CSIRO Affair?

Terry McCran’s accusation that CSRIO ‘breached trust’ in The Australian this weekend sounds like an overly possessive lover saying he will never trust them again:

… our two pre-eminent centres of knowledge and public policy analysis across the social and hard sciences spectrum are now literally unbelievable.

In case you hadn’t heard, this is about the unseemly Treasury/Mining Co. cat fight over the RSPT, and Tom Quirk’s fracas with Paul Fraser, the Chief Research Scientist at CSIRO at Quadrant over his article CSIRO Abandons Science identifying a convenient omission in their State of the Climate position statement.

But the State of the Climate report has a number of very odd and questionable statements other than the one Tom wrote about. I will go through them in order:

1.

The snapshot is sourced from peer reviewed data on temperature, rainfall, sea level, ocean acidification, and carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere.

Where has the data been peer-reviewed? Normally journals are described as peer-reviewed if they are sent out to other scientists for comment and advice on publication. No doubt some data has been used in peer-reviewed papers, but the peer-review adjective seems to be attached somewhat artificially to add weight. Notice they did not say it is peer-reviewed research.

2.

1. Temperature
Since 1960 the mean temperature in Australia has increased by about 0.7 °C . The long term trend in temperature is clear, but there is still substantial year to year variability of about plus/minus 0.5 °C.

The long term trend in temperature is not clear from the mean increase since 1960. This is the extrapolation fallacy. Surely CSIRO does not imply that the basis for belief that temperatures will continue to increase is the trend in the last 50 years as that would be silly and wrong.

3.

2. Rainfall. While total rainfall on the Australian continent has been relatively stable, the geographic distribution of rainfall has changed significantly over the past 50 years.

The significant increase in total rainfall in Australia has been demonstrated which seems to contradict the statement that rainfall has been relatively stable. Nick Stokes argues that they were only talking about the last 50 years, and it could be interpreted like that, but even then the rainfall has been vary variable which rates a mention. But why not represent the state of climate changes based on all the available data? Is it because it seems to contradict the public position of many scientists (and climate modelling) that Australia will become generally drier and more drought prone due to GHGs?

4.
The sections on sea level, sea temperature and ocean acidification contain a lot of claims that are contested in the literature, spoken with absolute certainty.

5.

4. Our Atmosphere. Global CO2 concentrations have risen rapidly over the last century. Methane, which is another greenhouse gas, has shown similar increases.

This is the statement that Tom Quirk took a stick to, because he felt the recent plateau in methane was misrepresented. The first graph in section 4 was subsequently modified in the report, and Paul Fraser, the Chief Research Scientist said:

This should have been explained in State of Climate – unfortunately it was not, and this has lead to Quirk’s misinterpretation of the data. Quirk noted ‘Methane concentrations have plateaued – this does not fit the CSIRO storyline’.

This is not correct: the methane data in ‘State of Climate’ show that methane stopped growing in the atmosphere and then started to grow again.

However, Tom points the omission of methane from the second figure in section 4 is the main issue:

The unfortunate conclusion from this analysis is that the CSIRO has been highly selective in the presentation of data. Why the methane data from 1984 on was omitted from the second figure of page 5 of the “State of the Climate” report needs some explanation.

6.

5. What this means. Much of Australia will be drier in coming decades

Once again, when much of Australia has become significantly wetter (rainfall has increased 14% in the last 100 years), why state with absolute certainty that much of Australia will be drier?

7.

It is very likely that human activities have caused most of the global warming observed since 1950. There is greater than 90% certainty that increases in greenhouse gas emissions have caused most of the global warming since the mid-20th century.

The actual statement in the IPCC AR4 is:

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.

There is a big difference between emissions and concentrations, but emissions places more blame on humans, so it sounds better.

8.
And finally, on the CSIRO State of the Climate website is a statement of rigor.

CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology use scientific modelling based on the laws of physics and thoroughly tested against recorded observations.

I am glad they are doing ‘scientific’ modelling and not some other sort, and that the testing is ‘thorough’, though I would certainly like to see the results of the testing instead of a ‘trust me, I’m from CSIRO’ statement. After all, the testing may be ‘thorough’, but what if the results were abysmal? I think they are.

The bottom line, is that I don’t think agencies like CSIRO, or any member organization, should be publishing position statements on climate change or anything else, unless it relates directly to the membership. If I were a CSIRO scientist I would be upset about having the top brass speak on my behalf, without my input. The science should speak for itself in the journals. I think it’s ultra vires by CSIRO to ‘be in bed with the government’ like that.

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0 thoughts on “CSIRO Affair?

    1. A bit of Googling shows this:

      Doctor Paul Fraser is a chief research scientist at the CSIRO’s Atmospheric Research Division

      So did you mean that there was no such person as Paul Fraser or no such position as Chief Scientist? Or that he was not *the* but *a* Chief Scientist or that he is neither anymore?

      As a part time observer of the climate wars I see a lot of what is either intended mis-direction or lack of precision.

      I does appear that there is/was a Paul Fraser who did/does have something to do with climate related matters in the CSIRO.

      1. Yes, Paul Fraser is a person, and an excellent scientist. But to refer to him as the Chief Research Scientist clearly implies that he is the organisation’s scientific supremo, which is just not true. CSIRO does have Chiefs of Divisions, and he isn’t one of those either.

      2. Nick, it seems to me that from the context that he was being referred to as the “chief research scientist” of the report, not CSIRO.

  1. “The methane data in ‘State of Climate’ show that methane stopped growing in the atmosphere and then started to grow again.”

    So after years of alarmists being in denial of the fact that Methane growth was slowing to or near a standstill, we finally get an admission that it happened, only to hear, based on, what, two years of data it looks like, that it has “started again”? What nonsense, it’s still lower than it should have been.

    The other statements are similarly ridiculous.

  2. “The methane data in ‘State of Climate’ show that methane stopped growing in the atmosphere and then started to grow again.”So after years of alarmists being in denial of the fact that Methane growth was slowing to or near a standstill, we finally get an admission that it happened, only to hear, based on, what, two years of data it looks like, that it has “started again”? What nonsense, it's still lower than it should have been.The other statements are similarly ridiculous.

  3. A bit of Googling shows this:Doctor Paul Fraser is a chief research scientist at the CSIRO's Atmospheric Research DivisionSo did you mean that there was no such person as Paul Fraser or no such position as Chief Scientist? Or that he was not *the* but *a* Chief Scientist or that he is neither anymore?As a part time observer of the climate wars I see a lot of what is either intended mis-direction or lack of precision.I does appear that there is/was a Paul Fraser who did/does have something to do with climate related matters in the CSIRO.

  4. Nick Stokes takes exception to interpretation:

    “The first graph in section 4 was subsequently modified in the report, and Paul Fraser, the Chief Research Scientist said: ….”

    The chief research scientist for the paper in this sentence was Paul Fraser. Try scanning it thus:

    ” … the report, and Paul Fraser, the lab technician, … ”

    Is your quibble about capitalisation of title? He is now described as “Stream Leader”. Not so long ago he might have been a “Principal Research Scientist” by title.

    Really Nick, this is not a site for quibbling about the title designations of CSIRO officers. That’s nit picking for no apparent gain.

  5. Nick Stokes takes exception to interpretation:”The first graph in section 4 was subsequently modified in the report, and Paul Fraser, the Chief Research Scientist said: ….”The chief research scientist for the paper in this sentence was Paul Fraser. Try scanning it thus:” … the report, and Paul Fraser, the lab technician, … “Is your quibble about capitalisation of title? He is now described as “Stream Leader”. Not so long ago he might have been a “Principal Research Scientist” by title.Really Nick, this is not a site for quibbling about the title designations of CSIRO officers. That's nit picking for no apparent gain.

  6. Yes, Paul Fraser is a person, and an excellent scientist. But to refer to him as the Chief Research Scientist clearly implies that he is the organisation's scientific supremo, which is just not true. CSIRO does have Chiefs of Divisions, and he isn't one of those either.

  7. Nick, it seems to me that from the context that he was being referred to as the “chief research scientist” of the report, not CSIRO.

  8. Yes, Paul Fraser is a person, and an excellent scientist. But to refer to him as the Chief Research Scientist clearly implies that he is the organisation's scientific supremo, which is just not true. CSIRO does have Chiefs of Divisions, and he isn't one of those either.

  9. Nick, it seems to me that from the context that he was being referred to as the “chief research scientist” of the report, not CSIRO.

  10. In casae you missed it, here is the ABC rebuttal of methane plateaux at Cape Grim:
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/06/03/2916904.htm?

    New greenhouse gases accumulating ‘rapidly’
    By environment reporter Sarah Clarke

    Updated Thu Jun 3, 2010 9:04am AEST

    It is windy, cold and isolated. Cape Grim is at the most north-west point in Tasmania.

    It is also home to some of the cleanest air on the planet and for that reason, it is the most important air measuring station in the southern hemisphere.

    The Cape Grim research station, perched on the cliffs overlooking the Southern Ocean, is recording the most precise account of the earth’s changing atmosphere.

    But it is not all good news – over the last 12 months scientists have identified two potent greenhouse gases that are accelerating rapidly.

    Paul Fraser from the CSIRO has been coming to the station since it opened in 1976 and he says that over the last 30 years, carbon dioxide levels have increased by 15 per cent.

    “Almost entirely that increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is due to fossil fuels and that’s entirely man-made,” he said.

    In fact, 40 different types of greenhouse gases are measured at Cape Grim.

    But it is two new gases recently identified that are accelerating rapidly.

    One, nitrogen trifluoride, is used in the manufacture of plasma televisions. The other is sulphuryl fluoride, a fumigant used on crops.

    Mr Fraser says in the long-term, the two gases will have climate-warming potential.

    “I think they’re rising at between 5 and 10 per cent per year so they’re jumping up quite rapidly from virtually zero concentrations not long ago,” he said.

    Clean air

    The site was chosen because of its remote position and the persistent westerly winds.

    The manager of the Cape Grim station, Sam Cleland, says the air measured by the station is very clean.

    “The air that arrives here for a lot of the time has just travelled over the Southern Ocean,” he said.

    “There’s no factory nearby, there’s nothing that might put local contaminants into the atmosphere, so what we measure here is a base state of the global atmosphere.”

    Australia’s greenhouse gases are measured and fed into a global database monitoring the earth’s changing atmosphere.

    “We’re the best-placed site in the Southern Hemisphere to measure what happens in the Southern Hemisphere,” Mr Cleland said.

    “As a consequence we’ve developed a record that’s invaluable to the world community for gaining an understanding of what’s in the atmosphere.”

    Every day, a group of scientists take samples of air and feed them into an archive that holds 2,000-year-old records of greenhouse gases.

    1. According to wiki, the rate at which sulphuryl fluoride is being put into the atmosphere (not necessarily staying) is about one fifteen millionth of the rate associated with CO2. Couple that with it’s GWP of ~4500X that of CO2, it should have .03% of the effect of CO2. Using similar figures estimated for nitrogen trifluoride indicates that it’s effect should also ultimately be ~.03% that of CO2.

  11. In casae you missed it, here is the ABC rebuttal of methane plateaux at Cape Grim:http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/06/03/2…New greenhouse gases accumulating 'rapidly'By environment reporter Sarah ClarkeUpdated Thu Jun 3, 2010 9:04am AEST It is windy, cold and isolated. Cape Grim is at the most north-west point in Tasmania.It is also home to some of the cleanest air on the planet and for that reason, it is the most important air measuring station in the southern hemisphere.The Cape Grim research station, perched on the cliffs overlooking the Southern Ocean, is recording the most precise account of the earth's changing atmosphere.But it is not all good news – over the last 12 months scientists have identified two potent greenhouse gases that are accelerating rapidly.Paul Fraser from the CSIRO has been coming to the station since it opened in 1976 and he says that over the last 30 years, carbon dioxide levels have increased by 15 per cent.”Almost entirely that increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is due to fossil fuels and that's entirely man-made,” he said.In fact, 40 different types of greenhouse gases are measured at Cape Grim.But it is two new gases recently identified that are accelerating rapidly. One, nitrogen trifluoride, is used in the manufacture of plasma televisions. The other is sulphuryl fluoride, a fumigant used on crops. Mr Fraser says in the long-term, the two gases will have climate-warming potential.”I think they're rising at between 5 and 10 per cent per year so they're jumping up quite rapidly from virtually zero concentrations not long ago,” he said.Clean airThe site was chosen because of its remote position and the persistent westerly winds.The manager of the Cape Grim station, Sam Cleland, says the air measured by the station is very clean.”The air that arrives here for a lot of the time has just travelled over the Southern Ocean,” he said.”There's no factory nearby, there's nothing that might put local contaminants into the atmosphere, so what we measure here is a base state of the global atmosphere.”Australia's greenhouse gases are measured and fed into a global database monitoring the earth's changing atmosphere.”We're the best-placed site in the Southern Hemisphere to measure what happens in the Southern Hemisphere,” Mr Cleland said.”As a consequence we've developed a record that's invaluable to the world community for gaining an understanding of what's in the atmosphere.”Every day, a group of scientists take samples of air and feed them into an archive that holds 2,000-year-old records of greenhouse gases.

  12. According to wiki, the rate at which sulphuryl fluoride is being put into the atmosphere (not necessarily staying) is about one fifteen millionth of the rate associated with CO2. Couple that with it's GWP of ~4500X that of CO2, it should have .03% of the effect of CO2. Using similar figures estimated for nitrogen trifluoride indicates that it's effect should also ultimately be ~.03% that of CO2.

  13. From “The Age” Melbourne, June 3, 2010, p 17, on Cape Grim weather station.

    “Cape Grim has developed a name for its ground breaking work on methane. CSIRO scientists were the first to show that, after plateauing for a decade as former Soviet states acted to reduce massive leaks from natural gas plants, methane levels have started to rise in the past couple of years due to a surge in emissions from natural wetlands, including melting Arctic permafrost.”

    Here is graph of methane variation with time at Cape Grim ex Tom Quirk:

    Questions:

    (1) Why does the graph not start at year 1981, when measurements started?

    (2) Why is there an annual variation whose peak-peak magnitude stays about the same, if the Russian pipeline leaks were not cyclic also? Should there not be a textural change as one source ceases input?

    (3) Is the melting of the Tunda (a seasonal event on the other end of the globe) able to preserve its seasonal pattern as the methane, often described like CO2 as “well mixed,” travels vast distances? The maxima occur about Cape Grim Springtime, for some reason. What is that reason?

    (4) Is it not more likely that the peaks and troughs are related to events close to Cape Grim? Otherwise, they would surely be more smeared.

    (5) If there are indeed local events that change methane concentration cyclically annually near Cape Grim, are there longer periods of cyclicity that also change the concentration.

    (6) Is is correct to assert that the Cape Grim air is unaffected by growing material, because there’s some of it in the ocean between Africa and Tasmania. Enough, I’d suggest, to require factoring into the balance equations.

    (7) Some mileage is being estracted from the uptick in the last 2 years. Is it scientific to ascribe significance to a change from 1740 to 1750 parts per billion by volume, that is, 10 parts per trillion, surely at the limits of instumentation and sampling errors. Classically trained chemists would be aghast. I am.

    1. Let me just compound your aghast-ness of the ridiculous obsession with a two years of data (Russia’s leaky pipes are pretty wacky BTW, how does anyone keep track of that?). This part:

      “methane levels have started to rise in the past couple of years due to a surge in emissions from natural wetlands, including melting Arctic permafrost.”

      Is a flat out lie. From:

      Dlugokencky, E. J., et al., 2009. Observational constraints on recent increases in the atmospheric CH4 burden. Geophysical Research Letters, 36, L18803, doi:10.1029/2009GL039780.

      “We emphasize that, although changing climate has the potential to dramatically increase CH4 emissions from huge stores of carbon in permafrost and from Arctic hydrates, our observations are not consistent with sustained changes there yet.”

      The recent spikes seem to have originated in the TROPICS, if you read the papers, NOT ARCTIC PERMAFROST!

      1. Stunning hubris on the part of CSIRO if intentional. I thought the
        omission of methane on the short time-scale second graph in part 4 of
        SotC, which both methane and CO2 were present on the long time-scale
        figure above was bad enough.

    2. Your comments are very pertinent Sherro.

      It is not commonly known, and apparently not by the Cape Grim people that the observed concentrations of methane in seawater are typically equivalent to a relative air saturation (over and above the atmospheric partial pressure of methane) in the range 105 – 175% i.e. seawater always has an excess of dissolveded methane and hence is a source i.e. net flux to air. This had been known for a long time but was an unsolved mystery until 2 years ago.

      This has now been found to be due to aerobic production of methane in as a by-product of methylphosphonate decomposition in phosphate-stressed waters.

      Karl, D M, Beversdorf, L., Bjorkman, K M, Church, M J, Martinez, A., and DeLong, E F. (2008) Aerobic production of methane in the sea. Nature Geoscience Vol. 1. July 2008, 473 – 478

  14. From “The Age” Melbourne, June 3, 2010, p 17, on Cape Grim weather station. “Cape Grim has developed a name for its ground breaking work on methane. CSIRO scientists were the first to show that, after plateauing for a decade as former Soviet states acted to reduce massive leaks from natural gas plants, methane levels have started to rise in the past couple of years due to a surge in emissions from natural wetlands, including melting Arctic permafrost.”Here is graph of methane variation with time at Cape Grim ex Tom Quirk:http://www.quadrant.org.au/img/content/May%2020… Questions:(1) Why does the graph not start at year 1981, when measurements started?(2) Why is there an annual variation whose peak-peak magnitude stays about the same, if the Russian pipeline leaks were not cyclic also? Should there not be a textural change as one source ceases input?(3) Is the melting of the Tunda (a seasonal event on the other end of the globe) able to preserve its seasonal pattern as the methane, often described like CO2 as “well mixed,” travels vast distances? The maxima occur about Cape Grim Springtime, for some reason. What is that reason?(4) Is it not more likely that the peaks and troughs are related to events close to Cape Grim? Otherwise, they would surely be more smeared.(5) If there are indeed local events that change methane concentration cyclically annually near Cape Grim, are there longer periods of cyclicity that also change the concentration.(6) Is is correct to assert that the Cape Grim air is unaffected by growing material, because there's some of it in the ocean between Africa and Tasmania. Enough, I'd suggest, to require factoring into the balance equations.(7) Some mileage is being estracted from the uptick in the last 2 years. Is it scientific to ascribe significance to a change from 1740 to 1750 parts per billion by volume, that is, 10 parts per trillion, surely at the limits of instumentation and sampling errors. Classically trained chemists would be aghast. I am.

  15. Let me just compound your aghast-ness of the ridiculous obsession with a two years of data (Russia's leaky pipes are pretty wacky BTW, how does anyone keep track of that?). This part:”methane levels have started to rise in the past couple of years due to a surge in emissions from natural wetlands, including melting Arctic permafrost.”Is a flat out lie. From:Dlugokencky, E. J., et al., 2009. Observational constraints on recent increases in the atmospheric CH4 burden. Geophysical Research Letters, 36, L18803, doi:10.1029/2009GL039780.”We emphasize that, although changing climate has the potential to dramatically increase CH4 emissions from huge stores of carbon in permafrost and from Arctic hydrates, our observations are not consistent with sustained changes there yet.”The recent spikes seem to have originated in the TROPICS, if you read the papers, NOT ARCTIC PERMAFROST!

  16. Your comments are very pertinent Sherro. It is not commonly known, and apparently not by the Cape Grim people that the observed concentrations of methane in seawater are typically equivalent to a relative air saturation (over and above the atmospheric partial pressure of methane) in the range 105 – 175% i.e. seawater always has an excess of dissolveded methane and hence is a source i.e. net flux to air. This had been known for a long time but was an unsolved mystery until 2 years ago.This has now been found to be due to aerobic production of methane in as a by-product of methylphosphonate decomposition in phosphate-stressed waters.Karl, D M, Beversdorf, L., Bjorkman, K M, Church, M J, Martinez, A., and DeLong, E F. (2008) Aerobic production of methane in the sea. Nature Geoscience Vol. 1. July 2008, 473 – 478

  17. Stunning hubris on the part of CSIRO if intentional. I thought theomission of methane on the short time-scale second graph in part 4 ofSotC, which both methane and CO2 were present on the long time-scalefigure above was bad enough.

  18. The annual wriggles in global atmospheric gases should yield to measurement of noble gases which are not commonly involved in biological activity.

    In a quick look, I have found that most noble gases are superaturated, with the degree of saturation being seasonally dependent. They are thus easier to release into the air than if they were undersaturated.

    See

    Noble gas saturation

    from

    http://www.whoi.edu/cms/files/stanley_2008_38765.pdf

    This and other work indicate that the ocean/atmosphere interface has varying gas fluxes with seasons; and that one inportant effect is shallow bubble formation, with release to air increasing during turbulence.

    I followed this line after reading Steve Short’s memory jogger below, that methane was supersaturated in oceans.

    The nice figure that I seek is a graph similar to the ML CO2 graph over the years, but plotting Argon instead. If Argon goes up and down like CO2 and methane each year, we can discount some mechanisms as implausible. Anyone seen one?

  19. The annual wriggles in global atmospheric gases should yield to measurement of noble gases which are not commonly involved in biological activity.In a quick look, I have found that most noble gases are superaturated, with the degree of saturation being seasonally dependent. They are thus easier to release into the air than if they were undersaturated.Seehttp://i260.photobucket.com/albums/ii14/sherro_…from http://www.whoi.edu/cms/files/stanley_2008_3876…This and other work indicate that the ocean/atmosphere interface has varying gas fluxes with seasons; and that one inportant effect is shallow bubble formation, with release to air increasing during turbulence. I followed this line after reading Steve Short's memory jogger below, that methane was supersaturated in oceans. The nice figure that I seek is a graph similar to the ML CO2 graph over the years, but plotting Argon instead. If Argon goes up and down like CO2 and methane each year, we can discount some mechanisms as implausible. Anyone seen one?

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