Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Clueless Hysteria

The Economist is a fully read in member of the Church of Anthropological Climate Alteration (CACA), Hysteria Synod. While I think that position will find no confirmation in the fullness of time, that conclusion is really based on not a heck of a lot more than belief. So, while I find the newspaper's weekly ration of attributing every bad thing other than the heartbreak of psoriasis to climate change tiresome, as a practical matter it isn't possible to demonstrate their belief is any more beliefy than my belief.

Included in this year's annual prognostication issue, The World in 2010, is an article on the plight of the Arctic, On Thin Ice. Here is the nut graf:
For the past three years, the vast cap of shining-white ice covering the Arctic has melted away in summer to an area that would have been unbelievable just a decade ago. At the end of the winter, the frozen seas cover 15.7m square kilometres (6.1m square miles), an area more than one and a half times that of the United States. By September the ice regularly used to melt to 7m square kilometres. But since a great collapse in 2007 the figure has been closer to 4.3m square kilometres. ... As well as this reduction in area, scientists believe that, hidden beneath the surface, the ice is growing ever thinner, setting up the Arctic for another sudden, catastrophic collapse. The big question now is when the ice will disappear totally each summer. There will be an answer in 2010.
According to the author, which matches what I have read elsewhere, estimates for a summer ice free Arctic ocean range from as early as 2013 to no later than 2050.

When that happens, it will be the biggest and fastest change to the Earth’s surface ever made by human influence. The ice, poised between freezing and melting, is an especially sensitive indicator of the planet’s temperature. When it disappears, it will be a disaster for all the Arctic life that depends on ice, from the polar bears that walk on it to the tiny creatures that live within it.

And it will be a disaster for the planet. That great dome of ice reflects sunlight back into space throughout the 24 hours a day of polar summer sunshine. When it turns sea-dark and soaks up the sun, global warming will really take off.


Now we get to play a little game of Spot the Blinkered Philistine Pig Ignorance. Embedded somewhere in these quotes is an incontestable example of rampaging ignorance. What is it?

As it happens, the author, Alun Anderson, has been a research biologist, and edited New Scientist from 1992 to 2005. Apparently, that position did not entail actually knowing basic science.

Just as apparently, the editors of The Economist are equally unencumbered.

23 Comments:

Blogger Mark Frank said...

I give up. I can't see the error. Do tell.

December 03, 2009 3:22 AM  
Blogger erp said...

<<<< by human influence >>>>

Just a guess.

December 03, 2009 6:09 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

They forget all about recursive systems and feedback loops?

December 03, 2009 7:04 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Here is a hint: where is the Arctic Ocean?

December 03, 2009 7:58 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

I still don't get it??

December 03, 2009 8:06 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

The galloping ignorance is in the last para, and has everything to do with why the poles are cold in the first place.

The albedo of water varies inversely with the angle of incidence. At low latitudes, where the sun is close to overhead, the angle of incidence is high, and the albedo of water is low.

In the Arctic, the reverse is the case.

The albedo of sea ice is roughly 0.5 (from the table in the cite below) or 0.35 (from the graphic at the beginning of the cite).

The albedo of water at polar latitudes is roughly 0.5.

See here.

Which makes Mr. Anderson's last para pure hysterical nonsense.

And it is nonsense on four different levels, at least. First, ignorance. Second, the automatic assumption that all effects are divergent, which is impossible to reconcile with long term climate stability. Third, his article is replete with statistics about area, but bereft of temperature. And, finally, historical.

And The Economist swallowed this foolish apocalyptic scare mongering whole.

December 03, 2009 10:35 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I think the word is 'collapse,' as floating ice cannot collapse, although the way it is written, collapse might possibly refer to some sort of ecological/biological collapse.

However, since the ice has since recouped itself somewhat, the alarm seems at least overstated.

(Greenland and Antarctic ice cannot collapse, either, for the most part, since it is sitting on solid rock, although there are some ice shelves in Antarctica -- a trivial proportion of the whole -- that could collapse.)

December 03, 2009 10:38 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

It is sometimes claimed that the Greenland ice sheet will melt on the bottom and "slide off". But based on what I found while looking for the basal topography of Greenland, the weight of the ice has pushed the middle down so the ice sits inside a huge bowl. There will be no sliding.

December 03, 2009 12:39 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Not only will it not slide, but when googling around looking for actual, you know, temperatures (the search string "greenland temperature 1920 1930 1950 1990 2000" works pretty well) coughs up a pretty conclusive evidence that the deviation isn't deviating.

In any event, you are right. The ice won't slide up hill even if it was melting, which it isn't.

December 03, 2009 1:11 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

There is something strange going on with these albedo figures. If you look at papers about the actual measured albedo in the artic (e.g.Seasonal evolution of the albedo of multiyear Arctic sea ice. J. Geophys. Res., 107(C10), 8044) you get very different results. This is not available on-line except at a fee so I will quote the entire abstract:

As part of ice albedo feedback studies during the Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic Ocean (SHEBA) field experiment, we measured spectral and wavelength-integrated albedo on multiyear sea ice. Measurements were made every 2.5 m along a 200-m survey line from April through October. Initially, this line was completely snow covered, but as the melt season progressed, it became a mixture of bare ice and melt ponds. Observed changes in albedo were a combination of a gradual evolution due to seasonal transitions and abrupt shifts resulting from synoptic weather events. There were five distinct phases in the evolution of albedo: dry snow, melting snow, pond formation, pond evolution, and fall freeze-up. In April the surface albedo was high (0.8–0.9) and spatially uniform. By the end of July the average albedo along the line was 0.4, and there was significant spatial variability, with values ranging from 0.1 for deep, dark ponds to 0.65 for bare, white ice. There was good agreement between surface-based albedos and measurements made from the University of Washington's Convair-580 research aircraft. A comparison between net solar irradiance computed using observed albedos and a simplified model of seasonal evolution shows good agreement as long as the timing of the transitions is accurately determined.

In particular note that the albedo dropped to 0.1 for deep dark ponds.

December 03, 2009 10:56 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

Hmmm, that is interesting. And also unfortunate that it is behind a fee wall.

I can think of a couple possibilities here. First, what I thought I knew about reflectance is wrong, and instead water absorbs a lot of solar radiation, even at low angles of incidence.

Alternatively, it could also be there are a two different things going on here. Albedo is a measure of specific surface's diffuse reflection from a light source.

In contrast, specular (which is to say, mirror-like) reflection is different. If you shined a flashlight on a mirror from a low angle, almost all of it would reflect, but not at all diffusely. Therefore, its albedo would be essentially zero, but the reflectivity would still be very high.

That would be my guess here: looking at the melt water ponds from any position other than opposite the sun and at the angle of incidence, there would be no reflection, hence very low albedo. However, from the proper position, the dark pond would be blinding.

So, the real question at hand is whether melt water ponds, or open water at the same latitude, are absorbing any sunlight, or reflecting it with its wavelength essentially unchanged.

Clearly, I think the latter is the case. Got to watch out for that confirmation bias, though, don't I?

December 03, 2009 11:27 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

I don't doubt the theory of the Fresnel equations - but the practical results may be very different.

Here are a couple of considerations:

The graph of the Fresnel equations in your Wikipedia link show that the albedo of water is very low until you get to quite high angles of incidence ( > 70 degrees) when it increases very quickly. Arctic sea ice can extend down to between 70 degrees (Europe) and 40 degrees (Russia) in the winter. It is a lot higher in the summer but then you have to add in the movement of the Sun - at high summer the Sun will be over the tropic of Cancer at 23.5 degrees. All in all the angle of incidence at the borders of the sea ice may not be high enough for the Fresnel equations to make much difference.

The same Wikipedia article makes the point that the reflectivity is significantly reduced by waviness.

However, as mentioned above, waviness causes an appreciable reduction. Since the light specularly reflected from water does not usually reach the viewer, water is usually considered to have a very low albedo in spite of its high reflectivity at high angles of incident light.

All in all I think you may be a bit harsh when describing him as "pig ignorant". Just possibly he knows a lot more about this complex area than either of us.

December 04, 2009 1:37 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

All good points.

It is a lot higher in the summer but then you have to add in the movement of the Sun - at high summer the Sun will be over the tropic of Cancer at 23.5 degrees. All in all the angle of incidence at the borders of the sea ice may not be high enough for the Fresnel equations to make much difference.

Clearly, you read cites carefully. Yes, this is true. But. For those who live less than 50 deg from the equator, which comprises the vast majority of humanity, it is very difficult to understand how different things get at high latitudes, and the higher the latitude, the faster it gets different. (Full disclosure: I have lived in Anchorage, Alaska for two and a half years. Prior to that, I my understanding was very limited, so I am generalizing from personal experience.) And for everything that is related to geometry, it changes at a rate that feels an awful lot like 1/cosine(latitude).

So, you are right, on June 21 at 66N, at the zenith the sun will be about 43 degrees above the horizon at local noon (i.e., when the sun is due south). At local midnight, with the sun due north, the sun will be just barely visible. So, over a twelve hour period, the angle of incidence goes from 46 degrees to zero degrees, making the decrease in angle of incidence just under four degrees per hour. Roughly speaking, that puts the sun high enough above the horizon for the average reflectivity to be less than sea ice for about 12 hours per day (6 hours before and after local noon). In other words, sunsets last for hours up here during the summer.

There is another consideration: rate of change. In 182 days, at local noon the sun will be barely below the horizon. That means the average change in daylight per day over that period is nearly 8 minutes per day, which means that by Sep 21, the time the incident angle is sufficient to make smooth water reflectivity less than ice is essentially zero.

And the closer you get to the pole, the less time the sun is high enough during a day, and the faster that amount of time approaches zero.

Of course, for any of this to make any difference, it has to be sunny. The arctic is cloudiest during the summer.

December 04, 2009 1:04 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

However, as mentioned above, waviness causes an appreciable reduction. Since the light specularly reflected from water does not usually reach the viewer, water is usually considered to have a very low albedo in spite of its high reflectivity at high angles of incident light.

I think I mentioned that above. At high latitudes, light is reflected: except for a very specific view point, water appears dark (low albedo), but does not absorb sunlight (high reflectivity). So long as the sunlight isn't absorbed, it isn't heating the water.

Yes, waviness does produce the same effect as decreasing the incident angle. But for that to make a difference, it has to be wavy. Average windspeed for June is about 12 mph. That does not make for much in the way of waves.

Sorry to go on and on, but considering I called Mr. Anderson pig-ignorant, your points deserved careful consideration (besides, I found it interesting). Perhaps that term is over the top; but hysterical propagandist is not.

His description simply cannot account for sea ice extent increasing to the point where it is unremarkable.

Worse, he completely fails to give any notion of heeding the flip side of reduced ice cover: open water loses heat faster than ice covered water does; water loses heat faster through a thin ice layer than a thick one.

My prediction is that this is the shoal that will sink AGW. Arctic ice extent will remain within long term (i.e., since 1979; there are no records at all prior to that) averages--which is precisely what has been happening since 2007. In five or so years, that will get very difficult to ignore, because the hysterics so loudly insisted upon the opposite: if the canary in the coal mine is still chirping away in 2015, what then?

That is why materialistic religions are so hard to sustain.

December 04, 2009 1:04 PM  
Blogger David said...

I thought it was going to be The ice, poised between freezing and melting, is an especially sensitive indicator of the planet’s temperature.

Ice, by definition, is freezing.

December 04, 2009 5:19 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

Excellent.

I eventually caught that myself.

By eventually, I mean yesterday afternoon.

December 05, 2009 12:22 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'Arctic ice extent will remain within long term (i.e., since 1979; there are no records at all prior to that) averages--'

True for averages, but there is historical evidence about ice.

In 1829, Ross got to the Mackenzie River from the east in a sailing ship. He turned back because it was late in the season but clear water extended before him as far as he could see.

And we know that around 1900, whaling ships got past Pt. Barrow routinely from the west.

Ross's luck (which ran out later) was perhaps due to wind and not climate as such.

Anyhow, we know for sure that open Northwest Passages happen without the aid of carbon dioxide.

December 05, 2009 10:44 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Just returned from a long weekend - I hope this thread has not gone dead.

I have never looked at the statistics of sea ice before, but the link that Hey Skipper provides is close to useless. It is a seasonal plot, not a time plot. A seasonal plot is for detecting seasonal patterns - which hardly need detecting in this case! But it is almost impossible to pick out trends - you have to keep working out which colour is which year. Also it only goes back to 2002.

What is needed is something like this:

http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/current.area.jpg

Look at the summer lows. It is clear that there is a trend and I am willing to bet it is statistically significant.

I don't know where Hey Skipper's chart came from but if someone was using it to argue that the trend in summer sea ice is insignificant they are either incompetent (pig ignorant perhaps?)or dishonest. This is first year undergrad or even high school statistics.

December 07, 2009 8:33 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

Welcome back. I hope your weekend was fun-factored and not work-worsened.

The ice extent graphic I provided came from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Both graphics are time plots, it is just that the one you provided depicts time as proceeding continuously from an origin, while the UAF graphic is calendar-cyclic. I can see why the UAF limits the number of previous years displayed; otherwise, the thing would be unreadable. However, I do wish they included a 1979-present mean plot.

That said, for longer term trends, I agree your link is much more informative.

Note, I am not arguing that the sea ice extent trend is insignificant, only that Mr. Anderson, in stating open water is going to initiate some horrific feedback cycle, is either very ignorant, or engaging in hysterical propaganda.

On the subject of Arctic variability:

Abstract. Atmospheric and oceanic variability in the Arctic shows the existence of several oscillatory modes. The decadal-scale mode associated with the Arctic Oscillation (AO) and a low-frequency oscillation (LFO) with an approximate time scale of 60-80 years, dominate. Both modes were positive in the 1990s, signifying a prolonged phase of anomalously low at- mospheric sea level pressure and above normal surface air temperature in the central Arctic. Consistent with an enhanced cyclonic component, the arctic anticyclone was weakened and vorticity of winds became positive. The rapid reduction of arctic ice thickness in the 1990s may be one manifestation of the intense atmosphere and ice cyclonic circulation regime due to the synchronous actions of the AO and LFO. Our results suggest that the decadal AO and multidecadal LFO drive large amplitude natural variability in the Arctic making detection of possible long-term trends induced by greenhouse gas warming most difficult. (data through 2000)

...

December 07, 2009 11:10 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

...

I was recently in Denali park, and noticed an appropriately placed automated weather station. Thinking there might be some good, uninflected, continuous temperature information to be had, I made Google my friend. Sure enough. From the Discussion and conclusions section (page 3):

So, although the decades since 1977 have averaged two degrees F warmer than the previous three decades, those decades were in turn two degrees F colder than 1923-1945. Therefore, the net change in annual temperature since 1920 is less than 0.5 degree F. (These conclusions were based on a central Alaskan network, not just Denali.)

Why should I conclude Mr. Anderson is engaging in anything other than the worst kind of post-hoc, bias-confirming reasoning? Concluding the primary cause was climate change has wish fulfillment as its motivation, and the insistence that everything is a consequence of climate change as its sole factual basis.

I have no doubt that ice extent changes since 1979 are statistically significant; that is visually obvious. There are several things worth noting, though. First, should ice extent return to what it was in 2001 (it is essentially where it for this time of year in 2002, and the trend is in that direction), then the sea ice extent will be completely unremarkable when compared with the years prior to 2001.

Additionally, that graphic is wonderful for depicting trend, but without anything else is completely context free. This depiction of Arctic 2009 mean temperature, 1958-2002 helps.

Unfortunately, it lends no credence to anything Mr. Anderson has said. Also, to be fair, one year does not climate make.

So, I think my original assertion still stands. Mr. Anderson was being hysterical. Whether intentionally, or not, is impossible to say.

What if the ice extent extent trend continues towards the 1979-1998 mean? Will that have anything to say about AGW?

I bet it will. It should. I bet it won't.

December 07, 2009 11:12 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Hey Skipper

Welcome back. I hope your weekend was fun-factored and not work-worsened.

Thanks. It was fun-factored – I only work part-time these days.



Both graphics are time plots, it is just that the one you provided depicts time as proceeding continuously from an origin, while the UAF graphic is calendar-cyclic.


The name of the plot is by the way. The plot you showed me is typically used to show seasonal change not trends (I have some experience of statistical methods). To use it to make a point about a trend is incompetent unless you intend to mislead. (I am sure the Univ of Alaska did not intend it for this purpose)

I can see why the UAF limits the number of previous years displayed; otherwise, the thing would be unreadable. However, I do wish they included a 1979-present mean plot.

(or they could use the right plot)

That said, for longer term trends, I agree your link is much more informative.

Thanks.

Note, I am not arguing that the sea ice extent trend is insignificant, only that Mr. Anderson, in stating open water is going to initiate some horrific feedback cycle, is either very ignorant, or engaging in hysterical propaganda.

You did write: “His description simply cannot account for sea ice extent increasing to the point where it is unremarkable.” Of course it is subjective as to what is remarkable, but this looks like a pretty strong trend to me and worth remarking on.

On the subject of Arctic variability:

Unfortunately your link is to the Google search page so I don’t know what is behind the abstract.

I was recently in Denali park, and noticed an appropriately placed automated weather station.

The atmospheric temperature in one specific place in the Artic is not under discussion so I don’t see the relevance of this and what follows.

Why should I conclude Mr. Anderson is engaging in anything other than the worst kind of post-hoc, bias-confirming reasoning? Concluding the primary cause was climate change has wish fulfillment as its motivation, and the insistence that everything is a consequence of climate change as its sole factual basis.

Quite a lot of reasons.

* Arctic sea-ice is decreasing.

* The green house effect is well established physics – all that is in dispute is how big that effect is.

* It is accepted even by sceptics that increases in temperature cause increases in CO2. So there is the basis of a positive feedback cycle right there.

* Although you have doubts about greater absorption of heat of open water over sea ice, a large range of climate experts seem to accept that this is true.

* I very much doubt Mr Anderson wants climate change to be the explanation of the decrease in sea-ice.

* He has not claimed, much less insisted, that everything is a consequence of climate change as its sole factual basis.

December 07, 2009 12:31 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I suppose it does not matter if the question is reflection of ice v. water, but the people who take the planet's health to be a function of Arctic sea ice like to fuss about thickness and age, too.

Apparently, old ice, like old money, is to be preferred.

Personally, I even accept new money.

December 07, 2009 4:40 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

Apologies for the bad linking. Try Arctic decadal and interdecadal variability.

Here is the one for the Central Alaska Network.

To use it to make a point about a trend is incompetent unless you intend to mislead.

To be clear, I would not have used the one I did had I known of the other.

However, while the graphic to which I linked was completely unsuitable for judging long term trends, it did completely support what I did derive from it: ice extent has increased each year since 2007. Had I the longer term graphic, I would have noted it really requires another year or two on present trends to reach a point where it would be completely unremarkable.

Of course it is subjective as to what is remarkable, but this looks like a pretty strong trend to me and worth remarking on.

The trend I am talking about is that since 2007, when it was the least on record. (Keeping in mind, of course, that the record goes back only 30 years, and, as Harry above noted, there are good historical reasons to suggest that Arctic ice extent has fluctuated significantly within the preceding 125 years.) If sea ice extent returns to its 2001 level, then it will be greater than at least a half dozen years throughout the 30 year record. That is what I mean by "unremarkable".

Given the reduction in 2007 ice cover, there was much more "sea-dark" water to soak up the sun, meaning global warming (accelerated by ever decreasing amounts of Arctic ice) will really take off.

Instead, both of the succeeding years have seen increased extent. Clearly, I don't think there is any reason to believe water at high latitudes "soaks up the sun", and not just because of the high latitude, although that is a good start, and he give no indication of having considered that.

Second, as my fixed link should strongly suggest, other factors provide a far better explanation of what is going on.

The atmospheric temperature in one specific place in the Artic is not under discussion so I don’t see the relevance of this and what follows.

It isn't one particular place, but rather a continuous and clean temperature series that covers a great deal of interior Alaska with high correlation. No land use issues, no UHI. That record, which covers a lot of area, substantiates the other report: insisting on AGW as a detectable contributor to Arctic climate change over the last 30 years is an assertion for which there is remarkably little evidence.

So, Mr. Anderson neglected well known oscillatory influences, the brief and small, if not entirely non-existent difference between ocean and sea ice reflectivity at high latitudes, and the prevalence of cloud cover during the arctic summer. None of that points in the direction of the Arctic Ocean soaking up the sun and causing global warming to really take off.

In essence his conclusion, and [it] is accepted even by sceptics that increases in temperature cause increases in CO2. (even assuming the latter, which I have never heard) suffer the same problem: dynamic instability. If they are right, then the Earth's climate would have long since run away: an increase in temperature increases CO2 which increases temperature, which increases CO2 … Similarly, a decrease in ice causes warmer water, which further decreases ice, which further warms water …

But the Earth's climate is obviously not dynamically unstable.

According to Mr. Anderson, The big question now is when the ice will disappear totally each summer. There will be an answer in 2010.

What if 2010 ends up with greater ice extent than 2009?

December 08, 2009 11:06 AM  

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