Did global warming stop after 1998?

Anyone who has an interest in exploring patterns in global temperature should take a look  around WoodForTrees.org. Paul Clark, a British software developer and “practically-oriented environmentalist and conservationist” has developed an online interface that allows anyone to go examine basic longterm trends in climate time series data (including the HADCRUT3 / GISTEMP Global Temperature & HADSST2 Sea Surface Temperature, along with sunspot activity and CO2 datasets).

The interface is incredibly intuitive, and allows a variety of transformations, averaging and trend estimations within graphs. After having spent literally hours playing around on this site, I completely agree with the warnings of ‘cherry picking‘ a dataset (i.e. choosing a certain year to start the trend to exacerbate a trend). To illustrate this ‘technique’, Paul has produced this classic graph:


Which goes to show that the temperature is either: 1) falling,  2) static, 3) rising, or 4) rising ‘really fast!’ -all depending on where you place the trendline.

As John eloquently explained in this comment a few days ago, “global warming stopped after 1998” is turning into one of the most common memes of the ‘skeptics’ and ‘deniers’. Alot of their argument relies on very heavily cherry-picked data – skeptical Science also have a great in detail discussion and counterpoint to this argument here. Contrast the above graph with the longer term view (consistent across multiple datasets), showing warming between 0.13-0.17°C/decade:


Coral springs back from tsunami

Coral transplantation in Indonesia after the impact of the boxing day 2004 tsunami.

Coral transplantation in Indonesia after the impact of the boxing day 2004 tsunami.

BBC News, 26th December

Scientists have reported a rapid recovery in some of the coral reefs that were damaged by the Indian Ocean tsunami four years ago.

It had been feared that some of the reefs off the coast of Indonesia could take a decade to recover.

The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) found evidence of rapid growth of young corals in badly-hit areas. A spokesman said reefs damaged before the tsunami were also recovering. Some communities were abandoning destructive fishing techniques and even transplanting corals into damaged areas, the WCS said.

“This is a great story of ecosystem resilience and recovery,” said Stuart Campbell, co-ordinator of the WCS’s Indonesia Marine Program.

“These findings provide new insights into coral recovery processes that can help us manage coral reefs in the face of climate change.”

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a reef expert from the University of Queensland in Australia who did not take part in the study, said the findings were not surprising since corals typically recovered if not affected by fishing and coastal development.

“We are seeing similar things around the southern Great Barrier Reef where reefs that experience major catastrophe can bounce back quite quickly,” the scientist told the Associated Press.

Countries across the Indian Ocean have been remembering the 2004 disaster, which claimed some 230,000 lives. Prayers were said in Indonesia, Thailand and India on Friday, while Sri Lanka declared a two-minute silence in memory of the dead.

Death of corals is oceanographer’s murder mystery

There is a nice story in today’s News and Observer, the local paper for the Research Triangle,  in North Carolina.  Wade

“Marine scientist John Bruno became interested in coral reefs as a boy snorkeling in the turquoise waters off the Florida Keys above reefs of golden corals the size of football fields.

“It just went on for acres and acres,” recalls Bruno, 43, an associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. “They were just full of fish. We’d see hammerhead sharks on the reef and big critters. That is all gone. The corals are gone and the big fish are gone,” he says. “That’s happened in my lifetime.”

“It’s a wonderful murder mystery for ecologists,” says Bruno, who has been the studying the effects of disease and warming sea water on coral reefs. “It’s not obvious what the cause is. There are lots of potential culprits.”

Among the suspects are pollution, destructive fishing practices, predators that feed on corals, disease and warmer ocean waters.

In the ocean, reef-building corals, which are marine polyps, a class of animals, typically exist in colonies of many identical individuals. They fill the role of trees in a forest, Bruno says. The skeletons of corals create the hardened framework of a reef and, over time, build up and provide habitat for thousands of other animals and plants. Corals require warm, clear water and are sensitive to temperatures.

A warming of the ocean by just a degree or two for a few weeks in summer can disrupt the life cycle of corals, Bruno says. Reef-building corals contain tiny plant-like algae that live within their tissue in a mutually beneficial relationship. The algae provide the coral with food and oxygen, as well as the vibrant colors for which corals are known. In return, the organisms receive shelter and nutrients.

Ocean acidification could impact jumbo squid metabolism

A new study published in PNAS (Rosa and Seibel 2008) indicates that decreased ocean pH could affect the metabolism of large squid.  See the summary article in the NYT here.


Synergistic effects of climate-related variables suggest future physiological impairment in a top ocean predator

By the end of this century, anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are expected to decrease the surface ocean pH by as much as 0.3 unit. At the same time, the ocean is expected to warm with an associated expansion of the oxygen minimum layer (OML). Thus, there is a growing demand to understand the response of the marine biota to these global changes. We show that ocean acidification will substantially depress metabolic rates (31%) and activity levels (45%) in the jumbo squid, Dosidicus gigas, a top predator in the Eastern Pacific. This effect is exacerbated by high temperature. Reduced aerobic and locomotory scope in warm, high-CO2 surface waters will presumably impair predator–prey interactions with cascading consequences for growth, reproduction, and survival. Moreover, as the OML shoals, squids will have to retreat to these shallower, less hospitable, waters at night to feed and repay any oxygen debt that accumulates during their diel vertical migration into the OML. Thus, we demonstrate that, in the absence of adaptation or horizontal migration, the synergism between ocean acidification, global warming, and expanding hypoxia will compress the habitable depth range of the species. These interactions may ultimately define the long-term fate of this commercially and ecologically important predator.


Convincing the climate-change skeptics

A op-ed published in the Boston Globe by Barack Obama’s new science advisor John Holdren:

By John P. Holdren, August 4, 2008

Convincing the climate-change skeptics

THE FEW climate-change “skeptics” with any sort of scientific credentials continue to receive attention in the media out of all proportion to their numbers, their qualifications, or the merit of their arguments. And this muddying of the waters of public discourse is being magnified by the parroting of these arguments by a larger population of amateur skeptics with no scientific credentials at all.

Long-time observers of public debates about environmental threats know that skeptics about such matters tend to move, over time, through three stages. First, they tell you you’re wrong and they can prove it. (In this case, “Climate isn’t changing in unusual ways or, if it is, human activities are not the cause.”)

Then they tell you you’re right but it doesn’t matter. (“OK, it’s changing and humans are playing a role, but it won’t do much harm.”) Finally, they tell you it matters but it’s too late to do anything about it. (“Yes, climate disruption is going to do some real damage, but it’s too late, too difficult, or too costly to avoid that, so we’ll just have to hunker down and suffer.”)

All three positions are represented among the climate-change skeptics who infest talk shows, Internet blogs, letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, and cocktail-party conversations. The few with credentials in climate-change science have nearly all shifted in the past few years from the first category to the second, however, and jumps from the second to the third are becoming more frequent.

All three factions are wrong, but the first is the worst. Their arguments, such as they are, suffer from two huge deficiencies.

First, they have not come up with any plausible alternative culprit for the disruption of global climate that is being observed, for example, a culprit other than the greenhouse-gas buildups in the atmosphere that have been measured and tied beyond doubt to human activities. (The argument that variations in the sun’s output might be responsible fails a number of elementary scientific tests.)

Second, having not succeeded in finding an alternative, they haven’t even tried to do what would be logically necessary if they had one, which is to explain how it can be that everything modern science tells us about the interactions of greenhouse gases with energy flow in the atmosphere is wrong.

Members of the public who are tempted to be swayed by the denier fringe should ask themselves how it is possible, if human-caused climate change is just a hoax, that:

The leaderships of the national academies of sciences of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Russia, China, and India, among others, are on record saying that global climate change is real, caused mainly by humans, and reason for early, concerted action.
This is also the overwhelming majority view among the faculty members of the earth sciences departments at every first-rank university in the world.
All three of holders of the one Nobel prize in science that has been awarded for studies of the atmosphere (the 1995 chemistry prize to Paul Crutzen, Sherwood Rowland, and Mario Molina, for figuring out what was happening to stratospheric ozone) are leaders in the climate-change scientific mainstream.
US polls indicate that most of the amateur skeptics are Republicans. These Republican skeptics should wonder how presidential candidate John McCain could have been taken in. He has castigated the Bush administration for wasting eight years in inaction on climate change, and the policies he says he would implement as president include early and deep cuts in US greenhouse-gas emissions. (Senator Barack Obama’s position is similar.)

The extent of unfounded skepticism about the disruption of global climate by human-produced greenhouse gases is not just regrettable, it is dangerous. It has delayed – and continues to delay – the development of the political consensus that will be needed if society is to embrace remedies commensurate with the challenge. The science of climate change is telling us that we need to get going. Those who still think this is all a mistake or a hoax need to think again.

John P. Holdren is a professor in the Kennedy School of Government and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard and the director of the Woods Hole Research Center.

Update:  You can download a nice lecture with lots of great graphics that Dr. Holdren gave at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
November 6, 2007 here

Scientists continue to debunk “Consensus” in 2008

Good to see that the ‘official’ number of skeptics increased in 2008 to over 650 – up from the 400 reported in this groundbreaking report from 2007.

“This updated report includes an additional 250 (and growing) scientists and climate researchers since the initial release in December 2007.  The over 650 dissenting scientists are more than 12 times the number of UN scientists (52) who authored the media-hyped IPCC 2007 Summary for Policymakers.”

In other (related?) news, over 600 doctoral scientists from around the world have now signed a statement publicly expressing their skepticism about the contemporary theory of Darwinian evolution:

“Dissent from Darwinism has gone global,” said Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman, former US Ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna. “Darwinists used to claim that virtually every scientist in the world held that Darwinian evolution was true, but we quickly started finding US scientists that disproved that statement. Now we’re finding that there are hundreds, and probably thousands, of scientists all over the world that don’t subscribe to Darwin’s theory.”

Thanks to Jennifer Marohasy for the original link.

UPDATE (22/12/08):

Tim Lambert over at Deltoid Science Blog has written a great article discussing the ‘skeptics’, and comparing exactly which ‘scientists’ have signed both lists:

Here are the five people who couldn’t stop at rejecting just one science:

Edward Blick, Professor Emeritus of the Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering, University of Oklahoma. In an article published by the Twin Cities Creation Science Association, he wrote:

The predecessors of today’s unbelievers replaced the Holy Bible’s book of Genesis with Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Now with the help of Al Gore and the United Nations they are trying to replace the Holy Bible’s book of Revelation with the U.N.’s report Anthropogenic Global Warming. They tell us that man’s use of fossil fuels results in too much atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) which causes excessive warming and melting of polar ice caps. They say if we don’t take drastic steps (trillions of dollars of taxes, year after year, after year), we will either roast to death, or drown in the rising seas. The plan is for the U.N. to take control of the world’s economy and dictate what we can use for transportation (bikes?), what we can eat, where we can live, and what industries we must shut down. This whole scheme is a “Trojan Horse” for global socialism! …

For thousands of years our earth has undergone cooling and warming under the control of God. Man cannot control the weather, but he can kill millions of people in his vain attempt to control it, by limiting or eliminating the fuel that we use. How does God control our warming and cooling? Scientists have discovered it is the Sun! Amazing, even grade school children know this. The Sun’s warming or cooling the earth varies with sunspot and Solar flairs.

Marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco to head NOAA


As if having Barack Obama win the US election wasn’t enough good news, we just learned that he has named Dr. Jane Lubchenco as the new head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration!  This is really incredibly good news.

The fact that the new president, and as they say “world’s most powerful person”, even knows a marine ecologist is rather amazing.

Jane has been an international leader in marine conservation for several decades.  She is probably the most visible advocate of Marine Protected Areas.  Her initial fame came from her elegant test of the intermediate disturbance hypothesis as a PhD student.  She manipulated the density of herbivorous snails in tide pools in Nahant Massachusetts and found that intermediate levels of grazing pressure maximized macroalgal diversity.  She has been president of the Ecological Society of America, The American Association for the Advancement of Science and is a member of member of the US National Academy of Science.  In addition to being a fantastic and very active scientist and conservationist, she also has a fair amount of management experience.  She developed and heads several large programs including COMPASS, the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program and PISCO.

After having breakfast with Jane and her family in Sydney a few weeks ago, I told my wife I could envision her as President (as in of the USA).  She is highly articulate and generally very impressive (and a little intimidating).  Jane will also be the first woman to head NOAA and one of the few biologists anywhere near the top of that organizaion, that is usually run by stodgy old white guys with degrees in math, chemistry or physics.


This is just great news.

See coverage of this story here and here.

Climate change skeptics stubbornly recycling discredited arguments

For such a small population, Australia seems to have it’s share of climate change skeptics.

Just this morning Bob Carter (an adjacent research fellow at JCU) writes in an op-ed in the Australianglobal temperature warmed slightly in the late 20th century and has been cooling since 2002. Neither the warming nor the cooling were of unusual rate or magnitude”.

And Andrew Bolt asks on his blogjust how anyone can detect a human signal in the “warming” of the Great Barrier Reef” in regard to this graph, purportedly based on NOAA satellite imagery (which I assume he thinks proves his point):


My guess is that Bolt’s confusion lies in his misunderstanding of the causes of coral bleaching and the patterns of ocean warming.  Most of the public and many climate skeptics envision ocean warming as a gradual, linear increase, like water in a pot on the stove.  If they don’t see an increasing average trend line, they conclude the warming described by scientists hasn’t occurred.  Yet this GBR temperature graphic shows exactly what all the reef scientists I know have been saying; most summers over the last decade have seen especially high maximum temps, generally above 29C.  Whereas before 1998, this was quite rare and the anomalies lasted for only a few days, rather than a few weeks.

Some of the many comments in response to Bolt’s post are even more telling (and really emphasize how much work we have to do educating the public):

At this time with absolutely no evidence of global warming, or of carbons effect upon climate, we have environmental and green dupes hysterically demanding the closure of power stations, and even higher carbon taxes on industries.

RAI Italian TV news on SBS Thursday morning showed Alpine towns near Turin under metres of snow with one local (young) saying…never seen snow like this…

I think you will find that if you inspect an uncontaminated source of temperature data such as the satellite record, that 2008 was actually the coldest year since 1980.

Other peer reviewed studies have shown that by analysing raw data numbers from some weather reporting stations, they find a slight cooling trend operating over the last 100+ years, rather than the supposed warming trend of 0.6 C.

The graph below is based on the four major global compilations of temperature records: NASA’s GISStemp, the Hadley Center’s HadCRU, Remote Sensing Systems’ RSS, and the University of Alabama, Huntsville’s UAH.  (See an article about the concordance of these analyses here)

Global surface and lower troposphere monthly mean anomalies relative to the 1979-1998 mean temperature. Data from GISS, HadCRU, RSS, and UAH ranging from January 1979 to February 2008.
Global surface and lower troposphere monthly mean anomalies relative to the 1979-1998 mean temperature. Data from GISS, HadCRU, RSS, and UAH ranging from Jan 1979 to Feb 2008.  NASA and Hadley rely on an overlapping set of surface and ocean temperature measurement stations and span the period from 1880 to present. RSS and UAH use satellite monitoring and include only the period from 1979 to present.

This graph essentially represents the state of our knowledge about recent anthropogenic climate change.  The world is clearly warming, not cooling.  Unless you spuriously compare the last 8 years with 1998.  The first half of 2008 was relatively cool (but as noted by Andrew Revkin, 2008 was between the 7th and 12th warmest since meteorological record keeping began in 1880 and  the 9 warmest years in the record have occurred since 1998).  Nobody said that EVERY year is going to be progressively warmer.  The argument is that over the next several decades and centuries we will see a general warming trend (but certainly not ever year or everywhere).

This morning, one of the world’s leading coral reef scientists, Dr. Terry Hughes, spoke on the AM about the threats to the reef this summer with warmer than usual temperatures:

JENNIFER MACEY: It’s only the start of summer but satellite images show sea surface temperatures in the Coral Sea are already higher than average. The Bureau of Meteorology and the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have both forecast a high risk of coral bleaching this summer.

Dr Russell Reichelt is the chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

RUSSELL REICHELT: They’re likening the conditions that we’re looking at this summer now to be same as they were in 1998 when a very large global event occurred where 16 per cent of world’s coral reefs died from coral bleaching.

JENNIFER MACEY: Ten years ago, half of the Great Barrier Reef was affected by coral bleaching but only five per cent suffered permanent damage.   Dr Reichelt says reefs can recover from bleaching if they don’t face further stresses from pollution, over-fishing or repeated hot weather events.

JENNIFER MACEY: Professor Terry Hughes is the director of the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. He says if the warmer temperatures last for more than two months there’s a serious risk of coral dying.

TERRY HUGHES: If you lose the structure that the corals provide through their skeleton then fish populations inevitably decline as well.  It’s important to remember that for coral reefs, global warming is not some distant threat that might or might not happen in the future. It’s already happening. So the Great Barrier Reef has already bleached twice and there’s a very good chance that this year will be the third major bleaching event to impact on the Great Barrier Reef.

See a related post on current GBR temperature here

Bill McKibben to lead Washington DC protest against coal-fired power plants


Highly acclaimed environmental author Bill McKibben will lead a mass civil disobedience action against coal-fired power plants in Washington DC on March 2.  McKibben, famed for his book The End of Nature and numerous other best-sellers, writes about global warming, alternative energy, and the risks associated with human genetic engineering.

His first book, The End of Nature, was published in 1989 by Random House after being serialized in the New Yorker. It is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change, and has been printed in more than 20 languages.

The protest march is being organized by several international NGOs including the Energy Action Coalition (which is bringing thousands of young people to Washington that weekend), Greenpeace, the Ruckus Society, and the Rainforest Action Network.

Dear Friends,

There are moments in a nation’s and a planet’s history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction. We think such a time has arrived, and we are writing to say that we hope some of you will join us in Washington D.C. on Monday March 2 in order to take part in a civil act of civil disobedience outside a coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill.

We will be there to make several points:
• Coal-fired power is driving climate change. Our foremost climatologist, NASA’s James Hansen, has demonstrated that our only hope of getting our atmosphere back to a safe level below 350 parts per million co2 lies in stopping the use of coal to generate electricity.

• Even if climate change were not the urgent crisis that it is, we would still be burning our fossil fuels too fast, wasting too much energy and releasing too much poison into the air and water. We would still need to slow down, and to restore thrift to its old place as an economic virtue.
•Coal is filthy at its source. Much of the coal used in this country comes from West Virginia and Kentucky, where companies engage in “mountaintop removal” to get at the stuff; they leave behind a leveled wasteland, and impoverished human communities. No technology better exemplifies the out-of-control relationship between humans and the rest of creation.
•Coal smoke makes children sick. Asthma rates in urban areas near coal-fired power plants are high. Air pollution from burning coal is harmful to the health of grown-ups too, and to the health of everything that breathes, including forests.

The industry claim that there is something called “clean coal” is, put simply, a lie. But it’s a lie told with tens of millions of dollars, which we do not have. We have our bodies, and we are willing to use them to make our point. We don’t come to such a step lightly. We have written and testified and organized politically to make this point for many years, and while in recent months there has been real progress against new coal-fired power plants, the daily business of providing half our electricity from coal continues unabated. It’s time to make clear that we can’t safely run this planet on coal at all. So we feel the time has come to do more–we hear President Barack Obama’s call for a movement for change that continues past election day, and we hear Nobel Laureate Al Gore’s call for creative non-violence outside coal plants. As part of the international negotiations now underway on global warming, our nation will be asking China, India, and others to limit their use of coal in the future to help save the planet’s atmosphere. This is a hard thing to ask, because it’s their cheapest fuel. Part of our witness in March will be to say that we’re willing to make some sacrifices ourselves, even if it’s only a trip to the jail.

With any luck, this will be the largest such protest yet, large enough that it may provide a real spark. If you want to participate with us, you need to go through a short course of non-violence training. This will be, to the extent it depends on us, an entirely peaceful demonstration, carried out in a spirit of hope and not rancor. We will be there in our dress clothes, and ask the same of you. There will be young people, people from faith communities, people from the coal fields of Appalachia, and from the neighborhoods in Washington that get to breathe the smoke from the plant.

We will cross the legal boundary of the power plant, and we expect to be arrested. After that we have no certainty what will happen, but lawyers and such will be on hand. Our goal is not to shut the plant down for the day—it is but  one of many, and anyway its operation for a day is not the point. The worldwide daily reliance on coal is the danger; this is one small step to raise awareness of that ruinous habit and hence help to break it.

Thank you,

Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben