Sunday, February 16, 2014

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

Recently I became familiar with a website and project called "Climate Change National Forum" which is intended to be a platform "by leading climate climate scientists to educate the American public about climate change."  

In phase one their intention is to "... serve as an objective source for journalists, policy experts, scientists, and interested citizens. The site will first be used by scientists to discuss the latest research on climate change and share and debate ideas on aspects of climate change relevant to policy making. These scientists will also fact check a continuous stream of outside articles and news clips ..."

I'll admit I haven't made it past a few essays written by John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologists and Regents Professor.  On the one hand he is certainly no denialist regarding Manmade Global Warming, but on the other, if this essay is intended to help a lay-audience learn about the issue, then it's a perfect example of how to confuse rather than clarify.

I mean no disrespect to Professor Nielsen-Gammon, but I do intend to do a critical layperson's review explaining why I think this essay is counterproductive, if teaching an apathetic public is the goal.  

I have copied the essay in full to avoid charges of cherry picking his words.  Since this essay was intended for public discourse I have not asked permission for this reposting and believe none is required and that I am well within Fair Use standards since I'm continuing their dialogue with this exercise.

I do appreciate that I am a skilled tradesman and no scientist, yet I've had a life long passion for learning about this Earth around me through science and after four decades of watching this Global Warming public education campaign go from OK to a politically manipulated travesty of lies, misrepresentations and dirty tricks.  I believe there's a place for someone with my earthier background to attempt sharing my thoughts in the hope of inspiring some with more brains and potential to start hammering on these neglected points.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

January 2, 2014 

JNG:  An oft-heard statement is that the weather is getting more extreme because of global warming.  As opposed to, say, the benign, mild weather conditions associated with the Last Glacial Maximum 20,000 years ago.
~ ~ ~ 
Right out the gate, we get this confusing introduction.  

What is JNG trying to say, climate has always changed and we have no worries?  Why pick the last 20,000 years?

Why not begin by discussing the climate conditions over the past 10,000 years - a time when Earth's climate settled into a "Goldilocks zone" that made advanced human development possible?

Not a word about the unassailable basic fundamentals of atmospheric greenhouse gases.  

Why not drive home the point that humanity has become a geologic force on this planet and that we have dramatically increased a major regulator of Earth's temperature?   Wouldn't that be the foundation for any meaningful discussion?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
JNG:  Many long-term records of extreme weather events are fraught with problems, usually involving changes in the way that extreme events are detected and measured.  If you go beyond the extreme weather itself to consider human disasters caused by extreme weather, additional complications such as changes in population exposure over time arise.
~ ~ ~ 
I believe JNG turns a blind-eye to the real-time tempo of major destructive weather events.  There's also an underlying theme that anything less than a perfect understanding can be dismissed.

Why do people expect an exquisitely accurate understanding before obvious conclusions can be drawn?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
JNG:  In order to lay the groundwork for future discussions of extreme weather events, I’d like to discuss the basic scientific expectations for changes in extreme events.  What is extreme weather?  What ought to happen with global warming?What is extreme weather? 
Much confusion arises from the fact that “extreme weather” has two different meanings. 
One meaning is that of “statistically extreme weather”, weather that happens extremely rarely.  An example would be the record high temperature for a particular day and place.  By definition, it has only happened once (except for ties) in the history of weather records, and so is extremely rare.  For this definition to make sense, some reference period such as the “period of record” must be chosen. 
The other meaning is that of “extremely dangerous weather”.  An example would be a tornado.  Though there are hundreds of tornadoes each year, each one is an extreme weather event, whether or not it happens to cause damage.  Other examples are tropical cyclones, floods, and droughts.  Sometimes the term “weather” is defined loosely enough to include wildfires. 
There is overlap between these two types of extreme weather.  For example, a record hot day in the summer is statistically extreme, and it can also be extremely dangerous.  A record hot day in the winter is usually not so dangerous, unless it causes dangerous snow or ice melt.
~ ~ ~
I apologize, my intention is not to be hostile, but read through all those words.  Here is another example of those scientific ramblings that leave regular folks more confused coming out of it than going in.

I realize that is the goal among climate science "skeptics" but it's got nothing to do with educating people.

Why not discuss the fundamentals of why climatologists expect these extreme weather events to get more extreme, rather than grasping at straws and rhetorical fancy dancing?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
JNG:  What ought to happen? 
For statistically extreme weather, the answer, at least on the surface, is straightforward.  If the average value of some weather variable (temperature, wind speed, etc.) has changed compared to a reference period, then one extreme ought to become more common while the other extreme becomes less common.  Thus we expect (and see) more maximum temperature records and fewer minimum temperature records. 
The expected change is asymmetrical.  In other words, the average number of records set during a given year ought to increase rather than staying the same, no matter the direction of the change.  Consider a location with a 100-year record of a stable climate.  On average, a new daily high temperature record will be set 3.65 times a year and a new daily low temperature record will be set 3.65 times a year, for an average of 7.3 new records per year.  Now suppose the temperature suddenly goes up five degrees.  
The next year, there might be 40 maximum temperature records, but probably zero minimum temperature records.  One kind of record has become more frequent, while the other has become less frequent.  But the total number of annual records has increased by 32.7!
~ ~ ~ 
Isn't this supposed to help inform the lay public?
What does it add?

Why no mention of what's being observed?  
Why is that part left out?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
JNG:  It is also conceivable that the variability of weather might change.  Maybe temperatures will become more erratic, or maybe less erratic, for example.  Such a change would not be an obvious consequence of global warming, while an increase in the frequency of maximum temperature records by itself is an obvious consequence of global warming.
~ ~ ~ 
JNG claims: "It is conceivable... variability of weather might change."

From forty years of watching this geophysical experiment developing I'll state:  "It is inconceivable that the variability of weather won't continue changing towards an ever more hostile unpredictable presence."  {as true today as it was in 1995}
The evidence of the complete record supports such a claim.

JNG vacillation is incomprehensible to me.  This isn't supposed to be an equal time political debate - this is about the facts of the situation carrying the day.  

Consider the basics - we have increased our planet's atmosphere's insulating medium by a third.  We have witnessed steadily increasing heat and energy accumulation in our atmosphere and oceans and our global cryosphere is melting away.  The jet stream is altering it's position and character. 

What more do you need to know before taking this from an interesting intellectual puzzle to a pressing deadly serious problem?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
JNG:  Changes in the frequency of extremely dangerous weather must be considered on a case by case basis.  
~ ~ ~

The entire global heat distribution system has been significantly altered!  Consider it this way, weather is the boxer and climate is the conditioning, adding all this extra greenhouse gas to our atmosphere is like giving steroids to a boxer.

These days there is no weather event free from the influence of a 400ppm atmosphere!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
JNG:  Very few changes are obvious.  
~ ~ ~
Few changes are obvious!?
Is JNG claiming the following is not happening... or just irrelevant?

Old Ice Becoming Rare in Arctic (1987-2011)

- - -

Posted on May 24, 2012 Maria Rotunda

The USDA has come out with new map of plant hardiness zones for 2012. Last updated in 1990, the map divides the United States, including Puerto Rico, into 13 separate zones representing regions of minimum average winter temperatures. The map is divided into 10˚F zones.
Zone boundaries in the new map have shifted as many warmer zones trek farther north in many parts of the United States and two new zones have been added. As the map shows, winters aren’t as cold as they used to be in most places and spring blossoms come earlier.
- - -
Corn Belt Shifts North With Climate as Kansas Crop Dies
By Alan Bjerga | Oct 15, 2012 
- - -
Check out the numbers on this webspace devoted to the current state of our cryosphere
- - - 
What ocean heating reveals about global warming
stefan @ 25 September 2013

The heat content of the oceans is growing and growing.  That means that the greenhouse effect has not taken a pause and the cold sun is not noticeably slowing global warming.
NOAA posts regularly updated measurements of the amount of heat stored in the bulk of the oceans.  For the upper 2000 m (deeper than that not much happens) it looks like this: ...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
JNG:  This is because most dangerous weather arises from various types of localized dynamic instability in the atmosphere, and it’s rarely clear whether the generation of atmospheric instability ought to speed up or slow down in a warming atmosphere, let alone whether other environmental changes will make that instability easier or harder to respond to.
~ ~ ~
"Localized dynamic instability in the atmosphere" ?
What does that mean?  Look at our atmosphere in motion.

Ten Years Of Earth's Weather From Space In Nine Minutes

Published on Sep 5, 2013
The NASA GOES-12 satellite took her last images of Earth on August 16, 
after 3,788 days monitoring our weather.
- - - 
What does the concept "local" mean when it comes to our fluid global weather patterns?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
JNG:  A common oversimplification goes that “a warmer atmosphere has more energy, and therefore more energetic weather.”  Scientists sixty years ago showed that this was wrong.  Sure, a warmer atmosphere has more energy, but most of that energy can’t do anything but radiate away to space.  
~ ~ ~
This sounds glib and oversimplified in itself.

Furthermore, the tempo of extreme "extreme weather events" over the past decades, and particularly these past few years, disputes such a 60 year old conjecture.  {It would have been helpful if JNG had linked some of his claims to the supporting evidence.   I'd love to learn more specifics regarding this particular 60 year old claim.}

- - - 
Here's a summation of what the IPCC has to share

5 Major Takeaways from the IPCC Report on Global Climate Change
by James Bradbury and C. Forbes Tompkins - September 27, 2013

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
JNG:  It is the variation of energy (temperature) from place to place that drives the planetary winds.  And in the Northern  Hemisphere, as the difference in temperature between the equator and pole decreases, the circulation ought to become less energetic.
~ ~ ~
Given the experiences of the past years quite the opposite seems to be happening - a slowing and meandering Jet Stream does not equal weather events becoming less energetic.
- - - 
Jennifer Francis - Understanding the Jetstream 

Published on Feb 26, 2013
A short review of how the jetstream and Rossby waves work, 
and some emerging indications that the dynamics may be changing in a warming world.

This 5 minute excerpt from a longer presentation by Dr. Francis, original available here: 

- - - 

Arctic Amplification (Extreme Weather): Jennifer Francis June 6, 2013

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
JNG:  Perhaps the most obvious tendency for extremely dangerous weather is that the strength of the heaviest downpours ought to increase.  This is because rainfall intensity is a product of the rate of upward motion of the air and the amount of water vapor it contains.   Since warmer air can contain more water vapor, about 7% more for each degree Celsius of warming, a given updraft will tend to produce heavier rain.  This effect might even be felt at the storm scale, more than making up for the decline of temperature variations.
Note that this is different from saying that there will be more rain on average.  The general consensus is that there will indeed be more rain on average, but this conclusion is not obvious from simple principles.  Sure there will be more water vapor in the air, but what if the air rises more slowly?  Might that not compensate for the increased water vapor? 
~ ~ ~ 
Sounds more like wishful thinking than anything based on Earth observations these past years.

NASA: Warming-Driven Changes in Global Rainfall

Published on May 3, 2013
A NASA-led modeling study provides new evidence that global warming may increase the risk for extreme rainfall and drought.

Model simulations spanning 140 years show that warming from carbon dioxide will change the frequency that regions around the planet receive no rain (brown), moderate rain (tan), and very heavy rain (blue). The occurrence of no rain and heavy rain will increase, while moderate rainfall will decrease. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
JNG:  Also, “more rain on average” doesn’t mean “more rain on average everywhere”, it just means that the global average amount of rainfall (and snowfall) is expected to increase.  It doesn’t even necessarily mean that more than 50% of the Earth’s surface will see increased rainfall.  Along similar lines, increased drought frequency (another expectation) doesn’t mean that drought frequency will increase everywhere, nor even that drought frequency will increase over a majority of the globe. 
As a general rule, most changes related to rainfall will be very place-specific.  This is because the production of precipitation requires ascending air, and air ascending in one place requires air to be descending in another place. 
Let us suppose, for the sake of example, that 60% of the globe will see more and heavier rain, i.e., more floods, and likewise that 60% of the globe will see more droughts.  Presumably those will tend to be different parts of the globe, so these numbers would guarantee that only 20% of the globe would see an increase in both drought and flood.
~ ~ ~
Enough with the "supposing." 

Tell a farmer that his drought and flood events have averaged out and he's doing fine.  Or try convincing the fruit grower that the spring freak-freeze {while buds were developing} is compensated for by the heat wave during picking season.
- - -
Scientists Identify Human Connection to Precipitation Extremes
By Alyson Kenward  -  Published: February 16th, 2011 
- - - 

Detection of human influence on twentieth-century precipitation trends Zhang et al 2007

" ... Here we compare observed changes in land precipitation during the twentieth century averaged over latitudinal bands with changes simulated by fourteen climate models. We show that anthropogenic forcing has had a detectable influence on observed changes in average precipitation within latitudinal bands, and that these changes cannot be explained by internal climate variability or natural forcing. 

We estimate that anthropogenic forcing contributed significantly to observed increases in precipitation in the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes, drying in the Northern Hemisphere subtropics and tropics, and moistening in the Southern Hemisphere subtropics and deep tropics. 

The observed changes, which are larger than estimated from model simulations, may have already had significant effects on ecosystems, agriculture and human health in regions that are sensitive to changes in precipitation, such as the Sahel.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
JNG:  In summary, some aspects of extreme weather are easy to predict, others less so.  We’ll have to consider them each in turn.
~ ~ ~
It would be valuable if JNG could begin by evaluating our own expectations and the prejudices we ourselves bring to this discussion

This entire AGW Public Education process has gotten derailed by fixating on demands for ever more precise details?  

What good is evidence for the sake of gathering yet more evidence and never acting on the information at hand?

Why should the inability to perfectly predict the future stop us from accepting what we do know and acting on that knowledge?  

What's with the casual, even dismissive attitude towards our Earth and its processes?  I myself believe it's a childishly transparent defense mechanism to self-justify ignoring the monster in the room.
~ ~ ~

Please ask yourself, has anything in the basic outline of the AGWs threat and its progress changed in the past two, three decades?  Ever greater coverage and increasing details for sure, but that's it.  No redefining revelations.  Only a slow progression of ever more data points, all pointing in the same direction.  

Please Mr. and Ms. Scientists this climate issue is much more than another interesting scientific curiosity.  It deserves to be treated with more urgency.

Time waits for no fool and we have certainly wasted way too much precious, irreplaceable time already.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~  ~


climatehawk1 said...

Thanks for taking the time to do this. Prof. Nielsen-Gammon has written some good, informative stuff on climate, but I've been wondering about the need for yet another website that claims to offer an unbiased view of climate science. Frankly, I think Climate Progress, Skeptical Science, and RealClimate are all quite good.

I'd urge you to post a link to your comments on the CCNF site, if you haven't already. It invites criticism from scientists and lay people.

citizenschallenge said...

Climate Central also does a great job of reporting climate related news.