Savaged by a dead sheep #2

Airconcover.jpgIn a meeting last week a late arrival strode in and announced (with a big grin) “You’ve finally made it, Gareth, you’ve been attacked by Ian Wishart.” It appears that my review of Air Con rattled Wishart sufficiently to prompt him to pen an attack on me in his conspiracy magazine Investigate. Over the weekend he helpfully posted what he calls the “salient” bits at his blog under the title More idiocy from the team at Hot Topic. Saves me from having to buy a copy…

Wishart’s main claim is that the evidence I submitted to the ETS Review committee was out of date before it was given, and to prove his point he quotes extensively from his own book. That was a major tactical error on his part, because it gives me an opportunity to demonstrate (once again) that Air Con is full of misrepresentations and inaccuracies.

The section of my evidence he chooses to attack discusses melting ice and sea level rise:

Recent indications are that the pace of climate change has speeded up. Summer sea ice decline in the Arctic has been steep in recent years, ice mass loss in Greenland and Antarctica has increased, and expert views on likely sea level rise over the course of this century now run from lm upwards.

To counter this, he quotes from an article in Science which discussed a paper at last year’s Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, describing how glaciers in SE Greenland had slowed down after a period of “galloping” towards the sea. This, Wishart implies, means that the whole of Greenland has stopped melting.

“It is now estimated that Greenland is accountable for a half millimeter rise in global sea level per year,” Air Con quotes one recent scientific study taken before the ice Armageddon suddenly stopped.

It’s a pity Wishart didn’t look at some of the other papers presented at the Fall AGU — there were at least 25 covering Greenland and its melting ice cap. Here’s the abstract from Wouters et al:

Using gravity data from the GRACE satellites between February 2003 and January 2008, we examine changes in Greenland’s mass distribution on a regional scale. During this period, Greenland lost mass at a mean rate of 179±25 Gt/yr, equivalent to a global mean sea level change of 0.5±0.1 mm/yr. Rates increase over time and are driven by mass loss during the summers, which vary substantially over the years. The largest mass losses occurred along the southeastern and northwestern coast in the summers of 2005 and 2007, when the ice sheet lost 279 Gt and 328 Gt of ice respectively within 2 months. In 2007, a substantial mass loss is observed during summer at elevations above 2000 m, for the first time since the start of the GRACE observations. (my emphasis)

Skeptical Science provides detailed graphs. In other words, Greenland has not stopped melting — in fact the rate of melting is increasing. Wishart does get the current contribution to sea level rise correct, but to make it seem inconsequential he simply projects that same rate into the future — thus ignoring any increased contribution in the future.

In an attempt to underline that point, he goes on to quote a study by Pfeffer et al which attempts to put an upper limit on possible sea level rise from ice sheet melt this century. Real Climate discussed the issue here, and had this to say about Pfeffer et al:

Good news: they rule out more than 2 meters of sea level coming from Greenland alone in the next century. This is however more than anyone has ever suggested and would be comparable to the amount that disappeared at the Eemian (125,000 years ago).

Bad news: they can’t rule out up to 2 meters in total.

So when Wishart scorns my reading of expert views on expected SLR being “upwards of one metre”, he is — to be charitable — entirely wrong. And as I reported in this post in February, there are experts who think  “We may see a meter by the middle of the century.”

Wishart also draws on current sea level data in attempt to show that sea level rise, instead of accelerating, is slowing down:

…according to the latest satellite data from the TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason 1 missions published in late 2008, despite the 2000s being the hottest decade in recent memory according to Renowden’s 2009 testimony, the rate of sea level increase has dropped by 30%, from 3mm a year down to 2mm a year since 2005, or 20cm for the entire century if extrapolated out – a slow down, not an acceleration, in rising sea levels.

Oh really? I downloaded this graph, based on the latest data, this morning:


So, if we look at the graph, we see that the current rate of SLR is 3.2mm per year, and it hasn’t dropped recently to 2mm per year as Wishart asserts. Does he have trouble reading a graph, one wonders? Or perhaps his data was out of date?

In Wishart-land (geographically very close to La-la Land), the answer’s obvious: a global conspiracy of climate scientists, evil child-eating environmentalists and truffle growers, with funding from Al Gore and George Soros have nobbled the satellites and faked the graph. Meanwhile, Wishart’s responsible for publishing an article replete with errors and misrepresentations, but I won’t hold my breath while waiting for his correction and apology.

For the full and sorry saga of Wishart’s foray into climate science, follow the Wishart tag.

10 thoughts on “Savaged by a dead sheep #2”

  1. Like so many denialists. Wishart got all excited by that recent 18 months of a flattish trend (which the imbroglio with the erroneous ARGO and XBT data made look like a decrease before the errors were caught and fixed). Also, the data shown by this graph is limited to just the two satellite instruments and so doesn’t catch the longer-term increase in the rate.

  2. Very loosely attached to the topic, but it looks as if at least oneWishart supporter may be going through the select committee submissions. I received an email out of the blue two or three days ago from someone who said he had read my submission and suggested I read Air Con “a fantastic book by New Zealand’s leading investigative journalist” – and here’s the surprise – “because it confirms in detail your submission and expands on the same thinking”!!! I told him that he obviously hadn’t read my submission, which was the direct opposite of Wishart’s fevered fantasies (which I have read).

  3. To be fair to Ian Wishart, the graph he’s basing his conclusions on probably isn’t very out of date. Some time recently (I think it was in Morgan & McCrystal’s book) I say a graph of sea level from the satellites that stopped some time around the middle of 2008 and did look very much as if the trend had flattened abruptly at 2005. Now with another 6 months or so of data this flattening of the trend has evaporated (as Steve Bloom has pointed out).

    What Ian Wishart is guilty of is wishful thinking and paying too much attention to short-term fluctuations. And maybe one or two other things…

  4. Looking at the graph, it’s been about a year since any claim of a short-term reduction could be made. That’s evidence of a complete failure to check facts.

  5. Ian Wishart is quoted above as saying that he was relying on data published in late 2008. At the moment the University of Colorado time series (and the corresponding CSIRO one) end at approximately 1 Jan 2009, ie. almost 6 months ago. The UC series was last updated on 12 March. The release schedule is not regular, but there are 2-4 releases per year. So at any given time, the time series will show data up to 3-6 months before present, maybe more.

    In late 2008, depending on the exact date, the plot would have shown data to early or mid 2008, and may well have appeared to supported his claim. Is he culpable for failing to check for updates since late 2008? That’s marginal, in my opinion. However, once his attention is drawn to the updated data, he should of course correct his earlier statements.

  6. Is he culpable for failing to check for updates since late 2008? That’s marginal, in my opinion.

    Given that he wrote the Investigate piece relatively recently, you might think he would have checked before rushing to criticise my understanding of the facts of the matter. Nor can you excuse him for a naive interpretation of a wiggle in a longer time series — but as he subscribes to the “cooling since 200x” nonsense, we shouldn’t be surprised.

  7. Hi there, just found this site on my travels looking into global warming. I was thinking about reading this book to confirm my suspicions. Your review confirmed my thoughts on it, denialist drivel. The big problem with Ian Wishart [among many] is that he is a fundamentalist so it’s just going to end up with him sticking his fingers in his ears, blinkers closed completely and singing ‘LALALALALA’ at the top of his voice.

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