Climate Scientists Get The Stratosphere Wrong

How did the Met Office get their data so wrong? Well there’s the rub. You see, the methodology used to develop the Met Office SSU product was never published in the peer-reviewed literature, and certain aspects of the original processing “remain unknown.” Evidently the boffins at the Met didn’t bother to write down exactly how they were massaging the raw data to get the results they reported. Indeed, those who did the data manipulation seem to have mostly retired. This is an egregious example of sloppy science, slipshod science, bad science. How other climate scientists blindly accepted the Met Office’s manufactured data, even when their models could not be reconciled with nature, leads one to question the scientific integrity of many of those in the field. This is not acceptable behaviour in any realm of scientific endeavour. — Doug Hoffman, The Resilient Earth, 15 January 2013

The steady, relentless collapse of the climate campaign proceeds apace, notwithstanding the sugar high climate campaigners enjoyed after Hurricane Sandy and Obama’s re-election. And if the climate campaign wasn’t already in denial about being abandoned by The One, their media allies, and new carbon riches baron Al Gorezeera, a new report coming out this week from Harvard’s Theta Skocpol should really harsh their mellow.  Skocpol, a prominent liberal political scientist, argues that environmentalists deserve most of the blame for the defeat of their agenda. — Steven Hayward, Power Line, 14 January 2013

In an area where I have expertise on, extremes and their impacts, the report by the US Global Change Research Program is well out of step with the scientific literature, including the very literature it cites and conclusions of the IPCC. Questions should (but probably won’t) be asked about how a major scientific assessment has apparently became captured as a tool of advocacy via misrepresentation of the scientific literature — a phenomena that occurs repeated in the area of extreme events. Given the strength of the science on this subject, the USGCRP must have gone to some effort to mischaracterize it by 180 degrees. How is it that it got things so wrong? —Roger Pielke Jr., 15 January 2013

But what if climate change isn’t the disaster we fear but instead one more obstacle that humans can meet, one that may spur innovation and creativity as well as demand ever more resilience? What if it ultimately improves life as we know it? –Zacharay Karabell, “Climate Change Doesn’t Have To Be All Bad”, Reuters, 14 January 2013

The gravest danger to Earth these days isn’t climate skepticism; it’s the broken, Malthusian and statist green policy imagination. Wedded to grandiose and unworkable “solutions”, greens feel they must push the panic button at every opportunity to stampede the world into embracing an unworkable and unsustainable policy agenda. It won’t work. The Al Gore path (alarmism, hypocrisy, dumb policy solutions, green pig lipsticking or corporate subsidies disguised as green breakthroughs) will not bend the curve. –Walter Russell Mead, Via Meadia, 12 January 2013

1) New Met Office Botch: Climate Scientists Get The Stratosphere Wrong – The Resilient Earth, 15 January 2013

2) How Did US Climate Scientists Get Floods 100% Wrong? – Roger Pielke Jr., 15 January 2013

3) The Relentless Collapse of Climate Hysteria – Power Line, 14 January 2013

4) Walter Russell Mead: Green Misread The Climate Tea Leaves – Via Meadia, 12 January 2013

Doug Hoffman

Time and again the proponents of catastrophic climate change use the mantra of “settled science” to shout down their critics. This is nothing less than blind faith that science actually knows what is going on in the complex environment that regulates this planet’s climate. Imagine a part of that system that is literally only 10km from anywhere on Earth, a component of our environment that science thought it understood quite well. Now imagine the embarrassment when a major review in a noted journal finds that previous datasets associated with this component are wrong and have been wrong for more than a quarter of a century. Yet that is precisely what has happened. The area in question is Earth’s stratosphere and the impact of this report is devastating for climate scientists and atmospheric modelers everywhere.

Scientists have been launching instrument packages into the upper portions of Earth’s atmosphere for a long time. Instruments used for such research were standardized decades ago and programs to collect such data on a world wide basis put into place. If any part of atmospheric science was considered well in hand, if not actually “settled” (a phrase seldom used by real scientists) it would be the long term monitoring of global stratospheric temperatures. However, a report in the 29 November 2012 issue of Nature, “The mystery of recent stratospheric temperature trends,” says that things are not so.

The perspective article by David Thompson, et al., reports that what we thought we knew well we hardly knew at all. A new data set of middle- and upper-stratospheric temperatures indicates that our view of stratospheric climate change during the period 1979–2005 is strikingly wrong. Furthermore, “[t]he new data call into question our understanding of observed stratospheric temperature trends and our ability to test simulations of the stratospheric response to emissions of greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting substances.”

What is particularly troublesome about this report is the scope of the damage done. The problem involves two different sets of historical data from two respected agencies: the UK Met Office and America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). How significant the error and the puzzlement over what to do about it is shown in the article’s title, where it is referred to as a mystery. The background of the problem is stated by the authors this way:

The surface temperature record extends for over a century and is derived from multiple data sources. In contrast, the stratospheric temperature record spans only a few decades and is derived from a handful of data sources. Radiosonde (weather balloon) measurements are available in the lower stratosphere but do not extend to the middle and upper stratosphere. Lidar (light detection and ranging) measurements extend to the middle and upper stratosphere but have very limited spatial and temporal sampling. By far the most abundant observations of long-term stratospheric temperatures are derived from satellite measurements of long-wave radiation emitted by Earth’s atmosphere.

The longest-running records of remotely sensed stratospheric temperatures are provided by the Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU), the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU), and the Stratospheric Sounding Unit (SSU). The SSU and MSU instruments were flown onboard a consecutive series of seven NOAA polar-orbiting satellites that partially overlap in time from late 1978 to 2006; the AMSU instruments have been flown onboard NOAA satellites from mid-1998 to the present day.

The widely accepted, continuous record of temperatures in the middle and upper stratosphere going back to 1979 was based exclusively on SSU data. The SSU data were originally processed for climate analysis by scientists at the UK Met Office in the 1980s and further revised as newer satellite data became available in 2008. Here is were things begin to get a bit dodgy.

There are rules that scientists must follow in order for their work to be judged valid. The work must be done openly, transparently—there can be no secret steps or hidden incantations. This is because the work must be reproducible, not just by those who originated it but by outsiders as well. Things began going off the rails when NOAA recently reprocessed the SSU temperatures and published the full processing methodology and the resulting data in the peer-reviewed literature. This is as it should be, NOAA followed the rules. But it soon became obvious that there were grave discrepancies between the new NOAA data and the older Met Office data.

The global-mean cooling in the middle stratosphere, around 25–45 km in altitude, is nearly twice as large in the NOAA data set as it is in the Met Office data set.  The differencesbetween the NOAA and Met Office global-mean time series do not occur in a single discrete period of time, but begin around 1985 to increase until the end of the record. According to the Nature article: “The differences between the NOAA and Met Office global-mean time series shown in Fig. 1 are so large they call into question our fundamental understanding of observed temperature trends in the middle and upper stratosphere.”

How did the Met Office get their data so wrong? Well there’s the rub. You see, the methodology used to develop the Met Office SSU product was never published in the peer-reviewed literature, and certain aspects of the original processing “remain unknown.” Evidently the boffins at the Met didn’t bother to write down exactly how they were massaging the raw data to get the results they reported. Indeed, those who did the data manipulation seem to have mostly retired.

“The methodology used to generate the original Met Office SSU data remains undocumented and so the climate community are unable to explain the large discrepancies between the original Met Office and NOAA SSU products highlighted here,” Thompson et al. summarize. And the damage doesn’t stop there.

The data from the erroneous dataset has been used widely to help drive and define computer climate models, the same models used to prop-up alarmist claims of impending catastrophic climate change. According to the report: “Two classes of climate models commonly used in simulations of past climate are coupled chemistry–climate models (CCMs) and coupled atmosphere–ocean global climate models (AOGCMs). By definition, the CCMs explicitly simulate stratospheric chemical processes, whereas the AOGCMs explicitly simulate coupled atmosphere–ocean interactions… A key distinction between the model classes that is pertinent to this discussion is that in general the CCMs resolve the stratosphere more fully than do the AOGCMs.”

One of the predictions made by climate models is that as surface temperatures rise temperatures in the stratosphere should drop. Precisely why this should be so is complex and not important to the point being made here. Suffice it to say, the Met Office version of the SSU data suggests that the models overestimate the observed stratospheric cooling, whereas the NOAA SSU data suggest that the models underestimate it. As the authors put it:

If the new NOAA SSU data are correct, they suggest that the stratospheric mass circulation is accelerating at a rate considerably higher than that predicted by the CCMs, at least in the middle and upper stratosphere (that is, at the altitudes sampled by the SSU instrument). Again, it is possible that the models are correct and that the SSU data are in error. But the fact that the discrepancies between the magnitudes of the simulated and observed cooling in the tropical stratosphere extend to MSU channel 4, which samples the lower stratosphere and exhibits trends that are fairly reproducible from one data set to the next suggest that model uncertainties should not be discounted.

The bottom line here is that models based on this almost universally accepted data are wrong. “If the NOAA SSU data are correct, then both the CCMVal2 and CMIP5 models are presumably missing key changes in stratospheric composition,” the report plainly states. The article goes on to suggest corrective actions to prevent such a travesty being repeated in the future. Alas, the damage has already been done.

What is documented here is simply astounding. That which was thought to be understood is found to be misunderstood. Readings thought to be accurate are shown to be inaccurate. How the data were derived is found to be a secret now lost. The impact of the bogus data ripples through past results and, in particular, climate models, rendering old assumptions invalid. What was that line again about “settled science?”

This is an egregious example of sloppy science, slipshod science, bad science. How other climate scientists blindly accepted the Met Office’s manufactured data, even when their models could not be reconciled with nature, leads one to question the scientific integrity of many of those in the field. This is not acceptable behavior in any realm of scientific endeavor, and when the results of research are used to inflame the public and drive questionable socioeconomic programs the malfeasance could be considered criminal. This is what happens when the race for fame, government funding and political advantage collide with science—the validity of the science is destroyed.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.

2) How Did US Climate Scientists Get Floods 100% Wrong?
Roger Pielke Jr., 15 January 2013

The US Global Change Research Program has released a draft national assessment on climate change (here in PDF) and its impacts in the United States, as required by The US Global Change Research Act of 1990 (which incidentally was the subject of my 1994 PhD dissertation). There has been much excitement and froth in the media.

Here I explain that in an area where I have expertise on, extremes and their impacts, the report is well out of step with the scientific literature, including the very literature it cites and conclusions of the IPCC. Questions should (but probably won’t) be asked about how a major scientific assessment has apparently became captured as a tool of advocacy via misrepresentation of the scientific literature — a phenomena that occurs repeated in the area of extreme events. Yes, it is a draft and could be corrected, but a four-year effort by the nation’s top scientists should be expected to produce a public draft report of much higher quality than this.

Since these are strong allegations, let me illustrate my concerns with a specific example from the draft report, and here I will focus on the example of floods, but the problems in the report are more systemic than just this one case.

What the USGCRP report says:

Infrastructure across the U.S. is being adversely affected by phenomena associated with climate change, including sea level rise, storm surge, heavy downpours, and extreme heat… Floods along the nation’s rivers, inside cities, and on lakes following heavy downpours, prolonged rains, and rapid melting of snowpack are damaging infrastructure in towns and cities, farmlands, and a variety of other places across the nation.

The report clearly associates damage from floods with climate change driven by human activities. This is how the draft was read and amplified by The New York Times:
[T]he document minces no words.

“Climate change is already affecting the American people,” declares the opening paragraph of the report, issued under the auspices of the Global Change Research Program, which coordinates federally sponsored climate research. “Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts.”

To underscore its conclusion, the draft report includes the figure at the top of this post (from Hirsch and Ryberg 2011), which shows flood trends in different regions of the US. In a remarkable contrast to the draft USGCRP report, here is what Hirsch and Ryberg (2011) actually says:

The coterminous US is divided into four large regions and stationary bootstrapping is used to evaluate if the patterns of these statistical associations are significantly different from what would be expected under the null hypothesis that flood magnitudes are independent of GM [global mean] CO2. In none of the four regions defined in this study is there strong statistical evidence for flood magnitudes increasing with increasing GMCO2.

Got that? In no US region is there strong statistical evidence for flood magnitudes increasing with increasing CO2. This is precisely the opposite of the conclusion expressed in the draft report, which relies on Hirsch and Ryberg (2011) to express the opposite conclusion.
Want more? Here is what IPCC SREX, the recent assessment of extreme events, says (here in PDF):

There is limited to medium evidence available to assess climate-driven observed changes in the magnitude and frequency of floods at regional scales because the available instrumental records of floods at gauge stations are limited in space and time, and because of confounding effects of changes in land use and engineering. Furthermore, there is low agreement in this evidence, and thus overall low confidence at the global scale regarding even the sign of these changes.

The SREX is consistent with the scientific literature — neither detection (of trends) nor attribution (of trends to human forcing of the climate system) has been achieved at the global — much less regional or subregional — levels. Yet, USGCRP concludes otherwise.

The leaked IPCC AR5 SOD reaffirms the SREX report and says (here in PDF), in addition to documenting a signal of earlier snowmelt in streamflows, no such signal of increasing floods has been found:

There continues to be a lack of evidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale

The IPCC has accurately characterized the underlying literature:

Observations to date provide no conclusive and general proof as to how climate change affects flood behaviour

Given the strength of the science on this subject, the USGCRP must have gone to some effort to mischaracterize it by 180 degrees. In areas where I have expertise, the flood example presented here is not unique in the report (e.g., Hurricane Sandy is mentioned 31 times).

Do note that just because the report is erroroneous in areas where I have expertise does not mean that it is incorrect in other conclusions. However, given the problematic and well-documented treatment of extremes in earlier IPCC and US government reports, I’d think that the science community would have its act together by now and stop playing such games.

So while many advocates in science and the media shout “Alarm” and celebrate its depiction of extremes, another question we should be asking is, how is it that it got things so wrong? Either the IPCC and the scientific literature is in error, or the draft USGCRP assessment is — But don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.

3) The Relentless Collapse of Climate Hysteria
Power Line, 14 January 2013

Steven Hayward

The steady, relentless collapse of the climate campaign proceeds apace, notwithstanding the sugar high climate campaigners enjoyed after Hurricane Sandy and Obama’s re-election. Obama promises that a price on carbon is a main objective of his second term, but given that it is an Obama promise, climate campaigners should understand they’ve just been given the kiss of death.

The media is slowly starting to give up on the whole game.  The New York Times has decided to break up its entire environmental unit and reassign reporters to other beats.  A lot of climateers are striking their best Kevin Bacon “All-is-well” poses (from Animal House), but this looks to me just like what happened around the time of 9/11, when urban affairs reporters who couldn’t stop churning our five-part features on how suburban sprawl was ruining St. Louis (or plug in your own local metropolis) were reassigned to other beats.  I went from getting two or three calls a month from reporters working on sprawl to none almost overnight.  Andy Revkin, one of the better Times reporters, is trying to be upbeat but is concerned.

James Delingpole can’t resist a beatdown, in “Now Even Pravda Admits the Global Warming Jig Is Up”:

Rumours that the entire environment team, headed by Andy Revkin, have volunteered to be recycled into compost and spread on the lawn of the new billion dollar home Al Gore bought with the proceeds of his sale of Current TV to Middle Eastern oil interests are as yet unconfirmed. What we do know is that it’s very, very sad and that all over the Arctic baby polar bears are weeping bitter tears of regret.

A spokesman for the New York Times, quoted in the Guardian, has reaffirmed the paper’s commitment to environmental issues.

“We devote a lot of resources to it, now more than ever. We have not lost any desire for environmental coverage. This is purely a structural matter.”

Absolutely. It’s what newspapers always do when they’re committed to a particular field: close down the entire department responsible for covering it.

Not to be left behind, Reuters has decided that it may as well switch sides completely, with a feature today that “Climate Change Doesn’t Have To Be All Bad.”  Reuters’ Zacharay Karabell writes:

But what if climate change isn’t the disaster we fear but instead one more obstacle that humans can meet, one that may spur innovation and creativity as well as demand ever more resilience? What if it ultimately improves life as we know it?

Keep writing like that and Reuters will be attacked for joining the “S” (skeptic) team. Expect more of these kind of “contrarian” news articles to appear as the media covers up the fact that it is saying, “Never mind.”

And if the climate campaign wasn’t already in denial about being abandoned by The One, their media allies, and new carbon riches baron Al Gorezeera, a new report coming out this week from Harvard’s Theta Skocpol should really harsh their mellow.  Skocpol, a prominent liberal political scientist, argues that environmentalists deserve most of the blame for the defeat of their agenda.  (Hmmm, they could have saved themselves a lot of time and trouble by just reading Power Line.)  Here’s some of Skocpol’s assessment:

Meanwhile, political consultants and public relations wordsmiths urged environmentalists to redouble euphemistic locutions already deployed during the cap and trade battle – to talk about “green jobs,” “threats to public health,” and the need to “reduce dependence on foreign oil to bolster national defense,” anything but the threat of global warming and catastrophic climate upheavals. Such advice tailed off during the record heat-waves of the summer of 2012; and after Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast shortly before the November elections, the New York media openly connected global warming to the unusual late autumn mega- storm. Some environmentalists declared that politicians are now bound to take up the issue.This almost certainly overstates the likelihood of sustained official attention.

It’s that last sentence that really hurts.  Just how many Green Weenie Awards can these guys win?  I’m sure this won’t be the last.

4) Walter Russell Mead: Green Misread The Climate Tea Leaves
Via Meadia, 12 January 2013

The gravest danger to Earth these days isn’t climate skepticism; it’s the broken, Malthusian and statist green policy imagination.

In recent days we’ve been hearing a lot of hysterical chatter, from the NYT, the National Geographic, and other mediaoutlets—about how 2012 was the hottest year ever for the continental United States. Obviously, this is evidence that global warming will soon destroy us all:

Scientists said that natural variability almost certainly played a role in last year’s extreme heat and drought. But many of them expressed doubt that such a striking new record would have been set without the backdrop of global warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. And they warned that 2012 was probably a foretaste of things to come, as continuing warming makes heat extremes more likely.

Meanwhile, in China, the FT reports the country is having its coldest winter in thirty years, leading to a sharp rise in food prices. India too has had a terribly cold winter. And in the Middle East, a snowstorm has been sweeping across the region and even hit Saudi Arabia, in an usually cold and wet winter for the area.

As we’ve said before, whenever it’s especially warm out, alarmists take that as decisive evidence of our impending doom. When it’s cold or normal, they dismiss it as mere “weather,” if they mention it at all. For much of the green movement, weather only counts as climate when it proves their arguments. A heat wave in Australia is proof that immense disasters are about to strike; cold waves in Eastern Europe and India that kill hundreds of people mean nothing at all.

Via Meadia accepts the growing consensus that human actions are playing a role in climate change, but the habit of reading every warm spike and every storm as fresh confirmation of the coming apocalypse needs to stop. It’s bad science and it’s bad politics. Green hysteria is more likely to paralyze us then help us take the kind of steps we need to take towards sustainability.

The gravest danger to Earth these days isn’t climate skepticism; it’s the broken, Malthusian and statist green policy imagination. Wedded to grandiose and unworkable “solutions”, greens feel they must push the panic button at every opportunity to stampede the world into embracing an unworkable and unsustainable policy agenda.

It won’t work. The Al Gore path (alarmism, hypocrisy, dumb policy solutions, green pig lipsticking or corporate subsidies disguised as green breakthroughs) will not bend the curve.  Until the green movement internalizes this lesson and moves on, it will waste its energy on foolishness like the failed Kyoto Protocol and ethanol subsidies and greens will have little constructive impact on a planet they claim to love