|The Week That Was
May 8, 2004
1. New on the Web: WILL WE RUN OUT OF OIL SOON? NOT LIKELY, says the article by Mike Fumento and SEPP comments.
2. THE ONGOING DEBATE ABOUT SATELLITE TEMPERATURE DATA; PART 1
3. THE SCENARIOS BEHIND CLIMATE CHANGE FORECASTS ARE FULL OF HOT AIR
4. EUROPEAN ENERGY NEWS
5. SUPER PLANTS COULD CLEAN TOXIC SITES:
6. SEQUESTERING CARBON THROUGH AGRICULTURAL SOILS - ANOTHER BOONDOGGLE?
8. And finally, WILL ANTARCTICA SOON BE THE ONLY PLACE TO LIVE?
More than a decade ago, Roy Spencer and John Christy realized that the data from the microwave-sounding unit (MSU) on weather satellites could be used to measure long-term temperature trends of the Earth's atmosphere. Their analysis produced surprisingly low values since 1979 - at first, a slightly negative and, more recently, a slightly positive trend for the troposphere. These MSU results derived by the University of Alabama (Huntsville) group are in good agreement with independently derived trends from radiosondes carried in weather balloons.
Their results have caused - and continue to cause -- great consternation among supporters of the greenhouse-warming hypothesis. For not only do the MSU-UAH trends disagree with the warming trend shown by (global mean) surface data (from weather stations and from sea surface temperatures --- SST), but they also contradict the GH models -- all of which show the troposphere warming more rapidly than the surface. The disparity in the three data sets (surface, radiosondes, MSU-UAH) has been confirmed by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, whose report (Jan 2000), however, provides no explanation for the disparity.
Not surprisingly, the satellite data have been scrutinized extensively and attacked - but without success so far. We shall briefly review the history and current status:
1. The IPCC Summaries for Policymakers (1996 and 2001) simply ignore the inconvenient absence of any pronounced warming trend in the satellite and radiosonde data, and so do many other reports that misleadingly refer to the "warming of the 20th century" (without explaining that it refers to the pre-1940 warming) or, sometimes, to a "warming in the past few decades."
2. Another approach has been to claim that the satellite record is too short to derive reliable trend values. This is clearly disingenuous since one compares to a surface warming record of the same length. Besides, now that we have a quarter-century of satellite data (since Nov 1978), this excuse is beginning to lose its force.
3. Another approach has been to regard the satellite trends as sound and to look for physical explanations of the disparity: Long-term changes in the near-surface boundary layer or in the atmospheric lapse rate; the effects of volcanoes and El Ninos; time delays introduced by the large heat capacity of the oceans. None of these seem to work.
4. There have also been direct attacks on the methodology used by the UAH group in analyzing the satellite MSU data. The earliest, by Hurrell and Trenberth, pointed to the lack of sufficient overlap between some of the 11 satellites used to obtain the 25-year record. This approach has been updated in a completely original analysis of the MSU data by the Remote Sensing Services (RSS) group [Mears, Schabel, and Wentz 2003]. The response by UAH has been a detailed comparison with balloon radiosonde results, showing support for the UAH trends but not for RSS [Christy and Norris 2004]. There has not been time yet for a response from RSS.
5. A successful criticism of the UAH analysis was published earlier by Wentz and Schabel; they pointed out that the decay of the satellite orbit would introduce a spurious cooling effect in the UAH value for the lower troposphere. This critique was accepted by Christy and Spencer who then corrected their analysis further to take account also of the satellite drift in the local time of equatorial crossings. This introduces a cooling that largely canceled the RSS warming effect - producing little net change in the reported UAH trends.
6. The latest attack on the UAH trend results comes from a different direction. The MSU Channel-2 measures a weighted average temperature of the atmosphere below. While mostly troposphere, it also includes a small contribution from the stratosphere, which has shown a cooling trend. Thus, if the stratospheric contribution were eliminated, one would see a tropospheric warming trend. How large would it be? Spencer and Christy have tried to minimize the stratosphere by a technique that compares the readings for different viewing angles - a technique first suggested to obtain the vertical distribution of ozone from a satellite. Their differencing technique introduces some noise and is also sensitive to (and requires correction for) decay in the satellite orbital altitude.
Therefore, Fu et al  have applied what seems like a more straightforward approach - namely, a direct subtraction of the stratospheric contribution by using the data for MSU Channel-4. Their just-published result claims a tropospheric warming trend similar to the surface trend and not too far removed from what models would predict.
There has been an immediate response from Spencer and Christy, who point out that they tried this technique in 1992 but that it gave erroneous results. In essence, they claim, it introduces a spurious warming. They suggest that the Fu paper is in error and should not have been published. Fu has not yet replied in detail but claims his method is OK.
As an independent observer, a senior colleague of Fu at the University of Washington, John Michael Wallace, thinks that Fu's approach seems reasonable, but that the debate won't be settled until all the scientists involved have time to hash out the data and the methods. "I won't profess to claim the verdict is in yet," he said.
Spencer, R.W., and J.R. Christy, 1992: Precision and radiosonde validation of satellite gridpoint temperature anomalies, Part II: A tropospheric retrieval and trends during 1979-90. J. Climate, 5, 858-866.
Christy, J.R, Spencer, R.W., 2003.Reliability of Satellite Data Sets, Science, 301, 1046-1047.
Christy, J. R., and W. B. Norris, 2004: What may we conclude about global tropospheric temperature trends? Geophysical Research Letters, 31, L06211, doi:10.1029/2003GL019361.
Spencer, R.W., and J.R. Christy, 1990. Precise monitoring of global temperature trends from satellites. Science, 247, 1558-1562.
Christy, J.R., Spencer, R.W., Braswell, W.D., 2000. MSU tropospheric temperatures: Dataset construction and radiosonde comparisons. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, 17, 1153-1170.
Christy J. R. et al., 2003: Error estimates of version 5.0 of MSU-AMSU bulk atmospheric temperatures, Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, 20, 613-629.
Wentz, F.J., and M. Schabel, 1998, Effects of orbital decay on satellite-derived lower-tropospheric temperature trends, Nature, 384, 661-664.
Mears, C. A., M. C. Schabel, and F. J. Wentz, 2003: A reanalysis of the MSU channel 2 tropospheric temperature record, Journal of Climate, 16, 3650-3664.
R. Kerr, Science, Vol. 304, Issue 5672, 805-807, 7 May 2004
HOW would you react if fellow members of your profession were violating
good practices of that discipline? What if the same people had massive
amounts of taxpayers' money to develop flawed ideas, and wielded influence
over public policies? Most people would be appalled. Yet this is exactly
what is happening with the climate scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body charged with advising governments
on the causes and consequences of climate change, which met in Geneva
last week. The IPCC has received much attention for its projections, which
suggest that the earth's climate will warm by anywhere between 1.4C and
5.8C in the next century. These projections are largely based on scenarios
about how people will use energy in the future, which in turn determine
future emissions of greenhouse gases. These scenarios are developed by
economists (not climate scientists, as many are led to believe by misleading
press releases issued by the IPCC).
Others have criticised the SRES methodology and practices. John Reilly of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change calls the SRES approach an "insult to science". Reilly suspects that the scenario teams started with an emissions projection, estimated the relationship between emissions and growth, and finally calculated the growth rate needed to achieve the desired emissions projection. Ian Castles, former president of the International Association of Official Statistics, and David Henderson, former chief economist of the OECD, have criticised the SRES for using market exchange rates instead of purchasing-power parity. This results in models that overestimate future growth rates in poor countries. Some of the SRES scenarios produce a world economy, which, by 2100, is up to 25 times larger than it is today. Few would complain if this happens, but history suggests that it won't. Since 1975, world GDP growth per capita has averaged 1.2pc annually, a rate that would produce a figure 3.7 times today's GDP per head by 2100. Even if world population doubles (a high estimate), the global economy would be only 7.4 times larger than at the base year (1990).
With such sloppy practices, ignoring historical data and trends, and
turning scenarios into forecasts, the SRES has misled the public and policy
makers. This is serious because the results are being used as a basis
for policies to regulate energy consumption - of which the Kyoto Protocol
is the most obvious - that will cost billions of dollars and harm economic
growth. Worse still, there is no proof they will have any measurable effect
on the world's climate.
The Czech Republic plans to expand nuclear energy, a victory of wisdom over ideology, acc to industry minister Milan. [Contrast this to neighboring Germany and Austria. In Germany, industry has seen a 27% increase in electric rates since 2000]
Ukraine replaces 10 decommissioned Chernobyl-type rectors with advance pressurized-water reactors.
The 9th shipment of vitrified nuclear waste from Japanese rectors is shipped by COGEMA from Cherbourg (France) for final storage in Japan
The scientific advisory panel of the German ministry of economics and
labor recommends abolition of the law requiring renewable energy (EEG).
Greenpeace accuses the panel of fraud, claiming that climate protection
is impossible without EEG.
Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed genetically
modified plants that could help clean contaminated soil at toxic sites.
Newsday reports that the researchers began with a strain of bacteria that
degrades toluene and tricholoroethylene into carbon dioxide and water.
The researchers were able to transfer the genetic mechanism responsible
for the process from this bacterial strain into similar bacteria that
normally live within certain plants. In a successful trial, modified poplar
trees were able to halt the spread of contaminated groundwater at a site
in northern Belgium. The research team is currently looking at other plants
and chemicals that can be used for similar efforts.
The Economic Research Service of US Department of Agriculture has just
published a report, Economics of Sequestering Carbon in the U.S. Agricultural
The report analyzes the performance of alternative incentive designs and payment levels if US farmers were paid to adopt land uses and management practices that raise soil carbon levels. At payment levels below $10 per metric ton for permanently sequestered carbon, the model predicts landowners would find it cost-effective to adopt changes in rotations and tillage practices, but none of the potential land use changes. At higher payment levels, afforestation dominates sequestration activities, mostly through conversion of pastureland. The model predicted converting cropland to grassland was not competitive up through a $125 carbon price, in part because conversion to afforestation (where feasible) was more profitable - with its higher sequestration rate per acre. Across payment levels, the economic potential to sequester carbon is lower than the technical potential reported in soil science studies.
The most cost-effective payment design adjusts payment levels to account
both for the length of time farmers are willing to commit to sequestration
activities and for net sequestration. A 50-percent cost-share for cropland
conversion to forestry or grasslands would increase sequestration at low
carbon payment levels but not at high payment levels.
REACH as Model for California Toxic Laws: California Assemblyman John
Laird (D) and State Senator Byron Sher (D), chairmen of the environment
committees in their respective chambers, are looking to the proposed European
chemical regulatory regime as a possible model for overhauling state regulations.
The legislators have asked the University of California to undertake a
review of the REACH program as part of a look into alternatives to current