Unsettled Science

The science is settled, the President of the United States assures us. His pet scientists have produced yet another frightening climate report to prove it. Given this President's tenuous relationship with the truth on other matters, a citizen might pause to ask if the claim of settled science is, in fact, true. In the recent past scientific papers have discovered some “unexpected” phenomena that help to regulate climate. In fact, one of the climate change faithful proposed a mechanism affecting the jet stream that could be responsible for this winter's unexpected weather in the northern hemisphere. Only problem, a number of climate alarmist luminaries have dissented from her idea. Remember the consensus that was supposed to shut down all opposing opinions? Never mind. Another study shows statistically that there is no way to establish a human caused warming trend without another 100 years of observation. Of course, if you believe the climate catastrophists the world as we know it will have vanished by then. So is climate science really settled? Here are just some of the most recent indications that it is not.

If the science of climate is really settled—meaning scientists have a real good handle on how climate works—one would think that surprising new factors that impact global climate should not keep popping up. That is not the case. There has been a constant stream of new discoveries regarding the mechanisms of climate over the past decade. The latest comes to us from NASA. New data from NASA's AIM spacecraft have revealed “teleconnections” in Earth's atmosphere that stretch all the way from the North Pole to the South Pole and back again, linking weather and climate more closely than simple geography would suggest.

The term teleconnection refers to linkage between widely separated actions. In this case, the distance is about as far as you can get and stay on the planet. Scientists have found a link between high-level clouds over Antarctica and weather in North America. Cora Randall, AIM science team member and Chair of the Dept. of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado, “we have found that the winter air temperature in Indianapolis, Indiana, is well correlated with the frequency of noctilucent clouds over Antarctica.”

“Stratospheric winds over the Arctic control circulation in the mesosphere,” explains James Randall, professor of atmospheric and planetary science at Hampton University. “When northern stratospheric winds slow down, a ripple effect around the globe causes the southern mesosphere to become warmer and drier, leading to fewer NLCs. When northern winds pick up again, the southern mesosphere becomes colder and wetter, and the NLCs return.”

“We believe that this triggered a ripple effect that led to a decline in noctilucent clouds half-way around the world,” says Laura Holt of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “This is the same polar vortex that made headlines this winter when parts of the USA experienced crippling cold and ice.”

The two week delay is, apparently, how much time it takes for the teleconnection signal to propagate through three layers of atmosphere (the troposphere, stratosphere and mesosphere), and from pole to pole. What is interesting here is that this is an unexpected discovery. The researchers have uncovered something unexpected that helps regulate global climate. And since it was previously unknown it has not been incorporated into any of those vaunted computer models that the climate change cabal use to prop up their hideously over simplified theory of climate change.

“It has been a surprise,” says Russell, Principal Investigator of the AIM mission. “Years ago when we were planning the AIM mission, our attention was focused on a narrow layer of the atmosphere where NLCs form. Now we are finding out this layer manifests evidence of long-distance connections in the atmosphere far from the NLCs themselves. NLCs are a valuable resource for studying long-distance connections in the atmosphere, and we are just getting started.” Not so settled that climate science.

Indeed, even among the warmist elite there are disagreements that somehow do not make it into the news media. Point in case, the journal Science reports: “Jennifer Francis has made waves linking the melting Arctic to extreme weather around the world. But a storm of criticism has forced the climate scientist to defend her hypothesis.” Here is how the article in Science framed the controversy:

When 40 climate experts huddled in a small conference room near Washington, D.C., last September, all eyes were on an atmospheric scientist named Jennifer Francis. Three years ago, Francis proposed that the warming Arctic is changing weather patterns in temperate latitudes by altering the behavior of the northern polar jet stream, the high, fast-moving river of air that snakes around the top of the world. The idea neatly linked climate change to weather, and it has resonated with the press, the public, and powerful policymakers. But that day, Francis knew that many of her colleagues—including some in that room—were deeply skeptical of the idea, and irritated by its high profile.

Francis's hypothesis has divided colleagues ever since she first proposed it in 2011, and the divisions have only deepened as Francis became a go-to climate scientist for reporters, a marquee speaker at major conferences, and an informal consultant to John Holdren, President Barack Obama's science adviser. “It's become a shooting match over her work,” says atmospheric dynamicist Walter Robinson of North Carolina State University in Raleigh. “Which side are you on?”

Which side? I thought there was consensus, a unanimity of opinion regarding how the climate engine works. After all, if you don't know how the physical climate works how can you make predictions about things in the future? Evidently, criticism is coming from three directions:

  • First, scientists have challenged the pair's analysis of historical data, questioning whether it really shows that the polar jet stream's west-to-east winds are slowing and its meanders stretching. Last year in GRL, for example, climate modeler James Screen of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and a colleague reported that they had measured the meanders and found few statistically significant changes. “It could easily just be natural variability,” Screen says.

  • Climate modelers also have offered heckles, saying their computer simulations have mostly failed to confirm the hypothesis. In their models, they've dialed up future greenhouse warming or reduced Arctic sea ice—both factors that should amp up Arctic amplification—but failed to produce a slower, more meandering jet stream. And models that simply reproduce existing conditions, Screen says, have to run for the equivalent of more than “60 years before I start to see anything” similar to Francis's observations.

  • The most vociferous critiques, however, have come from researchers who study atmospheric dynamics, or the many mechanisms that jostle and shape air masses. Given the Arctic's relatively puny influence over the planet's atmospheric energy flows, the notion that it can alter the jet stream “is just plain wrong,” says dynamicist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. The more likely culprit, he says, is natural variability driven by the tropics, where Earth gets its largest input of solar energy.

These criticisms amount to the following: It might be natural variability, which means they can't link it to human CO2 emissions, which does the AWG fearmongers no good; The computer simulations don't act this way, which says the models are so much complex junk and not truly useful in showing how climate evolves, or the idea is wrong; And finally, simply declare it wrong and move on. That really sounds settled to me. Is Francis's idea right or wrong? I do not know, but perhaps Trenberth should check out the teleconnection report mentioned above before making close minded pronouncments.

To further confuse the situation, in early January, Francis was at home in Marion, Massachusetts, when an email message arrived from an unexpected address. “I have been following with interest your work,” wrote White House science adviser John Holdren. Holdren is a climate change true believer and a crank from way back. You might recall that Holdren and his pal Paul Ehrlich, of Population Bomb fame, proposed “de-development” as the cure for the world's ills, and that forced sterilization was a pretty keen idea. No doubt Holdren was a leading force behind cranking out the U.S. National Climate Assessment Report (pun intended). That report is currently being flogged in the media by Obama and other administration dim bulbs.

The NCA report breaks no new ground, goes beyond the hype and exaggeration spouted by the IPCC and its fellow travelers, and is a superficial attempt to provide cover of the administration's new round of proposed environmental regulations. According to climate scientist Dr. Judith Curry:

My main conclusion from reading the report is this: the phrase ‘climate change’ is now officially meaningless. The report effectively implies that there is no climate change other than what is caused by humans, and that extreme weather events are equivalent to climate change. Any increase in adverse impacts from extreme weather events or sea level rise is caused by humans. Possible scenarios of future climate change depend only on emissions scenarios that are translated into warming by climate models that produce far more warming than has recently been observed.

More of Professor Curry's commentary on the report can be found on her blog, or in the 134 page critique of a draft of the NCADAC report by Pat Michaels and Chip Knappenberger. Climatologist Dr. Roy Spenser has also provided cometary on the report's major conclusions. This is so transparently a political document its laughable. It is also frightening, since it is a clear sign that the Obama administration is about to go on the offensive, spewing nut job, eco-wacko policies for the next two years—call it revenge of the progressive climate nerds.

One of the things that is stated flatly as fact is that hurricanes and tornadoes have increased in terms of frequency and intensity because of global warming. A recent study by Ryan P Crompton, Roger A Pielke Jr, and K John McAneney, “Emergence timescales for detection of anthropogenic climate change in US tropical cyclone loss data,” find this to not only a false assertion but that detecting human influence on climate in this case is not possible with the limited amount of data at hand. Here is a passage from the papers conclusions section.

Based on the results from our emergence timescale analysis we urge extreme caution in attributing short term trends (i.e., over many decades and longer) in normalized US tropical cyclone losses to anthropogenic climate change. The same conclusion applies to global weather-related natural disaster losses at least in the near future. Not only is short term variability not `climate change' (which the IPCC defines on timescales of 30–50 years or longer), but anthropogenic climate change signals are very unlikely to emerge in US tropical cyclone losses at timescales of less than a century under the projections examined here.

As this blog reported, after a massive EF4 tornado ravaged the heart of Arkansas, the same lack of upward trend can be said of tornadoes as well as hurricanes. Even the IPCC reports have said that there is no evidence linking anthropogenic activity to stronger storms and precipitation, making the NCA report an even more suspect document than the UN reports. Any rational assessment of the state of climate science cannot help but conclude that the science is far from settled, and the exaggerated claims by alarmists cannot be justified. Even part of the news media recognizes that “there is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge.” Not only is the NCA report wrong, there is no way to prove its arguments without another century of observation—talk about jumping the gun. As I said on Twitter when the NCA report came out: Wonky models, massaged data, same old authors, and amazingly they arrive at the same erroneous conclusions. The only place this science is settled is in the minds of politicians, green activists and scientific hacks.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.