Click images for more details



Recent comments
Recent posts
Currently discussing

A few sites I've stumbled across recently....

Powered by Squarespace

Discussion > Are Geological Paleo-Climate Records Relevant to The Climate Debate?

I don't see any numbers in the paper 'On the electrodynamics of moving bodies' by a certain A. Einstein.

Science is about ideas, hypotheses and theories as descriptions of the natural world. We might use quantitiative measurements to evaluate, and more specifically test these, or to refine our measurements of fundamental physical constants etc. There is also a role for both quantitative and qualitative observations.

The debate in this discussion is broadly about the quality of the 'numbers' we put to palaeoclimate data and notably to an arithmetic average that some call the global temperature. I don't think this can be done with any confidence as to accuracy and certainly precision. None of the proxies used has a simple transfer function between observed value and temperature be it tree ring width or density, isotopic composition, pollen populations, mutual climatic range (MCR) techniques, varve sediment thickness or grey scale etc.

Quoting such numbers and averages of studies to a sub degree precision cloaks ones ideas in a specious accuracy and lends a degree of false authority. At best we can say that estimates of temperature transitions, both changes and rates of change, are consistent with this idea or that idea. None of the studies to date, wether single proxy or multi-proxy compilations and averages are of sufficient temporal or temperature resolution to provide definitive tests of hypotheses.

I maintain we still lack any real quantitative comprehension of the variability of the natural climate. EM has cited the GISP 2 ice core record above. I don't agree with the appending of a 'global' temperature anomaly on the right hand ordinate axis of the graph. There is almost certainly not a 1:1 co-variation between this number and the local air temperature in Greenland. However, what this plot does show are 9 or 10 rapid, large changes in isotope composition and by inference local air temperature. The variability is on a scale similar to the present warming. Let's not debase the argument by suggesting that three months of temperatures in 2016 on the back of an El-Nino show global temperatures to be greater than any recorded in this graph. It's not possible to make a direct comparison. The key point is the plot shows a very variable local climate that we don't fully understand.

Before anyone takes this position statement above as that I don't accept that the climate has warmed by approximately 1K over the past century or so, or that I am a global warming 'denier', or that I am some crackpot 'sky dragon' let me disabuse them of this notion straight away. Heaven forbid, I probably even come within Cook et al,s 97% I am merely pointing out that our present level of sophistication in terms of making estimates of past climatic variability is still at an early stage and we don't have the necessary data to use, for example, palaeodata to make any strong inference about climate sensitivity.

We've been here many times over the past few weeks and the debate is now sterile as far as I'm concerned.

Apr 18, 2016 at 12:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

Entropic man: and this is where we came in… For the Roman Warm Period (RWP) to be labelled such indicates that there have been identified a cooler period before that and a cooler period after that. This has to indicate that there were positive and negative imbalances over those periods. What the average imbalance might have been in any few selected decades within those periods can probably never be determined, as we do not have the data for that, and there is a high probability that we never will get that data – the best that we can do is try to determine this is to try and derive it “from educated guesswork based on limited data from centuries ago.” Surely, even you have to accept that establishing measurements and changes to the degree of accuracy that is still not fully accepted with present-day instrumentation for these historical periods is just not possible. All we can do is accept that changes occurred, and, within those changes, there might have been some variability that we are witnessing today; for, sure as eggs is eggs, what we are witnessing today in the natural world will almost certainly have happened before, at some time in the past.

Apr 18, 2016 at 12:14 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Water and ducks' backs have commonly come to mind when reading this thread.

It also seems to have strayed so very far from its original concept and well beyond its shelf life.

Dung you inadvertently created a multi-headed monster with recuperative powers.

Apr 18, 2016 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

Actually, Mr D has said it so much better than I could.

Apr 18, 2016 at 12:23 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

1) An Alaskan village which is threatened by a combination of reduced sea ice and increasing sea levels.

Apr 18, 2016 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

EM - if you believe what you read in the Gaurdian you will believe anything. That story was made up by a Gaurdian reporter. The reality was as follows:

...the villagers didn’t choose to live there, they were forced to by the Alaskan government, they were refugees back in 1959:

The Yup’iks, who had lived in these parts of Alaska for hundreds of years, had traditionally used the area around present-day Newtok as a seasonal stopping-off place, convenient for late summer berry picking.

Even then, their preferred encampment, when they passed through the area, was a cluster of sod houses called Kayalavik, some miles further up river. But over the years, the authorities began pushing native Alaskans to settle in fixed locations and to send their children to school.

It was difficult for supply barges to manoeuvre as far up river as Kayalavik. After 1959, when Alaska became a state, the new authorities ordered villagers to move to a more convenient docking point. .... an island surrounded by running rivers on all sides...

Your quoting rubbish from the Graun is like quoting stuff from the Church Times to convince an atheist of the existence of the sky fairy. Quoting nothing at all is more convincing than rubbish from the Graun.

Apr 18, 2016 at 1:33 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

As for loss of sea-ice in the Arctic, why not look at page 61 of this pdf of NOAA Climate Assessment 1981-1990, and ask yourself, “Why are present-day records of sea-ice starting in 1979, not 1974?” What were conditions like, then, for the Alaskan village of Kivalina? (Note: they are not worried about rising sea-levels in the report, but of storm waves unrestrained by the ice.)

Do not trust NOAA? Perhaps you might prefer page 224 of this IPCC report.

Of course, you could always dismiss these as being out-of-date, but…. There you go.

Apr 18, 2016 at 1:45 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Next, you will be blaming me for not understanding what you wrote.

Hmmm, no there are other possibilities.

And that is precisely the sort of response I expected. You really do not understand irony, yourself, do you?

Apr 18, 2016 at 2:01 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

I think I do understand irony pretty well. I was going to respond further, but I've used up my "insulted by anonymous rodent on the internet" quota.

Apr 18, 2016 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered Commenter...and Then There's Physics

Martin A

I never thought I would hear such soft wooly nonsense from an engineer!

Science and engineering are all about numbers. Anecdote has a small place. Much more useful are measurements. In the more complex sciences, where some uncertainty is unavoidable one uses statistical methods to measure the uncertainty.

Apr 18, 2016 at 11:40 AM Entropic man

EM - A couple of questions:

[A] What do rigorous calculations from inapplicable assumptions produce?
[B] What do rigorous calculations from dubious assumptions produce?

[A] Complete rubbish with an unfortunate tendency to be regarded as having validity.
[B] Conclusions that are very unlikely to be valid but may be accepted uncritically as such.

You have yourself admitted your bewilderment that people are not convinced when you come up with a calculation that apparently makes your point.

I think you have a blind spot (nerdism syndrome?) that prevents you from seeing that, for human beings,
- basic sanity checks
- basic smell tests
- doubts about the trustworthiness of the purveyor
- observation that previous assertions have turned out to be wrong
- noting that that calculations are simplistic relative to the complexity of the subject
all outweigh any quantity of rigorous calculations.

I hope you do not advocate that civil engineers judge the strength of bridges by showing passers by a drawing and asking "Do you think that is strong enough?"

Well I'd hope they'd say, ok the strength computations look fine. Now let's brainstorm what might we have overlooked...

Both the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the Millenium Bridge were the subject of careful and no doubt correct strength calculations but some of the assumptions about dynamics were wrong.

One of my heroes* wrote "The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers". Science and engineering most definitely are NOT "all about numbers".

* Richard Hamming, originator of the Hamming window: w(t) = [0.54 + 0.46 cos(2 π t/T)].

Apr 18, 2016 at 2:20 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Martin A :

EM - if you believe what you read in the Gaurdian you will believe anything.

Um, EM's link was to an article by Chris Mooney in the Washington Post, writing about Kivalina, your Guardian extract was from an article about the settlement of Newtok, 600km to the South.

Wrong town, wrong paper. Impressive even for BH.

Apr 18, 2016 at 2:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

"insulted by anonymous rodent on the internet"

Psychological projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unpleasant impulses by denying their existence while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It can take the form of blame shifting.

Apr 18, 2016 at 2:41 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

…I've used up my "insulted by anonymous rodent on the internet" quota.
But still you feel the need to respond… Is this because you have to have the last word? My name is my name; I am only anonymous in that I am unknown, personally, to you and others on this site; others know me very well. At least I do not try to create anonymity by ascribing to myself a rather pompous phrase. Out of interest, I Googled my name: the results are interesting, but nothing I found has anything at all to do with me; more is the shame, as I wish I could get involved with my cousins down under – hang… erm… 20, dudes!

Kinda harsh, there, MA…

Apr 18, 2016 at 3:00 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

The curious thing is, Phil Clarke, that the situation at Newtok more closely fits with Entropic man’s vision than the village story in the Washington Post that he actually linked to. Perhaps Martin A is not the one who is confused, here. Native Alaskans have long been a nomadic people, forced to wander by the unrelenting hostility of the polar regions; surely, they should have no qualms about moving to a more secure site? It is curious how the article reveals their desperation: “The closest town of any size, the closest doctor, gas station, or paved road, is almost 100 miles away.” Would you prefer that they reverted to their ancestral life, when there was no access to other towns of any size, doctors, gas stations or paved roads, as these did not exist?

Perhaps we should assure Sabrina that one of the things about nightmares is that they so often do not come true; for her to be forced onto the roof of the school in 2017 by sea-level rise would need a rise of a little over 1.5 metres per year from the date of that article – or more than 6 metres within the next year. As even Entropic man can only come up with a rise of 15mm per year, Sabrina should be safe for the next 400 years. However, as the “Spring break-up will soon restore the Ninglick River to its full violent force,” perhaps you should not ascribe what is obviously a known recurrent, and natural, problem to human causes.

Actually, it’s even worse:

The Ninglick River coils around Newtok on three sides before emptying into the Bering Sea. It has steadily been eating away at the land, carrying off 100ft or more some years, in a process moving at unusual speed because of climate change.
So, erosion is now caused by climate change? Who knew?

Mind you, it is a socialistic Utopia; it would appear that the villagers have been taught to stay where they are until the government can come up with a solution. No hint that they could, perhaps, you know, move themselves across to more stable land? No – the state will do all their thinking for them.

Apr 18, 2016 at 3:28 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

"GISS passed 0.65C in 2011
and after three months 2016 averages 1.25C. I am afraid that we passed beyond historical temperatures and the Holocene Optimum."

The Mickey Mouse science continues, unabated. However, who decides what "temperature" (really no more than a poorly-designed global index) is the "Optimum"? I believe that there are millions of times more beetles living on Earth than there are human beings? Have their views been consulted? Who speaks for the bacteria?

Apr 18, 2016 at 4:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Perhaps we should assure Sabrina that one of the things about nightmares is that they so often do not come true; for her to be forced onto the roof of the school in 2017 by sea-level rise would need a rise of a little over 1.5 metres per year from the date of that article – or more than 6 metres within the next year.

Newtok's problems are more due to melting ice and permafrost and increased erosion rates than sea level rise.

A few feet beneath Alaska’s tundra lies a layer of frozen soil called permafrost. Until recent years, this icy soil has remained frozen, providing a foundation for buildings and a sturdy buffer against the sea.

But Alaska’s climate is getting hotter—and quickly. During the past 50 years, the state has warmed at more than twice the rate of the rest of the United States. Now the permafrost is melting. The foundation under Newtok is crumbling, as are the village’s buildings. The old school and the community hall have buckled and started to sink into the muddy earth.

Apr 18, 2016 at 4:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Wrong town, wrong paper. Impressive even for BH.
Apr 18, 2016 at 2:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Phil, yes, thanks for pointing that out. I got the two 'baked Alaska' stories mixed up.

But, easy enough to do. Once you have heard one and how it turns out to have been fabricated, you don't need to hear a lot more of the same before you get the picture and they merge together into a single blur.

In your role as EM's yap dog, maybe you might care to point out to him that regurgitating whatever climate scare story it might be, whether it is emaciated polar bears , "Miami beach spending $300M on pumps becasue it might otherwise revert to the mangrove swamp it was 100 years ago", or whatever) if we have heard it one single time, after that it's just a reason to yawn. No doubt they reinforce EM's nightmares and keep him awake but the rest of us have heard it before and it is not going to to convince anybopdy of anything (other than EM's ability to copy/paste stuff he found on SkS ).

Apr 18, 2016 at 4:24 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Alan Kendall

The thread is also running slow, at least on my tablet. Time to call it a day?

Apr 18, 2016 at 4:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Martin A, the 'save the polar bear industry' is very weightest. Like the human fashion industry, they only like skinny models. Polar Bears needing beachwear larger than a Size 10, are not good for magazines trying to set fashion trends for their needy readerships. Their photographs don't 'sell' the right image of what the average polar bear actually looks like.

Even now, there are some members of the Green Blob, who don't know what a healthy polar bear looks like.

Apr 18, 2016 at 4:43 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Except the stories are far from fabricated, Alaska is warming fast, permafrost and sea ice are melting - undermining previously solid foundations, accelerating erosion rates and reducing protection from storms.

Of course you are entitled to your opinion as to the credibility of the Guardian/Washington Post's journalism (though you could give your own a boost by getting the right one before you smear), but apparently the US Army Corps of Engineers are also part of the scam...

Apr 18, 2016 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

PC (Apr 18, 2016 at 4:06 PM): so, it has nothing to do with rising sea-levels, then. Wh’oda thunk it? Newtok appears to be on an alluvial plain, which is very prone to erosion – indeed, it is a problem that they have been aware of since its installation, and there are already plans afoot to move the village to a new location – Mertarvik. Presumably, this will have been planned with a longer-term future in mind. Permafrost will be a boon for planning to build on an alluvial plain, though, making it so much easier to establish firm foundations, though heat from the houses can cause the permafrost to melt, not just global warming. Presumably Mertarvik has easier access to rock for foundations.

Of course, Alaska has not always been covered in ice – there have been trees there.

Apr 18, 2016 at 5:10 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent


"Over the 5000 years before 1850 there was a 1C cooling. That is 0.02C/ century and a cooling imbalance of 0.02W/^2"

Paleoclimate asked you :- Please provide the data you rely on to support the cooling imbalance you quote above assertion.
but you never responded to his request.

I am not a scientist, much less a climate scientist, but I understand that at the top of the atmosphere the sun's radiation level is 1376 watts/ sq meter. Now my maths is just about up to working out that an imbalance of 0.02 watts/ sq meter is a variation of the order of 0.0015%. My question is how is a variation this miniscule can be validated for a period of 5000 years in the past? O r is it reverse engineered from the temperature reconstruction which you quote and which I understand from following this blog discussion is derived from proxies which are nowhere near precise enough to be robust enough tosupport the assertion about such a tiny imbalance.

Apr 18, 2016 at 5:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterGlebekinvara


I got my numbers from Marcott et al(2013).

Paleoclimate denies the paper's validity. Why waste time linking him to evidence that his cognitive dissonance will reject out of hand?

Apr 18, 2016 at 5:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Radical Rodent, you have linked to news items about events that happened before the US Army Corp of Engineers existed in Alaska.

As an advocate of climate science, Phil Clarke believes he is entitled to ignore history and science that goes against the Flat Line of climate history, as proven by Mann's Hockey Stick.

Apr 18, 2016 at 5:39 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

That's an interesting article on two thousand year old Arctic trees....

At the end of the last glacial maximum, (the time at which glaciers were at their largest and most extended, about 20,000 years ago) before Southeast Alaska became the verdant place it is today, vegetation would have been more tundra-like, Connor said. The trees currently beneath the Mendenhall, however, shouldn’t differ significantly from those that grow around the glacier today.

Apr 18, 2016 at 5:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Paul Dennis

Marcott et al (2013) is the first paleoclimate paper I recall in which statistical methods were used to quantify the uncertainties in the temperature ensemble. They even discussed the increase in uncertainty as the number of proxies reduced in the most recent period.

Why are other geologists so reluctant to use statistical methods in paleoclimate studies?

Apr 18, 2016 at 5:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man