Thursday, October 3, 2013

Professor Anastasios Tsonis replies plus comments (open letter 3)

{Last edited Friday 9:00pm}


I finished this about a week ago and shared it with some pen pals who are within the climate science community (which includes students and researchers and many other specialties besides "scientist").  I admit, I received little positive feedback.  Instead, I received admonishments about my approach being confrontational, even hostile.  For example:

"My advice when emailing Prof. Tsonis is to be as polite and gracious as possible, and to have a completely neutral, non-confrontational and friendly tone" and "The trick is to keep Dr. Tsonis engaged on good terms so that you/we can understand what the heck he actually thinks/understands."

To the second, I would reply, Dr. Tsonis third email does a thorough job of describing what he actually understands and thinks.

To the first one... what can I say.  I am not some student trying to get in the good graces of a professor.  I am a 58 year old adult who has been watching this Global Warming "dialogue" since the early 1970s!  At my most pompous the title "A Citizen's Indictment" comes to mind, because that's how I feel.

But, more down to Earth and realistic, this is about me trying (to the best of my limited abilities) to describe some of the mechanisms that have been used to so completely misdirect this global warming/climate change dialogue into counter-productive dog-chasing-tail dead-ends - that our children will have to pay for.

Right-wing "think-tank" strategies have forced climate scientists to achieve ever higher and more unrealistic standards of "proof" before anyone of their "preliminary findings" are allowed any real world legitimacy.  
And that is plainly counter-productive.

The success of all the misdirection is appalling and this is my effort to help confront it.  These are memes for the broadcasting...

I have no malice towards Dr. Tsonis, in fact, I suspect if we crossed paths under different circumstances we might actually enjoy each other and benefit from the interaction.  But, this is the virtual internet-world, and I only know the character in the blog quotes and the dishonest things others are claiming in his name - plus his own devious replies to my straight forward questions. 

I hope someone out there might be able to do something with the following.


Professor Anastasios Tsonis A Critical Review of Claims (open letter 3)

After posting "Professor Anastasios Tsonis: The Art Of Misdirection (open letter 2)"  Professor Tsonis sent me a much more informative letter.  I appreciate him taking the time to do that since I found his first replies disappointingly superficial.  To be clear my issue is not with Professor Tsonis the scientist who has published many interesting studies.  The problem I have is with his selective public commentary which leaves a layperson with a completely contorted and inadequate understanding of what we are collectively doing to our planet's global climate system.

I am reproducing Professor Tsonis's letter (in courier font) complete and untouched except for breaking up paragraphs in order to intersperse my commentary explaining my issues with the professor's words and the impression they project.  Since I will be posting this at my blog I have inserted many links and references to authoritative sources that have helped form my understanding and that support the claims I make.
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September 23rd from Professor Dr. Anastasios Tsonis(#3)
sent Sep 23, 2013 
Okay I am not sure I am talking to a scientist but I will reply once and for all because I think you have misunderstood everything and you are writing about me things that are offensive and inaccurate.
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I am a layperson, a skilled craftsmen, no serious academic background.  In contrast, my experience is at street level, that is, face to face with the physical world.  One where my actions have a direct and immediate bearing on my financial and physical wellbeing (considering the dangerous tools I use, places I go and the jobs that need to be done real-time correct by other's objective standards, as opposed to my personal fancy.).  

I have also had a life long passion for understanding our planet, how it got here and how it functions, and I have been paying attention to the science of Anthropogenic Global Warming since high school science classes in the early '70s.

I was a spectator as President Reagan's team made a mockery of President Carter's sober warning that humanity was starting to push up against the 'limits of growth' - and that We The People had better start paying attention to our increasing negative impact upon our life supporting biosphere.  

I have watched enough successful but dishonest right-wing PR campaigns lead to obvious mistakes that keep on compounding one on top of the other.  And now, considering most of my life is behind me, I will no longer remain silent to this travesty against honest curiosity and constructive pragmatic learning that has been the hallmark of the politically motivated right-wing "think tank" driven attack on climate science.  We've wasted too much time already.

Professor Tsonis, I appreciate you taking the time to write this thorough email to me.  I hope you appreciate that I still need to take a hard look at it and explore it's flaws and misdirections.  Deep down, besides publicizing your various misdirections - I hope to encourage you to rethink your attitude toward how you discuss climate change.

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First let me explain the main points of our research all of which have been published in top journals. The global temperature record is characterized by regimes of positive trends (warming regime) and negative trends (cooling regime) superimposed on a low frequency (long term) slowly rising signal, which some attribute to effect of greenhouse emissions (see attached figure). 
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I am not disputing your scientific research and publications, it is your public words and the way you allow them to misrepresent our situation that I will be focusing on.

For instance, here your choice of wording, "which some attribute," does the reality a gross injustice.  We are talking about straight forward GHG geophysics and you are reducing it to conjecture.

You willfully ignore that GHG levels have sky rocketed over the past century, particularly the past decades and are now at over 400 ppm, a level not experienced in at least 800,000 years, if not a few million.

You willfully ignore that Earth's radiation budget has been altered and is now retaining ever greater amounts of heat within our planet's Global Heat Distribution Engine*.

*watch:   NASA's Earth From Space
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These regimes are due to the intrinsic variability of the climate system. 
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It sounds like you are implying GHG forcing might be variable,
or that atmospheric GHG concentrations might fluctuate unexplainably.

Please, can you explain?
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Before 1910 we were in a cooling regime, from about 1910 to 1940 in a warming regime, from about 1940 mid 70s in a cooling regime, from late 70s to about 2000 in a warming regime and since then in a slightly cooling regime (see attached figure). What I said to the reporters now and in the past was exactly that "the warming of the 80s and 90s has stopped and now we are in a cooling regime", which is obvious and it is referred to as "the pause" even by IPCC.  
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"the" warming?... what warming?... globe warming?... USA warming?... The entire climate system warming?  What about the oceans and melting cryosphere and other elements within the system?  

A global surface temperature record that excludes far north and south regions of our planet's surface (where greatest surface warming is occurring) while excluding the oceans altogether 
does not represent an index of the net heat within our climate system, as the IPCC also makes clear.  

Why are you implying it does?

B.1 Atmosphere 

Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850 (see Figure SPM.1). In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence). {2.4, 5.3}

B.2 Ocean

Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010 (see Figure SPM.3), and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971. {3.2, Box 3.1}
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This natural cycle of positive/negative trends is about 60 years, hence our suggestion that this recent cooling trend may last another 10-15 years. 
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Perhaps, if all things were equal. 
But, all things are not equal!
400 ppm and rising!

Physical things are radically altered and still changing... in one direction. 

What will a perfect snap shot of the past do to shed light on an unprecedented future?
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Now if a reporter wants to play this as going to ice ages, what can I say.
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If you don't vocally correct their misrepresentations - you're responsible for allowing them to be repeated uncorrected!

This isn't a parlor game or "natural philosophy" discussion, or some preppie dog-chasing-tail-debate, we are talking real world harmful trends that will increasingly impact our global society and the lives of ever increasing millions!
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Mind you again that these intrinsic positive/negative trends are embedded in this long-term signal, which many believe is the effect of increasing greenhouse gases. 
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Here you go again!  "Which many believe"  Are you kidding?  

You are implying that understanding the behavior of atmospheric greenhouse gases* is still a developing science. 

How do you justify such a claim?  

Think about all the functioning modern marvels (air to air missiles, global and satellite communications, advanced Earth bound astronomical observations, etc.) that depend on a thorough understanding of GHG radiation absorption bands and their dynamics throughout the atmosphere.  How could all that be possible without a thorough and complete understanding of the atmosphere's interaction with greenhouse gas and the sun's energy? 

*(For those interested in the science of greenhouse gases:}
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OUR RESEARCH HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS SIGNAL AND HERE IT IS WHERE YOU ARE MISSING THE POINT. Whether it is due to greenhouse gases or to ocean circulation or to solar activity, or a combination nobody knows for sure. 
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Wait a minute! 
Are you claiming that our atmosphere's energy absorption properties can be compared to ocean circulation patterns?  

Or that there has been an appreciable intensification of solar output?  

Can you please explain?  Because it sure sounds like you're implying our oceans might be producing heat or perhaps our sun is undergoing major upheaval.
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"Why ocean heat can’t drive climate change, only chase it" ~ ~
Sun & climate: moving in opposite directions
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Neven's Arctic Sea Ice Blog - Ocean heat flux
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WE NEVER SAID in our publications, and we are not saying it now, that the long-term rising signal has been reversed! 
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Here it sounds like you are agreeing that current slow down in "surface" warming has to do with ocean currents convecting heats away from the surface... and that we have every reason to expect that this deeper ocean heat will return to heat up surface temperatures.

Would you agree with that assessment?
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But, if it has some natural origins (in proxy climate records, oscillations with periodicities of several centuries can be seen) eventually it will be reversed. We need to understand these long-term variations better.
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Again you are ignoring the reality of how a 400 ppm (and rising) atmospheric CO2 level is holding in more heat than Earth has experienced in at least 800,000 years if not millions.
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I must stress to you that I don't belong to either "side". What I do I do for the science. I only care about the science.
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Noble words. 
Dr. Tsonis, which science do you practice?

The noble "natural philosophy" style of seeing the world as an interesting problem, a puzzle to be solved out to the umpteenth decimal point before a solution can be declared?

What about the pragmatic side of science?
The one that deals with the real world, struggling for positive useful outcomes - 
the science that is supposed to inform business and political leaders about the realities of the physical planet we all depend on?

What does the endless overemphasizing of inconsequential minutia do to help prepare for the bigger reality barreling down on us?
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And here are several points were we (climate researchers) have failed. 1) In 2000 the majority of climate models projected a monotonic increase of global temperature during the 21st century due to steady increase of CO2 concentrations.  However, almost all of them failed to predict the leveling off of global temperature in the first 10-12 years!
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Your assessment is inaccurate!  Real Climate has an interesting article reviewing such claims.  
From May 11th 2008 Gavin Schmidt summarized the situation at
  • Claims
  • that GCMs project monotonic rises in temperature with increasing greenhouse gases are not valid. Natural variability does not disappear because there is a long term trend. The ensemble mean is monotonically increasing in the absence of large volcanoes, but this is the forced component of climate change, not a single realization or anything that could happen in the real world.
  • Claims that a negative observed trend over the last 8 years would be inconsistent with the models cannot be supported. Similar claims that the IPCC projection of about 0.2ÂșC/dec over the next few decades would be falsified with such an observation are equally bogus.
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2) In 2005 when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans there was a record number of hurricanes landing in the US. What followed was a series of scientific and news publications predicting that, because of global warming, the US will experience more frequent and more destructive hurricanes. Since then we have seen very few hurricanes. In fact, this year there have been no hurricanes in the US!
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And your point is?  You know that our global heat distribution engine operates on longer time scales than the next fiscal quarter, or human's want-it-now mentality!  Besides, you're overlooking how fast the decades race past us.

Further you ignore the increasing tempo of extreme and destructive weather events and that hurricanes are not the only thing society has to worry about.

Trying to cherry pick historic data does nothing to acknowledge the reality of the "new normal" of increasingly energized weather events precisely because increased greenhouse gases are holding in more heat/energy than at any time in the historic past.
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Tornadoes, Extreme Weather And Climate Change, Revisited 
BY JOE ROMM ON MAY 21, 2013 
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An Overview of Current Research Results 
1. Has Global Warming Affected Atlantic Hurricane Activity?  
Thomas R. Knutson  |  Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory/NOAA
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3) In the news and in scientific conferences there have been reports that the Arctic will soon be free of ice.   According to NASA (not to the reporters) ice is rebounding.
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Here you grievously disappoint.  Ice is "rebounding"?  That's a red flag and pure deception.

Cold winters continue to produce an extensive, but thin, veneer of Arctic sea ice, some winters more than others depending on regional weather conditions.

But, implying that Arctic sea ice is "rebounding" based on two years of "ice extent" data betrays the serious science you espouse.  The Arctic sea ice pack continues to thin, even winter ice continues losing mass.

Here's a NASA based visualization, no indication of any rebound going on here:

{OK That's pretty tough to see, click on the link and watch the screen on the bottom right.}

Arctic Volumetric Mass Loss; H2O Vapor Primary Greenhouse Gas  
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What about these NASA based reports:
Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice - Melting Polar Ice Cap | Earth Science Footage Video

NASA | Sea Ice Max 2013: An Interesting Year for Arctic Sea Ice
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State of the Climate in 2012
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Or the National Snow and Ice Data Center?
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Last June I attended a conference on hurricanes and climate change. Report after report was showing climate model projections of frequency and intensity of hurricanes in the interval 2080-2100. Seventy years from now! And of course, those were dire predictions. How will they convince the public to pay any attention to this when we cannot predict the next ten years? We, scientists, are often misleading the public and making big claims without paying attention to science.
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What do you mean we can't predict the next ten years!?

We know CO2 levels are going to continue climbing and retaining more heat within the climate system, and we know that an energized changing climate will produce every more disruptive events for a society that was born and nurtured in a much milder climate regime. 

You ask "how will they convince the public to pay attention..." ?

Perhaps if climate science contrarians started honestly representing the full spectrum of science and start working together with political "enemies" to learn and clarify - rather than PR driven crazy-making tailored to confuse and out-scream the serious evidence in hope of stopping all pro-active action toward meaningfully beginning to reduce the greenhouse gases we are injecting into our thin atmosphere.
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In a recent study myself and my collaborator compared 23 climate models at the dynamics level (Steinhaeuser and Tsonis, Climate Dynamics, doi 10.1007/s00382-013-1761-5, 2013). We found that, especially for temperature and precipitation (two fields that are projected in a global warming scenario) the models do not agree with between them very well. 
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There are a number of questions about that study including how the models were selected - in any event, it is beyond my ability to comment on that specific paper.

What about the term "valid approximation" - it's a key concept worth reflecting on.

What profit is there in waiting for 99% certainty, when it won't do us a bit of good any more!?

Would you be willing to rate the level of " valid approximation" you expect from climate models before we should be allowed to draw conclusions? 
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Moreover, we found that they don't agree with observations.
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What do you think of: 
"Test of a decadal climate forecast"

Nature Geoscience 6, 243–244 (2013) doi:10.1038/ngeo1788
Published online 27 March 2013

The paper is behind a paywall - however here are a couple news stories.
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"Climate change models predict remarkably accurate results"

Followed by Fred Pearce's
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In summary, climate models are not very reliable,
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It appears many scientists would disagree with your assessment.

Here again, are you doing "natural philosophy" or "real world science" that offers real world pragmatic and useful information?

For more constructive assessments of climate models see:
"Context on the Significance of Climate Models" 
Climate models seek to reproduce the world’s climate in a virtual environment. We have no alternate Earth on which to perform experiments, but with a powerful enough model, we can test out the impacts of different factors. We can see, for example, what a climate without human influence might look like, or what extremes might exist in a much warmer future climate. ... link
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"How reliable are climate models?"

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"Combining global climate models for more accurate forecasting"
Jul 12, 2013

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"Can We Trust Climate Models?
Michael D. Lemonick - January 18, 2011

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we don't understand the climate system very well, we need more work in understanding natural variability. This is my research: understanding natural climate variability, not to destroy the planet!!! And definitely it is not science fiction. It's hard core math and physics.
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What is it about the basic geophysics of our global heat distribution engine you believe remain a mystery?  

Could you outline those unresolved issues and potential mysteries;
perhaps scale them for overall impact potential?

You see, the image that comes to my mind is of haggling over nickels and pennies, while loosing dollars and risking fortunes.  
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So please try to understand what I am saying. I was not evasive with you. I answered your questions, but I don't know you and I don't know how involved I should be. Not to mention that I am really busy. I wrote this to you so that maybe you can read our papers and understand 
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My post of September 23 shows that I have looked into your work and I do recognize you have a long distinguished career.  I do not dispute your science nor your contribution to the serious scientific dialogue, including your early groundbreaking work.

That said, I don't agree with your self-assessment since you continue evading critical and well know facts regarding greenhouse gases and their impact on our global heat distribution engine that should not be ignored, such as:

The established realities of GHG physics;

The astonishing amount of greenhouse gases society has injected into our atmosphere, and their undeniable and increasing impact from here on out;

Disregard for the vulnerabilities of our society and the high-stakes we are gambling with.
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that we never made any claim that there is no anthropogenic effects or that the long-term trend has been reversed. If you ever took a class from me you will see that I am all for reducing emissions and pollution. As I am all for understanding natural variability.

Anastasios Tsonis
UWM Distinguished Professor
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Understanding historic variability is important - but those continuing uncertainties about historic patterns should NOT be used as a smoke-screen to ignore basic physics and what we do know about what we are doing to our one and only planet's atmosphere and the cascading consequences we can expect from our society's Global Geophysical Experiment.

Professor Tsonis, thank you for taking the time for your detailed response which allowed me to spell out my issues with the public perception of your comments and why I have undertaken this series of emails and public blog posts intent on informing others and hoping to perhaps influence how you discuss climate change in the future.  

On the one hand, I have respect for you.  On the other I can no longer stand silent as the Republican/libertarian denial machine marches on.  And it pains me that you have allowed your words to become a part of their slick PR attack-on-science.

Sincerely, CC


Some further considerations

Here's an interesting article that seems as timely today as it did three years ago:

"Defending Climate Science Today"  by: Stuart Jordan
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Putting our dangerous "geophysical experiment" into perspective:

"Two degrees: how we imagine climate change"
David Holmes  - September 20, 2013
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"Long-term warming,short-term variability: why climate change is still an issue"
Steven Phipps, Research Fellow in Climate Systems at University of New South Wales September 20, 2013
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These address the so-called "pause" in global warming.
"Study offers clues on 20th century global warming wobbles"
Posted on 2 September 2013 by Dana Nuccitelli
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Another Piece of the Global Warming Puzzle - More Efficient OceanHeat Uptake
Posted on 13 May 2013 by Dana Nuccitelli 

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