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Leaf lines

Nature News has a report of a possible new way of reconstructing past climates - measuring the density of veins in fossil leaves.

Benjamin Blonder, an ecologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson working with Brian Enquist, assumed that were many factors affecting vein density, but he set out to make a model that would capture as much of the variation as possible. He collected leaves from about 65 species from temperate North America. His preliminary models suggest that vein density can predict with a surprising degree of accuracy climatic factors temperature and precipitation.


Another confounding factor?

This is a week or so old now, but this Mother Jones article looks at a new paper which reports the effect of livestock on tree rings. The study is focused on birch, so it's not directly relevant to the paleo studies, but the McIntyre and McKitrick paper in E&E in 2005 discussed the possibility of the introduction of livestock having brought about the twentieth century spike in bristlecone growth that underpins the hockey-stick shape of so many of the millennial temperature reconstructions.

Interestingly, the new paper's conclusion is that livestock can reduce tree ring widths by a factor of three or so, but according to the press release, "past densities of herbivores can be estimated from historic records, and from the fossilised remains of spores from fungi that live on dung". In other words, you can control for the effect. As the paper's authors say in their press release:

This study does not mean that using tree rings to infer past climate is flawed as we can still see the effect of temperatures on the rings, and in lowland regions tree rings are less likely to have been affected by herbivores because they can grow out of reach faster.

Somebody needs to repeat this study on the bristlecones.


ATI responds

The American Tradition Institute has issued a response to the letter from the Union of Concerned Scientists to the University of Virginia calling for information to be withheld.

The groups appeal to lesser authorities such as a state advisory board and — amazingly — a Washington Post editorial, as opposed to what the FOIA law clearly says, as justification to toss aside our agreement with the university.

Full story at WUWT.


Climate cuttings 58

There has been a sudden flurry of articles on climate today, which I dutifully round up for you now.

Concerned scientists writing to protest at the various attempts to get hold of Michael Mann's emails is a story we have heard before, but another missive has been made public today, with the AGU and others telling the university of Virginia that they are worried that personal letters may be disclosed unnecessarily. UVa is due to respond to the American Tradition Institute's FOI request on 20 August.

Fans of the use and abuse of statistical significance in the temperature records will want to read the latest paper by Mahlstein et al, (co-authors include the IPCC's own Susan Solomon). It is claimed that significant warming of the Earth will be seen first in the tropics.

The Grantham Institute has published a paper on uncertainty in science, with the focus on climate.

Renewables are booming according to the TPM website. In England glazing businesses are doing well too.

Ars Technica takes a pop at Roy Spencer and his recent, much-discussed paper.

A new paper examines what might happen if aerosols are pumped into clouds. The conclusion is that they will reflect more light apparently.

And lastly, Jeremy Grantham says we're in trouble. Big trouble. Surprising, eh?


Zorita interview

Hans von Storch and a colleague interview with Eduardo Zorita at the University of Hamburg website. Zorita has some interesting things to say about climate models:

What would be your advice for young researchers who want to work on climate simulations?
Climate modelling is a quite broad and complex area. In my opinion, there are two dangers that a student should avoid. One is to get stuck in a daily routine of programming and launching simulations, and slowly forgetting that simulations are performed to answer some previous question. This question should be the main driver of the work, the model is just a tool. Climate models are nowadays so complex and require so much technical attention that it is easy to get off the track. The second danger is to fall in love with your model and lose sight of the real observations out there. Models are in this sense dangerous and climate models even more so.

I was also interested in his ideas for where some money should get spent.

What would you do with an additional million Euros for your research?
A million euros is nowadays not much. But to answer your question I would setup a project to understand the behavior of tropical clouds in the Late Maunder Minimum, at the height of the Little Ice Age 300 years ago, from proxy records and model simulations. This could give us hints about cloud cover changes in climates a bit different from the present and thus help us say something about the future climate change.


Green desperation

A task force set up by President Obama has reported that fracking for shale gas presents serious environmental risks (as if they would say anything else).

The report underscores differences in public perception of the potential consequences of gas fracking. Industry advocates say the technique hasn’t caused a major incident for more than 60 years, though current techniques were introduced less than a decade ago. Opponents cite failures and accidents that result in tainting drinking water.

If the worst that has happened in 60 years is occasional tainted drinking water, it looks like a pretty benign technology to me.



Timmy on the RCPs

Tim Worstall has picked up on the IPCC emissions scenarios (RPCs) and has an article up at Forbes.


How representative?

While most of the Climategate disclosures concerned tree ring studies, one of the questions still to be answered is why so many of the emails selected for release were about SRES - the IPCC's estimates of how different things that affect the climate, including carbon dioxide, will vary in the future.

Now, via Richard Betts' Twitter feed comes news of the IPCC's latest version of these emissions scenarios, with a snazzy new name: the Representative Concentration Pathways. There is a paper describing how they were put together here.

I've only taken a quick glance, but I'm struck by how much carbon capture is predicted in some of the RCPs. Is this realistic? I thought CCS was something of an unproven technology.



Shrinking trees

Anthony Watts has a must-read story about the discovery of yet another confounding factor in the science of dendroclimatology.


Green spouts on drought

Duncan Green is head of research at Oxfam GB and has written an article exploring the question of whether the drought in the Horn of Africa is caused by climate change. The article is here and an edited version appears at the Guardian. I'm sure that comment will be freer at Mr Green's place.

Green presents evidence to support the idea that the drought in the Horn of Africa is global warming in action: anecdotal evidence from the locals and increases in surface temperatures. He also notes rather more importantly that the rainfall records are ambiguous.

Click to read more ...


Climate cuttings 57

It's all a bit quiet on the climate front at the moment, but there are one or two little snippets that might interest readers.

Interest in the last couple of days has focused on the Guardian's involvement in phone hacking. David Leigh tweets that he didn't make a habit of it. I've asked him how often he did so.

Green grandstanding by European politicians looks as if is going to have consequences. Bayer are telling the German government that they are feeling the strain and hinting that they may make investments elsewhere.

Twelve protected golden eagles were killed by a windfarm in California:

"Wind farms have been killing birds for decades and law enforcement has done nothing about it, so this investigation is long overdue," said Shawn Smallwood, an expert on raptor ecology and wind farms. "It's going to ruffle wind industry feathers across the country."

No doubt government subsidies to the windfarms will be increased to cover the government fines that will now be levied.

Uber-warmist Tim Flannery's calls for owners of seafront property to be worried about sea-level rise are looking fairly hollow with the revelation that Flannery has bought not one but two properties in the tidal reaches of the Hawkesbury river.

The disgraced former minister David Laws is being tipped for a return to politics, replacing Chris Huhne as Energy and Climate Change minister. The latter is facing the possibility of serving jail time for (alleged) perversion of the course of justice.


More on phone hackers

It's always interesting when someone you have met is in the news, particularly if it is in relation to a major scandal. We have discussed the links between UEA's media management team and the phone hackers, but another odd connection between Climategate and illegal accessing of voicemails has recently emerged.

Click to read more ...


Mashive attack

John Mashey and friend have been given space in the Chronicle of Higher Education to respond to Peter Wood's articles about Mashey's antics.


More pointed questioning of AGW

H/T Messenger for this podcast by Professor Murray Salby of Macquarie University. Salby looks to be pretty mainstream, having published with Susan Solomon and Martin Juckes among others. The message appears to be that much of the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide may be natural and caused by non-anthropogenic warming.

Andrew Bolt summarises the talk here, noting Salby's comments that anyone who thinks global warming science is settled is "living in Fantasia".



Ben Pile on Steve Jones

Ben Pile at Climate Resistance has written a long and typically erudite post about the watermelon hypothesis of environmentalism. Steve Jones is discussed at length.