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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 7, 2014 - 06:45pm PT
There was an interesting article in Physical Review Letters on Friday on cosmic rays:

Physical Review Letters 112, 225001 (2014)
http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.112.225001

Detection of Lower Tropospheric Responses to Solar Energetic Particles at Midlatitudes

K. A. Nicoll and R. G. Harrison

Solar energetic particles (SEPs) occasionally contribute additional atmospheric ionization beyond that arising from the usual galactic cosmic ray background. During an SEP event associated with a solar flare on April 11, 2013, the vertical ionization rate profile obtained using a balloon-borne detector showed enhanced ionization with a 26% increase at 20 km, over Reading, United Kingdom. Fluctuations in atmospheric electrical parameters were also detected at the surface, beneath the balloon’s trajectory. As no coincident changes in geomagnetism occurred, the electrical fluctuations are very likely to be associated with increased ionization, as observed by the balloon measurements. The lack of response of surface neutron monitors during this event indicates that energetic particles that are not detected at the surface by neutron monitors can nevertheless enter and influence the atmosphere’s weather-generating regions.



which garnered a "synopsis"

http://physics.aps.org/synopsis-for/10.1103/PhysRevLett.112.225001

This is relevant as the "natural variability" of climate is not necessarily just a stochastic process, but associated with other, as yet to be measured, processes.

One also knows that these processes are small compared to the major components of energy balance "forcings" but still relevant in terms of understanding weather in detail.
rick sumner

Trad climber
reno, nevada/ wasilla alaska
Jun 7, 2014 - 07:35pm PT
That's an interesting piece on atmospheric ionization undetected on the surface. Makes one wonder how large the flare was, whether flares are more or less common at points in the 208 year and approx. 1000 year solar cycles, what the degree of axial tilt and orbital eccentricity has to do with larger high latitudes effects where albedo changes start a cascade effect, how and where the ionization is spread around the globe, etc. It may be a small effect but makes one wonder how many small unknown effects are out there and if and how it might modulate climate here on Earth. Just gnawing at the bone old man.
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
Jun 7, 2014 - 08:09pm PT
Sure, makes you wonder all right. Makes you wonder if you'll ever notice that bone you like to gnaw on is your own foot.

So I would imagine a studious follower of all things science has been following Tyson's Cosmos series huh Rick?

No? You mean he got it all wrong too?
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
Jun 7, 2014 - 08:26pm PT
nail biter...

Tyson that is
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 7, 2014 - 09:58pm PT
...makes one wonder...
indeed it does, and lots of people have, and many of them are scientists that publish and many others put it all together, and they all work out the problems and come to some rather interesting conclusions that generates more to wonder about.

rick, your problem is that you aren't really wondering, you're prevaricating... if you were truly wondering then you'd be interested in where this all has been going. And as a scientist, I'd say it isn't going anywhere near where you would like it to go.

rick sumner

Trad climber
reno, nevada/ wasilla alaska
Jun 7, 2014 - 11:08pm PT
Quite predictable Ed, you need not even have answered with confirmation. Never really appreciated Sagan's billions and billions thirty years ago Bruce. So why would one want to watch a remake. There is a very interesting article in the current Alaska Journal of Commerce that describes an isolated village, its partial replacement of diesel for electricity generation and space heating with use of intermittment wind power ,excess energy storage and economically effective usage, however.
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
Jun 8, 2014 - 09:20am PT
Of course Rick, even thirty years ago when you were boot licking in the dirt of camp 4 you already were developing your survival play on an attitude of confidence in your own council, enough even then to determine Carl Sagen couldn't possibly know more through hard work, experience and training than the proud intuitive certainty of a carpenters helper.

jeezuz what a retard....

In case anyone still wonders why I don't let up on the retard read this:

In 1989, Newt Gingrich was one of 25 Republican co-sponsors of the Global Warming Prevention Act, which said "the Earth's atmosphere is being changed at an unprecedented rate by pollutants resulting from human activities, inefficient and wasteful fossil fuel use, and the effects of rapid population growth in many regions."

Top Republicans continued to fret over climate change in the 1990s and the 2000s. Sen. John McCain, for instance, introduced the first cap-and-trade bill into the US Senate. In Days of Fire, his history of George W. Bush's presidency, Peter Baker records Bush's mounting alarm towards the end of his presidency:

[Bush] found the science increasingly persuasive and believed more needed to be done. The end of his presidency loomed, and he did not want to be known as the president who stood by while a crisis gathered. Now he bristled not at the Hollywood types but at the notion that he did not care. In the past eighteen months, he had cited the danger of climate change in his State of the Union address for the first time, convened a conference of major world polluters to start working on an international accord to follow Kyoto, and signed legislation cutting gasoline consumption and, by extension, greenhouse gases. He even invited his old rival Al Gore for a forty-minute talk about global warming.

In 2008, the McCain/Palin ticket ran on a platform that included a robust cap-and-trade plan. Asked at the vice-presidential debate whether she believed in capping carbon emissions, Palin's answer left no room for ambiguity. "I do," she said.

She didn't. For her first major statement after the election, Palin wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post to "make clear what is foremost on my mind and where my focus will be: I am deeply concerned about President Obama's cap-and-trade energy plan, and I believe it is an enormous threat to our economy."

IT WAS PALIN'S POSITION, NOT JOHN MCCAIN'S, THAT CAPTURED THE REPUBLICAN PARTY

It was Palin's position, not John McCain's, that captured the Republican Party. In 2010, Rep. Bob Inglis lost a primary challenge to a Tea Party candidate largely because he believed in global warming. "Saying that to the conservative base was rather dangerous," he says. "I knew it at the time. But now I really see how dangerous it was and maybe how perceptive in terms of political acumen people like Gingrich and McCain were. I think if Newt were on the phone with us, he'd say 'how did it work out for you, Bob?'"


The last paragraph tells it all. Over ten years ago even the sharks were willing to start steering in the right direction..... then they starting taking their marching orders from their base voters, which as we all know by now amounted to people with all the intellectual fire power of Wrong Anderson, Chuckles the clown and Dick Dumbner. Nobody except them will tell you that democracy is perfect and if ever there is a bad case for it its asking red state America to decide wether man rode dinosaurs or if the airs gettin' warmer these days.

The leadership folded on a case for populist power, too gutless to risk a weakening of political power and willing to throw a century of science under the bus in order to keep it sputtering on, rather than evolve like civilizations do.

I'd say its a toss up between who is most at fault. The boneheads like Rick who squandered their years developing their baseless pride instead of cultivating judgement or the leadership who sacrificed their own judgement to leverage off baseless pride in order to keep their pay cheques. Either way its a sad indictment on the validity of the so called leader of the free world. Thats a lost decade that could well have meant the difference. As Rick keeps demonstrating, attitude can go a long way, you just gotta steer it in the right direction.
Wade Icey

Trad climber
www.alohashirtrescue.com
Jun 8, 2014 - 10:26am PT
http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/6-right-wing-lunacies-week-im-not-scientist-im-going-wage-war-science-anyway
Sketch

Trad climber
H-ville
Jun 8, 2014 - 02:49pm PT
Before reading this story, I'd never heard of National Association of Scholars. They claim to be a neutral third party observer. But many biased organizations claim neutrality. I have no idea if they are telling the truth. But if they are, this report is pretty damning.

How reliable are the scientific findings on which the Environmental Protection Agency bases its proposed regulations? According to a new research report, many of the findings connected to the EPA’s attempt to regulate greenhouse gas emissions may be compromised by a short-circuiting of peer review.
That question and that answer may seem far afield from NAS’s usual concerns, but there is an important connection. Or actually three important connections. Much of the science involved is university-based research. The problems surfaced by the new report reveal weakness in academic peer review. And NAS is engaged in an in-depth examination of the campus sustainability movement.
But first things first. NAS holds no position on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). As an organization, we are neither supporters nor skeptics of the thesis. Likewise we have no policy position on whether the EPA should regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Rather, we are a body devoted to maintaining academic standards and protecting academic freedom. And it is in that light that we are troubled by the recent research from the Institute for Trade, Standards, and Sustainable Development (ITSSD) that indicates that much of the U.S.-sponsored research behind the “scientific consensus” on global warming may be less rigorous than its advocates would have the public believe.
The Campus Sustainability Movement
Before we turn to ITSSD’s report, however, let’s consider the campus context, where enthusiasm for the AGW hypothesis runs high. That enthusiasm fuels the campus sustainability movement, though the movement has other concerns as well. What makes sustainability so popular on college campuses?
First popularity begets popularity. The movement has all the advantages of being successful. Second, the sustainability movement is the heir apparent of the much older environmental movement. As such it enjoys the good will of everyone concerned about clean air and water, fighting pollution, and keeping toxins out of our lives. Third, the sustainability movement serves as a wheelhouse for many of the progressive causes that animate politically-minded college students. Third-wave feminism, managed economics, social justice, and issues of identity groups all find an ideological home within the concept of “sustainability.”
But those three elements—self-reinforcing popularity, the glow of old-style environmentalism, and the cachet of progressive politics—wouldn’t go very far without the motor of belief in looming world-wide catastrophe as a result of manmade global warming. Very few of the students who subscribe to this thesis command the knowledge of physics, atmospheric science, chemistry, oceanography, and computer modeling to have well-founded opinions on whether AGW is real. Rather, they have to rely on the authoritative-sounding claims coming from scientists and government officials.
So it indeed matters a great deal how credible those claims are.
ITSSD Skepticism
On Tuesday the ITSSD (pronounced itz-d) released a white paper that questions the value of a number of influential scientific research projects. ITSSD waded through a dense thicket of federal acronyms and legal documents to determine how much money taxpayers have spent on federally-funded climate research and how rigorous and useful that research has been. ITSSD concluded that on numerous counts, government research agencies and their constituent university researchers compromised the peer review process that is the foundation of intellectual standards in scientific research and that is also required by U.S. law. According to the paper,
Detailed addenda accompanying ITSSD FOIA requests filed with EPA and DOC-NOAA during March – May 2014 strongly suggest that the peer review science processes EPA and DOC-NOAA had employed in vetting the USGCRP and other federal and IPCC agency assessments supporting the EPA’s Endangerment Findings did not comply with U.S. law. In other words, such peer review processes did not satisfy Information Quality Act and relevant OMB, EPA and DOC-NOAA implementing IQA guidelines standards applicable to highly influential scientific assessments (“HISAs”).
Readers unfazed by legal jargon and lengthy acronyms may read the full paper here. For all others, below is a brief summary of the findings.
The essence of ITSSD’s findings is that it appears that the EPA and some other federal agencies validate each other’s work, which is pretty much the same thing as validating their own work. The circle appears unbroken. Independent review of assertions of scientific fact is by no means guaranteed and might even be precluded. But we don’t really know because the public is denied any clear account of who is validating what. Apparent conflicts of interest are hidden away and the EPA stonewalls requests for disclosures.
That puts things in more straightforward language than ITSSD uses but is pretty clearly what ITSSD means. By way of detail, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) comprises thirteen federal research agencies. It has received approximately $2.5 billion in federal funding each year for the last three years, which it then distributes to its constituent agencies. Of this money, NASA has been receiving approximately 56%, and the Department of Commerce (DOC) and National Science Foundation (NSF) have each been receiving about 13%, in addition to other direct federal grants. The USGCRP also supports the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC), which releases periodic climate assessments that set the tone for many national and international environmental policies.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (operated under the DOC) are two of several organizations that provide peer review for the USGCRP, IPCC, and other assessments that serve as the basis for the EPA’s Endangerment Findings. According to the 2010 Climate Assessment Report that the U.S. submitted to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), the USGCRP projects were “extensively reviewed by scientists, federal agency officials, stakeholders, and the general public.” But, as detailed in another ITSSD publication (and summarized by NAS), the peer review processes were compromised, flawed, not transparent, and potentially biased—despite the fact that federal laws and regulations require the EPA to back its findings with rigorous, peer-reviewed science.
Nevertheless, the federal government continues to fund these research projects, and Congress in the fiscal year 2015 Appropriations bill (H.R. 4660) approved funding increases for NSF ($233 million increase), NASA ($250 million increase), and NOAA ($10.5 million increase).
Given the poor scientific process used to develop research and analysis in support of the EPA’s environmental regulations, the ITSSD poses the question: “Why should Congress continue to fund the U.S. Global Change Research Program (“USGCRP”) and Federal Agency Climate Science-related Research?”
To this, we add a question of our own: In light of the compromised research backing sustainability and environmental regulations, should American colleges and universities continue to pay for expensive infrastructure upgrades, emissions-cutting projects, and sustainability offices?

http://www.nas.org/articles/short_circuiting_peer_review_in_climate_science
Sketch

Trad climber
H-ville
Jun 8, 2014 - 02:55pm PT
The growth of the science PR industry has resulted in an overly exaggerated presentation of research findings.
Science journalism is not immune to the budget crisis facing newsrooms more widely. With smaller staffs and tighter budgets, more science reporting is being done through press releases, many of which tend to exaggerate original research. Alasdair Taylor highlights some current research on the communication of research findings. Even in the BBC up to 75% of science stories were sourced directly from press releases. But blogging also opens up the potential for the democratisation of science through online debates. Can scientists themselves offer the needed reflection on their research that an investigative journalist might do?

There's more: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/06/03/the-perils-of-the-press-release/#author
Malemute

Ice climber
great white north
Jun 8, 2014 - 04:24pm PT
Will climate change have a stronger impact in some areas more than in others?


All regions, which are already dry today, will become even drier, according to the climate scenarios. In contrast, the regions that are already wet today will receive even more rain. And, as we are currently already seeing, climate change is likely to be more pronounced in the northern latitudes than in lower latitudes. This is due to the fact that snow and ice cover in northern latitudes have already decreased in recent decades. The reason being that snow and ice are white and have the positive property of reflecting sunlight back into space. When these surfaces melt, dark areas become exposed and absorb the sun's energy more effectively. These zones thus heat up more rapidly and as a consequence, more ice melts. This feedback effect seems to be responsible for the observed temperature rise is in the Arctic over the past 50 years, which was twice as fast as the increase of the global average.

http://www.awi.de/en/news/background/climate_change/how_will_climate_change_affect_the_world/
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Jun 8, 2014 - 05:10pm PT
Bruce writes,

I've got a question for you research science professionals. Normal human impulses and foibles aside, is it accurate to say that the actual internal political mechanisms of institutional research science - publication, peer review, consensus building, community discourse etc - are by force of process ruthless in culling from the herd that which does not stack up ( incompetency, corruption), as well as egalitarian in the sense that published science is by and large judged by its scientific merit, not social status or political power?

I’m reluctant to generalize about science. It has many facets, but has well proven to be the best approach we have to learning new things about the universe. A key aspect of that, related to your question, is the basic approach of skepticism, empirical testing and improvement. The institutions are far from perfect but there’s no mistaking how well, in the long run, it proves to work. Among scientists innovation is rewarded, including the innovation of showing that earlier work does not hold to reality tests, and finding a better description or way.

Anyhow, thought of your query when I read this good post on the blog And Then There’s Physics. The blogger is a physicist himself, here writing about the recent headlines and subsequent disappointment regarding the discovery of primordial gravitational waves, a signature of the Big Bang, announced by astronomers working from South Pole observations. ATTP writes about the trajectory of that story, in which a group of scientists were (apparently) wrong and yet science worked exactly as it should to catch the problem. ATTP segues from there back to climate science.
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Jun 8, 2014 - 05:11pm PT
Well, it now seems that that was wrong. It appears that the BICEP2 team may have done their foreground correction using a figure from a conference presentation given by someone on a competing team. They didn’t – it seems – realise that the data in the figure had been smoothed so as to reduce the apparent foreground in the relevant region. It now seems that there is a good chance that their signal is simply polarization from material in our own galaxy, and not a signature of primordial gravitational waves. I don’t think this is yet certain, but it is a little disappointing if true.

There are, however, a number of interesting aspects to this issue. Firstly, noone I know of is – publicly at least – suggesting that the BICEP team did anything nefarious. They were maybe a little sloppy. Took a bit of a risk; maybe they should have waited to be more certain. However, everyone recognises that this was an extremely exciting discovery. Career defining. Furthermore, it’s a great illustration – in my view – of how science works. Despite everyone being extremely excited by this announcement, there were still people delving into the details and checking what was being presented. Within a matter of weeks, there were already hints that there might be a problem. I don’t think that the BICEP team have yet conceded that the measurement is purely foreground, but I’m sure they will if that is what the additional analysis suggests. It’s still possible, of course, that they will still have a small signal of primordial gravitational waves. So, it could still end up being an exciting discovery; just not quite as significant/robust as – at first – thought.

In a sense, this is why I get frustrated by suggestions that scientists (climate scientists in particular) are involved in some kind of conspiracy or suffering from groupthink. It’s very difficult for incorrect results to persist. Anything interesting is going to be checked by clever people who will almost certainly find a problem, if there is something to be found. I appreciate that the BICEP2 issue is only one example and we don’t yet know the final outcome, but I think it is still an illustration of the scientific process in action. There may be negative aspects to this whole issue but – from a scientific perspective – the BICEP2 announcement has done no damage. Even if we don’t actually have evidence for inflation, we’ve learned something and, presumably, understand aspects of this topic more now than we did before.
http://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/bicep2/
Malemute

Ice climber
great white north
Jun 8, 2014 - 05:25pm PT
But on the other hand, we know that weather forecasts don’t work so well the longer into the future we peer. Tomorrow’s forecast is usually pretty accurate. Three day and five day forecasts are reasonably good. But next week? They always change their minds before next week comes. So how can we peer 100 years into the future and look at what is coming with respect to the climate? Should we trust those forecasts? Should we trust the climate models that provide them to us?

Six years ago, I set out to find out. I’m a professor of computer science. I study how large teams of software developers can put together complex pieces of software. I’ve worked with NASA, studying how NASA builds the flight software for the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. I’ve worked with large companies like Microsoft and IBM. My work focusses not so much on software errors, but on the reasons why people make those errors, and how programmers then figure out they’ve made an error, and how they know how to fix it.

To start my study, I visited four major climate modelling labs around the world: in the UK, in Paris, Hamburg, Germany and in Colorado. Each of these labs have typically somewhere between 50-100 scientists who are contributing code to their climate models. And although I only visited four of these labs, there are another twenty or so around the world, all doing similar things. They run these models on some of the fastest supercomputers in the world, and many of the models have been in construction, the same model, for more than 20 years.

When I started this study, I asked one of my students to attempt to measure how many bugs there are in a typical climate model. We know from our experience with software there are always bugs. Sooner or later the machine crashes. So how buggy are climate models? More specifically, what we set out to measure is what we call “defect density” – How many errors are there per thousand lines of code. By this measure, it turns out climate models are remarkably high quality. In fact, they’re better than almost any commercial software that’s ever been studied. They’re about the same level of quality as the Space Shuttle flight software. Here’s my results (For the actual results you’ll have to read the paper):

http://www.easterbrook.ca/steve/2014/05/tedx-talk-should-we-trust-climate-models/
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
Jun 8, 2014 - 07:58pm PT
Chiloe, the BICEP thing you posted, that is what I am driving at about humility being a defining ethical requirement to engage in research science, but not necesarrilly other professions, at least as a valued as a discipline.

As I read your post, the BICEP team may have hung their hopes dreams and egos on their work being true, but the system values both their risk taking as well as their honesty equally. There is no penalty for being wrong... unless willfully or incompetently wrong. Perhaps it is simply a natural and at least to the professionals an accepted and understood fact that the work occurs constantly and relentlessly within the whole community not just in isolation, which means little is hidden or secretly coveted and the relentless advancing of the work ultimately reveals wrong conclusions or incorrect work as much as the correct, all equally valued.

Many other professions operate similarly with professional associations auditing work or investigating complaints but I think the level of exposure and community self policing is simply not even close to the inherently transparent and tested process of research science. It simply seems like a big step up and the net result is always that work will be found to be in error, which those responsible must accept as a professional ethic. It is an ethic that is accepted and valued, more so than many other institutional settings, some where it is even devalued. Wrong work has a value as it is demonstrated and tested, thus known.

But that is me looking in, so thats why I ask if I'm seeing it at all right or not. If it is true I think it supports my claim that humility should be valued in any role of community driven judgement and anywhere where it is suppressed or devalued should be red flagged in terms of integrity. Authoritarian functions, like the military or to varying degrees corporate entities for instance are not community judgement driven so humility is perhaps justifiably less valued. Our so called democracies are community driven, so maybe it would be nice if the electorate had the humility to STFU when they have no idea what they are talking about, or at least suck it up and humbly admit defeat when they get shitkicked on it.

fat chance with the christian evangelicals eh? but then i guess that is an authoritarian system, which they wish to spread to us all. Sketch ( and others) seems to be always looking for and convinced that they have found evidence of malfeasance rife throughout the world of research, all for the usual nefarious reasons of individual gain ( or spread of communism in Ricks case) with no acknowledgement that systemically it is quite uniquely positioned to protect integrity of the institutional purpose, above individual corrupting influences.

Again, is this at all accurate in general?
blahblah

Gym climber
Boulder
Jun 8, 2014 - 08:34pm PT
By this measure, it turns out climate models are remarkably high quality. In fact, they’re better than almost any commercial software that’s ever been studied. They’re about the same level of quality as the Space Shuttle flight software

That quote (not just the part I copied, but the entirety) sounds about as credible as an an Internet "one weird trick to a [whatever]," but why anyone would compare something to the Space Shuttle to attest to its quality is baffling.
Has the author heard of the Challenger and Columbia?
Not to make the light of the victims of the Space Shuttle fiasco, but at least they were willing participants.

There are some parallels between the Space Shuttle and "climate change science"--they're not 100% frauds to be sure, and there's probably even some good to come out of the programs. But the fraud aspect of them is never far from the surface, and at the end of the day their main purpose and effect seems to be separate American taxpayers from their money.

Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
Jun 8, 2014 - 08:48pm PT
sounds about as



when someone says "sounds like" you know all they got to hang their hat on is how their intuitive sense determines their judgement, about something they don't know the first thing about. Then to claim that the freaking miracle of firing giant tin cans into space then gliding them back safely for a decade or so without failure is in fact an example of rolling dice "sounds like" bullshit to me Blah Blah. Maybe your tax money would have been better spent on well stocked beer fridges for everyone, but I really really doubt that I'd hang my hat on your intuitive gut hunch about the quality of climate modelling.

All I know is weather forecasting has positively blossomed in range and quality over the past ten years, and its all modelling baby.
TLP

climber
Jun 8, 2014 - 09:37pm PT
blahblah, you have in the past been the source of some worthy posts, but this last one is not. Surely you are aware that both shuttle failures were due to simple mechanical parts failing, not the software. So, your point about Challenger and Columbia is intentionally and totally misleading. If this type of clear deception is standard in the legal profession, you can understand why it is held in such low regard by many who are not part of it.

I for one think that the shuttle program was immeasurably more valuable than a trillion+ dollar (when all the veterans' costs are included too) unjustified war in Iraq. But the conservative comment-sphere has no problem with that incredibly immense waste of taxpayer money, nor with all of its unintended global political consequences.
Malemute

Ice climber
great white north
Jun 8, 2014 - 09:44pm PT
Climate Model vs. Satellite Data
http://www.easterbrook.ca/steve/2014/02/climate-model-vs-satellite-data/


The Community Climate System Model (CCSM) is a coupled climate model for simulating Earth's climate system. Composed of four separate models simultaneously simulating the earth's atmosphere, ocean, land surface and sea-ice, and one central coupler component, the CCSM allows researchers to conduct fundamental research into Earth's past, present and future climate states.


This visualisation, comprised of imagery from the geostationary satellites of EUMETSAT, NOAA and the JMA, shows an entire year of weather across the globe during 2013, with audio commentary from Mark Higgins, Training Officer at EUMETSAT.

The satellite data layer is superimposed over NASA's 'Blue Marble Next Generation' ground maps, which change with the seasons.

Malemute

Ice climber
great white north
Jun 8, 2014 - 09:54pm PT
So how do you build a climate model like this? The answer is “very slowly”. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of failure. One of the things that surprised me when I visited these labs is that the scientists don’t build these models to try and predict the future. They build these models to try and understand the past. They know their models are only approximations, and they regularly quote the statistician, George Box, who said “All models are wrong, but some are useful”. What he meant is that any model of the world is only an approximation. You can’t get all the complexity of the real world into a model. But even so, even a simple model is a good way to test your theories about the world.

So the way that modellers work, is they spend their time focussing on places where the model does isn’t quite right. For example, maybe the model isn’t getting the Indian monsoon right. Perhaps it’s getting the amount of rain right, but it’s falling in the wrong place. They then form a hypothesis. They’ll say, I think I can improve the model, because I think this particular process is responsible, and if I improve that process in a particular way, then that should fix the simulation of the monsoon cycle. And then they run a whole series of experiments, comparing the old version of the model, which is getting it wrong, with the new version, to test whether the hypothesis is correct. And if after a series of experiments, they believe their hypothesis is correct, they have to convince the rest of the modelling team that this really is an improvement to the model.

In other words, to build the models, they are doing science. They are developing hypotheses, they are running experiments, and using peer review process to convince their colleagues that what they have done is correct
Climate modellers also have a few other weapons up their sleeves. Imagine for a moment if Microsoft had 25 competitors around the world, all of whom were attempting to build their own versions of Microsoft Word. Imagine further that every few years, those 25 companies all agreed to run their software on a very complex battery of tests, designed to test all the different conditions under which you might expect a word processor to work. And not only that, but they agree to release all the results of those tests to the public, on the internet, so that anyone who wanted to use any of that software can pore over all the data and find out how well each version did, and decide which version they want to use for their own purposes. Well, that’s what climate modellers do. There is no other software in the world for which there are 25 teams around the world trying to build the same thing, and competing with each other.
Remember that we know fairly well what will happen to the climate if we keep adding CO2, even without using a computer model, and the computer models just add detail to what we already know. If the models are wrong, they could be wrong in either direction. They might under-estimate the warming just as much as they might over-estimate it. If you look at how well the models can simulate the past few decades, especially the last decade, you’ll see some of both. For example, the models have under-estimated how fast the arctic sea ice has melted. The models have underestimated how fast the sea levels have risen over the last decade. On the other hand, they over-estimated the rate of warming at the surface of the planet. But they underestimated the rate of warming in the deep oceans, so some of the warming ends up in a different place from where the models predicted. So they can under-estimate just as much as they can over-estimate. [The less certain we are about the results from the models, the bigger the risk that the warming might be much worse than we think.]
http://www.easterbrook.ca/steve/2014/05/tedx-talk-should-we-trust-climate-models/
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