July 26, 2012

Wild Speculation on Climate and Polar Bears

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals, Polar

Here is another big one from PNAS.

For those who don’t know, PNAS stands for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and it has gained the unfortunate reputation for publishing scientific research articles that regularly get knocked out of the park within hours of their release. The lack of rigor stems from its rather unique “peer-review” process in which National Academy members can submit articles for publication that the authors themselves have had “peer-reviewed”—that is, they passed the article by a couple of friends of theirs for comments. It’s more like “pal review.”

It is hard to imagine many papers being rejected under this system, although it can happen. For example, a contributed article by National Academy member Dr. Richard Lindzen that argued that the climate sensitivity to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions isn’t as large as commonly thought was rejected by the PNAS editor in change, overruling the recommendations of the reviewers chosen by Lindzen. But such occurrences are quite rare.

Instead, papers with rather speculative conclusions can be regularly found in the pages of PNAS as we have documented on several occasions (see here and here for example).

A new paper has just appeared which should be added to this list in the form of a contribution by National Academy foreign associate and molecular biologist Dr. Luis Herrera-Estrella on the subject of polar bears, evolution, and climate influences.

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July 24, 2012

Illiteracy at NASA

Filed under: Arctic, Polar

Apparently NASA should start distributing dictionaries to the authors of its press releases.

Here is the title of the July 24, 2012 NASA press release reporting on recent ice melt across the surface of Greenland:

“Satellites See Unprecedented Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Melt”

And here is a quote from within the release:

“Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time,” says Lora Koenig, a Goddard glaciologist and a member of the research team analyzing the satellite data.

Now, according to our version of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, “unprecedented” is defined as:

“having no precedent: NOVEL, UNEXAMPLED”

Dictionary.com concurs:

“without previous instance; never before known or experienced; unexampled or unparalleled: an unprecedented event.”

So, while it may be meteorologically interesting that a series of high pressure ridges had passed over Greenland this summer with largest and warmest of these parking over the island for a few days in mid-July and raising the temperature to near the melting point of ice all the way up to the summit of Greenland’s ice cap—it is not a type of event which is unique. Rare perhaps, but not unprecedented.

But, apparently, when it comes to hyping anthropogenic global warming (or at least the inference thereto), redefining English words in order to garner more attention is a perfectly acceptable practice.

Which brings to mind this oldy but goody from the late Stephen Schneider:

On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

At NASA, apparently being honest is not considered as being the most effective.




July 13, 2012

The Heat Was On—Before Urbanization and Greenhouse Gases

Sure is hot out! And what better time for a paper to appear in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology describing the construction of the “all-time” records for various types of weather extremes for each of the 50 United States plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The paper details efforts of the U.S. State Climate Extremes Committee (SCEC) established by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and led by Dr. Karsten Shein. Basically, the SCEC dusted off old records and found other new sources. So now we have “new and improved” data (available here) for the value, the date and the location of the all-time high and low temperature, greatest 24-hr precipitation, greatest 24-hr snowfall and greatest snowdepth for 50 states and two territories. The statewide record extremes have been updated through 2011 and are subject to continuous updating.

This paper is an interesting read for those who perseverate on climate history and how it is constructed from a variety of observations both made from “official” (federal) observing stations as well as those deemed reliable from “non-official” observations (such as 12-oz soda bottles or credible “amateur” observer accounts). The new effort resulted in “the revision of 40 percent of the values” contained in the old dataset at NCDC and “underscored both the necessity of manual quality assurance methods as well as the importance of continued climate monitoring and data rescue activities to ensure that potential record values are not overlooked.”

It also is useful for putting the recent heat wave in perspective. Despite the 24/7 caterwauling, only two new state records—South Carolina and Georgia—are currently under investigation. And, looking carefully at Shein et al. dataset, there appears to be a remarkable lack of all-time records in recent years. This is particularly striking given the increasing urbanization of the U.S. and the consequent “non climatic” warming that creeps into previously pristine records. Everything else being equal—and with no warming from increased greenhouse gases—most statewide records should be in or near big cities. But they aren’t.

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July 11, 2012

What’s to Blame for the Rains on the Plains?

Filed under: Precipitation

The reigning myth has it that climate change from anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is supposed to increase intense precipitation. But a slew of research now points to other causes for this. As a result, assessments of climate change, such as the one used by the EPA in support of its 2009 Endangerment Finding (which is required to justify proposed GHG emissions limits for U.S. power plants), may be wrong when they primarily blame changed rain intensity on GHGs.

Here is an example of how this plays out across the Heartland of the United States.

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