Monckton & the case of the missing Curry

Monckton’s eruptive bellow was still echoing round the halls of Tannochbrae Manor when old Scrotum, the wrinkled retainer, shuffled quietly into the laird’s library. “You called, Sir?”, he queried in his soft Highland brogues. The last few weeks had been hectic at Tannochbrae — the master had been unusually busy with his scientific interests — and the comfortable rhythm of Scrotum’s life had been jolted from a gentle 4/4 joggling (with pipes) to a jaunty 6/8 contra-bounce (with accordion). Jimmy Shand would have approved.

“Scrotum, I appear to have lost a Curry. Please institute an immediate, that is not to say precipitate, but carefully thought out, considered yet complete search for the fellow. Draft in all the help you need from the estate, but find him you must.”

“Would that be a chicken korma, or my lord’s preferred vindaloo (hot)?” Scrotum asked.

“Of course not, you wretched little man. I speak of Curry, esteemed co-author of Curry & Clow (1997) whose scientific labours conclusively prove that current global temperatures are unremarkable and that we therefore have nothing to fear from the closet socialism that is warmist science.” Monckton was quivering with barely supressed excitement. A fleeting concern scampered across Scrotum’s bushy brow and buried itself behind his ear. He left the room. This could turn out to be another of his lordship’s dreadful hunt the haggis days…

Continue reading “Monckton & the case of the missing Curry”

I can’t tell the bottom from the top

homer.jpgA couple of weeks ago I blogged about NIWA’s climate summary for 2008, but inexplicably missed a most excellent response to the figures from the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition’s energy expert Bryan Leyland. He must have been digging through some dusty tomes in the library, because he arrived at the astonishing conclusion that New Zealand was warmer 141 years ago:

New Zealand’s national average temperature of 12.9 degrees C during 2008, described by NIWA as ‘milder than normal” was in fact cooler than it was 141 years ago, this, and worldwide drop in temperatures since 1998, demonstrate that claims of man-made global warming have lost touch with reality.

Oh really?

Mr Leyland said it is important that all New Zealanders, but especially politicians, understand the significance of the two sets of temperature readings.

Quite so, Bryan, quite so. Let’s see if I can help out a little…

Continue reading “I can’t tell the bottom from the top”

Bits & pieces

Mugshot.jpg Some bits and bobs of blog-related news. Eagle-eyed readers will note a new addition to the right hand sidebar — an exhortation to buy books at NZ’s own on-line bookshop, Fishpond. Because we’re now carrying regular climate book reviews by Bryan Walker, I’ve taken the opportunity to make Hot Topic an affiliate of the store, and as a result the site receives a cut of all sales made when people use links at HT to visit Fishpond. This will help me to cover the hosting costs for the blog, but I don’t envisage getting rich. Still, if you find HT useful, interesting — even entertaining — and buy books on line, here’s a chance to show some support. And you don’t have to buy only the books I link to — all sales made after following a link from HT will count — CDs and DVDs too…

Being an inveterate tinkerer, I have taken the opportunity of a new gadget purchase to update Hot Topic’s look and feel. You’ll only notice a difference if you access the blog from an iPhone or iPod Touch, but if you do I can assure it’s very spiffy, thanks to an excellent WordPress plug in called WPtouch.

Finally, though I don’t often (ever) make a song and a dance about HT’s traffic statistics, I am pleased to confirm that in the NZ Blogosphere rankings, compiled as a labour of love by Tim Selwyn at Tumeke! (thanks, Tim), HT is holding its own in the mid-20s of the blog charts, despite a quiet second half to December. Our overall traffic — averaging 10,000 page loads a month in the last quarter of last year — is peanuts compared to NZ’s biggest blogs or the heavyweight climate blogs, but readership is steadily increasing. And of course, it’s a very high quality readership…

I use a number of (free) stats packages — Statcounter, Woopra, Google Analytics and WordPress — but all show the same basic picture. Half of all visitors come from NZ (which I think is surprisingly low, given we’re an explicitly New Zealand site), 20% from the USA, 5% each from Australia, the UK and Canada, with the balance provided by an eclectic mix of nationalities — India heading the list. Ignoring the visitors who arrive from Google, Open Mind provides most referrals, followed by RealClimate, No Right Turn, Brave New Climate, Scienceblogs (mostly Deltoid, sometimes Stoat), and Kiwiblog. Thanks to you all for turning up, now go and buy some books… 😉

[Dave Clark Five]

Hangin’ on #2

wilkins090124.jpg

Here’s the latest imagery of the Wilkins Ice Shelf from the European Space Agency’s amazing “webcam from space” page (the ice shelf is the black structure running from top left to bottom right — sea shows as white). This image was captured on Jan 24th, and clearly shows the narrow 2km neck referred to in my recent post. Take a look at the “webcam” — the animation is regularly updated as new images are processed. In Hot Topic, I remarked how satellite views of the earth enable my senses to work overtime — this is a fantastic near real-time example.

[Hat tip to Timothy Chase in comments at RealClimate here.]

The Long Thaw

The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth's Climate

The legacy of our release of fossil fuel CO2 to the atmosphere will be long-lasting. It will affect the Earth’s climate for millenia. We are becoming players in geologic time. That is the conclusion that climatologist David Archer shares with a general audience in his newly published book The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate.

The author is a professor in the Department of The Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago and a contributing editor at Real Climate. His book is relaxed in style, almost conversational sometimes, repetitive on occasion, but nevertheless closely focused and packed with instructive detail. It was a pleasure for a non-scientist like me to read. He seems to understand how to illuminate processes for the general reader. For example, his chapter on the distribution of carbon in the atmosphere, the land and the ocean, and his explanation of the interactions between them in the carbon cycle, provided angles and information that pulled together satisfyingly the bits and pieces of my hesitant understanding.   Similarly what he writes about the acidifying of the ocean by CO2 and the part calcium carbonate plays in slowly neutralising its effect is a model of lucidity.

The book’s structure is simple.  There are three sections.  The first describes the situation we are in right now – meaning the 20th and 21st centuries.  The second section is about the past, investigated as a forecast for the future.  The final section looks into the deep future.

Archer produces no surprises about our current situation.  The basic physics of the greenhouse effect – that gases in the atmosphere that absorb infrared radiation could eventually warm up the surface of the earth – was described in 1827 by the French mathematician Fourier. Then in 1896 Swedish chemist Arrhenius estimated the amount of warming that the Earth would undergo on average from a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration – what we now call the climate sensitivity. Such work sets the scene for the climate science which has exploded in the past few decades as global warming grew from a prediction into an observation.    He describes many aspects of our current understanding of global warming, with several particularly helpful sequences, such as that on the relative strengths of four external agents of climate change called climate forcings – greenhouse gases, sulfur from burning coal, volcanic eruptions, changes in intensity of the sun. The warming that is occurring cannot be explained by natural forcings.  Looking ahead in the present century he is very aware that sea level rise by 2100 may well be higher than predicted by the IPCC, as it begins to appear that the ice models used to forecast may be too sluggish to predict the behaviour of real ice.

In the second section he moves steadily back in time, starting with the last 100,000 years where the abruptness of some of the changes detected leads him to reflect that the IPCC forecast of a smooth rise in temperature from 0.5 degrees excess warmth today  to about 3.0 degrees excess warmth in 2100 represents a best-case scenario in that it contains no unfortunate surprises. He then treats the longer-term glacial climate cycles through the last 650,000 years, paying attention to orbital forcing and to the ups and downs of atmospheric CO2 through the cycles.  He envisages the ice sheets and CO2entwined in a feedback loop of cause and effect, like two figure skaters twirling and throwing each other around on the rink.” His final step back is to the hothouse world of 50 million years ago and beyond that to transitions between hothouse and ice age climates over 500 million years. He selects the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum event (recently discussed on Hot Topic) as an analogue for the global warming future.

The third section looks at that future.  In discussing the land’s and ocean’s ability to take up carbon being released from fossil fuels he considers it likely that there are limits to that process which will mean that a significant fraction of fossil fuel CO2 will remain in the atmosphere for millenia into the future.  There are calming effects from the carbon cycle, but there can also be opposite effects as seems likely to have been the case at times in the past.  Hopefully large scale methane hydrate release won’t be a large part of such feedbacks, but if the ocean gets warm enough it is possible and could double the long-term climate impact of global warming.

For now the carbon cycle is responding to the CO2 increase by inhaling the gas into the ocean and high-latitude land surface, damping down the warming effect. But on the timescale of centuries and longer the lesson from the past is that this situation could reverse itself, and the warming planet could cause the natural carbon cycle to exhale CO2, amplifying the human-induced climate changes.

The clearest long-term impact of fossil-fuel CO2 release is on sea level rise.  The book has a restrained chapter on this, but there is no escaping what will happen if the ice sheets melt. “We have the capacity to ultimately sacrifice the land under our feet.

Have we averted an ice age?  Archer discusses this possibility, but finds the evidence uncertain.  He would in any case not put such a possibility forward as an argument in favour of CO2 emissions. All it means is that natural cooling driven by orbital variation is unlikely to save us from global warming – at this stage the much greater danger. Incidentally he mentions Ruddiman’s book Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum briefly and appreciatively in this section, but gives reasons for doubting its conclusions. (The book was reviewed on Hot Topic recently.)

In his epilogue on economics and ethics, where he ponders whether we are likely to turn away from the path we are currently on, he offers a comparison with slavery, another ethical issue: “Ultimately it didn’t matter whether it was economically beneficial or costly to give up. It was simply wrong.”

James Hansen describes the book as the best about carbon dioxide and climate change that he has read.  “David Archer knows what he is talking about.” To which I would add that he also knows how to explain it clearly to anyone prepared to give him reasonable attention.