Problem 5 of Climate Science

Problem 5. Why do most of the forecasts of climate science fail?

If climate science had a history of accurate forecasts, it would have a foundation for greater credibility. That is what is expected in other fields. Instead, it is “denialist” to say that climate science has a lousy record of predictions.

When I started analysing ecological models in my doctoral studies, it wasn’t ideologically unsound to say that the models did a lousy job, and I spent 3 years trying to work out why. Wouldn’t you think that something could be learned by diagnosing why predictions fail, and coming up with solutions?

What do these examples have in common?

Example 1. Arctic Ice
June 5th, 2009: On Climate Progress, NSIDC director Serreze explains the “death spiral” of Arctic ice, (and the “breathtaking ignorance” for blogs like WattsUpWithThat).
April 4, 2010: Dr. Serreze said this week in an interview with The Sunday Times: “In retrospect, the reactions to the 2007 melt were overstated.” (not breathtakingly ignorant?)

Example 2. Australian Drought
Sept 8th 2003: Dr James Risbey, Monash University: “That means in southern Australia we’d see more or less permanent drought conditions…”
Jan 2009-10: Less permanent drought conditions …

Example 3. Global Temperature and Sea Level Rise
4 May 2007: Rahmstorf et.al. claims that previous projections of the IPCC have underestimated climate change, particularly temperatures and sea level rise.
21 June 2009: “In hindsight, the averaging period of 11 years that we used in the 2007 Science paper was too short to determine a robust climate trend.”

Example 4. Hurricanes
July 31, 2005 : MIT Professor Kerry Emanuel “My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in [hurricanes’] destructive potential.”
24 Feb 2010: WMO: “. . . we cannot at this time conclusively identify anthropogenic signals in past tropical cyclone data.”

Explanation

One of the most common reasons for failure of models is statistical extrapolation of trends, and the failures above qualify. You don’t see any climate predictions that run counter to the trend. In all cases, they mistook a natural variation for an anthropogenic effect.

Presumably the authors of projections justified them with physical reasons (e.g. increases in energy, sensitivity, etc.), in order to link with the (apparently) deterministic increase in CO2.

Even though the mistakes appear to be caused by naive extrapolation, they are based on both extrapolation of CO2 increases (uncontentious) AND the assumption of a deterministic link with CO2 levels (contentious).

The lack of climate predictions that run counter to the short-term trend is typical of ex post facto (after-the-fact) physical explanations, and what appears to be a false assumption of deterministic relationships.

Here is the complete list of things caused by global warming.

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0 thoughts on “Problem 5 of Climate Science

  1. “we cannot at this time conclusively identify anthropogenic signals in past tropical cyclone data.”

    The WMO statement may seem to suggest that one could be there. But quite frankly it isn’t. The changes observed in the Atlantic are part of natural variability-similar changes occurred in past decades. Outside the Atlantic, there are cyclical variations in the Western North Pacific, too. The Eastern North Pacific has seen a decline in activity as the Atlantic has seen a recent increase, and those two effects essentially cancel one-another out. The North Indian has done basically nothing. In the Southern Hemisphere basins, there are no trends in frequency or event decreases, and intensity data is extremely iffy but there’s not much there, either.

    The reason WMO organization can’t make that attribution is because there is nothing there.

  2. “we cannot at this time conclusively identify anthropogenic signals in past tropical cyclone data.”The WMO statement may seem to suggest that one could be there. But quite frankly it isn't. The changes observed in the Atlantic are part of natural variability-similar changes occurred in past decades. Outside the Atlantic, there are cyclical variations in the Western North Pacific, too. The Eastern North Pacific has seen a decline in activity as the Atlantic has seen a recent increase, and those two effects essentially cancel one-another out. The North Indian has done basically nothing. In the Southern Hemisphere basins, there are no trends in frequency or event decreases, and intensity data is extremely iffy but there's not much there, either.The reason WMO organization can't make that attribution is because there is nothing there.

  3. There is also a problem of concise definition. Is it not something of an oxymoron to use “less permanent drought conditions”? If a drought is permanent, say in known history in parts of Chile, then that defines its natural condition. It is not an anomaly worthy of study in climate change. If through climate change it rains a little more, that produces a slightly different natural state. So what? Why name it “less permanent drought conditions” when “desert” will do?

    Then, what is a drought? The CSIRO used a handful of definitions. How can you model a handful of definitions? How about the “drought” near the mouth of the Murray that will soon be relieved by rainfall from Queensland, 1,400 km away? Or drought at the surface that can be offset by tapping artesian water below?

    Definition of sea level rise. Rise with respect to what? I emailed M Alblain in France and asked just this. His team had a discussion and suggested that the present datum was the 3-D frame of reference of satellites (I’m assuming ones with orbits known well enough to detect sea level change). Realistically, this limits valid observations to the last decade.

    Questions of mechanism. Any convincing explanations as to why some WA hurricanes continue for days over 1,000 km over dry desert? From where do they draw the water the sustain mechanisms of conventional wisdom? Why do hurricanes need a threshhold surface sea temperature for initiation, even though they usually do not start at the hottest available sea location?

    Arctic ice? Interested onlookers get excited about area, extent, mass – even though the 3 are not the same and some are age-dependent more than others.

    Improvement in technology. It can take just one custom-designed new instrument to cause adjustment of most past work, as with some satellites/space vehices. e.g. water on the Moon.

    It’s part of a current deplorable tendency in climate science to publish work in progress (then call for the Uncertainty Principle), instead of waiting to publish when all of the ducks are in a line.

    • ‘Is it not something of an oxymoron to use “less permanent drought conditions”?’

      It was meant to be a joke.

      ‘deplorable tendency in climate science to publish work in progress’

      Judith Curry gets it: “there is no malfeasance associated with sloppy record keeping, making shaky assumptions, and using inappropriate statistical methods in a published scientific journal article.”

      I wish they would not develop new methods and present original findings in the same paper (eg Tas van Ommen’s Antarctic snowfall). Either use existing well researched methods, or devote a paper to the methodology testing its limits first.

      • If it helps David, I thought that was a great joke. Juxtapose “More or less permanent drought conditions” with evidence that the drought conditions are obviously NOT permanent. Of course, one can already anticipate the reply (No, we said “Or less“! So we predicted less drought, too!) Which makes it all the sweeter.

        sherro-You ask: “Why do hurricanes need a threshhold surface sea temperature for initiation, even though they usually do not start at the hottest available sea location?” I imagine that the reason is because the atmospheric conditions necessary for cyclogenesis are not always favorable where the SST is high. You need both, really. In fact, the six things you need are: sufficiently warm sea surface temperatures, atmospheric instability, high humidity in the lower to middle levels of the troposphere, enough Coriolis force to develop a low pressure center, a preexisting low level focus or disturbance, and low vertical wind shear.

        “why some WA hurricanes continue for days over 1,000 km over dry desert? From where do they draw the water the sustain mechanisms of conventional wisdom?”

        Interesting-I would think that such a system would rapidly lose intensity and become a remnant. Do you have a reference for them maintaining tropical characteristics?

      • “why some WA hurricanes continue for days over 1,000 km over dry desert? From where do they draw the water the sustain mechanisms of conventional wisdom?”

        My father always talked about an ‘upper atmosphere lows’ which I don’t see how they could exist, but he claimed they produce tropical in-feed as the source of major rains. Now with the satellite loops I look for in-feed conditions, which were not visible on the isobar charts.

        I can definitely see conditions of in-feed from bands of cloud in the satellite loops, streaming in from WA or the gulf, which quite often gives the big falls over the continent after a few days or weeks. The troughs from the south act more as activators.

        So my guess is that moisture could be maintained by in-feed at higher atmospheric levels?

      • That seems physically reasonable. I think I’m going to look at some storm tracks in the NATL etc to see if I see any cyclones lasting quite a while over land, but memory serves that we don’t tend to see that same kind of thing. Could be unique conditions in the Australian region.

  4. There is also a problem of concise definition. Is it not something of an oxymoron to use “less permanent drought conditions”? If a drought is permanent, say in known history in parts of Chile, then that defines its natural condition. It is not an anomaly worthy of study in climate change. If through climate change it rains a little more, that produces a slightly different natural state. So what? Why name it “less permanent drought conditions” when “desert” will do?Then, what is a drought? The CSIRO used a handful of definitions. How can you model a handful of definitions? How about the “drought” near the mouth of the Murray that will soon be relieved by rainfall from Queensland, 1,400 km away? Or drought at the surface that can be offset by tapping artesian water below?Definition of sea level rise. Rise with respect to what? I emailed M Alblain in France and asked just this. His team had a discussion and suggested that the present datum was the 3-D frame of reference of satellites (I'm assuming ones with orbits known well enough to detect sea level change). Realistically, this limits valid observations to the last decade. Questions of mechanism. Any convincing explanations as to why some WA hurricanes continue for days over 1,000 km over dry desert? From where do they draw the water the sustain mechanisms of conventional wisdom? Why do hurricanes need a threshhold surface sea temperature for initiation, even though they usually do not start at the hottest available sea location?Arctic ice? Interested onlookers get excited about area, extent, mass – even though the 3 are not the same and some are age-dependent more than others.Improvement in technology. It can take just one custom-designed new instrument to cause adjustment of most past work, as with some satellites/space vehices. e.g. water on the Moon.It's part of a current deplorable tendency in climate science to publish work in progress (then call for the Uncertainty Principle), instead of waiting to publish when all of the ducks are in a line.

  5. 'Is it not something of an oxymoron to use “less permanent drought conditions”?' It was meant to be a joke. 'deplorable tendency in climate science to publish work in progress'Judith Curry gets it: “there is no malfeasance associated with sloppy record keeping, making shaky assumptions, and using inappropriate statistical methods in a published scientific journal article.” I wish they would not develop new methods and present original findings in the same paper (eg Tas van Ommen's Antarctic snowfall). Either use existing well researched methods, or devote a paper to the methodology testing its limits first.

  6. If it helps David, I thought that was a great joke. Juxtapose “More or less permanent drought conditions” with evidence that the drought conditions are obviously NOT permanent. Of course, one can already anticipate the reply (No, we said “Or less“! So we predicted less drought, too!) Which makes it all the sweeter.sherro-You ask: “Why do hurricanes need a threshhold surface sea temperature for initiation, even though they usually do not start at the hottest available sea location?” I imagine that the reason is because the atmospheric conditions necessary for cyclogenesis are not always favorable where the SST is high. You need both, really. In fact, the six things you need are: sufficiently warm sea surface temperatures, atmospheric instability, high humidity in the lower to middle levels of the troposphere, enough Coriolis force to develop a low pressure center, a preexisting low level focus or disturbance, and low vertical wind shear.”why some WA hurricanes continue for days over 1,000 km over dry desert? From where do they draw the water the sustain mechanisms of conventional wisdom?”Interesting-I would think that such a system would rapidly lose intensity and become a remnant. Do you have a reference for them maintaining tropical characteristics?

  7. “why some WA hurricanes continue for days over 1,000 km over dry desert? From where do they draw the water the sustain mechanisms of conventional wisdom?”My father always talked about an 'upper atmosphere lows' which I don't see how they could exist, but he claimed they produce tropical in-feed as the source of major rains. Now with the satellite loops I look for in-feed conditions, which were not visible on the isobar charts. I can definitely see conditions of in-feed from bands of cloud in the satellite loops, streaming in from WA or the gulf, which quite often gives the big falls over the continent after a few days or weeks. The troughs from the south act more as activators. So my guess is that moisture could be maintained by in-feed at higher atmospheric levels?

  8. That seems physically reasonable. I think I'm going to look at some storm tracks in the NATL etc to see if I see any cyclones lasting quite a while over land, but memory serves that we don't tend to see that same kind of thing. Could be unique conditions in the Australian region.

  9. Problem 5. Why do most of the forecasts of climate science fail?

    Could this be because most of them include radiative forcings?

    Unless the spectrum of the radiative forcing falls within the atmospheric window, it doesn’t get out of the lower troposphere anyhow. Which means that if it’s not in the window it’s always only been dealt with by convection in a wet atmosphere. So little change then!

    However, they’ve been programming change from radiative forcing into most of their forecasts so it’s a small wonder that many forecasts fail.

    Best regards, suricat.

  10. Problem 5. Why do most of the forecasts of climate science fail?Could this be because most of them include radiative forcings?Unless the spectrum of the radiative forcing falls within the atmospheric window, it doesn't get out of the lower troposphere anyhow. Which means that if it's not in the window it's always only been dealt with by convection in a wet atmosphere. So little change then!However, they've been programming change from radiative forcing into most of their forecasts so it's a small wonder that many forecasts fail.Best regards, suricat.

  11. Suricat,

    One of the earliest NASA global warming boasts I can recall is that “Nobody knows more about radiative heat transfer than we do” and they proceeded down that lane, neglecting others.

    But I guess we are all one-eyed to an extent. We are most comfortable working with what we think we know. (This is fine, because it leaves me much free time).

    Andrew, some of the USA Gulf of Mexico systems have gone about 500 miles inland over a few days. Most, as we know, peter out soon after landfall. The other oddity is the the systems west of USA have nearly straight trajectories, but very many of the G of Mexiso ans Australian ones seem to track parallel to the coast for a few days then do a 90 degree turn about 300 km out to sea, to often cross the coast at 90 deg (roughly speaking). I’d be interested in why they make the left turn (in the SH) and the R turn in the NH, no references to bathwater spirals please.

    David, I’ll look at some more imagery and ponder your high above ground explanation, which seems rather good at first blush. Thank you all.

    • “no references to bathwater spirals please”-If your thinking I was going to say the Coriolis Effect, it actually is inconsequential for bathtubs.

      But my understanding is that the storm track is mainly dependent on the prevailing winds-The Trades typically move them eastward after their formation. Without such strong steering currents, the get pulled Pole-ward by Coriolis Acceleration (since their Pole-ward edge is more strongly effected). Finally, once they get to the suptropical ridge axis, they encounter more Westerly winds and “recurve”. So the movement of these systems just depends on which conditions dominate at a given time.

      This may perhaps illustrate the important wind patterns:

  12. Suricat,One of the earliest NASA global warming boasts I can recall is that “Nobody knows more about radiative heat transfer than we do” and they proceeded down that lane, neglecting others.But I guess we are all one-eyed to an extent. We are most comfortable working with what we think we know. (This is fine, because it leaves me much free time).Andrew, some of the USA Gulf of Mexico systems have gone about 500 miles inland over a few days. Most, as we know, peter out soon after landfall. The other oddity is the the systems west of USA have nearly straight trajectories, but very many of the G of Mexiso ans Australian ones seem to track parallel to the coast for a few days then do a 90 degree turn about 300 km out to sea, to often cross the coast at 90 deg (roughly speaking). I'd be interested in why they make the left turn (in the SH) and the R turn in the NH, no references to bathwater spirals please.David, I'll look at some more imagery and ponder your high above ground explanation, which seems rather good at first blush. Thank you all.

  13. “no references to bathwater spirals please”-If your thinking I was going to say the Coriolis Effect, it actually is inconsequential for bathtubs.But my understanding is that the storm track is mainly dependent on the prevailing winds-The Trades typically move them eastward after their formation. Without such strong steering currents, the get pulled Pole-ward by Coriolis Acceleration (since their Pole-ward edge is more strongly effected). Finally, once they get to the suptropical ridge axis, they encounter more Westerly winds and “recurve”. So the movement of these systems just depends on which conditions dominate at a given time.This may perhaps illustrate the important wind patterns:http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1

  14. Apologies for this being a bit OT, but it’s related to what we might not know –
    pattern of a few Australian cyclones

    Note the left turns out to sea, the coast crossed perpendicular and the long trachs over dry hot desert. A bit contrary to the generalised wind pattern?

    • I wish there was one specifically for the Cyclone season-there may be some temporal variation of the wind field. My guess is that the graphic also isn’t showing the Westerlies (blue arrows) moving across Australia. That should be what pushes them to turn as Coriolis pulls them south.

  15. I wish there was one specifically for the Cyclone season-there may be some temporal variation of the wind field. My guess is that the graphic also isn't showing the Westerlies (blue arrows) moving across Australia. That should be what pushes them to turn as Coriolis pulls them south.

  16. Andrew, here is a more complete plot of Australian tropical cyclone tracks. Now do you see more clearly the features that interest me?

    http://i260.photobucket.com/albums/ii14/sherro_2008/CyclonesBOM.jpg (insert smiley).

    In the NW part of the map, it’s that turn from a west path to a south path then often to a SE path that seems so common. I’m not a student of Hadley cells or climatic effects of Coriolis, so the pattern be be just as expected. But I like to study patterns in Nature.

  17. Andrew, here is a more complete plot of Australian tropical cyclone tracks. Now do you see more clearly the features that interest me?http://i260.photobucket.com/albums/ii14/sherro_… (insert smiley).In the NW part of the map, it's that turn from a west path to a south path then often to a SE path that seems so common. I'm not a student of Hadley cells or climatic effects of Coriolis, so the pattern be be just as expected. But I like to study patterns in Nature.

  18. Andrew, here is a more complete plot of Australian tropical cyclone tracks. Now do you see more clearly the features that interest me?http://i260.photobucket.com/albums/ii14/sherro_… (insert smiley).In the NW part of the map, it's that turn from a west path to a south path then often to a SE path that seems so common. I'm not a student of Hadley cells or climatic effects of Coriolis, so the pattern be be just as expected. But I like to study patterns in Nature.

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