Saturday, April 19, 2014

On Spoofing Judith Curry

It seems Judith Curry isn't at all in defense of the free speech that she claims to be.

She's only in favor of it when it attacks her scientific enemies. When the shoe is on the other foot, she reacts to it with censorship.

Yes, my post earlier tonight was a spoof.

It accused Curry of scientific fraud, for her claim (in Liu & Curry PNAS 2010) that the Southern Ocean has been warming.

Did I really mean that? Of course not.

Though I do have some concerns about that result, since my own calculation of SST trends from 60°S to the south pole from 1/3/1990 to 1/29/2014 find definite cooling (-0.082 C/decade), as did this Bob Tisdale result for the period 1980-2010. (Tisdale's graph is only a hint; I certainly don't consider blog posts of the same caliper as peer-reviewed papers, nor my own simple calculations.)

Curry's period of calculation was 1950-1999. Her paper was submitted and published in 2010, so I don't know why their data analysis stopped as of 1999.

(When I asked Curry about this on Feb 3rd, she replied that "Tisdale's data analysis is usually reliable." My question to her was motivated by this Tisdale comment on Curry's own blog.)

The rest of my comments on Curry's post of today? Total spoofing -- though I certainly have at least just as much evidence as Mark Steyn does about Michael Mann.

Naturally, Curry's syncophants fell for it. However, unlike what I expected, so did she, in just about two hours -- that's how long it took her to turn on comment moderation and start blocking my comments:

That was far easier than I ever expected -- her "defense of free speech" quickly stopped when the shoe was on the other foot.

I don't know if the lesson will get through. But it should.

The Lies of Judith Curry

Update 4/19 9:55 pm - See "On Spoofing Judith Curry"

I have debated within myself whether to reveal and write about this, but after some reflection I feel I have to.

I think Judith Curry lied in a 2010 paper about the temperatures in the Southern Ocean.

I don''t say this lightly. I've looked at the data several times now. I don't know what else to conclude.

Curry published a paper with Liu in 2010:

“Accelerated warming of the Southern Ocean and its impacts on the hydrological cycle and sea ice,” Jiping Liu and Judith A. Curry, PNAS 2010

That paper claims:
"The observed sea surface temperature in the Southern Ocean shows a substantial warming trend for the second half of the 20th century."
Except, it's very easy to download the data and show for yourself that the Southern Ocean SSTs are actually cooling, as Bob Tisdale did here.

You can easily verify this for yourself. The SST data is here. Pick the region from 60 South to 90 South. I did this myself, with the time series starting in 1/3/1990 and ending in 1/29/14, the end date chosen because it was the time I was researching my article.

I found that, over this time period, the Southern Ocean SST changed by -0.082°C/decade, with a statistical uncertainty of only ± 0.001°C/decade (OLS only, no autocorrelation), for a total cooling of -0.19°C over this interval.

So how did Liu and Curry find warming? I really have no idea. It's certainly not a result I trust, and I have some serious concerns that their calculation is fraudulent and that their paper is incorrect, and purposely misleading.

Why? I don't know, at this point. I'm interested in hearing speculations in the comments.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Amazing Picture of the Curiosity Rover on Mars

How's this for a photo - a picture of the Curiosity rover on Mars, taken from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The rover is the little blue square in the lower left of the picture, just to the right of the rock prominence. Its track comes in from the upper left....

Curiosity and Rover Tracks

By the way, the satellite orbits at a height of over 24,000 km (15,000 miles).

CNet has a little more.

AGW and the Alternative to Government Action

"Like many threats, global warming calls for greater government activity, and that rightly worries people. But in the twenty-first century the alternative to government action is not individual liberty; it is corporate power. And the role of large corporations in this story has mostly been negative, a tale of self-interested obfuscation and short-sighted delay.... the public interest can only be protected by public rules."

-- Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming: Revised and Expanded Edition (New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

VA Court Rules Against Disclosing Michael Mann's Emails

from the Union of Concerned Scientists



WASHINGTON (April 17, 2014) – The Virginia Supreme Court today unanimously upheld a lower court's ruling that would block the American Tradition Institute (ATI) from receiving thousands of private emails from former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann.

The request from ATI, which was made under the state's freedom of information law, directly mirrors one the court also rejected in 2013 from then-state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. In recent years, ATI and other groups have targeted researchers at several public universities with demands for wide swaths of private emails.

Michael Halpern, a program manager for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), welcomed the ruling.

"The Court was right to protect scientists' ability to pursue tough research questions free from threats or intimidation," he said. "Freedom of information laws are meant to keep government accountable, not to enable the harassment of scientists.

"The court's decision sends a signal to scientists at public universities that the pursuit of scientific knowledge will be protected in Virginia, no matter how their results might be received. Other Virginia universities and scientists should feel empowered to fight back against these inappropriate requests for private correspondence.

"Other states should examine their own laws to ensure that they balance accountability with privacy, and all public universities should be fully prepared to respond to similar requests."

Specifically, the court found that Mann's business correspondence is a matter of public record but that his personal correspondence, including conversations with other scientists, is "proprietary" under state law and does not need to be disclosed. The court stated that disclosing so many of a researcher's emails would put public universities at a competitive disadvantage against private universities that are not subject to state information laws. They wrote that such a loose interpretation of state law would undermine "faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality" and impair "free thought and expression."

Halpern has a blog post that examines the case in more detail, including UCS's amicus brief. Michael Mann has also released a statement.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Solar Facility That's Incinerating Birds

Stony Brook physics building
When I was in graduate school at Stony Brook, my office -- about half the size of my living room, but shared with three others -- was on the 2nd floor, called the A level. A-108, I think it was.

It's on the second floor in the picture to the left, just behind the rightmost window.

The department building was nice, because the corridors ran next to the outside windows, with the offices on the inside. There were big plate glass windows with a commanding view of campus, and a convenient wooden bar that ran across them as a barrier, just high enough to lean on and bullshit.

And bullshit we did. During Hurricane Gloria, when we were all standing next to these windows watching the storm, some of these big plate glass windows were blown inward and shattered against the wall behind them. But, fortunately, none we were standing near did that, though the ones near us were flexing inward, a bit like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

The eye of Gloria passed right over us. The wind and rain blew like mad for a couple of hours, then it calmed down and we went outside to look around, and a little patch of calm, blue sky passed swiftly right over us. Then the wind started up again but in the opposite direction, and we all went back inside.

Anywaythe big plate-glass windows had problems with birds flying into them, so fake bird silhouettes were painted on the glass, to scare away the birds flying towards it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Sometimes you'd see dead birds on the pavement at the base of the building, and once in a while hear a loud thump, but all in all we were just young people who didn't freak out about a few bird deaths -- we were busy trying to learn physics.

Which finally brings me to this story, "Birds going up in smoke at Ivanpah solar project" in the Mohave desert in California:
A new report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has labeled BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah project a "mega-trap" for insects and birds that may get singed or in some cases, burned alive flying through the intense solar radiation reflecting off the thousands of mirrors surrounding three solar towers at the plant in eastern San Bernardino County.
It gets specific about the carnage:
"Although not analyzed in detail, there was also significant bat and insect mortality at the Ivanpah site, including monarch butterflies," the report said. "It appears that Ivanpah may act as a 'mega-trap,' (original emphasis) attracting insect-eating birds, which are incapacitated by solar flux injury, thus attracting predators and creating an entire food chain vulnerable to injury and death."

Solar flux is the intense radiation coming off the reflecting mirrors. At Ivanpah, the radiation is so intense it creates what look like small clouds around the boilers at the top of the project's three 459-foot-tall solar towers. These clouds appear to be attracting the insects which in turn attract the birds.
Thre were 141 avian mortalities counted at Ivanpah over a 17-month period, from July 2012 to December 2013. "One third, or 47, were due to solar flux."

Worse, there were very many more birds incinerated wholesale while in flight:
"Ivanpah employees and OLE staff noticed that close to the periphery of the tower and within the reflected solar field area, streams of smoke arise when an object crosses the solar flux fields aimed at the tower. Ivanpah employees use the term 'streamers' to characterize this occurrence.
The article claims that one streamer was seen "about every two minutes." That seems like just a guess, quite incongruous with the number reported above, but assuming it's true, at 12 daylight hours a day, that'd be 373,000 more dead birds in the 17-month period, or 263,000 per year.

That's a lot of birds. Just at one site (albeit one big site).

I've gone camping and tramping around in the Mohave, and I don't know if there were that many birds flying around. Maybe -- I don't recall. Perhaps they're attracted to the activity at the facility, and the feeding possibilities from all the dead things.

Now (I don't want to use the word "but" here, which sounds like an excuse), I found these numbers from the Fish and Wildlife Service:
Estimates of annual bird deaths, by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2002):

Building window strikes: 97-976 million per year
Communication towers: 4-5 million per year
Transmission lines: up to 174 million per year
Cars: up to 60 million per year
Pesticide poisoning: about 72 million per year
Oil and wastewater pits: up to 2 million per year
Cats: hundreds of millions per year
Are they accurate? I don't know. It's a lot of birds sacrificed on the alter of human development.

My cat Oliver just killed a bird the other day and brought it into the house, and he's killed at least two more in his four years. But one of those was when the bird flew in through the open back door and crashed into an opposite, closed window on his way back out. Is that my fault?

I killed a bird a few months ago driving up to Portland -- it flew right into my car. Or, from it's perspective, my car ran right into his flight plans.

Albert Schweitzer
I read once that Albert Schweitzer, when he was working in Africa, would write at night in his cabin, but for fear of moths immolating themselves on his candle, would keep his windows closed and sit there sweating while he wrote.

I'm well aware that climate deniers and enemies of renewable energy don't really care about birds, but will (and are) using these bird deaths for political purposes. That's very low, but we are a low species, when you get right down to it.

So should Stony Brook have had a different physics building, all brick with no windows and everyone walking to work? Is it better to kill birds with solar rays than by destroying their habitat for development or altering their ecosystems through climate change? Was Albert Schweitzer a little bit out there?

I do not know. Unlike when I was young, I now whince when I kill the tiny ants I occasionally find near my kitchen sink. Is that a fake whince, a little show I put on just to console myself? I still kill them with a swipe of a sponge, and 15 seconds later have mostly forgotten (until now). If a bug is big enough I try to capture it in a container and let it loose outside. Do I do that for me, or for it?

I don't hunt but I eat meat. I've tried being a vegetarian and found it difficult after a few months; I give in to my urgings and weakness. I can't even read the occasional posts Andrew Sullivan puts up about the cruelty on the innumerable cows, pigs and chickens in our animal-industrial complex, or watch the YouTube videos made secretly by animal rights activists. I feel like shit just for saying that, even as I have a piece of chicken cooking in the oven.

I give my two cats every bit of pleasure I can, until they prance in the back door with a dead bird between their jaws, proud and happy as anything. I run around like a maniac chasing them back outside, yelling at them the entire time, chasing the storm away until it's blue skies again. I just had the carpet cleaned, and I don't want it stained with feathers and blood.

So Oliver -- and it's Oliver who causes all the trouble around here -- dashes back outside with the bird still between his jaws, where he lays it in the grass and looms over it 'til it dies. He clearly doesn't think twice about what he's doing, and I know he is just being a cat.

Eastern US, Canada the One Cold Spot on the Warm Global Map

NOAA has put up its temperature data for the continental US for March: 40.51°F. (Yes, °F and not °C. Sigh.)

That's cold -- 0.99°F below the 1901-2000 mean, and a frigid 2.49°F below the 1980-2010 mean.

It's the 4th-coldest January-March since their record started in 1895. (The meteorological winter, Dec-Feb, was only the 47th-coldest, though.)

But eastern North America is the only noticeable cold spot on the global map for March, from GISS:

So keep that in mind when people say it's been extremely cold in Witches Teat, Wisconsin and the Great Lakes won't thaw out until Labor Day. In Siberia they're already fighting forest fires. In April. In Siberia.

Here is Oregon it was the 17th-warmest March, and 12th-wettest.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

An Age-Old Argument

The Daily Goulash

A definite read: Kerry Emanuel on low-probability "tail risk" climate change impacts, at the Yale Forum

Ken Caldiera was on KQED today talking about geoengineering, and three of the call-in questions were about chemtrails.... (Click here if you haven't heard about this particular bit of lunacy from the conspiracy theorists.)

Oh, yeah, now there are Hillary shoethrowing truthers, too. 

Let's just call this the age of the "truth truthers."

This is good: an article in Business Insider about Google's advanced projects, one of which was a space elevator, says Google abandoned it because "the team did find one material that could work, carbon nanotubes, but no one has successfully made a perfectly formed carbon nanotube strand longer than a meter." Duh, space elevator enthusiasts have known this since, almost literally, the day carbon nanotubes were discovered in the early 1990s....

All that Asian pollution may be making Pacific storms stronger. Haiyan?

"...roughly 1,550 volcanoes that have erupted in the recent geologic past."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has endorsed a revenue-neutral carbon tax: "Reducing emissions, especially from power plants and vehicles, remains a priority. Technology can help with that, but probably the best way to push that technology is to impose a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Such a tax would encourage the fossil fuel industry to search for other ways to provide energy; the money could be used to reduce the deficit or as rebates to taxpayers."

Here is a mnemonic for the decimal expansion of π, where the number of letters in each word is the digit: "How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics. All of thy geometry, Herr Planck, is fairly hard...:" [3.14159265358979323846264...]

Did you know the Bible says π = 3? Here is I Kings 7:23 (King James Version): "And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about." (π = circumference/diameter = 30 cu/10 cu = 3.)

In junior high school we were taught to use 22/7 for π, and it wasn't until 10th grade trigonometry that I realized that was just an approximation, and not until I was a freshman in college until I realized it can't be expressed as a fraction in any case. Duh.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wheat's Nutritive Value Decreases Under Elevated CO2

Amber waves of less nutritious grain
Lately you hear a lot of, well, trash talk about how CO2 is good for plants and CO2 fertilization will be a boon for agriculture, and all that. (If you can't deny climate change, then you argue it will be beneficial.) In reality the changes to plants under climate change are complicated, with higher CO2, higher temperatures and changes in precipitation comingling in complex ways.

Plant tissues also change, and this recent paper in Nature Climate Change is very interesting:

“Nitrate assimilation is inhibited by elevated CO2 in field-grown wheat,” Arnold J. Bloom et al, Nature Climate Change, April 6 2014.

This paper presents a direct test of the hypothesis, pointed to by meta-analyses, that more CO2 inhibits nitrogen assimilation into proteins. Higher CO2 increases yields, but protein concentrations decrease. Who wins?

In a trial of field-grown wheat in Arizona, under conditions of elevated CO2 (up to 559 ppmv), this research group found that nitrate assimilation was indeed slower under elevated than ambient CO2. The authors conclude
These findings imply that food quality will suffer under the CO2 levels anticipated during this century unless more sophisticated approaches to nitrogen fertilization are employed.
The Times of India quotes the lead author, Arnold Bloom of UC Davis:
"Food quality is declining under the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that we are experiencing," said lead author Arnold Bloom, a professor in the department of plant sciences at University of California, Davis.

"Several explanations for this decline have been put forward, but this is the first study to demonstrate that elevated carbon dioxide inhibits the conversion of nitrate into protein in a field-grown crop," he said.
The article says that wheat "provides nearly one-fourth of all protein in the global human diet." It concludes:
Bloom noted that other studies also have shown that protein concentrations in the grain of wheat, rice and barley — as well as in potato tubers — decline, on average, by approximately 8 per cent under elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

"When this decline is factored into the respective portion of dietary protein that humans derive from these various crops, it becomes clear that the overall amount of protein available for human consumption may drop by about 3 per cent as atmospheric carbon dioxide reaches the levels anticipated to occur during the next few decades," Bloom said.
That is, 3% is the difference between the increase from CO2 fertilization and the decrease in protein density.

Of course it's possible that scientists and farmers will find better methods of nitrogen fertilization to overcome this decrease. And now it's starting to look necessary....

The Langley, A Useful But Forgotten Unit

I like to collect units (like the Sverdrup), and came across an interesting one today -- the langley (ly), which is a unit of energy per unit area. Climate scientists back in the '60s used to use it for solar irradiance, and here's why -- it makes it easy to express the solar energy incident on the Earth.

The langley's definition is

1 ly = 1 calorie/cm2
where, as usual

1 calorie (cal) = the amount of heat required to raise one gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.

If you convert this to SI units, you get
1 ly = 41,840 Joule/m2
1 langley per minute = 1 ly/min = 697.3 Watts/m2

so the Earth's solar constant is
S = 1365 W/m2 = 1.96 ly/min ≈ 2 ly/min

which is a nice small, round number.

Going further, the "dietary calorie" -- how we measure the energy content of food -- is the Calorie (= 1000 cal). So

≈ 20 Cal/min per square meter

Now, 20 Cal is the energy content of a lime (or 5 spears of asparagus, or 3/4ths of a cup of green beans, or 1/2 of a medium summer squash), so

≈ 1 lime per minute per square meter

which is an interesting way to think about the solar constant (which isn't really a constant, but the name sticks.) If the average person eats 2,000 Calories per day (call it one "eat"), then, if I did the conversions right

S ≈ 10,000 eats/min per square kilometer

But the average person lives about 20,000 days (hence the Moody Blues song), so the amount of food they will eat in one "lifetime" is about 20,000 eats. So

S ≈ 0.5 lifetimes/min per square kilometer

So a couple eating about average, and living about the average number of years, will together eat about as much food as the energy the sun delivers to a square kilometer in one minute.

At the top of the atmosphere, of course. The amount at the surface will depend on their culinary albedo.

When Data Doesn't Fit

Here's an interesting thought from Spencer Weart's book.... He's writing about those who claim connections between sunspots and climate. Emphasis mine:
"Some found the connections plausible, but to most scientists the speculation sounded just like one more of the countless sunspot correlations that had been announced only to be rejected sooner or later. Even if the evidence had been stronger, it would have met with deep skepticism, for scientists cannot well fit data into their thinking unless theory meanwhile prepares a place."
It reminded me of this slide from somebody's symposium:

Sunday, April 13, 2014


"And finally, please please just stop saying it is the responsibility of ‘environmentalists’ to come up with tactics to persuade the rest of us, who by implication are perfectly entitled to sit back and not take our responsibilities on this issue seriously unless and until ‘environmentalists’ come up with arguments that are appealing to us in every way. Gaaaaah!"

-- Tom Toles, "Environmentalists Doing It Wrong, Again," Washington Post 4/10/13

Mental Biology

In the mail: Mental Biology: The New Science of How the Brain and Mind Relate by W.R. Klemm, published by Prometheus Books.

I'm especially looking forward to reading Chapter 3 - The Nature of Consciousness. I'm currently reading The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil, and not at all convinced (at least, yet) that building a machine with the computing power of the human brain (~1015 operations per second) will give a machine with the capabilities of the human brain. Or that any machine ever will. But I don't really know why I suspect this. Maybe Klemm's book will help.

The Coming El Nino and Surface Temperatures

So if the coming (probably) El Nino peaks with a Nino3.4 sea surface temperature anomaly of about 0.8-1.0°C, as NOAA's models are currently projecting (on average), what might that mean for the peak in surface temperature?

Recent history doens't offer much help. Below are the peak surface temperature anomalies (Cowtan & Way dataset) plotted as a function of peak Nino3.4 SSTAs I plotted yesterday.

There's no correlation. Some recent El Ninos have caused even warmer surface temperatures than did the monster 1997-98 El Nino, even though the surface water in the equatorial Pacific never got as warm.

But some did not.

And of those that did, both (2007 and 2010), the latter happened despite the Pacific ocean being in the negative (cold) phase of the PDO.

So the current cold phase might not matter, as some have speculated.

But there is somewhat of a correlation between peak UAH lower tropospheric temperatures as a function of  peak Nino3.4 temperatures:

which is a little surprising, but the correlation between surface temperatures and lower tropospheric temperatures is not perfect (especially, it seems, after El Ninos):

(The correlation is only slightly better (R2 = 0.72) for a 1-month lag, and it degrades with higher lags after that.)

So again, it look iffy to guess what the coming El Nino might bring to atmospheric warming.