Monday, October 31, 2011

Ben Santer's Chico State Question and Answer - unauthorized transcript

{posted 11/4/11} 

{I tried posting the following message to Mr. Watts at his Watts Up With That ~ Ben Santer discussion thread, but it appears I have been blackballed, banned. . .   ignored as all messengers bearing inconvenient information or questions.  Shame on you Mr. Watts for fostering willful ignor-ance toward the full spectrum of available knowledge !} 

Anthony Watts,
I do appreciate your posting Ben Santer’s talk at Chico State University which I understand was given at your behest.  Though I've got to say, in light of spending much time transcribing highlights from the main talk and Ben Santer's full answers I'm doubly confounded by the contempt both in your own initial post, but more particularly, the comments of your fan base in the discussion thread following the above talk.

I thought his talk along with the question and answer session provide a powerful learning tool for those who want to understand the AGW reality with some better clarity.  But it's like an absolutist cold shoulder is all he got from you folks.  Watts up with that?  I thought a better understanding of what's going on in our biosphere was the top priority?  Why does it seem like your crowd is all about distorting or ignoring relevant information?
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How long will the charade of applying engineering rules to understanding Natural Sciences continue?

How long will the terror of economic change drive your frivolous, crazy making attacks on the integrity of the global climatological scientific community? 

Mr. Watts' when will you honestly and skeptically look at what's driving your own selective reading of the full spectrum of information available?  And of course, what about the world we are leaving our descendants?

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In the interest of the dialogue here's my unauthorized transcription of Dr. Ben Santer's question and answer session.

I think it could make a good reference source for replying to various WUWT commentaries.


Questions and Answers begins at 56:00

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The audio for audience members asking questions was poor, plus with all the usual pontificating and rambling I’ve simply summarized the questions as fairly as I could.
Besides, Ben Santer’s answers are pretty self explanatory anyway.

I’ve dispensed with quotation marks since this is an accurate* transcript of Ben Santer’s answers to the questions that were presented to him at Chico State University 10/21/11

Santer’s thoughtful replies will make a good resource for beginning to address the various “skeptical” complains, comments, objections.

*It is my own production so I'm sure there will be typos and errors, that I will fix as soon as I become aware of them.  
However, other than minor errors, this text is accurate to Ben Santer's words.

56:10 - Question: {please comment on... assertions made by Roy Spencer in his book in 2010... something about scientists being hoodwinked, great climate hoax}...?
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Santer - In my considered professional opinion Dr. Spencer is wrong.  His own data...
{searching for a slide... finds the slide} “...I showed this at the beginning.

(57:50)  These are observational estimates of the temperature change at the lower troposphere.  The blue line is from the Alabama group (UAH), John Christy, Roy Spencer it shows pronounced global scale warming of the lowest five miles of the atmosphere.  That warming is nearly half a degree Celsius over the full extent of the satellite record, over the last 32/33 years.

So even Dr. Spencer’s own satellite based estimates of lower atmosphere temperature changes show a robust global warming signal.

“In a paper that came out in the last couple weeks that we published, we show that this warming signal, even in the Alabama data is four times larger than our best estimates of natural climate fluctuations on the time scales of thirty-two years.

“So the Alabama data has a noise to signal ratio of four.
Is there any evidence that model estimates of the internal climate noise are significantly out of kilter?
  We looked at that question in this paper, and if anything we found that models on these long time scales slightly over estimate the size of the observed size of natural climate fluctuations over these long decadal time scales.  {meaning models are being conservative}

So the best answer to your question is that even Dr. Spencer’s data, his own data set now shows pronounced global warming of the atmosphere.
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59:30 - Question: {problem with models is all the things that aren’t in the models... uncertainty, things you can’t know about...
I’m curious what thing are you most concerned about that is not in the model?}
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59:50 - Santer: Everybody get that question?  So the unknowables... and the unknowns.
“One concern has been prominently discussed and it relates to carbon cycle feedbacks.  So the class of model results that I showed you here, are models of the physical atmosphere, oceans, sea ice, climate system.  They do not include within them carbon cycle models.  The new class of so-called Earth System Models that will be available by the time of the next IPCC assessment in 2014 do include carbon cycle feedbacks.  Why is that important, well it’s important because in our best current understanding is that carbon cycle feedback is likely to be an amplifying feedback.

When you start warming up the worlds oceans you diminish their ability to draw down atmospheric CO2 so more of the emitted CO2, we think, remains in the atmosphere.  That’s an amplifying feedback.

Another amplifying feedback that has been prominently discussed that isn’t in any of the simulations I addressed here is methane release from the thawing permafrost, that as you start warming at high latitudes, you start thawing permafrost, you release methane.  There are wonderful YouTube videos of scientists actually lighting some of this outgassing methane.  Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, that too is an amplifying feedback.  So that’s a concern.

For me, I think one of the most important things that isn’t in the current generations of models is ice-sheets.  Like the Greenland Ice sheet and Antarctic Ice sheets.  I think one of the main societal issues which we’ll face over the twenty-first century is sea level rise.  And in order to reliably understand the contribution of the melting ice sheets to sea level rise you gotta have embedded in these physical models of the climate systems a three dimensional ice sheet models.  We’re not quite there yet, and I think that’s an important thing that we need to do.
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1:02:05 - Question -Anthony Watts: Would you describe the Radiative Return Effect of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere as being linear or logarithmic?
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1:02:20 - Santer: And why would you like to get into radiative transfer at the moment?

1:02:35 - Watts: Well I want to see if you agreed with the IPCC assessment of a logarithmic effect.

1:02:40 - Santer: Well ah, I don’t know what you’re getting at here... there’s been discussion... this question always comes up: The CO2 absorption bands are saturated, therefore any further increase in atmospheric CO2 doesn’t really produce much of a warming impact.  The key thing, and I refer you to an article in the Physics Today by Ray   ¿¿   is that the wings of the CO2 absorption spectrum are not saturated and we clearly know that as we increase atmospheric CO2 we will continue to warm the planet.  That’s the best answer I can give you.
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1:03:20 - Question: {so do you think we should weight some of these newer models higher than some of the older models?}
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1:03:35 - Santer: Well, what I’m trying to show you is that that weighting is tremendously difficult.  And even if you look at one or two variables alone it’s tough to figure out how to do the weighting because model errors are complex.  And some get aspects of the variability right in this region but not in other regions.

I think this (pointing to the model displays) was a model democracy.  So if you look at those solid lines here, it was one model one vote, there was no weighting whatsoever in forming these averages here.

It’s quite possible that for the Fifth (IPCC) Assessment Report there will be some weighting involved.  And there was actually a meeting in Boulder, a little over a year ago to discuss how one might do that weighting in a scientifically defensible and objective way.

But, the bottom line as I suggested earlier is it’s really tough to come up with one metric to rule them all... My personal perspective is that gotta do the weighting in many different ways and see whether what you care about, in my case the ability to define human caused climate change, is sensitive to how you do the weighting.
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1:04:55 - Question: {Why don’t you use the Keeling Curve in your presentation seems to show natures  output of CO2 and man’s production at the same time?}
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1:05:10 - Santer:  I’m not sure what you refer to.  The Keeling Curve is actually the measurements initiated by Charles Keeling at Mona Loa Observatory in the late 1950s and those show this overall increase in atmospheric CO2, and the nice seasonal cycle of atmospheric CO2.  In fact, what I showed you {pulls up another slide} back when I was showing the different factors that influence climate contain part of the Keeling Curve.

These are measurements of atmospheric CO2 made at Mona Loa and else where.  As I also mentioned the question of how much of that increase is due to human caused burning of fossil fuels has been looked at extensively by climate scientists.  They look at these ratios of carbon 12 to carbon 14 - and from that isotopic fingerprinting have deduced that roughly 75% to 80% of the recent increase in CO2 is not natural.  But is due to human caused burning of fossil fuels.
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1:06:30 - Question: {I was just curios about forest fires and their categorization as human or not natural?  And also their relative contribution?}
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1:06:45 - Santer:  That’s a good question, I don’t know whether I can give you a good answer.  People have actually tried to do this kind of fingerprint work with areas burned by forest fires.  So there’s a paper by the guy in Canada, Nathan Gillet and his colleagues where they claim to show... I think this was for Canada and the Western US that some of the historic increase in areas burned by forest fires was attributable to human influence.

Of course that’s a tough question to answer because in addition to human caused warming you also have changes in management practices over time, and all that other nice of stuff.  So for that particular problem it’s really difficult to do this kind of fingerprinting work.
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1:07:40 - Question: {Global Weirding?... different parts of Earth are changing at different paces, how do climate scientists take that into account?”}
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1:08:00 - Santer: yea... um... for me “global warming” has always been a little bit of a misnomer.  Because it conveys an expectation that every location on the surface of the Earth will warm.  And that warming will be inexorably larger every year relative to the previous year.  That ignores noise and I hope that I’ve shown you a little bit about climate noise.  Climate noise is complex in space and in time, there are things like El Nino effecting temperature at different parts of the planet, La Ninas, other internal modes of variability.

Noise isn’t going to go away.  And that again is why we look at changes over long sweeps of time, many decades or even centuries in order to get at causation, to understand the underlying causes of change.

Now, you know the very clear message from IPCC reports, US National Academy reports is that as you warm, and as you moisten the atmosphere, you change the mean state of the planet.  You shift the tails of distribution as well.

So some of the behaviors we’ve seen, and people have reported on, change in the relative frequency of warm nights vs. cold nights... changes in the most extreme rainfall events... those are not vast scientific surprises, those are expected behaviors.

The scientific question of how we’ve actually changed the risk of threshold crossing extreme events like the 2003 European summer heat wave.  That’s an active area of scientific research and lots of people are looking at what they call ‘event attribution.’  Looking at individual events and trying to figure out in a scientifically responsible way, how human actions has changed the risk of that type of event.
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1:10:10 - Question:  {I’ve tried to follow the graphs, but in the process I think I missed something very basic... Is the contention that the warming is primarily caused by CO2? (poor audio) }
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1:10:45 - Santer: Well I failed if you missed that point, because that is indeed my contention...
Well let’s go back to the relevant slide... You remember when I was talking about “Gedanken Experimente,” “thought experiments”... I showed this particular slide here.  And this gets right at the question of the relative contributions of the natural factors and human factors to observed climate change. 

(1:11:30) Here scientists around the world performed this “undisturbed Earth experiment” where they only varied according to our best understanding of historical changes the sun and the volcanic dust in the atmosphere.  If these models are anywhere even in the ball park, then natural factors alone can not explain the rapid warming of the second half of the twentieth century.

And this is what led to what I showed you in the second slide.  The IPCC’s conclusion that most of the observed warming over the second half of the twentieth century is very likely, greater than 90% probability of occurrence, due to human caused changes in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.

So I hope I was quite clear on that point, that I am indeed saying that both the IPCC and the National Academy and our own research shows that most of this increase is due to us.
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1:13:00 - Question: {Medieval Warming, deep time temperature change leading CO2 increase, would it not be expected that the Medieval Warming Period should have increased CO2 levels?}
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1:14:20 - Santer: Well... OK, there are a couple questions there... Let me try to answer this, because this always comes up.  And the issue is ice ages, and this issue of this slow dance between temperature and carbon dioxide.  Who’s leading and who’s following in this dance.

So if you look on ice age time scales temperature leads and CO2 follows.  We know that very well. OK, we’re in agreement there.  Look at ice core date.  This is an estimate of changes in atmospheric CO2 and methane (CH4) from gas bubbles trapped in glacial ice going back 600,000 years.  This is an estimate from isotopic measurements of temperature and you can see this nice beat from the ice ages.  Glacials and interglacials and you can also see that the temperature slightly leads the atmospheric CO2.

OK so why, do we understand why?  The answer is yes we do.  We understand that on ice age time scales three things primarily control the amount and seasonal and latitudinal distribution of sunlight at the Earth’s surface.

And those things are the tilt of the Earth’s axes, the ellipticity of the Earth’s orbit, and the precession, the gyroscopic wobble of the Earth’s axes.  And when you look at those things and you look at how they vary on time scales of tens to hundreds of thousands of years you can calculate this mathematically very well.  We know these changes in this gyroscopic wobble, in the axial tilt and in the elliptical nature of the orbit.  And you can see that these things vary on time scales of tens to hundreds of thousands of years and they have a profound influence on the season and latitudinal distribution of temperature.

(1:16:20)  What happens then is that CO2 responds, so these orbital parameters effect how much sunlight we receive, the distribution of that sunlight, the ocean cool down for example, and then when they start cooling down the ocean, a cooler ocean can absorb more CO2.  Cooling also effects the biosphere and CO2 responds.

CO2 is the following partner in that slow ice age dance of orbital perturbations, effect of those perturbations on temperature, cooling or warming and effected that cooling or warming on CO2.

(1:17:00) What’s happening now is fundamentally different.  Now over the last century and a half the orbital perturbations are irrelevant on that time-scale!  On this time-scale CO2 is the lead partner in this dance.  It’s a much faster dancer and temperature follows.

We know that we’ve changed CO2 levels in the atmosphere, it isn’t the axial tilt, it isn’t ellipticity, it isn’t the gyroscopic wobble of the Earths axes, so you can’t conflate those two things.  You can’t conflate temperature CO2 relationships on ice age time-scales with CO2 temperature relationships on short time-scales.
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1:17:50 - Question: {China’s part in whatever' happening is a relatively short time... have you noticed any significant changes in what’s going on, }
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1:18:55 - Santer:  I think your question raise two issues.  
The one is historically if you look at emissions from the industrial revolution through to the present the United States is responsible for the lions share of those emissions, not China, not India.  If you look at the last decade in particular then China is clearly becoming a dominant player in terms of the amount of their emissions.  I believe within a year or so ago, China actually surpassed the US in emissions.

So one question is: are recent Chinese emissions of sulfate aerosol particles - those particles I mentioned earlier which can have a localized cooling effect.  In China they are burning a lot of high sulfur coal to produce a lot of these sulfate aerosol particles.  One question has been asked: is that increase in Chinese emissions actually cooling down the planet and responsible for some of that relatively muted warming after 1998?  That’s an active question for investigation.

(1:20:15) Again in order to perform these experiments and drive model with our historical best estimates in changes in greenhouse gases, aerosols and all that other nice stuff you need accurate estimates of how emissions have changed, both in amount and geographically.  And the hope is that for this next assessment report of the IPCC, the one that I mentioned that’s due out in 2014 will have better forcing factors.  Will have better representations in these models of how things like Chinese sulfate emissions actually changed over time.
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1:20:55 - Question: {couldn’t understand this one at all}
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1:21:35 - Santer:  Thank you for asking that question.  Guess my response is if you have {interrupted by the questioner, with more indecipherable - something about singing to the chorus... }

(1:22:00)  Well again, I really appreciate that question.  I’ve made a point in the last few years in particular to go out of my way not just to preach to the chorus but to speak to people who have concerns about the science.  I believe that’s part of my job too, to stand up here in public and to listen to questions to concerns, like this gentleman’s concern over here.  And to try and give good answers, or if I can’t, say I can’t.  And I’ve seen remarkable changes.  In the last couple years I’ve had opportunities to brief the board of directors of oil companies.  Opportunities that I never thought I would have in my scientific life time.

I think regardless of where you sit politically, or in terms of any other affiliation on the what to do about it, we all have some investment in the future, particularly if you have kids or you have grandkids.  And you want to understand on some very basic human level: what kind of world am I leaving behind for them?

(1:23:00)  I think even the Koch brothers who fund organizations who’s main effort does not seem to be to bring clarity to the science.  Even they have to consider what do we want to be remembered for at the end of the day?  Do we want to be remembered for how much money we acquired over our life times?  Or do we want to be remembered for something else.

So I’m cautiously optimistic, I do think that everything I’ve seen in my scientific career tells me that this is a serious problem and that we ignore it at our peril.  And I do see that people are recognizing that there are economic opportunities inherent in this problem.  That this old chestnut we’ve been given: either do something about climate change or preserve millions of American jobs, you can’t do both, is as Stephen Schneider would have said a false dichotomy.

Smart people have recognize if you can find efficient and cheap ways of providing low carbon energy you will make a lot of money over the twenty-first century and that’s the challenge for all of us here.
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1:24:25 - Question: “I have a comment... this argument gets to be ridiculous because the things that you mention... even if you don’t believe in it... they have health consequences, asthma is on the rise, non-smoking lung cancer... there’s no reason we should have to live with dirty air because not good for us... we should address the problem from many aspects...”
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1:24:55 - Santer:  Thank you for that comment.  And of course, that’s part of the reason why the EPA came to its endangerment finding and argued that there’s this interplay between warming and things like tropospheric ozone and human health and we’ve got to be cognizant of those interplay’s between changes in climate and changes in air pollution.  And many people have been actively looking at that, particularly on the ozone side... Clearly there are many co-benefits, as people have said from trying to do something about the problem.

(1:25:35) Another important point is this is not a belief system.  The things that I’ve shown you here today these are measurements, these are our best estimates of how atmospheric concentrations of GHGs have changed, temperature and water vapor and ocean heat content - it’s not a belief system.
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1:25:55 - Question: {Is there a... if you look at the trend of nocturnal temperatures and day time temperatures, is there a consistent difference between them and the way they contribute to the overall average?}
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1:26:10 - Santer: No.  There have been important changes in the daily temperature cycle in maximum and minimum temperature and those changes are complex geographically.  One of the things we’ve look at at Livermore is the influence of irrigation on daily temperature changes.  And you can see that quite clearly in the Central Valley (California) that as the area under irrigation has increased over time, that’s had profound impact on maximum and minimum temperatures, but not the same.

So there clearly is some signature there in the daily temperature cycle, but it’s complex.  It’s related not only to GHGs but also to changes in cloud cover, aerosols, irrigation.

(1:27:10 )It’s an area where a lot of people are thinking about doing this kind of climate fingerprinting with those changes in daily temperatures and also seasonal temperatures.  Because it turns out that one of the robust projections of many of these models is that you get more warming in the winter time at high latitudes because you have more snow and ice cover.  So this amplifying snow and albedo kicks in, so you tend to have interesting and pronounced seasonal difference in the geographical patterns of warming.

And these kinds of things these more subtle clues, looking at the difference between the maximum and minimum temperatures and winter and summer temperature, that’s an active area of inquiry at the moment.
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1:27:50 - Question:  {If you look at the whole Earth... volcanos, dust floating... it doesn’t really matter if everyone in this country decide to start riding bicycles, if in China or where ever in the world their producing all these gases... can satellites measure where all the pollution is coming from...  us riding bicycles won’t help...}
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1:28:50 - Santer:  Thank you for asking that question.  You’re right the atmosphere is not a respecter of national or international boundaries and that’s part of the problem here, that this is truly a global commons problem.

But, the question you ask is really interesting because if there is any globally binding treaty to reduce emissions of GHGs in individual countries, you gotta be able to verify it.    And a lot of people are thinking about that verification aspect of things.  How would actually monitor a countries changes in emissions.  A lot of cleaver people at Livermore, at many other places are trying to figure out how to do that, using combinations of measurements.

For example we receive a lot of Chinese pollution here on the west coast of the US.  You can measure some of that as it arrives at the west coast, you can look at aerosol particles, you can look at GHGs and you can do backtracking using climate models.  Essentially the same kind of stuff that people were trying to do with the Fukushima disaster.  To do cleaver backtracking or forward calculations, so there may be cleaver ways of doing verification, of figuring out - if we do in the end come to some internationally binding treaty on GHG emissions whether people are behaving as they should be behaving.

But again, as you rightly pointed out this is truly an international problem.  No one country alone can solve it.  But individual countries can show leadership in addressing the problem.  If everyone does nothing, well say good bye to all those glaciers I showed you.
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0:00 (WUWT video two) - Question: {indecipherable}
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0:15 - Santer: Sure, puny humans can’t do anything to this vast climate system.  Or indeed can’t do anything to any environmental system.

Well, I guess one quick answer off the seat of my pants is: Look at the Pacific Ocean, we can see a garbage patches from space.  These things have names now, their in these gyres.  Clearly we have shown the ability to fundamentally change our environment.  Look at those pictures I showed you of those logging road in the Brazilian rainforest.  That’s not trivial, that’s a massive intervention, a massive change in the land surface.

Look at satellite pictures of Earth At Night, showing how we’ve literally changed the physical Earth’s landscape.  Look at these atmospheric concentrations of GHGs.  Again,  you know, this increase that I showed you in CO2 and methane and other GHGs, we know that that’s primarily us.  That’s not supposition that not a belief system.  So clearly as I said originally, we are not innocent bystanders.  We are active agents of change in our climate system.  This is not a belief system.
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1:45 (WUWT video two) - Question: {sampling patterns?... region specific... satellites, or from thousands of locations which would make it more accurate?}
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2:15 - Santer:  Well that’s a great question and I think your question gets to how people actually perform these simulations were they put GHGs in as a driver to try and see these GHG effects over the twenty-first century in the computer models...

OK, so let me try and answer that question.  For somethings like carbon dioxide which is relatively well mixed in the atmosphere essentially it’s just put in as a global mean number.  It isn’t really important because there are not really very important geographical differences in the pattern of CO2 changes over time.

But, for other things it’s critically important to be able to put those geographical and altitudinal patterns of change like ozone.  That’s a really key one, you know ozone doesn’t just show a global mean change, it shows a very complex pattern ---

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{Anthony Watts’ video abruptly ends here (battery died), but it was nearly the end anyways.}

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