Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dear Dr. Nielsen-Gammon, re. statistical certainty vs geophysical realities

Dr. Nielsen-Gammon,

I want to start by apologizing, I got carried away and didn't mean to imply that you are part of the climate science denial community - I know that you are not and that I was sloppy, it was an unfair untrue grouping.  However, I also want you to understand the issue I'm trying to define.  

The feeling I get is that your, and the scientific community in general, approach is that it's a dialogue with no sense of urgency, no interest in reaching resolution, the joy of the discovery and all that.  

Instead of gathering information in order to act, it seems like gathering information for the sake of gathering yet more information. 

Seems to me, one of the two strangest parts of our society's entire AGW public dialogue is how it has gotten mutated into this demand for ever greater levels of details - while ignoring the monster in the room we all know about.

What has changed about our basic understanding of Anthropogenic Global Warming over the past two decades?  

Has there been anything of significance - besides ever greater coverage and higher resolution and increasing certainty that we are taking our planet out of the bounds its experienced for millions of years?

To me it seems all you're doing is hand wringing: "man oh man, we gotta get the DPI cranked up another few hundred PDI before the picture comes in HD sharp."

Works great for Evolution - but this "subject" is the health of the biosphere and weather system that we depend on.  It's not just another interesting problem, it's a real future filled with hard consequences.

We are destroying the planet as we knew it not too long ago - you know, the biosphere that we depend on for everything.  What good is spending all our time and energy defining the crisis to exquisite certainty and forgetting to act to avert the crisis?

Sincerely, CC

I am including an article I wrote last autumn, it's another attempt to define this issue.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Colorado Floods - statistical certainty vs geophysical realities

Colorado experienced its most extreme weather event in memory between September 9th to the 15th. Golden, Boulder and Larimer counties received the worst of it with rain accumulations of sixteen/seventeen inches and more, some areas receiving nine inches on Thursday alone, resulting in massive flooding compounded by destructive run-off from mountainsides of burned-out forests that could no longer hold water.

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
(For more see:

The CIRES/WWA event was a collaborative effort of many people and interconnected agencies, including NOAA's ESRL (Earth System Research Laboratory) Physical Science Division, and the Colorado State University's Climate Center. It was a good example of scientists stepping forward and personally sharing their data and discussing the state of their science.

Watching the September 25th presentation I was reminded what straight-forward conservative lot scientists are. They will say what they know for "sure" and stop. Then they will back-track and share every doubt they have in order to prove that they do indeed understand weaknesses and further questions regarding their area of study.

The report, "Severe Flooding on the Front Range" (Sept. 2013)explained that "the extraordinary rainfall in this event was due mainly to the unusual and persistent weather pattern that funneled abundant moisture towards the Front Range and enhanced the lift."

To understand what this means, you need to know about the Polar Jet Stream, a high speed ribbon of air that's driven by atmospheric temperature differentials between Earth's hot Tropics and cold Polar regions. It's been there for millennia whipping around the Northern Hemisphere pushing and pulling weather patterns with it.

You see, one result of our society "salting" our atmosphere with "greenhouse gases" is that it has increased its "insulating" ability. That's because these atmospheric gases catch Earth's heat waves as they rise towards frigid outer space.  More GHG molecules, means catching more heat, so the planet warms. {Link to more rigorous explanations.}
Since the industrial revolution society has increased that greenhouse gas component by about a third. Causing the Earth to retain more heat within our climate system than it used to.

One of the cascading consequences of this is that the Polar atmosphere is actually swelling and changing its relative elevation. This, in turn, causes a decrease in the differential between polar and tropical regions. This, in turn, has manifested itself in a slower and more meandering Jet Stream pattern. This, in turn, has been at the root of some very extreme events such as the September Colorado rains and floods.

What happened was that in mid-September Colorado got stuck between two such stalled Jet Stream loops for about a week before they moved on. Technically, and to quote the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) -- what happen was that in the upper atmosphere above the Great Basin west of the Rockies, a "quasi-stationary upper-level cyclonic circulation" developed, while across the mountains, over the Great Plains, a "lower-tropospheric anticyclonic circulation" pattern set in.

While down south off Baja California tropical cyclone Lorena was dissipating and the two stalled circulation patterns started sucking up all that tropical moisture right into Colorado. It then got funneled up the mountain slopes, saturating the air to record breaking levels and then dropped out of the sky in a "biblical" deluge.

All this information was explained in wonderful detail. 

And then, disturbingly, when a reporter asked pointedly about the Jet Stream global warming connection, these geophysical facts suddenly became "speculation" subject to further study.

Using a freak, but similar, Colorado event back in September 1938 as justification, Dr. Hoerling rejected making any firm connection to global warming. We need further study. As I understood him, he also felt we needed a more accurate understanding of past extreme weather events.

I was left wondering, what good is a time consuming perfect understanding of past events, when that atmosphere's composition was radically different from today's? It's nice to know, but it is background information and not that relevant to our contemporary climate which has been and continues to be supercharged.

Beyond that I found it odd Dr. Hoerling used one 1938 freak event to warn against making premature assertions.  While not acknowledging the recent drum beat of "Jet Stream blocking pattern" driven extreme events such as the record shattering European killer heat waves of 2003, 2006, 2011 and the Russian heat wave of 2010, and the floods in Russia and Pakistan in 2010, and the recent Calgary floods and the extreme winters on the East Coast three and four years ago.

In fact I did write Professor Hoerling and asked why he seemed to rejected all the studies that have shown evidence for global warming driven Arctic Amplification influencing the Jet Stream, such as those being reported by Dr. Jennifer Francis and colleagues. Unfortunately, I didn't get a response, in fairness he is a very busy man. 

Still I find it disturbing when scientists, who are supposed to inform and advise leaders and the public about dealing with the world we have in front of us, slip into that professorial deep-thought mode and focus on minutia while ignoring the "big" picture. 

The professor is typical of many conscientious scientists, statistical certainty is their calling - but from my boots on the ground perspective, statistical certainty does not trump common sense, nor the laws of physics, nor the geophysical reality we are actively altering. Think about it, are the exact details really that important?

Doesn't a basic climatology outline tell us enough to know we need to stop denying and start collectively, all of us, getting real about what is happening out there?

A visual tour of our global heat distribution engine.
The groundbreaking two-hour special that reveals a spectacular new space-based vision of our planet. Produced in extensive consultation with NASA scientists, NOVA takes data from earth-observing satellites and transforms it into dazzling visual sequences, each one exposing the intricate and surprising web of forces that sustains life on earth.

Earth From Space / Nova


Weather and Climate Summit - Day 3, Dr. Jennifer Francis

Session 6: Dr. Jennifer Francis - Rutgers University
Topic: Wacky Weather and Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice: Are They Connected?


Processes and impacts of Arctic amplification: A research synthesis 
Mark C. Serreze , Roger G. Barry
Global and Planetary Change 77 (2011) 85-96


John N-G said...

Cross-posted in comments at CCNF:

It’s as though I’ve carried on quite a conversation with you without actually participating in it!

I want you to realize the trap you are setting for yourself. You seem to be arguing that the urgency with which you perceive action to be necessary precludes or reduces the need for accuracy, and any fact that argues against the need for urgent action should be suppressed lest it distract people from the overall balance of evidence.

I believe that many have fallen into this same trap. It’s a trap because it requires the public to trust the judgment of the many, while at the same time allowing those opposed to directly undermine that trust by pointing out that the many are hiding evidence or not telling the whole story.

Those who think we should simply emphasize the need for urgent action should by now have noticed that it’s not working.

I’m contributing to CCNF because it’s a public forum that allows the evidence to be presented and contested at a proper, scientific level. I’m not going to hide anything, and if I don’t think a complete version of the reliable evidence is being presented, I’ll try to fix that. I may even ask devil’s advocate questions, and if the evidence is robust it will survive such questioning.

Also, note that my time is limited, and I’d like to write about much more than I am actually able to write about. Given that limitation, I try to focus my posts on things nobody else is saying.

On a separate note, you said:

“Continuing to look beyond the individual you, I suggest it boils down to two different perceptions of our planet and Earth sciences.

“At the heart of one is an appreciation that our Earth is a living organism, one that has taken four and a half billion years, evolving one day at a time, to arrive at the beautiful cornucopia that awaited a restless inquisitive human species.

“The other mindset sees our planet through the lens of ancient texts and tribal dogmas. To this group of humanity our life sustaining planet isn’t anymore “real” than the Hollywood movie on the other side of the screen.

“Therein lies the tragedy of our time.”

It’s my belief that the opposite is true, that the argument for action is much stronger if you view the planet through the lens of ancient text and tribal dogmas than if you view it as an evolving, quasi-living organism. But that will be a discussion for a separate post, probably after CCNF adds policy to its scope.

*That's the end of the cross-post, but some comments are in order here regarding Jennifer Francis' work. At present, the experts are divided on whether she's right, and many are deeply skeptical.

One problem is that climate models are quite capable of simulating Arctic Amplification and the resulting slowing down of the jet stream, yet nobody (including Francis) has found more stationary weather in the climate model simulations.

There are also logical issues. For example, if a weakening jet stream leads to more severe cold waves, then in the limit of uniform temperatures and zero jet stream there ought to be the most severe cold waves possible, yet that doesn't make sense.

For some other issues, check out the work of Liz Barnes.

citizenschallenge said...

JNG writes: "It’s as though I’ve carried on quite a conversation with you without actually participating in it!"
~ ~ ~
You have no idea.
I've just finished a multi-day project reviewing your article regarding extreme weather.

"J.Nielsen-Gammon's CCNF "Extreme Weather" essay examined"

I was just heading out for a long walk and some decompression time, so I'm going to save your comment for later reading, it does look detailed.

I do appreciate you saying hello, and sharing your thoughts. Please understand I have no issue with you, I know you are well regarded among your colleagues. My issues are with the way you frame your words.

Til later on,


citizenschallenge said...

I have taken a close look at Professor Nielsen-Gammon's comment and written a detailed response in a stand alone post.

Monday, February 17, 2014
Response to Prof John Nielsen-Gammon - 2/17/2014