Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Paper finds significant cooling of Atlantic Ocean over past millennium

A paper published today in the journal Paleoceanography finds that Atlantic Ocean surface temperatures have significantly cooled over the past millennium, since the Medieval Warming Period from about 950-1200 AD.
Summer-Fall Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) shown in top graph. Iceland Sea Surface temperatures have also declined over the past 1200 years (4th graph). Note also the significant increase  of solar irradiance from the Little Ice Age  1550-1850 to the latter 20th century (5th graph).

PALEOCEANOGRAPHY, VOL. 26, PA4224, 11 PP., 2011

Key Points:
Monsoon season SST is reconstructed for the past 3 millennia
Over the past 1700 years, several intervals show multidecadal SST variability
Late medieval cooling amounts to approximately 0.5 degree Celsius

Henning Kuhnert et al

Multidecadal variations in Atlantic sea surface temperatures (SST) influence the climate of the Northern Hemisphere. However, prior to the instrumental time period, information on multidecadal climate variability becomes limited, and there is a particular scarcity of sufficiently resolved SST reconstructions. Here we present an eastern tropical North Atlantic reconstruction of SSTs based on foraminiferal Mg/Ca ratios that resolves multidecadal variability over the past 1700 years. Spectral power in the multidecadal band (50 to 70 years period) is significant over several time intervals suggesting that the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) has been influencing local SST. Since our data exhibit high scatter the absence of multidecadal variability in the remaining record does not exclude the possibility that SST variations on this time scale might have been present without being detected in our data. Cooling by ∼0.5°C takes place between about AD 1250 and AD 1500; while this corresponds to the inception of the Little Ice Age (LIA), the end of the LIA is not reflected in our record and SST remains relatively low. This transition to cooler SSTs parallels the previously reconstructed shift in the North Atlantic Oscillation toward a low pre-20th century mean state and possibly reflects common solar forcing.

New Paper: Cold Arctic winters becoming colder, resulting in large ozone hole

Paper published today notes near-complete loss of ozone over the Arctic due to one of the coldest stratospheric winters on record from 2010-2011. No mention of the now-inconvenient link to man-made chlorofluorocarbon emissions.  

Key Points
  • Large losses of Arctic stratospheric ozone were observed during winter 2010/11
  • A further cooling of 1K would have resulted in locally near-complete ozone loss
  • A 1K cooling can counterbalance a 10% reduction in halogens
B.-M. Sinnhuber
Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology,, Karlsruhe,, Germany
G. Stiller
Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology,, Karlsruhe,, Germany
R. Ruhnke
Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology,, Karlsruhe,, Germany
T. von Clarmann
Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology,, Karlsruhe,, Germany
S. Kellmann
Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology,, Karlsruhe,, Germany
J. Aschmann
Institute of Environmental Physics, University of Bremen,, Bremen,, Germany
The Arctic stratospheric winter of 2010/2011 was one of the coldest on record with a large loss of stratospheric ozone. Observations of temperature, ozone, nitric acid, water vapor, nitrous oxide, chlorine nitrate and chlorine monoxide from the Michelson Interferometer for Passive Atmospheric Sounding (MIPAS) onboard ENVISAT are compared to calculations with a chemical transport model (CTM). There is overall excellent agreement between the model calculations and MIPAS observations, indicating that the processes of denitrification, chlorine activation and catalytic ozone depletion are sufficiently well represented. Polar vortex integrated ozone loss reaches 120 Dobson Units (DU) by early April 2011. Sensitivity calculations with the CTM give an additional ozone loss of about 25 DU at the end of the winter for a further cooling of the stratosphere by 1 K, showing locally near-complete ozone depletion (remaining ozone <200 ppbv) over a large vertical extent from 16 to 19 km altitude. In the CTM a 1 K cooling approximately counteracts a 10% reduction in stratospheric halogen loading, a halogen reduction that is expected to occur in about 13 years from now. These results indicate that severe ozone depletion like in 2010/2011 or even worse could appear for cold Arctic winters over the next decades if the observed tendency for cold Arctic winters to become colder continues into the future.

Happy New Year!: Ethanol subsidies expire at end of 2011

Ethanol in Winter 12/30/11

Wonder of wonders, the tax subsidy and tariff expire.

Congress created ethanol subsidies in 1978, expanded them in a 1980 bill, and then rinsed and repeated in 1982, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1998, 2004, 2005 and 2007. But now, wonderful to relate, this 30-year adventure in corporate welfare may finally be going into reverse.

Congress adjourned this month without extending the $6 billion annual tax subsidy for blending corn ethanol into gasoline and the steep import tariffs on the industry's foreign competitors. Both turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of the New Year.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly against continuing the 45-cent-a-gallon ethanol credit in July, and an extension was not slipped into the final budget deal. Deliberate neglect is not the Viking funeral the ethanol lobby deserves, but given its many political clients this is a minor policy watershed all the same.

The left-right coalition against corn ethanol has been growing for some time, and the latest outfit to lend its voice to what is now a not-so-lost cause is none other than the National Academy of Sciences. In an October report, academy researchers concluded that grain ethanol "could not compete with fossil fuels in the U.S. marketplace without mandates, subsidies, tax exemptions, and tariffs . . . This lack of competitiveness raises questions about the use of government resources to support biofuels."

The liberal revelation has been the growing evidence that biofuels increase net carbon emissions. Pumping energy-intensive row crops into gas tanks leads to land-use changes in world agricultural markets that increase greenhouse gases.

The irony is that a fuel that was sold as a global-warming palliative—the industry will use any argument to justify its government lucre—is now being hoist on its own corn stalk. Green carbon fuel standards regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and in California credit sugar ethanol produced in Brazil with better climate benefits than corn ethanol.

So South American makers have been shipping their product to the West Coast, paying the tariff and selling it at a premium. U.S. makers then send their product south to backfill the Brazilian market. So much for "energy independence," another example of false ethanol political marketing.

Ending ethanol protectionism will at least help lower U.S. costs, but the tragedy is that no one would ever buy it at the pump without Congress's mandate, which, alas, will continue. The National Academy's summary is apt: "Without biofuel tax credits . . . the cost of biofuel programs is borne directly by consumers, as they are forced to pay a higher cost for the blended renewable fuel than for petroleum-based products. Otherwise, consumers bear the cost of biofuel programs indirectly through taxes paid."

The fight for economic rationality goes on.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shock news: Glacier shedding ice as fast as in the 1930's when CO2 was safe

Glacial breakdown
Greenland's Helheim Glacier is shedding ice at a high rate
  Text Size
Icebergs from Greenland's Helheim Glacier feed into Sermilik Fjord (shown here) each summer. Ice has been falling off the glacier at an unusually high rate in the past decade.Camilla S. Andresen
Big chunks of ice have been falling off Greenland’s Helheim Glacier at an unusually high rate over the past 10 years, a new study finds.
Warm summers and the intrusion of warmer Atlantic waters may be to blame, researchers in Denmark and the United States report online December 12 in Nature Geoscience.

To reconstruct the glacier’s history since 1890, the scientists examined sediments from the fjord below. Sand grains in the sediments revealed that only in the 1930s was the glacier falling apart as quickly as it has been recently.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dark Times Fall on Solar Sector


Long viewed as a remedy for the world's dependence on fossil fuels, the solar industry is dimming as makers of panels used to harness the sun continue to fall by the wayside.
Bankruptcies, plummeting stock prices and crushing debt loads are calling into question the viability of an industry that since the 1970s has been counted on to advance the U.S.—and the world—into a new energy age.
Global demand for solar power is still growing—about 8% more solar panels will be installed this year compared with 2010, according to Jefferies Group analysis—but it is expected to flat-line next year.
Bloomberg News
Solar modules in Porterville, Calif., in February.
At the heart of the industry woes are swiftly falling prices for solar panels and their components—polysilicon, wafers, cells and the modules themselves. The reason is simple: There are simply too many manufacturers trying to sell their wares.
Over the past several months, at least seven solar-panel manufacturers have filed for bankruptcy or insolvency, including two German companies in the past week—Solar Millennium AG and Solon SE—and, most notably, Solyndra LLC, the Fremont, Calif., company embroiled in a criminal investigation into whether the company defrauded the U.S. government.
Of the 10 largest publicly traded companies by market capitalization whose focus is making solar components, six reported losses in the third quarter, and all but one of these 10 saw their bottom line weaken from a year earlier. Underscoring how debt is weighing down the industry, six of the 10 also had debt on their balance sheets that exceeded their market capitalizations.
Many more manufacturers are in a precarious financial situation, such as Energy Conversion Devices Inc., whose stock has nose-dived by 95% this year as the Auburn Hills, Mich., company has suspended factory operations, deferred interest payments and restructured its staff. Energy Conversion couldn't be reached for comment.
Overall, public-market investors are punishing the solar sector, sending shares down nearly 57% this year as of Dec. 19, according to investment bank Stifel Nicolaus, compared with a decline of 3% for the S&P 500.
Even First Solar Inc., the darling of the industry, is restructuring amid weaker results and project delays. In a Dec. 14 call with analysts that Jeff Osborne, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus, said "seemed like the funeral for the whole sector," Mike Ahearn, FirstSolar's chairman and interim CEO, said the industry will suffer pricing pressures indefinitely.
This means the shakeout among manufacturers will likely continue for some time. "The industry simply cannot support 300-plus cell and modular manufacturers, so the companies left will capitulate and exit the industry," said Zhengrong Shi, chief executive of Chinese solar-panel manufacturer Suntech Power Holdings Co., during a late-November call with investors. Suntech is cutting its operating expenses by at least 20% next year as it hopes to stem this year's 70% stock-price slide.
The glut of manufacturers stems from various sources over the last several years, including efforts by the U.S. government to encourage clean technology, venture capitalists pouring into the sector and institutional investors buying into IPO issues of solar companies amid an oil-price boom and a heightened sense of climate-change urgency. At the same time, European governments offered rich subsidies for solar installation, driving demand in the market.
"People were doing what they can to make a profit, without thinking ahead," said Pallavi Madakasira, an analyst with research firm Lux Research Inc.
But the biggest factor was the decision by the Chinese government to direct its banks to lend freely to new manufacturers a few years ago. Since 2009, Chinese banks have offered at least $43 billion in credit facilities to Chinese renewable-energy companies, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It isn't clear how much of that money has been drawn down, but the easy access to capital during the height of the global credit crunch allowed Chinese companies to build factories and start production, forcing competitors in Europe and the U.S. to do the same.
The plentiful production of solar panels resulted in a cutthroat pricing competition. A year ago, customers—mostly distributors of panels and project developers—could buy solar panels for $1.60 per watt, on average. Now the going price is between 90 cents to $1.05 per watt, according to investment bank Jefferies.
Meanwhile, U.S. trade authorities are investigating domestic manufacturers' complaints over possible dumping of solar panels on the U.S. market by Chinese makers.
Despite the buyers' market, customers aren't opening their wallets fast enough. In Europe, which buys more solar panels than any other region, banks clamped up on funding and customers wound up with warehouses full of solar panels, causing them to defer additional orders. Many are also wary about committing to new solar contracts while prices keep falling.
Germany, for years the world's largest market for solar, is seeing a 29% decline in demand this year over 2010, according to Jefferies. That is quite a contrast to 2010, when installations in Germany nearly doubled.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. demand has actually risen because utilities have been buying solar power to fill state mandates, while large plant projects continue to attract investment from companies such as Google Inc., NRG Energy Inc. and MidAmerican Energy Co. That growth may not be sustainable, however, because the mandates for renewable energy are quickly being fulfilled.
And if solar is getting cheaper, so too is competing natural-gas power.
Faced with demand challenges, many manufacturers are beginning to moderate how much they produce. That means factories, already built and put in place, are underutilized, which raises the cost per each panel produced.
There is still light on the industry's horizon. Electricity demand globally is set to rise over the next few years, as developing nations gobble up power and suffer from power-plant pollution—a problem that solar can help alleviate. And as technology advances and costs drop, solar-panel makers can supply power without a need for heavy government subsidies.
But those new markets will take time to emerge. In the meantime, companies will continue to struggle to survive the crunch.

Read more:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Harming the economy, degrading the U.S. grid: another day at the EPA

Lisa Jackson's Power Play 12/22/11

Harming the economy, degrading the U.S. grid: another day at the EPA.

At an unusual gala ceremony on the release of a major new Environmental Protection Agency rule yesterday, chief Lisa Jackson called it "historic" and "a great victory." And she's right: The rule may be the most expensive the agency has ever issued, and it represents the triumph of the Obama Administration's green agenda over economic growth and job creation. Congratulations.

The so-called utility rule requires power plants to install "maximum achievable control technology" to reduce mercury emissions and other trace gases. But the true goal of the rule's 1,117 pages is to harm coal-fired power plants and force large parts of the fleet—the U.S. power system workhorse—to shut down in the name of climate change. The EPA figures the rule will cost $9.6 billion, which is a gross, deliberate underestimate.

In return Ms. Jackson says the public will get billions of dollars of health benefits like less asthma if not a cure for cancer. Those credulous enough to believe her should understand that the total benefits of mercury reduction amount to all of $6 million. That's total present value, not benefits per year—oh, and that's an -illion with an "m," which is not normally how things work out in President Obama's Washington.

The rest of the purported benefits—to be precise, 99.99%—come by double-counting pollution reductions like soot that the EPA regulates through separate programs and therefore most will happen anyway. Using such "co-benefits" is an abuse of the cost-benefit process and shows that Cass Sunstein's team at the White House regulatory office—many of whom opposed the rule—got steamrolled.

As baseload coal power is retired or idled, the reliability of the electrical grid will be compromised, as every neutral analyst expects. Some utilities like Calpine Corp. and PSEG have claimed in these pages that the reliability concerns are overblown, but the Alfred E. Newman crowd has a vested interest in profiting from the higher wholesale electricity clearing prices that the EPA wants to cause.

Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is charged with protecting reliability, abnegated its statutory responsibilities as the rule was being written.

One FERC economist wrote in a March email that "I don't think there is any value in continuing to engage EPA on the issues. EPA has indicated that these are their assumptions and have made it clear that are not changed [sic] anything on reliability . . . [EPA] does not directly answer anything associated with local reliability." The EPA repeatedly told Congress that it had "very frequent substantive contact and consultation with FERC."

The EPA also took the extraordinary step of issuing a pre-emptive "enforcement memorandum," which is typically issued only after the EPA determines its rules are being broken. The memo tells utilities that they must admit to violating clean air laws if they can't retrofit their plants within the EPA's timeframe at any cost or if shutting down a plant will lead to regional blackouts. Such legal admissions force companies into a de facto EPA receivership and expose them to lawsuits and other liabilities.

The economic harm here is vast, and the utility rule saga—from the EPA's reckless endangerment to the White House's failure to temper Ms. Jackson—has been a disgrace.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chilling Thoughts For Global-Warming Alarmists

By James Taylor, 12.05.11,

The central issues in the global warming debate have little to do with whether or not temperatures have warmed during the past century. Nearly all scientists agree that temperatures have indeed warmed during the past 100 years, just as they have warmed (and cooled) many times in previous centuries. The more important issues are whether current temperatures are abnormally warm in a longer-term perspective and whether present warming trends threaten disaster in the foreseeable future.

The first principle to keep in mind is context. While it is true that global temperatures have risen somewhat during the past 100-plus years since the Little Ice Age ended, there was little room for temperatures to go at the time but up. The Little Ice Age, lasting from approximately A.D. 1300 to 1900, brought the planet’s coldest extended temperatures during the last 10,000 years. Saying that temperatures have risen by one degree or so since the end of the Little Ice Age tells us little about the long-term temperature context because the arbitrary baseline of the Little Ice Age was an exceptionally cold climate anomaly.

Keeping this long-term temperature context in mind, we often hear that a given month, year or decade was "the hottest in recorded history," but that statement only holds true when "recorded history" is defined as the past 130 years or so since the depths of the Little Ice Age. Proponents of a global warming crisis justify this convenient definition of "recorded history" based on the establishment of a relatively global system of weather and temperature stations approximately 130 years ago. Fair enough, but proxy climate data from a variety of sources, including ice cores drilled in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, show that global temperatures were warmer for most of the past 10,000 years than they are today. Hu - man civilization first developed, and then thrived, during climate conditions warmer than today. Today’s temperatures, in a more appropriate long-term context, are unusually cold, not hot.

The second principle to remember is that the Earth’s long-term temperature history gives us proof that warmer temperatures have in the real world always been better for human civilization than colder ones. The Little Ice Age was typified by crop failures, famines, plagues, extreme weather events and human population contractions. By contrast, our recently warming temperatures have been a welcome reprieve from the harsh and unusually cold conditions of the Little Ice Age. During the past century as global temperatures have risen, forests have expanded, deserts have retreated, soil moisture has improved, crops have flourished and extreme weather events such as hurricanes and tornadoes have become less frequent.

While our ability to document the frequency of famines, plagues, droughts, hurricanes, etc. is more limited for the millennia before the Little Ice Age, we do know that during these warmer millennia human civilization thrived and the planet’s climate was not thrown into a chaotic downward spiral. Indeed, the Earth’s climate remains quite benign despite these thousands of years of recent warmer temperatures.

This gets to the heart of the global warming debate. If we have real-world evidence that temperatures were warmer during most of the past 10,000 years (and also during several interglacial warm periods over the past few million years) than they are today and if we also have real-world evidence that human civilization thrived during these warmer periods and the warmer temperatures did not trigger so-called "tipping points," sending the planet into a climate catastrophe, then we have little reason to believe our present and moderately warming temperatures are poised to cause a climate catastrophe.

For many scientists this distinction between theory and real-world conditions is what typifies the differences between so-called "alarmists" and "skeptics." As Colorado State University emeritus professor and hurricane expert William Gray frequently explains, alarmists base their climate alarmism on speculative computer models programmed and run within the confines of cubicles and drywall. Skeptics, on the other hand, base their skepticism on real-world data and observations.

Proponents of an imminent global warming crisis may present interesting theories about catastrophes that may occur if the Earth returns to the warmer temperatures that predominated during most of the past 10,000 years, but such theories are strongly contradicted by thousands of years of real-world data and real-world climate observations. The scientific method dictates that realworld observations trump speculative theory, not the other way around.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why changing sea ice and glaciers do not indicate man-made global warming

Glacial chill ebbs and flows

Arctic ice melt
Ice conditions at the end of the Arctic melt season in 2007, captured 
by NASA's Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer and overlaid
on the NASA Blue Marble. Source: AFP
ICE sheets grow and shrink. At times, they disappear. At other times, ice starts to cover polar areas and high mountains. That's what ice has done over the history of our planet. The Greenland and Antarctic basins are more than 1km deep, and deeper in the centres than around the edges, so that ice is squeezed uphill like toothpaste out of a tube by the weight of overlying ice. The alarmist media stresses that changing sea ice and continental glaciers indicate rapid global warming. Is this really so?
Since the last interglacial started some 10,500 years ago, summer sea ice in the Arctic has been far from constant. Sea ice comes and goes without leaving a clear record. For this reason, our knowledge about its variations and extent was limited before we had satellite surveillance or observations from aeroplanes and ships. A huge amount of the earth's surface water moves alternately between the ice sheets and the oceans.
Svend Funder, commenting on his recent Science paper, stated: "Our studies show that there have been large fluctuations in the amount of summer sea ice during the last 10,000 years. During the so-called Holocene Climate Optimum, from approximately 8000 to 5000 years ago, when the temperatures were somewhat warmer than today, there was significantly less sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, probably less than 50 per cent of the summer 2007 coverage, which is absolutely the lowest on record.
"Our studies also show that when the ice disappears in one area, it may accumulate in another. We have discovered this by comparing our results with observations from northern Canada. While the amount of sea ice decreased in northern Greenland, it increased in Canada. This is probably due to changes in the prevailing wind systems. This factor has not been sufficiently taken into account when forecasting the imminent disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean."
In order to reach their unsurprising conclusions, Funder and the rest of the team organised several expeditions to Peary Land in northern Greenland. Funder said: "Our key to the mystery of the extent of sea ice during earlier epochs lies in the driftwood we found along the coast. One might think that it had floated across (the) sea, but such a journey takes several years, and driftwood would not be able to stay afloat for that long. The driftwood is from the outset embedded in sea ice and reaches the north Greenland coast along with it. The amount of driftwood therefore indicates how much multi-year sea ice there was in the ocean back then. And this is precisely the type of ice that is in danger of disappearing today."
What is interesting about this study is that the new understanding came from getting away from computer modelling and doing fieldwork in pretty inhospitable areas. Back in the laboratory and again away from computer models, the wood type was determined and dated using carbon-14. This wood came from near the great rivers of present-day North America and Siberia. This shows that wind and current directions have changed. The field study of coastal beach ridges shows that at times there were waves breaking unhindered by ice over at least 500km of coastline. At other times, due to sea ice cover, there were no beaches. This is the present situation.
Even if there is a great reduction in sea ice, all is not lost. Funder stated: "Our studies show that there are great natural variations in the amount of Arctic sea ice. The bad news is that there is a clear connection between temperature and the amount of sea ice. And there is no doubt that continued global warming will lead to a reduction in the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. The good news is that even with a reduction to less than 50 per cent of the current amount of sea ice, the ice will not reach a point of no return: a level where the ice no longer can regenerate itself even if the climate was to return to cooler temperatures.
"Finally, our studies show that the changes to a large degree are caused by the effect that temperature has on the prevailing wind systems. This has not been sufficiently taken into account when forecasting the imminent disappearance of the ice, as often portrayed in the media."
Those playing with computer climate models need to get outside, collect new data and take into account far more factors than they feed into computer models.
Studies of the behaviour of tropical glaciers over the last 11,000 years show irregular shrinkage, with slower rates in the Little Ice Age and faster rates in the 20th century. Glaciers such as the Bolivian Telata glacier reflect long-term warming during the current 10,500-year-long interglacial and that glacial retreat was in progress thousands of years before industrialisation.
Scientists urged on by the media state that ice calving off glaciers indicates global warming. Ice always falls off the front of a glacier. If ice did not melt, then the planet would now be covered in ice. Ice drops off the toe of both advancing and retreating glaciers and the melting snout of a glacier is at a point determined by the balance between the forward movement of the ice by gravity and the rate at which it melts. Ice falling off the front of a glacier means absolutely nothing when the air temperature is less than zero. Ice sheets grow and contract. At times, ice sheets disappear. The story of glacial retreat is far more complex than a television image.
Many glaciers that are now in retreat did not exist until the Little Ice Age (which climaxed in the middle to late 17th century). During the medieval warming (which peaked around AD1000), alpine glaciers in the northern hemisphere were smaller or did not exist. Over much of the Canadian Cordillera, there may have been no glaciers at all during the Holocene Maximum (8000 to 6500 years ago), when temperatures were considerably higher than now.
Records from New Zealand and Norway show glacier retreat started in the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of the modern ice retreat is due to post-Little Ice Age warming, changes in humidity and a decrease in ice flow rates.
The idea that a glacier slides downhill on a base lubricated by melt water was a good idea when first presented by Horace-Benedict de Saussure in 1779. We now know a lot more, yet this treasured idea remains. Ice moves by creep, a process of constant recrystallisation of ice crystals. Ice at the snout of a glacier has crystals 1000 times larger than those in snow as a result of growth during recrystallisation.
Ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland first flow uphill before flowing down glaciers. The upward flow of ice cannot be due to human-induced global warming producing melting. There are some places in the world today where glaciers are expanding.
Ice sheets and glaciers grow and retreat for a great diversity of reasons. For scientists to argue that ice retreat is due to human activity is simplifying a very complex process. Furthermore, it is too cold in Antarctica and Greenland for ice to melt.
Since the discovery of the Hubbard Glacier (in Alaska) in 1895, it has been advancing 25m a year during periods of cooling and warming. The ice front is 10km long and 27m high. What does the ice do at the snout of the glacier? It falls off, because it is getting pushed from behind. This has nothing to do with temperature; it shows ice behaves as a plastic and brittle material and that ice sheets are always changing.
As with all areas of science, there are regular surprises. It was always thought that ice formed from frozen snow. The science was settled and there was a consensus. Recent work in East Antarctica shows that the deepest part of the ice sheet contains ice that did not originate as snow. It was melt water that seeped to the base of the ice sheet and then froze. The amount of ice formed by this method is probably greater in volume than all the glaciers on earth outside Antarctica and Greenland. The computer models predicted this melt-water escaped to the oceans and contributed to sea level rise. Wrong. The volume of water in this ice is larger than Antarctica's sub-glacial lakes. The addition of hundreds of metres of ice at the base of an ice sheet bends the overlying ice and causes uplift of the surface of the glacier. This changes the slope and flow of the ice. The thickest sub-glacial ice was 1100m and this pushed the top of glaciers up 410m to reflect the shape of the added basal ice.
Antarctica has another little surprise. Underneath the ice sheets are volcanoes. The last big eruption was in Roman times and Mount Erebus is continually restless. Addition of heat from below could cause massive melting and detachment of a large block of ice.
As snow falls, it traps air. This air is preserved as the snow becomes an ice sheet. This air remains trapped and uncontaminated in ice, otherwise it cannot be used to measure past atmospheres. Antarctic ice core (Siple) shows that there were 330 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the air in 1900; Mauna Loa Hawaiian measurements in 1960 show that the air then had 260ppm carbon dioxide.
Either the ice core data is wrong, the Hawaiian carbon dioxide measurements are wrong, or the atmospheric carbon dioxide content was decreasing during a period of industrialisation.
As in all other areas of science, uncertainty rules.
This is an extract from Ian Plimer's book How to Get Expelled from School: A Guide to Climate Change for Pupils, Parents & Punters.

Friday, December 16, 2011

New paper: Popular method to compare models to observations is 'highly misleading'

From the annals of The Settled Science, a paper published today in Geophysical Research Letters states, "Comparison of [computer] model outputs with observations of the climate system forms an essential component of model assessment and is crucial for building our confidence in model predictions." However, the paper finds that the "methods for undertaking this comparison are not always clearly justified and understood" and that the popular approach of comparing the spread of model outputs to constrained observations can be "highly misleading." Furthermore, the method of comparison recommended by the authors "may lead to very different...conclusions."

Key Points
  • We present an alternative paradigm for ensemble evaluation
  • Previous assessments of CMIP3 ensemble spread may be misleadingly pessimistic
J. D. Annan
Research Institute for Global Change,, Yokohama,, Japan
J. C. Hargreaves
Research Institute for Global Change,, Yokohama,, Japan
K. Tachiiri
Research Institute for Global Change,, Yokohama,, Japan
Comparison of model outputs with observations of the climate system forms an essential component of model assessment and is crucial for building our confidence in model predictions. Methods for undertaking this comparison are not always clearly justified and understood. Here we show that the popular approach of comparing the ensemble spread to a so-called “observationally-constrained pdf” can be highly misleading. Such a comparison will almost certainly result in disagreement, but in reality tells us little about the performance of the ensemble. We present an alternative approach, and show how it may lead to very different, and rather more encouraging, conclusions. We additionally present some necessary conditions for an ensemble (or more generally, a probabilistic prediction) to be challenged by an observation.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Germany's solar power industry is the latest to flop

Solyndra Does Europe 12/16/11

Germany's solar power industry is the latest to flop as subsidies ebb.

This week Solon became the first publicly traded solar-power company to file for bankruptcy in Germany. Despite cost-cutting and a round of last-minute negotiations, the Berlin-based photovoltaic equipment maker can't make its deadline to repay €275 million in loans.

You could call Solon a European version of Solyndra, the California solar-cell maker that filed for bankruptcy in September after blowing through a $535 million loan guaranteed by U.S. taxpayers. But Solon also represents a broader bust in alternative-energy sources that's been more than a decade in the making.

Germany's Northern European climate never made it an obvious boom-site for solar power. Nevertheless, since 1990 Germany has been imposing some form of what are now called "feed-in tariffs"—mandates that force utilities to pay above-market prices for wind, solar and other so-called renewable sources of energy. These guaranteed long-term prices deliver renewable-powered electricity at retail prices 46% above conventional sources, according to research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

For that premium, Germans bought an electricity market that relies on renewable energy for more than 20% of capacity today, compared to 6.3% in 2000. They have installed more solar panels than any other country in the world. Between 2010 and 2011, the number of photovoltaic installations in Germany increased 76%, according to the German Association of Energy and Water Industries.

As the solar glut grew, the government of Angela Merkel decided it wouldn't make Germans subsidize high-cost energy forever. Berlin has been ratcheting down the mandated tariffs for the last few years, and in October it said the price-floor for solar power would drop by 15% in 2012.

Meanwhile, China continues to produce solar cells and other equipment far more cheaply than its European and American competitors—for which it has earned an anti-dumping investigation by the U.S. Commerce Department. Solon's bankruptcy comes after months of job cuts and restructuring talks across the German industry.

The only wonder in all this is why anyone is surprised. Spain offered a gloomy precursor to the Solon bust in 2008, when it reduced its own solar giveaways and saw the industry tank. German solar-cell manufacturer Q-Cells is cutting 250 jobs and said in November it expects its full-year operating loss to come to "hundreds of millions" of euros. The same month Bonn-based SolarWorld announced a 30% revenue drop from the year before and continued to trim jobs.

Over in Britain, solar firms SolarCentury and HomeSun remain in court, trying to force their government to abandon its plans to cut feed-in tariffs. If they succeed, they'll buy themselves a few more years with enough subsidies to keep them off the Solyndra/Solon path. Maybe they'd be better off dropping the lawyers and adopting a business plan that makes profit less dependent on political favor.

The Contrarians Have Better Data

In a letter to the editor published today in the Wall Street Journal, Lord Monckton shoots down Michael Mann's defense of his fraudulent hockey stick graph.

The Contrarians Have Better Data

Prof. Michael E. Mann writes ("Climate Contrarians Ignore Overwhelming Evidence," Letters, Dec. 5) that his 1999 "hockey stick" graph "showed that average temperatures today are higher than they have been for at least the past 1,000 years."

But Mr. Mann's paper only covered the northern hemisphere. It included the questionable use of annual bristlecone-pine tree rings for temperature reconstruction. Even then, it replaced some tree-ring data with estimates. Tree-ring series that showed a 20th-century uptick were given 390 times the weighting of other series, according to a 2005 study by Ross McKitrick, an environmental economist at the University of Guelph. Mr. Mann and his fellow Climategate emailers used what they called "Mann's Nature trick" to "hide" the mismatch between late-20th-century warming and the cooling the tree-rings showed.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mann has often refused to supply programs and data to researchers wishing to verify his work. The 2006 Wegman report for the U.S. House of Representatives showed that many of the papers supporting Mr. Mann's results, which appeared shortly after Mr. McKitrick and his colleague Stephen McIntyre published their exposé of his graph, were written largely by Mr. Mann's associates and co-authors.

The National Academy of Sciences did not, as Mr. Mann says, "affirm" his conclusions, for the data were insufficient. Papers by scientists from all over the world show the medieval warm period that Mr. Mann's work appeared to abolish was real, global and warmer than today.

Mr. Mann's questionable result casts doubt on the scientific standards of the Climategate scientists and the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Lord Christopher Monckton

'Climategate 1 and 2 are textbook cases of gross lapses in professional ethics and scientific malfeasance'

From the National Association of Scholars website:

What’s Going on Behind the Curtain? Climategate 2.0 and Scientific Integrity
Climategate, both 1 and 2, are textbook cases of gross lapses in professional ethics and scientific malfeasance.  To understand why, one must first understand what science is and how it is supposed to operate. Science is the noble pursuit of knowledge through observation, testing and experimentation.  Scientists attempt to explain, describe and/or predict the implications of phenomena through the use of the scientific method.  
The scientific method consists in gaining knowledge or explanatory power through a process.  Progress is made in science by proposing a hypothesis, and developing a theory to explain or understand certain phenomena, and then testing the hypothesis against reality.  A particular hypothesis is considered superior to others when, through testing, it is shown to have more explanatory power than competing theories or hypotheses and when other scientists running the same testing regime can reproduce the results of the original test.  Every theory or hypothesis must be disconfirmable in principle, which means that, if the theory predicts that "A" will occur under certain conditions, but instead, "B" and sometimes "C" result, then the theory has problems.  The more a hypothesis's predictions prove inconsistent with or are diametrically opposed to the results that occur during testing, the less likely the hypothesis is to be correct.
Which brings us to Climategate.  Climategate parts one and two are a series of leaked e-mails from arguably the most prominent researchers promoting the idea that humans are causing catastrophic global warming. The e-mails show the scientists involved to be violating their professional ethics with the result that climate science in particular and science as an institution more generally is brought into question. 
The first group of e-mails released in 2009 showed scientists attempting to suppress or alter inconvenient data, destroying raw data so that others would be unable to analyze it, using tricks to change reported outcomes, conspiring to avoid legally required disclosure of taxpayer-funded data, and trying to suppress dissent by undermining the peer review process.  On the latter point the researchers involved threatened to boycott and get editors fired at journals publishing findings questioning the urgency of the climate crisis. 
Climategate 2 is a second release of e-mails, in November 2011, from the same cabal of scientists exposed in Climategate 1.  There is little new to the revelations—just more hiding data, trying to figure out how to downplay dissent or have papers that would seem to undermine one part or another of anthropogenic global warming theory ignored or discredited. 
To be clear, these e-mails do not disprove that humans are causing potentially catastrophic global warming. Whether or not humans are or are not, in fact, causing or contributing to dangerous climate change, the only thing clear that emerges from the Climategate e-mails is that the scientists claiming that “the science is settled” and that there is “consensus” among scientists that humankind are acting as planet killers, can’t be trusted, nor can their research be pointed to as solid proof of anthropogenic global warming. 
Some examples of the Climategate 2 e-mails will serve to make the point [“< >” show the number of the e-mail and the name of the researcher]:
The following three e-mails show dissent in the climate ranks -- some researchers are concerned that in portraying the current state of climate science in journals, to the press, to politicians and to the general public, lead climate researchers are not being honest and are downplaying significant uncertainty. The concerned researchers note the risk to such a strategy:
<1939> Thorne/MetO
Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical troposphere unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous. We need to communicate the uncertainty and be honest. Phil, hopefully we can find time to discuss these further if necessary [...]
<3066> Thorne:
I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run.
<2884> Wigley:
Mike, The Figure you sent is very deceptive [...] there have been a number of dishonest presentations of model results by individual authors and by IPCC [...]
The next couple of e-mails show researchers putting their political goals before scientific integrity in part by cherry-picking which data to focus on:
<4755> Overpeck:
The trick may be to decide on the main message and use that to guid[e] what’s included and what is left out.
<0170> Jones:
Kevin, Seems that this potential Nature paper may be worth citing, if it does say that GW [global warming] is having an effect on TC [tropical cyclone] activity.
The next bunch of e-mails discuss specific instances wherein global warming has been claimed to be causing a particular climactic change, but in which the data either don’t support human activities as the cause of the change or where the change does not fit the predictions.
<5111> Pollack:
But it will be very difficult to make the MWP [medieval warm period] go away in Greenland.
<1682> Wils:
[2007] What if climate change appears to be just mainly a multidecadal natural fluctuation? They’ll kill us probably [...]
<5315> Jenkins/MetO:
would you agree that there is no convincing evidence for kilimanjaro glacier melt being due to recent warming (let alone man-made warming)?
<2292> Jones:
[tropical glaciers] There is a small problem though with their retreat. They have retreated a lot in the last 20 years yet the MSU2LT data would suggest that temperatures haven’t increased at these levels.
The next few e-mails are interesting because they indicate that critical research, findings that were the cornerstone of the last two IPCC reports, while being defended against critics in public, were, in fact, considered to be unsupportable, indicative of shoddy work, in private.
<4693> Crowley:
I am not convinced that the “truth” is always worth reaching if it is at the cost of damaged personal relationships
I’m sure you agree–the Mann/Jones GRL paper was truly pathetic and should never have been published. I don’t want to be associated with that 2000 year “reconstruction”.
<4369> Cook:
I am afraid that Mike is defending something that increasingly cannot be defended. He is investing too much personal stuff in this and not letting the science move ahead.
<0850> Barnett:
[IPCC AR5 models] clearly, some tuning or very good luck involved.  I doubt the modeling world will be able to get away with this much longer
<4443> Jones:
Basic problem is that all models are wrong – not got enough middle and low level clouds.
Finally, some e-mails detailing leading climate scientists’ efforts to prevent the release of their raw data and/or methodologies for critical review.
<2440> Jones:
I’ve been told that IPCC is above national FOI Acts. One way to cover yourself and all those working in AR5 would be to delete all emails at the end of the process
<1577> Jones:
[FOI, temperature data]
Any work we have done in the past is done on the back of the research grants we get – and has to be well hidden. I’ve discussed this with the main funder (US Dept of Energy) in the past and they are happy about not releasing the original 
station data
While all of these e-mails paint a troubling betrayal of the scientific method, the last two are particularly troubling to me. The pursuit of knowledge through science can’t proceed if scientists refuse to share data and methods.  In defense of their refusal to share data, suppress its release or even destroy it, climate scientists have claimed that because those asking for the data are skeptics, they will only use the data to try and undermine their results.  So what?  Either the data and methods stand up to scrutiny and the results are robust or they are not. Either way, the skeptics have done the world a service.  If the skeptics’ attempts to recreate the results end up confirming the results, then the findings are on more solid ground and the public can lend the work greater credence.  If, on the other hand, skeptics do find flaws in the data, methods or results, then from the point of view of knowledge, the world is still better off.  Rather than continuing down a blind path, or worse, making policy based on flawed research, scientists can reassess where the original research went wrong and determine if it can be corrected or if an entirely new hypothesis, or research methodology, is called for.
The term skeptic has historically been a badge of honor proudly worn by scientists as indicating their commitment to the idea that in the pursuit of truth, nothing is beyond question, every bit of knowledge is open to improvement and/or refutation as new evidence or better theories emerge.  However, in the topsy-turvy field of climate science, “skeptic” is a term of opprobrium and to be labeled a skeptic is akin to being a heretic in the Middle Ages – you may not be literally burned at the stake, but your reputation will be put to flames.  

The Climategate scientists continue to claim that the actions disclosed are not bad as they seem and that nothing contained in the e-mails is really important. But this is like the Wizard of Oz saying “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” when in fact the real action is going on behind the curtain. 
Dr. H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, a non-partisan, non-profit research institute based in Dallas, TX. His Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University is in Applied Philosophy and he specialized in Environmental Ethics.