Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Examining John Nielsen-Gammon's Trap

When I first came across the Climate Change National Forum I didn't get further than reading John Nielsen-Gammon articles.  First there was the dog-chasing-tail review of a study by John Cook et al. that concluded "97% of (active) climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming."  The absurdity of the echo-chamber's hair splitting over that study astounds me and having JNG take us on a tour of that denialist's hall of mirrors was a disappointment.

Then I read "The Basics of Extreme Weather and Global Warming."   It was another disappointment, having nothing to do with the title's promise.  Instead it was a rhetorical musing about all the ways we can't absolutely positively without fail know when, where, and exactly how much climate change is making weather crazier.  As if that meant we could put the issue on a back burner for another couple decades until we could be absolutely positively certain of every detail.

Incidentally,  for an  example of a serious on-topic attempt to explain the basics of the "global warming" "extreme weather" connection go visit: 

Then after reading "The Weather Trap," which was another rhetorical exercise rather than any serious effort to explain our contemporary situation, I promised myself to do a detailed review of the last two essays (the first one is here) since they serve as such good vehicles to demonstrate examples of  'the anatomy of misdirection'.  

I'm no scholar and there's a bit of repetition, but than JNG was rather repetitive himself, still I have some observations I'd like to share, hoping someone better equipped might find something useful in here.  JNG's words are complete and unaltered except for a few highlights and appear in Courier font.

I've written it as an open review directed at Professor Nielsen-Gammon personally, and included many links to help support my claims.  I look forward to his response

The Weather Trap 
by John Nielsen-Gammon  |  January 12, 2014 
Climate change is something that’s difficult to experience directly.  How many people can say, from personal experience, that it feels like the average temperature in your hometown, let alone the globe, has changed by a degree or two over the past century? 
Instead, people tend to try to detect climate change on their own from their experience of individual, usually extreme events.  For example, “It never seems to get as cold as it used to.”  Communicators have learned this, and have taken to emphasizing individual events as evidence for or against climate change. 
I call this “the weather trap”.  Weather extremes will always take place, no matter how the climate changes.  Some will become more frequent, some less frequent.  Many weather extremes are so erratic that a statistically significant increase or decrease might not be detectable for many decades, even though the very real monetary consequences from such changes in extremes start accumulating from the get-go.  This means that just about any such attempt to link extreme events with climate change is doomed to logical failure.
~ ~ ~ 
Wait a minute!  What's doomed to failure?

JNG you start talking about the difficulty individuals have tracking climate change through their own experiences.  OK, fair enough.  But, then in paragraph three you project that reasoning onto the process of establishing statistical significants.

I don't know much about statistics, but I do know they are based on many, many data points collected by many researchers.  Why do you try to conflate that with the pitfalls of individual experiences?  It's a red flag.
- - - 

Looking closer:
"Many weather extremes are so erratic that a statistically significant increase or decrease might not be detectable for many decades, even though the very real monetary consequences from such changes in extremes start accumulating from the get-go."  
How does that sentence lead to this sentence?
"This means that just about any such attempt to link extreme events with climate change is doomed to logical failure."
A)  Sure, extremes are erratic, your point?

B)  "Increase or decrease might not be detectable for many decades" ?
Our geophysical experiment has been going on for many decades and trends in various components of our climate system along with increasing extreme weather events are apparent.  Why side step that evidence?

Why not discuss the clear trends such as increased atmospheric moisture, ocean temperatures and their impact on weather formation and those sorts of things that are known with a very high degree of certainty?

C)  Who says, "attempts to link extreme weather events and climate change are doomed to logical failure"?  JNG you should be required to establish what degree of proof you expect before making such a grand statement.  

To be explicit: JNG what are your expectations for the amount and detail of evidence that must be amassed before we can start accepting connections between an energized global heat distribution engine and trends in infrastructure destroying extreme weather events?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
For example, suppose that climate change has caused 60% of all temperature records to be record highs and only 40% to be record lows.  If Person A points out each record high temperature as evidence of climate change, Person B can point out each record low temperature as evidence of no climate change. 
Who wins such an argument?  It seems to me that both persons come off badly.  A person hearing from Person A and Person B would be likely to notice that record lows still happen almost as frequently as record highs, and if the highs are evidence for climate change and the lows are evidence against, the evidence is almost 50-50. Not very compelling, so Person A loses.  Still, record lows certainly don’t mean the globe is getting cooler, so Person B looks stupid too.
Person A is on more solid footing saying that record highs are becoming more frequent (if the evidence supports such a statement) or are expected to become more frequent (if the evidence supports such a statement.
~ ~ ~
JNG, no one wins that argument!  
What is the purpose of this game of "suppose"?  
Why are you ignoring the following evidence? 
- - - 
NASA Finds 2013 Sustained Long-Term Climate Warming Trend 
January 21, 2014  |  News Release 14-024 
NASA scientists say 2013 tied with 2009 and 2006 for the seventh warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures.
With the exception of 1998, the 10 warmest years in the 134-year record all have occurred since 2000, with 2010 and 2005 ranking as the warmest years on record.
- - -  
Explaining Explosion of Daily Record Highs Easy as Pie 
Andrew Freedman | Published: July 16th, 2012 
As the climate has warmed during the past several decades, there has been a growing imbalance between record daily high temperatures in the contiguous U.S. and record daily lows. A study published in 2009 found that rather than a 1-to-1 ratio, as would be expected if the climate were not warming, the ratio has been closer to 2-to-1 in favor of warm temperature records during the past decade (2000-2009). This finding cannot be explained by natural climate variability alone, the study found, and is instead consistent with global warming.

- - - 
YouTube --- Global Temp Anomalies, 1880-2012
  - - - 
Earth Sets 1,400 Year Record for Warm Temperatures 
Posted by News Editor in Air/Climate,  April 24, 2013 
NEW YORK, New York, April 24, 2013 (ENS) – Earth’s climate heated up more between 1971 and 2000 than during any other 30 year period in the last 1,400 years, scientists have found using new regional temperature reconstructions covering all continent. ..." 
“This paper tells us what we already knew, except in a better, more comprehensive fashion,” said study co-author Edward Cook, a tree-ring scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who led the Asia reconstruction. 
The study involved the collaboration of researchers in China, India, Pakistan, Russia and the United States, among many other countries, under the auspices of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. ..." 
- - - 
The 2k Network 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
  Still, if Person A wishes to relate such a statement to a particular weather event, he or she had better make sure that such events are increasing at that particular location.
~ ~ ~
This CCNF is supposed to be about understanding global climate change.  All you established is that individual anecdotal experiences are poor guides.  

This is why we have educated full-time professionals and scientists who collect huge quantities of information.  Why ignore that?  Worse why try to paste those weaknesses of the individual onto the current scientific process?  What's up with that stream of innuendo?

Then we have this diversion of focusing on local weather events.  Why not take the opportunity to make clear this is a global phenomena, with local experiences incidentally to the behavior of the whole?  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
During the 2012 election there was severe drought in Texas.  Some filled Person A’s role by implying that Rick Perry’s state was being directly harmed by climate change.  Yet, an analysis we published in 2011 showed that rainfall in Texas had increased by 10%-15% over the past century.  At best, global warming contributed to drought intensity by increasing evaporation through warmer temperatures.
~ ~ ~ 
Others disagree.

Global Warming Amplifying Texas Drought, Wildfires, Scientists Say 
By Alyson Kenward | Published: September 7th, 2011 

I don't understand this distraction of bickering over local events, when it's the changes to the entire global system that we need to be concerned about at least as much as the disruption in our own backyard.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
There’s strong evidence that drought is increasing globally because of climate change, but this does not mean that drought is increasing in every single location because of climate change.  According to the latest IPCC report, Texas is one of those locations, but until the observed trend turns around, it’s difficult to be confident about future changes, 
~ ~ ~
JNG sounds like you are trying to trivialize the situation.  Of course there are great variations in local situations.  Global warming is still the backdrop to all of this.

Worse you talk about droughts with a disconnected casualness that astounds and reminds me of the Ivory Tower disconnect from the living situation in the real world.  

Interestingly, I notice that nowhere in any of this do you touch on sea level rise and how that will disrupt our society and our children's lives. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
and even more difficult to conclude that those changes have already started.
~ ~ ~
That is plain wrong, unless you are demanding absolute proof and I thought every scientist appreciated that proofs are for mathematics and is impossible when it comes to any Earth system.

But does that reality justify ignoring the following evidence?   

Climate Change and Food Security 
- - -  
Nov 2012 global warming drought trend - Peter Carter 
- - - 
- - -  
How Are We Changing the Physical Environment of Earth’s Surface? 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Does Person B have any sort of solid position to stand on? 
~ ~ ~
Yes!   That solid position begins with: 

> a recognition that CO2 is a potent greenhouse gas that along with other greenhouse gases insulate our planet from the deep freeze of space.  

> We have injected significant amounts of this insulating gas into our atmosphere.  

> That has and will continue warming our planet's climate system.  

> That increased heat will transform the climate system that produces our weather patterns.

> Already we are witnessing increasingly dramatic infrastructure destroying events all over the globe with every new season.

> Climatologists have a reasonably detailed understanding of the basic dynamics involved.  Climatologists do still have many gaps in their fine-scale understanding of various components of our global heat distribution engine.

>  BUT, ALL THOSE GAPS IN KNOWLEDGE ARE TRIVIAL COMPARED TO THE MONSTER IN THE ROOM - that being: The more greenhouse gases humanity injects into our thin atmosphere, the more radical future heat waves and weather upheaval from previous norms will be.  

>  It's ridiculous to expect exact forecasts for every area before believing these dynamics will transform our lives.
- - - 
Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
 Perhaps the most defensible position in pointing out things like record lows is to argue or imply that either (a) record lows are bad things, so global warming wouldn’t be all bad, or (b) since record lows keep happening, global warming can’t be having a substantial impact.  Statement (a) is true, while statement (b) requires that all the potential impacts of global warming are measurable by the local change in temperature, and is thus more questionable.
~ ~ ~
JNG you say it requires local measurable changes to establish . . .  establish what?
Establish that climate change is happening, establish that it will be disruptive?

Sure local measurement are important, but we have a global situation and a global heat distribution engine with many components and currents, many of whom play themselves out over scales of years and decades.  

The measurements and the tools that make them are there to help us understand, they are not the reality itself.  You seem to avoid acknowledging the geophysical reality behind all the measurements and models.

For instance, you imply warming might be a good thing, because some people don't like cold... so...  let's wait and find out.  It's cavalier and disconnected.  

What justifies such a dismissive attitude? 

I get the feeling you are worshipping Thee Measurement and forgetting that instruments are imperfect tools to help us learn about the real physical world around us.  If a set of tools can't perfectly measure a natural phenomena, that does not make the phenomena any less real. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
During the current “polar vortex” episode, we’ve seen another trap for Person A: arguing that an extreme event is caused by climate change because a scientific study finds a link between them.  
~ ~ ~ 
JNG why are you phrasing this as though there is just a lone study or two linking extreme weather events with climate change?

The influence of temperature on the heights of the tropopause impacting the gradient between the tropics and the arctic 
http://agwobserver.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/papers-on-tropopause-height/ - - -  
Jennifer Francis - Understanding the Jetstream 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As a general rule, a large fraction of apparent links detected by correlation are later found to be spurious, and statistical correlation is the main evidence linking the polar vortex excursion to global warming.  
~ ~ ~
This is more rhetoric and not science.  Statistical correlation is not the main evidence, there is also all sorts of geophysical evidence.  
- - - 

Paul Beckwith: Climate Change Deep Freeze (Polar Vortex, Jet Stream and Sea Ice)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
Meanwhile there’s other evidence pointing the other way, and most scientists in the field (such as myself) are waiting for physical proof of a viable mechanism connecting the two before they’ll accept that the correlation is physically based.  advocates have trumpeted a connection between severe weather and climate change based on a number of studies that can be counted on one hand (tornadoes have a similarly tenuous link). 
~ ~ ~
I've asked it before and been ignored, so I'll ask again.  
{Well OK, there is the following, though there are issues with just what is being talked about and defining just what the questions are and what we are trying to resolve.  . . . }
“It’s an interesting idea, but alternative observational analyses and simulations with climate models have not confirmed the hypothesis, and we do not
view the theoretical arguments underlying it as compelling,” write five preeminent climate scientists (John Wallace, Isaac Held, David Thompson, Kevin Trenberth, and John Walsh) in a recent letter published in Science Magazine.
Elizabeth Barnes, an atmospheric scientists from Colorado State University, after an attempt to dismantle Francis’ theory last summer, published a second challenge in January.
“…the link between recent Arctic warming and increased Northern Hemisphere blocking is currently not supported by observations,” Barnes’ study concludes.                         source: WashingtonPost ……………………………………………………………………………. 
JNG please offer a list of this "evidence pointing the other way"... don't just assure us that it's there.  

Can you explain the character of this contra evidence?

As for scientific evidence pointing to connections between global warming and jet stream changes - a little investigation reveals a great deal of physical data pointing towards various physical relationships.

Check out a GoogleScholar search

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
 If the connection turns out to be nonexistent, we will again hear Person B saying scientists got another thing wrong about global warming, when in fact the problem is public officials and the media talking up what is at best a tentative connection.
~ ~ ~

If the connection turns out to be non-existent?  Are you serious? 

We have an Arctic Ocean that has been transformed into a heat absorption plate that is collecting heat, resulting in evaporation and convections patterns on a massive scale.  

Basically you are saying until scientists can actually describe the exact mechanism by which those unprecedented tropospheric convection patterns interact with the tropopause and jet stream we must assume there is no interaction.  That's what your words sound like.  What's up with that?

How is that possible?  These new Arctic Ocean convection flows bring massive amounts of heat and moisture into the upper reaches of the Troposphere - they don't dissipate into nothing until scientists can accurately measure the various dynamics involved.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate more study is needed, and accuracy is crucial to our understanding - but come on that stuff is up there and it's doing something, it doesn't disappear ! 

Your mathematics focused logic makes no geophysical sense to my more earthy perspective.  JNG, can you help me understand your perspective a bit better?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
If you’re a scientist talking about the possible connection between a particular extreme event and climate change, I recommend: (a) wait for a consensus to develop before even mentioning the idea; 
~ ~ ~

Why must you trivialize?  

You are supposed to be an expert that appreciates the bigger picture.  Weather is chaotic, and every location has its own unique characteristics!  Why are you even playing this game?  

Shouldn't you be reminding folks that it's the greater climate conditions we should be concerned about because local weather is a result of those globally interacting forces?  

And you keep skirting the bottom-line that the more greenhouse gases we inject into our atmosphere the greater climate conditions will transform away from what our society is adapted to.

Why not point out that we are not equipped for radical weather transformations and we'd be wiser to tread lightly?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(b) be specific about whether the connection has been observed or is merely expected; and 
~ ~ ~

This is rhetoric and not science.  Worse, it's like you place the 'measurement' and intellectual certitude above recognition of basic geophysical reality because of their fuzzy outlines.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(c) be specific about whether it’s known that the specific location of the particular extreme event is or should be seeing the frequency or severity change.  Even following those guidelines, whatever you say will be picked up and translated by Person A and Person B.

- - -


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
If you’re a member of the general public, you can bet that the truth is a lot more nuanced than what either Person A or Person B is telling you.
~ ~ ~ 
Which is why we have full time dedicated students and professionals and scientists who commit their lives to understanding our planet and it's many components.  It's a global scientific community focused on developing as good an image as possible of our planet.

Their "consensus" is the collective considered educated opinion, reached with much back and forth - and it remains malleable in light of new information and understanding.  The march of scientific progress and all that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I don't have any concluding remarks, except I'm curious if Nielsen-Gammon will respond, I would very much like to hear his thoughts on the way I perceive his words.  

In closing, if you are curious about what this global heat distribution engine is all about, here's the best introduction I've found:

Earth From Space HD 1080p / Nova


citizenschallenge said...

For the record I emailed this critique to Professor John Nielsen-Gammon and he sent me a nice note:

"Peter -
Any analysis that detailed deserves a response.
I'm quite busy at the moment, but I should be able to provide detailed comments within the next couple of weeks. Thanks very much for the heads' up.
- John"

I look forward to his response.

citizenschallenge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
citizenschallenge said...

Yo John,
I notice this has been getting extra hits lately, John Nielsen-Gammon if you're out there, I'm still waiting for that response you promised me. :- )

Be curious to know what you think this critique:
Colorado Floods - statistical certainty vs geophysical realities
Friday, October 25, 2013

... Predictably folks are asking: Is this related to manmade Global Warming? It's an easy and tough question to answer.

Consider please, our climate system is a global heat distribution engine and our land, atmosphere, and the oceans have indisputably warmed, not only that, our atmosphere's moisture content has been measurably increasing. Given such geophysical realities, it is self-evident that all extreme weather events contain elements of this newly energized climate system. And that much more of the same must be expected.

On the other hand,
it's an exceedingly difficult question to answer if the demand is to know precisely every attribution down to fine detail. Fortunately for interested citizens, scientists have been trying harder to convey their knowledge of those details.

For example, less than two weeks after the flooding, the Western Water Assessment (WWA) together with Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) released a preliminary report during an hour and a half long videoed web news conference. ... " ~~~
{there's more please check it out}