Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

Bumps and Wiggles (1): Predictions and Projections

By: RickyRood, 04:01 AM GMT am 23. März 2010

Bumps and Wiggles (1): Predictions and Projections

Introduction: This starts a series on understanding climate variability, global warming, and what we might do about it. The series focuses on the past 30 years and the next 30 years. Much of what I will be writing about is derived from the work that I am currently involved with at various federal agencies. In the world of the blog, and amongst many of my friends, there is a lot of angst and anxiety about the politically motivated aspects of climate change. While this is wildly and widely amplified, there is an unprecedented amount of real, substantive work. Since I feel I have done any good I can do on that political side, I’m going to (try to) practice what I preach, do no harm, and push forward in matters of substance. I have collected a few of my entries about the political and emotional aspects of the, graciously, debate, and linked them below.

Let’s start to think about bumps and wiggles.

Back in October I wrote an entry about a figure that was being used to make the case that IPCC predictions are wrong because they predict that the last four years should be getting warmer in each successive year and that has not been observed.

My first reaction to that argument was that the IPCC predictions were never intended to be a “forecast” in the spirit of a weather forecast, and that there was nothing in the record of the last four years that suggested to me any problem with the "forecasts." Spirit of a weather forecast? We have become used to “deterministic” weather forecasts, which are broadcast far and wide on, of course, Wunderground.com. (I have heard there are other sources of weather information as well.) A deterministic forecast is one where information about a particular place at a particular time is projected; that is, the high tomorrow afternoon in Newnan, Georgia will be 67 degrees F.

We are also used to some information that comes with a specified probability, for example, the probability of precipitation tomorrow is 70%. With a number as large as 70%, we are pretty certain it is going to rain. This introduces another type of forecast, namely, the “probabilistic” forecast which provides a range of, for example, temperature; that is, the temperature is very likely to lie within the specified range. If you think about it, even the deterministic forecasts have an implicit range. That is, we don’t think it is a bad forecast if the temperature is a couple of degrees above or below a predicted value.

The statement of a probability suggests several things. First, it is a measure of error – perhaps several types of errors. There are measurement errors, and there are errors in the formulation of forecast models. One way to derive “forecast error” is to compare a bunch of forecasts with observations and calculate how much the observations and the forecasts differ. Another factor that contributes to the specification of probabilities is what we might call “noise.” "Noise" in determining the quality of a weather forecast might be related to the presence of a lake in the middle of a small town, a thunderstorm crossing over the thermometer in the middle of the afternoon, or the vagaries of turbulent flow near the surface of the Earth. (Here are basics of modeling for, let’s say, science-interested people.)


So back in October when I first saw the use of this figure to question the veracity of the IPCC forecasts, I felt that there was no real challenge to the science-based conclusions about global warming. The first reason I felt this was because these “forecasts” make no attempt to represent the variability of any specific year. As all of you weather-savvy readers know, there are many sources of variability, such as El Nino. (El Nino at the Climate Prediction Center) The climate models strive to represent the variability of a “generic” El Nino, but they do not attempt in any way to represent specific El Ninos; for example in 1983, 1998, or 2010.

The models used for the IPCC report do contain such variability, but when they are all averaged together for the report, this variability cancels out. In this way, the variability is “noise” to the climate. When we look at the past 4 years, then we have to ask whether or not what the IPCC projects is outside of the normal range of this climate noise. It was not, so the four year record, was to me, inconsequential.

There is another important point to make to a weather-savvy community that might read a Wunderground.com blog. When a weather forecast is made, the forecast starts from an observed state of the atmosphere (and increasingly the ocean and the “land surface”). That is, all of those surface observations, airplane observations, balloon observations, and satellite observations are melded together to tell us what the weather “looks like.” Then this set of measurements is projected forward in time. This is called a forecast or a prediction.

The same sort of process is used in “seasonal prediction,” which is what El Nino forecasting is called. In seasonal prediction, the ocean is very important, so if we can predict that the eastern tropical Pacific ocean will warm up, then we can, minimally, suggest how the weather patterns in much of the Northern Hemisphere will respond. Again, scientists working in this field tend to call their products “predictions” or “forecasts.”

Many climate scientists, especially, careful ones, don’t call their products predictions, rather they call them “projections.” This is meant to suggest that we know that these model estimates of the future are not deterministic in the traditional spirit of a weather forecast. Rather they provide information about, perhaps, the average temperature change and a range above and below that average.

There is one more point I would like to make in this introduction. Above I mentioned “noise.” Noise is a relative term, and some people would even say that when we talk about climate, weather is “noise.” (This is a casual and erroneous statement.) Sometimes when we think of noise we think of something being random. If we think random, we think unpredictable. Some of us even resort to the more sophisticated concept of “chaos.” There is a well known theory that weather is “chaotic,” which suggests some upper limit of WEATHER prediction at a couple of weeks. Chaos and Weather Prediction from National Geographic. This does not, let me repeat, does not mean that the Earth’s climate is a random, unpredictable system.

Think of El Nino. If you examine the last twenty years of progress we predict El Ninos a lot better. This is because we observe and model the oceans a lot better, and there are many features in ocean variability that are “predictable” (or potentially so) for months, perhaps years, in advance. And since the ocean impacts strongly what happens in the atmosphere, we can suggest with some confidence how weather patterns will respond.

Therefore, from an atmospheric point of view, the ocean “forces” a particular regime of behavior. Thinking of the climate system, while there is a random aspect to the climate, when we talk about the surface warming, then we are talking about “forced” response that comes from he addition of enormous amounts of greenhouse gases.

With this introduction, the next entry will be about understanding bumps and wiggles in the past tens years and for the next ten years.

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Here is Figure 1 from Lean and Rind:



Figure 1 from Lean and Rind (2009), Geophysical Research Letters. Figure taken from tinypic.com. This figure shows the temperature record and the model representation from 1980 to 2030, the subject of this series of articles.


Entries about the political and emotional aspects of the climate change debate

If lady Chatterley’s Lover, then

Strength in Many Peers

“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

Trust, but Verify

Scientist as Advocate

Science, Belief and the Volcano

Opinions and Anecdotal Evidence



And here is

Faceted Search of Blogs at climateknowledge.org








Updated: 12:56 PM GMT am 05. Mai 2010

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If Lady Chatterley’s Lover, then …

By: RickyRood, 08:51 PM GMT am 07. März 2010

If Lady Chatterley’s Lover, then … :

The first paragraph of Sheila Jasanoff’s book, The Fifth Branch, starts

“Scientific advisory committees occupy a curiously sheltered position in the landscape of American regulatory politics. In an era of bitter ideological confrontations, their role in policymaking has gone largely unobserved and unchallenged. …” (1990, The Fifth Branch, Chapter 1, Rationalizing Politics; 2009 Interview with Professor Jasanoff)

The first chapter of The Fifth Branch is something that I think that all managers of science in the U.S. Agencies should read. The book, quickly and compellingly, describes the role of scientists in the U.S. political environment. There are references to and case studies of many instances where scientific investigation is motivating and informing policy. There are examples from environmental science, from waste management, and from approval and management of prescription drugs. The book makes it clear that if scientific investigation suggests a need to change, to regulate, or to restrict a certain practice or behavior, then there is a response to oppose that change, that regulation, or that restriction. The depth and vigor of the opposition depends on the wealth and power of those who perceive themselves as impacted; there is often the funding or the advocacy of “opposition science.”

As part of the opposition, there is the tactic of searching for, finding, and amplifying any weaknesses or indiscretions of the scientists. Occasionally, there is revelation of true fraud. (Previous blogs on all of this are listed at the end.)

Building off of the opening sentences quoted above, since 1990 bitter ideological confrontations have become more bitter. There is little evidence that this trend will change until some sort of catastrophe forces the change. The evolution of political tribalism has entrained the scientific advisory panel into politics and brought the role of the scientist out of obscurity.

As background, Professor Jasanoff describes the Fourth Branch of the U.S. government as the Agencies, which have evolved to carry out the functions of the government. This includes the pursuit of scientific investigation for the benefit of the country. These agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and NASA, are formally in the Executive Branch. There are political appointees in the agencies, and there is a standing force of civil servants and associated private-sector contractors. The agencies fund research outside of the government. The staff and longevity of the agencies gives them a life that extends far beyond the term of any particular President. (these are perhaps D.H. Lawrence’s “... good sort of society of people in the government who are not tip-toppers, but who are, or would be, the real intelligent power in the nation: people who know what they're talking about, or talk as if they did.” Lady Chatterly’s Lover)

Last week I wrote that in the absence of comprehensive policy to address climate change in the U.S. the 2007 Supreme Court Decision that allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon dioxide becomes more important. As the EPA plans to move forward with the authorization to address carbon dioxide as a pollutant, some legislators are moving to block the EPA. ( see also) This is a classic political push and pull, with the argument that the regulation power of the agencies is out of the hands of voters, because the agency is not an elected representative (see Wall Street Journal Review and Outlook) Interestingly, the sponsors of the bill are, in fact, bipartisan, which shows the ultimate rule of their constituencies, which include coal mining, automobiles, and oil.

If there is any doubt that climate science has moved from a discipline of science to, de facto, an element of politics, then Senator Inhoff’s Minority Report should remove that doubt. Aside from amplifying the political positions about the EPA in the previous paragraph, this report implies the criminal investigation of a set of scientists involved in the IPCC Assessment Reports. The increasing role of point-of-view journalists and public relations professionals is discussed in this The Daily Climate Article. These are disruptive and, often, intimidating political tactics in the tradition of, well, unsavory participative politics. (see also, Climate Science Watch).

All of this has motivated a series of open letters by Ben Santer. The last in the series is an eloquent statement that the sustained political attacks does not stop the fact that the Earth will warm, sea level will rise, and the weather will change. (Santer’s Open Letter # 6, The List of 17).

What’s the purpose of my article?

At this point we have established that, going forward, “climate change” is a political issue, and it is subject to both the well founded and the pernicious aspects of the political process. This is nothing new; in fact it is ancient. Scientific investigation has challenged, with dire consequences to scientists, that the Earth is at the center of the universe and many other tenants of nations, religions, and corporations. The ramifications of their investigations rarely enter the minds of young people motivated by the scientific process. Therefore, not only are scientists not well positioned to participate in the realm of bitter ideological confrontation, scientists are, I assert, by both training and predisposition, easy foils for savvy political strategists.

This leaves the scientist in a lose-lose situation. They are required to defend themselves, but their self-defense perpetuates and amplifies the political confrontation. The confrontational process is not one, as one of my readers more eloquently stated, where we are looking for knowledge-based reconciliation of an issue. Knowledge-based reconciliation is the scientific instinct.

The knowledge that this is a political process that has been repeating itself for centuries, that there is always a community motivated by factors other than knowledge, and that we are in a world of nuanced language of words like “consensus” - this knowledge, derived from social scientists, does offer strategies. First the scientists need to think, individually and collectively, that their responses are, by definition, political. We need to adopt a position, not of defense or isolation, but to do no damage. In a political process certain individuals evolve to the point that there is nothing they can say that serves to advance their position. Nothing. I have been there. This is a difficult-to-accept powerlessness. There is a need to learn, at times, to be quiet – to do no damage.

There are other voices in the community of science, and their voices bring new strength and perspectives to the body of knowledge. Often these voices are young, the next generation, and if we have confidence in our efforts, then we should have confidence in those who have learned from us. There are voices outside of the community, from other fields, those who study the process of science, those who are impacted by the results of scientific investigation, those who use the results of investigations – these are powerful, independent, and supportive voices. They provide informal external review; they could provide formal, external review.

There are organizational steps we can take. In the United States we need to use our principles of checks and balances to have different organizations that generate science-based knowledge from those which use it – perhaps a provider-customer relationship. Or for the scientist, setting up a “validation process” that is independent; an organization that affirms value. This would help to break the perception of a conflict of interest, where scientists are often viewed as both provider and customer. As a matter of practical policy, scientists are pushed into this position by the requirement that “they prove what they have discovered is important.” (If we develop a Climate Service, this service should NOT be responsible for the use of the information they provide, for example, climate adaptation. Perhaps we need an organization made up of Agriculture, Interior, the Centers of Disease Control, etc., that are users of the Climate Service.)

We, scientists need to learn, better, that scientific knowledge is used and misused in both the political process and in all forms of decision making. And that misuse is part of the process - knowledge, once released, is no longer controlled. We need to learn that uncertainty is part of all decision making processes, and that systematic reduction of uncertainty in a complex problem like climate change is not the natural evolution of investigation. We need to learn that promising reduction of uncertainty is both scientifically and politically naïve.

Most of all, there are those, and this is perhaps what is really happening, what the majority will do – there are those who will take the knowledge that the Earth is warming, sea level is rising and the weather is changing and act on it. They will think about the investments of their companies, the management of our resources, and the incremental development of policy, that will take advantage of the tremendous and unique opportunity offered by the projections of climate change. These are the people who can keep their head when all about others are losing theirs … (If, by Rudyard Kipling)


r

Strength in Many Peers

“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

Trust, but Verify

Scientist as Advocate

Science, Belief and the Volcano

Opinions and Anecdotal Evidence



And here is

Faceted Search of Blogs at climateknowledge.org






Updated: 04:54 PM GMT am 01. Januar 2011

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Just News and Muses

By: RickyRood, 07:08 AM GMT am 01. März 2010

Just News and Muses :

It’s been very busy, and I have had some issues of keeping up, not to mention upkeep. In the climate world there has been a lot going on.

It was two weeks ago, Valentines, when there was a curious BBC interview of Phil Jones. The interview advertised that it featured questions gathered from “climate skeptics.” Of course, the interview is part of the continuing waterfall from the published emails from the Climate Research Unit. The questions in the interview read like a setup, and even in the best of cases, an interview with Dr. Jones on climate change and the credibility of the science of climate change is a no-win situation. In the situation where there is a persistent effort to discredit climate science, the scientists at the center of the email discussion are fundamentally powerless to advance their case. They are more than able to fuel the enemy. In the world of blog, Jones' interview was immediately all over the blogs (for example), with some of the headlines screaming that he had admitted that all climate science was flawed. (Untrue, of course). This is a prime example of the ability to use uncertainties as expressed and nuanced by a scientist to support any position, including disruption.

Jones' interview was all over the blogosphere. I asked my class on the Tuesday after the interview if they had paid attention to the interview and the response, and the answer was “no.” By the standards of the world this is a group of climate-interested people and this whole flash in the blogosphere went unnoted.

A little before Jones' interview I was a guest lecturer in a journalism class on environmental journalism. I shared the podium with Nolan Finley who is the Editorial Page Editor of the Detroit News. The Detroit News is the conservative leaning newspaper in Detroit. The discussion with Mr. Finley and the students focused around the decline of the outlets for rigorous journalism, and the rise of “point of view” journalism. One of the interesting facts of point of view journalism is that people read or listen only to the point of view they are predisposed to agree with. Hence, it contributes more and more to polarization and tribalism. Hence, it seems that all of the blogs about Jones' interview only fuel the rant, but does not reach out beyond their particular group of believers. (Yes, I am smart enough to know the same is true for this blog.)

This all raises big questions not only about the evolution of climate policy and the like, but the future of journalism and the free press - one of the corner stones of a functional democracy. But keeping it focused, there is an interesting discussion on Science Friday on where to get information about science. This is a take not only on the decline of rigorous journalism, but in particular the disappearance of the coverage of science in the general press. (And now the blog becomes important.)

And the real world goes on. NOAA announced its intention to develop a National Climate Service, in the spirit of the National Weather Service. This is envisioned to be an organization that provides climate information, and potentially its existence will be a step in de-politicization of climate science. More on the National Climate Service: Climate Service on Science Friday and from NOAA.

In the absence of comprehensive policy to address change in the U.S. the 2007 Supreme Court Decision that allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon dioxide becomes more important. As the EPA moves forward with the foundation to address climate change, some legislators are moving to block the EPA. ( see also) The prospect of regulation is an intense motivator for policy; companies and states don’t like the uncertain environment of regulation and litigation.

So the world moves on, some things that make a difference are happening. President Obama has announced a program to guarantee loans for building new nuclear power plants. (more details). And a group of Senators are looking to propose something different from a cap and trade market (more). These seem like good things to me.



r

And here is

Faceted Search of Blogs at climateknowledge.org






Updated: 04:38 PM GMT am 10. März 2010

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About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.