deterioration due to climate changes.”

In retrospect that seemed to be a really dangerous statement to make upfront: if the premise shows to be not true (if the passage is not navigable in this short time frame after all) could this dramatic effect still being demonstrated by this attempt? Indeed, let’s turn it around: if one states that the crossing shows the dramatic effects of climate change, the failure to do so because of blocking ice must mean the effects of climate change are less dramatic than expected, at least this year. But that is not what they are telling us now.

Thoughts on storms, teacups and mindsets

onweer

Until a couple weeks ago the summer of 2013 sucked big time. But then we got sunny weather at last. People were longing for a long time for this kind of weather and breathed a sigh of relief when it finally came. The coastal cities, that complained because hotel reservations were very low, now had full house. At work we heard on the radio that this weather was “extremely well”.

Then came the news that we might have a heatwave (5 days of minimum 25 °C and 3 days of minimum 30 °C). I was expecting the worse, for example people taking this heatwave directly after a bad winter and bad spring and a bad start of summer as proof of global warming (or climate change or climate disruption or whatever). To my surprise this was only minimal. Most of the reactions were extremely positive, more like “Hey, we will have a heatwave! How nice!”. I didn’t expect that. In the end we officially got our heatwave on Thursday. Most people seemed to enjoyed it, even longing for more.

After such a period of warm weather, the chance of having a thunderstorm is really high. We got one this morning. First it was cloudy, humid and rather warm. Then the first drops began to fall and from the South-West side it began to get much darker. There were impressive waving clouds and white upwelling clouds. Then lighting started and rain was pouring. After ten minutes the worst part was over. After that still lots of rain. After an hour or so the rain stopped and the sun started to shine again. We had a nice day afterwards.

Thunderstorm July 27, 2013. Image: buienradar.be

Thunderstorm July 27, 2013. Image: buienradar.be

I don’t want to minimize it. It was a hefty thunderstorm with heavy wind and loads of rain in a very short time frame. So there is a high chance it will create problems somewhere, somehow. But in my lifetime I have been through several thunderstorms before and I was not particularly alarmed by it. But I can imagine that some people would take this thunderstorm as an additional proof that climate change is real and is happening right now. You know. We tend to seek patterns around us. It is all about the mindset. If I would hear day-in-day-out that our climate is changing and we get more extreme weather because of CO2, then this storm could well fit the pattern and it comes natural to add it to the list of proofs of climate change. That is what the mindset is about. Been there, done that.

For example, when Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, I was still a believer. Before the event I had seen a documentary about New Orleans. In that documentary a scientist explained that hurricanes hit New Orleans on a regularly basis in the past and that they were already overdue for a big one. Yet when later was said that Katrina was an example of global warming in action … I just believed it. Not bothered by this knowledge I believed the statement, because it fitted my beliefs perfectly and therefor ignoring the inconvenient piece of information. If I would still been a believer, I guess I would see this storm as proof of extreme weather. Not because of the data, but because it fitted my beliefs.

It seems inevitable. How long would it take before someone uses this thunderstorm to connect it with extreme weather/global warming/climate disruption? In four, three, two, one…

Chilling lesson from the past

chillinglesson

When hearing about the “global warming creates cold weather”-ad hoc explanation for our cold winter/spring, it all seemed familiar to me. I definitely heard that before. In the 1970s this was also how the coming Ice Age was explained. For example, this is how Science News brought it in 1975:

The principal weather change likely to accompany the cooling trend is increased variability-alternating extremes of temperature and precipitation in any given area-which would almost certainly lower average crop yields. The cause of this increased variability can best be seen by examining upper atmosphere wind patterns that accompany cooler climate. During warm periods a “zonal circulation” predominates, in which the prevailing westerly winds of the temperate zones are swept over long distances by a few powerful high and low pressure centers. The result is a more evenly distributed pattern of weather, varying relatively little from month to month or season to season. During cooler climatic periods, however, the high-altitude winds are broken up into irregular cells by weaker and more plentiful pressure centers, causing formation of a “meridional circulation” pattern. These small, weak cells may stagnate over vast areas for many months, bringing unseasonably cold weather on one side and unseasonably warm weather on the other. Droughts and floods become more frequent and may alternate season to season, as they did last year in India. Thus, while the hemisphere as a whole is cooler, individual areas may alternately break temperature and precipitation records at both extremes.

Indeed, very familiar when comparing what is proposed now as the reason for the current cold weather. Just somewhat different word preference. Read “Jet stream” for “upper atmosphere wind patterns”, “positive phase” for “warm periods”, “negative phase” for “cooler periods”, “Blocking” for “Stagnate”.

What were/are the effects:

  • Increased variability: check.
  • Alternating extremes of temperature and precipitation. Broken up into irregular cells. Check.
  • May stagnate over vast areas for many months, Check.
  • Unseasonably cold weather on one side and unseasonably warm weather on the other, Check.
  • Droughts and floods become more frequent. Check.

These effects are not unusual for a negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation. The Arctic Oscillation was predominantly positive for the 1980s and 1990s, which had an influence on the winters in the Northern Hemisphere. One time or another it was bound to go negative again. So how can one differentiate clearly between the two when the explanation has the same effect as the natural variation? Not to mention the scientists were surprised and had to again rebuild their theory to match the new observations.

The name of the phenomenon “Arctic Oscillation” is not used because at that time the phenomenon didn’t have a name yet. It was given by Wallace and Thompson at the end of the 1990s, who seem to consider it a natural process. In the current explanations of the warm cold, the name is not stated either, probably for other reasons.

This is how they showed it graphically in 1975:

chillingpossibilities_thmb
Source: Science News: Climate Change – Chilling possibilities

Compare it with current graphics:

fig17_9_thmb
Source: http://www.ees.rochester.edu/fehnlab/ees215/

So the same process seemed to be used to explain two opposites. In the 1970s to explain it was colder and we might go towards a new ice age. Now to explain global warming is still here and hey, it is getting colder because of “global” warming.

Flashback in La Douce France

flashback

More than a week ago I was on vacation in the South of France. The weather was rather cold and rainy, not really how I experienced it before in this time of the year. Other places in France seemed to have other weather than where I stayed. The East had a heath wave, The South-West had floods. To me it was just weather. It changes all the time. Some weather events don’t make a trend.

I was there with a friend who believes the alarmist statements. For her the case was really clear. We, humans, messed up the planet and now we get erratic weather patterns as a result. Normally I keep away of such topics with my alarmist friends. In the past I sparely reacted on this. I remember one time where the question was raised if there were more storms than before. I then pointed out that the data said otherwise, the number of storms diminished over the last decades. My friends were genuinely surprised to hear what the data really said. They were told it went UP.

This time the topic was raised that this weather was so unusual that humans clearly had a hand in this. I said that weather is chaotic and that it naturally slowly changes over several decades. This time again she seemed really surprised to hear this.

“But don’t you believe in global warming then?” she asked a bit hesitant. She knows I am green at heart and obviously didn’t see this coming. I said that there was an increase in temperatures since measurements started, but it was probably only in the order of tenths of a degree, not degrees. It also could be part of a natural cycle. She was really surprised to hear that. She thought it was in the order of ten degrees…

I suggested that those weather patterns change naturally over many decades in cycles and we could now be over the peak and maybe even going slowly downwards. In this case this cold and rainy weather isn’t necessarily due to human influences, but following a cycle. She said that nobody told her that before. Then she posed the million euro question: “Why do we think this weather is worse than before?”. Which she answered straight away: “Is it because we now have more information available to us about these events?”. I agreed with that. I also think this is one of the reasons why we view this weather as unusually bad.

When I was a kid we had a radio, a television and my parents had a subscription to one newspaper. In that time we were considered very well informed because of this. On that television there were only two channels we could view. There were some other channels, but they gave a rather snowy view which made viewing really difficult. From those two there was one Dutch and one French channel, so basically we only viewed one of them. If there was a storm or other extreme event, it had to be a really big one, otherwise we would not have noticed it. Today my television has 40+ crisp channels, on workdays I have the possibility to read two different newspapers and the internet is a huge information source. Nowadays when there is a storm or an other unusual weather pattern, however small, there is an avalanche of data from different sources.

Here I was in a remote village in the South of France and although we had no internet access whatsoever, no newspaper, no television and no radio, we learned that there was different weather in different places in France. In my youth, we probably wouldn’t even have noticed these events. We are hugely more informed than just a couple decades before. It is easy to confuse that increase in quantity of reporting with an increase in severity.

It is not because we heard less about extreme events in the past that they didn’t exist back then. It is not because there is more reporting on events that there are more of it now. Just as there weren’t less planets before because ancient astronomers only found few planets and the Hubble telescope loads more. Those planets were already there, the Hubble telescope only made them visible.

This took me back in time. I came a long way. Just four years ago I had exactly the same preconceptions as she has. It is so easy to forget where I once came from. It also made some things clear. I realized more than ever that most of the people, even if interested in the topic, only get very one-sided information. They are not being told about climate cycles, about insecurity about the data, the halt in temperature increase and so on. I am not surprised most people buy into the scare. Repeat something long enough and we tend to believe it.

Can we really be well informed about our climate if we only hear about one (alarmist) side of it?

The incredibly morphing theory

morph

When reading the first statement from the dossier of the Flemish greens I had the impression that the author avoided to name of the phenomenon he described. When reading the next two statements I had the exact same impression. They were made by investigators of the Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK) who cited two studies about atmospheric changes. They describe the impact of the Arctic Oscillation on our weather, but carefully avoided its name. In stead they make the “suggestion” that global warming (by warming the Arctic region) changes these “waves” and therefor was (partly) the cause wintry weather we got.

The first statement is from Jaiser et al. The second from Petoukhov et al. I could trace this last one back to: Weather extremes provoked by trapping of giant waves in the atmosphere by Petoukhov et al.

They seem to explain the cold weather by blocking events in the higher atmosphere partly caused by the warming of the Arctic. I could agree with the blocking event causing our rather cold weather. As far as I can know it was seen as the common cause for the heat wave in Russia 2010, the Pakistan flood in 2010 and the heat wave in the United States in 2011. I think it is a known meteorologic process.

What about the human attribution?

[…] the suggested physical process increases the probability of weather extremes, but additional factors certainly play a role as well, including natural variability. […]

To be fair, they say it increases the probability of extremes and that natural variability plays a role. In the paper they calculated the wave motions and tested when they grind to a halt of amplify. Okay, but this part catched my attention (my bold):

[…] Also, the 32-year period studied in the project provides a good indication of the mechanism involved, yet is too short for definite conclusions. […]

A 32 year period (the research was sent for review in June 2012) means the start of their investigations was around 1980. Just at the beginning of a warm cycle and excluding all the data of the previous cool cycle… Indeed, this is a bit short to draw conclusions from.

Even if they describe their paper as a breakthrough and they seem to be very sure about human attribution, the conclusion doesn’t seem to be clearcut in favor of human attribution (my bold):

[…]If the observed increasing number of summer months with high-amplitude wave numbers m=6, 7, and 8 indeed is the result of ongoing global warming, then we have described a possible dynamical mechanism for how global warming might contribute to future extreme summer events.[…]

While the described processes seem plausible, they don’t seem to prove human attribution and again produced AFTER the facts. In a way, I don’t have a problem with the theory, nor with the adjusting. A theory can be adjusted when the observations don’t fit the theory anymore. But this is different. Over time, the original idea morphed into something completely different. And yes, also this time they found a nice explanation, but it is slowly changing the theory into something different in order to be able to adjust the theory. It also became something non-falsifiable. There is no condition, no weather event that could falsify the theory.

But there seems to be at least one other theory that predicted these new observations in advance. Since I got interested about climate, I learned that climate comes in cycles. It was not uncommon to read that a cooling period was ahead. This because of several cycles that would go negative together, but also a sun that went to sleep and volcanic activity as a possible amplifier. At that time it seemed a bit ridiculous to hear about, but after a while it made sense. In that light the current stagnation/cooling was no real surprise to me. This of course doesn’t mean it is necessarily true, but it gives an indication that it probably is well founded. I have more confidence in a theory that predicted the observations all along, than in a theory that has to be adjusted every time observations change.

Why are we so hooked to a theory that seems to be wrong every time the observation changes? And yet we seem to stay confident in it…

The science is clear…

clear

Reading the dossier that the Flemish Green party prepared as a proof that our government is wrong about its climate goals: “Climate disruption: long winter, bad spring – The link between climate disruption, long winters and more precipitation” was an educational experience. Already the title caught my attention. Longer winters, that is a new thing. Previous, shorter winters were predicted. Also wet winters (more rain, less snow) and dry summers. According to the dossier the prediction of more precipitation in winter still stands, but there are seemingly no changes in precipitation in other seasons (although a small increase in summer precipitation since the 1970s…).

There are three sections in the dossier: first there were the statements of scientists and a weatherman, second part is about precipitation and last part about climate politics in Belgium and more specifically Flanders. I will first look into the first statement.

It is from an article from De Morgen (Flemish newspaper) of March 26, 2013 in which Jean-Pascal Van Ypersele (vice president IPCC) explained that by changes in the jet stream there are more North-South winds than West-East winds. This means more extreme temperatures (if there is a North-South wind → colder, if there is a West-East wind → warmer). It seems plausible. In fact, the explained phenomenon sounds rather familiar to me.

First, it is a real phenomenon, but no mention of its name: the “Arctic Oscillation” (AO). Yes, OSCILLATION. As in possibly having phase shifts. Indeed, the AO index went in a negative trend a couple years ago (but also other oscillations went negative), so it would be no surprise that the temperatures went down.

This is how Wikipedia explains the cooling/warming influence of the Arctic Oscillation:

The degree to which Arctic air penetrates into middle latitudes is related to the AO index, which is defined by surface atmospheric pressure patterns. When the AO index is positive, surface pressure is low in the polar region. This helps the middle latitude jet stream to blow strongly and consistently from west to east, thus keeping cold Arctic air locked in the polar region. When the AO index is negative, there tends to be high pressure in the polar region, weaker zonal winds, and greater movement of frigid polar air into middle latitudes.

Second, it reminded me of the ice age scare of the 1970s, in which the same phenomenon (upper atmospheric wind patterns that favors North-South circulation i.s.o. West-East circulation) was brought in to explain a return to an ice age (this scare was probably a Northern Hemisphere thing, probably more about this in a later post).

The statement he starts early with is: “the science is rather clear on this”. When I hear such a statement, my BS meter is going into overdrive. I heard this many times before and afterwards it was wrong anyway. Sure, the science is clear, but what exactly is the science clear about? Is it about the phenomenon (which I think is real) or about human attribution (which I think will be hard to proof)? When it is the last thing, he could have a point there (he tries to connect the vertical winds to human emissions, via the melting icecap), but I think it is the first thing he means. Not all scientists are sure about the attribution. They consider it, ahem, a natural cycle.

A question I ask myself: when in the positive phase the signal is in the same direction as global warming, how to differentiate between the two?

In the end, we really can be comforted that, although in the past something completely different was predicted/projected (by the same people), global warming is still on track and the science is still clear as ever. 😉

Does climate results in weather?

backwards

After reading the article about our cold winter and cool spring I was interested in the dossier the Flemish green party prepared about this. It is called “Climate disruption: long winter, bad spring” and subtitle “The link between climate disruption, long winters and more precipitation”. There was a very short introduction of five sentences. One sentence in particular raised my eyebrows.

Let’s start with the first three (translated from Dutch):

Climate and weather are clearly two different things. The link between the two is yet equally clear. A change in climate has a change in weather patterns as a result.

Basically the author(s) first said that climate and weather are different things (without explaining what the difference is), then go on that there is a link between those two. In a way that is true, but then the third sentence got me scratching my head. As far as I know, climate is the average of weather patterns over a longer time frame. Climate is averaged weather, but weather is not climate. When weather patterns change, then the average over a longer time frame (=climate) will obviously change too. They seem to have it backwards. Changing weather patterns result in a changing climate over time, not the other way around!

This could be an honest mistake or just an awkward way of putting it. But I have seen such statements several times before and mostly in a political context. I started to wonder why this could be and what would be the consequence of mixing up the relation between the two, politically speaking.

Back to the dossier. The next sentence:

In recent months we experienced unexpected weather, with a winter that lasted a long time and a spring that did not start.

Unexpected for who? Sure, from the standpoint of global warming theory, winters would get softer and springs earlier. For those who adhere that theory, this kind of weather is clearly unexpected. But that doesn’t mean that everybody was equally surprised by this weather.

That weather is the result of many factors, but a whole array of scientists point out that climate change, global warming, has something to do with it.

To be fair, they called it weather (a winter and a spring would not be much of a trend anyway). In this dossier this was the introduction to several quotes of scientists and a weatherman that supported the claim. More about this in a later post.

In general, I was surprised how many buzz words were used. Normally, such texts use only one (say “global warming”) and then stick with it until the end, but this time they seem to have used the whole lot. The title and subtitle mention “climate disruption” and already in the fifth sentence they used “climate change” and “global warming”. It took only eight sentences to use them all!

No more nice springs if we don’t vote green!

vote for nice spring

This weekend I was catching up reading. One of the pieces that I missed last week was a news paper article about the cold weather of this spring. It was about some statements made by Wouter Van Besien, chairman of the Flemish green party (Groen!). It had the catchy title (translated from Dutch):

Bad weather is the fault of the Flemish and Federal Government

That got my attention. Some excerpts:

Many bad springs will follow from the policies of these governments […]
According to Van Besien, there is an obvious link that this cold weather is caused by climate change […]
Even though there are much bigger polluters such as the U.S. and China, Kris Peeters and Elio Di Rupo to that effect are partly responsible for global warming.

I had to pinch myself a couple time in the arm. He couldn’t actually said that, did he? Then I found more sources that confirmed his statements and it was mentioned on the website of the green party. Yep, he actually said that! On their website there is also a document with, ahem, evidence that support his statements. Probably more on this in a later post. Now back to the statements in the article.

To be clear: I have nothing against the Flemish green party or its chairman. I am a green person at heart and have been consistently voting green until about three years ago. To be honest, Van Besien was the person that made me doubt to maybe start vote green again, but other members of his party made me decide not to give my vote to his party anymore. Although I respect him as a politician, these statements don’t make much sense.

The article states that Elio Di Rupo (current Belgian prime minister) and Kris Peeters (current minister-president of the Flemish government) are “partly” responsible for global warming. Even if that is true, he is overstating their influence greatly. Assume for the sake of the argument that this is true, how much would that be? For all those visitors outside Western Europe that find Belgium on a world map without the use of a magnifying glass: congratulations! Flanders is a part of Belgium and somewhat less than half of that. For the record: Belgium is about 30,530 km2 or a whopping 0.02% of total land area. Even if we had relatively more emission than other countries, the influence would be insignificant on a global scale. Ironically, I found a link to this little gem on the same page as the article (translated from Dutch):

Belgium had the largest CO2 reduction across the EU in 2012
CO2 emissions from combustion of fossil fuels in Belgium dropped last year by 11.8 percent.

To compare: the EU had a 2.1% reduction. If reduction of the CO2 emissions is important in combating global warming, then last year our leaders did just fine. To be honest, in global terms that reduction would be also insignificant.

What also caught my attention was that in the article and the document on their website the three terms “Global warming”, “Climate change” and “Climate disruption” are used interchangeably. That is always a good wild card. Combine them all and there is nothing that can’t be explained.

He tries to present good weather as just a political decision. Could one get more disconnected from reality? One year doesn’t make a trend. Weather is not climate. Just last year there was a lot of commotion about the warmer than normal March and in 2011 we had a warm spring, both breathlessly attributed to global warming. But this year we have a cool spring and suddenly this is also considered a consequence of global warming…

This is what he said just in August last year, talking about nuclear energy and the melting of the Greenland icecap (translated from Dutch):

… global warming is accelerating and soon we will have no more winters anymore.

Just nine months ago he was still convinced that global warming means, well, warming. How did he get so quickly from global warming causes warming to and global warming causes cooling too? There seems to be one thing that stays consistent: the projections what global warming/climate change/climate disruption exactly would do to us change almost as fast as the weather itself.

We were warned several times about global warming in the past. In our country we would get soft winters and summers with relentless heat waves. Now we finally got what we were hoping for (colder winters and cooler summers) and yet they are freaking out once again…

All joking aside, I know global warming should be seen globally, not only in our tiny country. But if we can believe the satellite data (and other data sets alike) there wasn’t warming in the last 10+ years (some even say 15+ years). But in the end, I understand why he is saying this now. Next year is an important election year and as the chairman of an opposition party he needs strong statements to get mentioned in the media. Got that.