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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Wondering Willis, Volcanoes and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

Sou | 8:45 PM 41 Comments - leave a comment
Update: I've added a chart below.

Wondering Willis Eschenbach is wondering again.  This time he has written a very long article on WUWT and concludes by writing:
A. Either the climate sensitivity is around half a degree per doubling of CO2, and the time constant is under a year, or
B. The current paradigm of climate sensitivity is wrong and forcings don’t determine surface temperature.
Based on the actual observations, I hold for the latter.
They don't make sense to me.  A. seems like gobbledook.  Can anyone explain what he means by 'the time constant is under a year'?  B. seems very odd because he is using a definition (climate sensitivity) to contradict that same definition.  That can't be done. Leaving aside the inexplicable meaning of them - on what does he base his conclusions?  On his strange analysis of the impact of volcanoes.  It looks to me that he has taken the short term impact of different volcanoes on global surface temperatures and drawn conclusions about the long term impact of all forcings, including the very long-lived forcing of carbon dioxide.  He writes:
Unlike the situation with say greenhouse gases, we actually can measure how much sunlight is lost when a volcano erupts.
Let's not wonder why Willis thinks sunlight is lost by greenhouse gases and focus on his wonderings about volcanoes.  He goes on to talk about:
...the huge reductions in global forcing that volcanoes cause, the global temperature has steadfastly refused to cooperate. The temperature hasn’t changed much even with the largest of modern volcanoes.
Well, that's not quite so.  But modern volcanoes have only had a very short term impact globally.  The cooling effect disappears in a matter of months to years, depending on the nature, composition and location of the eruption as well, one would imagine, as the prevailing weather conditions at least in regard to smaller eruptions.

Willis builds a strawman

Willis makes a logical fallacy known as the strawman fallacy here, when he says:
The current climate paradigm says that the surface air temperature is a linear function of the “forcing”...Change in Temperature (∆T) = Change in Forcing (∆F) times Climate Sensitivity
What he seems to have done is taking an equation relating to a simple energy balance model (probably from this Wikipedia entry) and applied it to the much more complex climate system.  Dunning and Kruger at work.

What is climate sensitivity?

Climate sensitivity is the term used to denote a change in temperature for a given forcing, generally used to describe the expected rise in global surface temperature to a doubling of CO2.  That does not imply a linear function of the forcing.  Does this seem "linear" to you?
The climate sensitivity depends on the type of forcing agents applied to the climate system and on their geographical and vertical distributions (Allen and Ingram, 2002; Sausen et al., 2002; Joshi et al., 2003). As it is influenced by the nature and the magnitude of the feedbacks at work in the climate response, it also depends on the mean climate state (Boer and Yu, 2003). Some differences in climate sensitivity will also result simply from differences in the particular radiative forcing calculated by different radiation codes (see Sections 10.2.1 and The global annual mean surface temperature change thus presents limitations regarding the description and the understanding of the climate response to an external forcing. Indeed, the regional temperature response to a uniform forcing (and even more to a vertically or geographically distributed forcing) is highly inhomogeneous. In addition, climate sensitivity only considers the surface mean temperature and gives no indication of the occurrence of abrupt changes or extreme events.
What about this:
Note, however, that because of the inherently nonlinear nature of the response to feedbacks, the final impact on sensitivity is not simply the sum of these responses. The effect of multiple positive feedbacks is that they mutually amplify each other’s impact on climate sensitivity.
The very fact that some feedbacks act more quickly than others plus the fact that feedbacks act on each other should be sufficient to demonstrate that surface air temperature is not a linear function of forcing. After building his strawman, Wondering Willis proceeds to chop it down, writing:
In lieu of a more colorful term, let me say that’s highly unlikely. In my experience, complex natural systems are rarely that simply coupled from input to output.
By demolishing his own strawman, he's starting to sound more reasonable.

Willis invokes Gaia

It doesn't last.  Willis quickly shifts back to the unreasonable when he writes:
I say that after an eruption, the climate system actively responds to reductions in the incoming sunlight by altering various parts of the climate system to increase the amount of heat absorbed by other means. This rapidly brings the system back into equilibrium.
If I've understood him correctly than that's just plain weird.  Where is the extra heat coming from?  As Willis has already said, the aerosols from the volcanic eruption have temporarily reduced the amount of incoming radiation.  There is no other source of 'heat' for the climate system to absorb.

Applying a long term equilibrium sensitivity to short lived event

Willis does some number crunching and draws some coloured charts and says:
To properly judge the response, however, we need to compare it to the expected response under various scenarios. Figure 3 shows the same records, with the addition of the results from the average models from the Forster study, the results that the models were calculated to have on average, and the results if we assume a climate sensitivity of 3.0 W/m2 per doubling of CO2. Note that in all cases I’m referring the equilibrium climate sensitivity, not the transient climate response, which is smaller.
Why would he use the equilibrium climate sensitivity of an assumed 3° Celsius on a transient effect lasting only a few months or years at most and apply it in the same way to eruptions at different locations and of different magnitudes and chemical composition? The equilibrium climate sensitivity of 3° Celsius refers to the temperature after a doubling of CO2, all other feedbacks have run their course and the climate is at a new equilibrium.  Willis does not appear to have calculated just how much incoming radiation was reflected back out by any of the volcanoes, so it doesn't seem to me that he's showing anything of value at all.

Leaving out inconvenient data

Willis leaves out inconvenient data.  First to get the chop is El Chichon eruption, which Willis calls an 'outlier' - but not giving any reason for doing so.  Later on he drops Krakatoa as another 'outlier'.  That's two out of six dropped from his analysis or one third.  Did they spoil his yarn?

Not considering differing impacts of different volcanoes

Willis seems to assume that each eruption will have the same impact on incoming solar radiation.  Consider this - the top three were part of Willis' analysis, the bottom one was a real beauty, but earlier in time:

El Chichonreleased an unusually large volume of aerosols (7 Mt of SO2 compared to 1.0 for Mount St. Helens).  El Chichon produced some climate effects. The temperature of the stratosphere increased by 4 degrees C. ...Impact on ground temperatures is harder to quantify but temperatures in the Northern hemisphere may have been 0.2 degree C less about 2 months after the eruption.

Pinatubo produced the greatest volume of SO2 ever measured, 20 Mt, about three times more than El Chichon (McCormick, 1992). It is estimated that the gases caused a global temperature decrease of 0.5 degree C for about 2 to 4 years after the eruption.

Krakatau - Although Krakatau erupted a large volume, the magma was relative poor in sulfur, and the eruption had less climate impact compared to some small volume eruptions that were sulfur rich (e.g., Agung in Indonesia). ...Rampino and Self (1982) estimated that the temperature in the Northern Hemisphere decreased 0.3 C due to the eruption.

Toba The eruption of 2,800 cubic km of magma at Toba caldera 75,000 years ago was the largest eruption in the last 2 million years. The eruption may have release as much as 10E12 kg of sulfuric acid, an order of magnitude more than Laki in 1783 and Tambora in 1815, two of the greatest Holocene eruptions. The Toba eruption may have caused about 3 to 4 degree C cooling at the surface but this impact is hard to detect because of concurrent glacial conditions (Sigurdsson, 1990).

This is from NASA, which suggests that Willis might need to dig a bit deeper: 
With a single volcano it may be hard to identify a climate "signal" among the large amount of weather and climate "noise", that is, the unforced chaotic fluctuations of the atmosphere and ocean. So the Pinatubo team first looked at the average climate response after the five largest volcanos this century. They found (Figure 1) that there was a small cooling, about 1/4°C (1/2°F), which peaked 1-2 years after the eruption. This tends to confirm that volcanos do cause a small global cooling.

It's not the sun?

I've just picked up this in the midst of Willis' article.  If you take what he writes to it's logical conclusion, he seems to be arguing "it's not the sun".  That is, if there is a drop in temperature as a result of less incoming radiation (either because it's reflected back by volcanic aerosols or because of a reduction in incoming solar), it will be offset by thunderstorms, clouds and oceans deciding to oppose it and heat the world back up again by ...magic?  What do you think?  It doesn't seem consistent with theories relating to energy.
I say that the temperature is regulated, not by the forcing, but by a host of overlapping natural emergent temperature control mechanisms, e.g. thunderstorms, the El Nino, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the timing of the onset of tropical clouds, and others. Changes in these and other natural regulatory phenomena quickly oppose any unusual rise or fall in temperature, and they work together to maintain the temperature very stably regardless of the differences in forcing.

More on volcanoes

Willis put up some charts saying, "look see no impact".  I can't tell what he did, so I plotted GIStemp and marked the volcanic eruptions.  Click the chart to enlarge it.

They all seem to show the drop in temperature that has been associated with them (see above).  Of course you can't tell just from a chart.  You'd have to account for other things that affect surface temperature, like ENSO.  (Further up I've added a quote from a NASA website, which also emphasises this point.)

Anyway, the standout is Novarupta, which is in the Arctic.  The others are closer to the equator and their impact was spread through both hemispheres.  Click here for a discussion of Novarupta and how its impact was contained because of where it is located.

Willis' magical ocean

While I'm here, I'll add a comment that caught my eye.  It's about Willis saying how the oceans and clouds and thunderstorms all gang up and win a war against the laws of physics to offset a change in climate forcing - my bold and italics for emphasis:
David Longinotti says: May 25, 2013 at 4:17 am  I think this is a strong challenge to the orthodoxy regarding climate sensitivity, but the posited correction mechanism doesn’t appear to cohere with the data shown. The claim is that “When the reduction in sunlight occurs following an eruption, the Pacific starts storing up more energy.” But the timing seems to challenge this assertion – in Figure 6 the change in the slope of the cumulative Best Index occurs about 20 months BEFORE the eruptions, and there is no change in slope around the time of the eruption. Is the implication that the Pacific starts storing energy in anticipation of the eruption, or have I misunderstood the proposed correction phenomenon (or its measurement)?
Good to see it's not just me who wonders what prompts the Pacific to start 'storing up more energy' and where that energy could possibly come from, given there is less incoming energy.  I hadn't bothered to check just when the ocean took it into it's head to 'store up more energy' to make up for the lack of incoming.  Seems it can not only decide to create energy out of nothing, it can do so in advance of the event that prompts it to do so.  What a clever little ocean, eh?

Update: In the comments Ashby alerted me to the fact that Willis is basing his assertion for oceans storing energy on an apparent association with El Nino.  Problem is the ocean releases heat in its El Nino phase, it doesn't store it.  So bang goes another bit of Willis' wonderings.

My conclusions

  1. Willis has read very little climate science and understands less.
  2. Willis suffers from the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
  3. Willis enjoys holding the floor.
  4. Willis has a veneer of 'hail fellow well met' but it's very thin. He can't take criticism or even polite questions from real sceptics and loses his cool easily - in fact he gets downright nasty.  Supported by his patron when the going gets tough. 


Here's a chart from the AR4 IPCC report that shows the then current state of understanding (2007) of different forcings over the past 1,000 years and the temperature response for the northern hemisphere. Note the different scale for the volcanic forcing.  Click the chart to enlarge.
Figure 6.14. Simulated temperatures during the last 1 kyr with and without anthropogenic forcing, and also with weak or strong solar irradiance variations. Global mean radiative forcing (W m–2) used to drive climate model simulations due to (a) volcanic activity, (b) strong (blue) and weak (brown) solar irradiance variations, and (c) all other forcings, including greenhouse gases and tropospheric sulphate aerosols (the thin flat line after 1765 indicates the fixed anthropogenic forcing used in the ‘Nat’ simulations). (d) Annual mean NH temperature (°C) simulated by three climate models under the forcings shown in (a) to (c), compared with the concentration of overlapping NH temperature reconstructions (shown by grey shading, modified from Figure 6.10c to account for the 1500 to 1899 reference period used here). ‘All’ (thick lines) used anthropogenic and natural forcings; ‘Nat’ (thin lines) used only natural forcings. All forcings and temperatures are expressed as anomalies from their 1500 to 1899 means; the temperatures were then smoothed with a Gaussian-weighted filter to remove fluctuations on time scales less than 30 years. Note the different vertical scale used for the volcanic forcing compared with the other forcings. The individual series are identified in Table 6.3.


  1. I read some of Willis's post and I couldn't really make head or tails of it. I, however, wrote something about Nic Lewis's post and then realised that I was a little confused about all the climate sensitivity stuff. Maybe you can clarify. They keep talking about the TCR and ECS being given by
    TCR = F_2x \Delta T/ \Delta F
    ECS = F_2x \Delta R/(\Delta F - \Delta Q).
    So, F_2x is the change in forcing due to a doubling of CO_2. However, in all the recent WUWT posts (Willis's and Nic Lewis's) they seem to use measured changes in forcing (\Delta F) and measured changes in ocean heating rate (\Delta Q).

    It seems to me that they should only be using the contributions due to carbon dioxide otherwise you will reach (for example) the TCR before CO_2 has doubled (i.e., other forcings can lead to \Delta F = F_2x before CO_2 has doubled). Similarly for \Delta Q, they should only use the contribution due to carbon dioxide and not the total measured change in ocean heating rate.

    Have I understood this correctly and is their choice of \Delta F and \Delta Q producing lower sensitivities simply because they're using the wrong quantities. Or am I just confused (which is quite likely).

    I also think their definition of TCR is also not quite right. It's meant to be the change in temperature for a doubling of CO_2 assuming CO_2 levels increase at 1% per year. I can't see how their definition takes this into account. At the moment CO_2 is increasing at about 0.5% per year, so maybe it's a reasonable estimate, but can't be quite right.

    1. I can't make sense of Willis' post either. He might be drawing on his previous work, which is nothing more than curve-fitting and fudging inconvenient data. He seems to make some silly assumptions which, if taken literally would imply that ice ages cannot occur.

      One sign he is very uncomfortable with his work is that instead of responding to concerns properly he gets very angry and makes personal attacks on the people who raise them if they are 'real skeptics' (Nick Stokes and Margaret Hardiman). And ignores some others if he thinks they are 'WUWT skeptics' aka deniers; eg he only made one short and meaningless response to Greg Goodman.

      FWIW I did a quick F3 search and counted 28 comments by Greg Goodman, 9 comments by Nick Stokes. Yet it was Stokes who Anthony Watts pulled up by writing: @Willis I sometimes wonder if Nick is on some sort of frequent obfuscator program, where he gets rewards based on the number of such comments he leaves. – Anthony

      As for the details of Lewis, Otto etc, someone else will have to chip in. I haven't taken the time to explore how it's calculated. Both have been through peer review and probably subjected to a lot of informal review since publication. Doesn't make them right but the odds are very much in favour of them being accurate as far as they go. That is, they've done the calculations properly.

    2. Yes, I agree with your analysis of Willis. As far as Otto & Lewis, it wasn't so much the papers (which may well have done it properly - I should probably just try and read them) but the new post written by Nic Lewis which seems to use quantities that may not be correct. I redid some of the calculations and the numbers don't change much, so it's not that I think there is some massive error, it was more just to see if I understood this properly.

  2. I'd noticed how they gang up on people they don't like. It's a meme on this sort of site. I thought it was interesting where Willis warned Margaret Hardman not to get into a pissing contest. What sort of person does he want to be then? The title of his piece makes a vast claim and it is justified on five or six data points that are less than fully analysed. If he feels happy to pass that off as science then there are millions around the world who know better. When confronted on it he gets into a pissing contest. Gee, I'd agree with Margaret. Can anyone expect to overturn so much science on the basis of five or six data points?

    1. I read Willis's lengthy "About Me" post which suggests that people shouldn't judge him by his credentials but by his science which is either right or wrong. This is quite ironic given how quickly those regularly posting on WUWT start their personal attacks on anyone who questions the posts written by people like Willis.

      But it was also interesting that Willis gives the impression that somehow his ideas have the same credibility as any other science idea. That somehow its either right or wrong. All hes has to do is play around with the data, plot some graphs and then provide an interpretation, and his credibility will then be based on whether or not the "interpretation/guess" turns out to be right or not. It really does seem as though he doesn't get that the credibility of your "science" is also based on whether or not your interpretation obeyed all the known laws of physics. Just somehow getting the right answer really isn't enough because then you still don't know why you got the right answer.

    2. Yes, Willis is starting to get himself all tied up in knots. I think, but am not sure, that he is trying to say that his 'lagged linear equation' (ie his fudged curve fit from his previous article) is the "functional equivalent" of ∆Ts = λ.∆RF - which is rubbish. When Nick Stokes pointed out they are different beasts he attacks and writes:
      ...You see the part there about the “normal lagged version”? That’s where the tau comes in. So yes, it is exactly as I said. THAT EXACT FORMULA in its normal lagged version. You can’t have a lagged version without a time constant of some sort.

      In other words "exactly the same" only very different.

      When Steve Mosher says the models don't use: ∆Ts = λ.∆RF he attacks him too, saying: What I meant was that the Model E is functionally equivalent to that equation. 

      In other words, he fudged a curve fit - but it's still meaningless.

      What Willis doesn't want to accept is that it is his workings and thinking that are wrong, not the models or climate science in general.

      He'd do better to keep quiet. Most WUWT readers wouldn't have a clue what he was doing except they figure he's PROVED all the models are wrong! (Educated readers can't figure what he's doing either.)

      I probably should keep quiet too - detailed workings on climate sensitivity is beyond my current level of knowledge :D

    3. Willis is toast,stuck between his big mouth and Stokes and Mosher..

  3. Well, it is clear that climate sensitivity is complicated and I'm certainly confused about certain aspects that I'm quite keen to get clarified. I do think that Willis is getting it fundamentally wrong though. He seems to use - as you say -
    Delta T = lambda Delta RF
    and calls lambda the climate sensitivity, which has units of K/W m^2. It is normally assumed that a change in forcing of 3.7 W m^2 (due to a doubling of CO2) results in a temperature change of 1K.

    What Willis seems to do is fit to the known temperature anomalies using the now "known" changes in forcing and hence gets an estimate for lambda and then uses this to get a climate sensitivity in K. However, climate sensitivity is defined according to the change in forcing due to a doubling of CO2. Therefore, it seems that one should only using the change in radiative forcing due to changes in CO2. He shouldn't be using the total change in forcing.

    In doing so, what I think he is calculating is the climate sensitivity due to a change in forcing of 3.7 W m^2 which will, presumably, always be close to 1K. He's not calculating the sensitivity due to a doubling of CO2.

    Having said this, it is possible that I'm the one who's confused.

  4. "Willis builds a strawman

    Willis makes a logical fallacy known as the strawman fallacy here, when he says:
    The current climate paradigm says that the surface air temperature is a linear function of the “forcing”...Change in Temperature (∆T) = Change in Forcing (∆F) times Climate Sensitivity
    What he seems to have done is taking an equation relating to a simple energy balance model (probably from this Wikipedia entry) and applied it to the much more complex climate system. Dunning and Kruger at work."


    I think this is not correct. You may have missed his recent posting about this topic:

    It is actually amazing that the global temperature result of climate models can be replicated with forcing inputs manipulated by his trivial formula, resulting in an almost identical output (r value of about 0.99).

    As you correctly and in agreement with Willis continue, such linear behaviour is not what you would expect from "inherently nonlinear nature of the response to feedbacks".

    Which should conclude with the logical conclusion that climate models get the physics totally wrong.

    1. I think that a linear response to changes in forcing is approximately correct for small changes. Consider the following. The flux from a blackbody of temperature T is

      F = sigma T^4.

      The rate of change of flux is

      dF = 4 sigma T^3 dT which I can rearrange to give

      dT = 1/(4 sigma T^3) dF = T/(4F) dF.

      So, for small changes dF in F around a temperature T (i.e., assume dF is small enough that F is approximately constant and that dT is small so that I can assume T is constant) we get that the change in temperature dT due to a change in forcing dF is approximately linear in dF.

      What is not linear is how, for example, the change in forcing depends on changes in greenhouse gases, for example.

      Essentially, that there appears to be an approximately linear response to changes in forcing does not disprove climate models. It's consistent with back-of-the-envelope calculations as to how it should respond.

    2. Anonymous writes: It is actually amazing that the global temperature result of climate models can be replicated with forcing inputs manipulated by his trivial formula

      No it's not 'amazing'. You can fit a formula to any curve you want. It doesn't mean squat unless you can link it to what's happening - which Willis fails to do.

  5. I don't think Willis is using the equation ∆Ts = λ.∆RF. From what he's said I think he's using his longer equation that he got from curve fitting to model output.

    As for the forcing component - like you, I really don't know what he's doing. The one degree or so equilibrium sensitivity (1.2 degrees?) is just the component directly attributed to CO2 not including the positive and negative feedbacks. Climate sensitivity in toto (whether it's 2, 3, 4 or even 6 degrees for ECS; or 1, 2 or 3 degrees for TCR) should be roughly the same no matter what is doing the forcing but bearing in mind how much time it has to have any effect.

    The initial drop in temperature after a volcano would initiate other feedbacks. For example, even though the volcanic effect is short-lived it will still have an impact on the water cycle - less evaporation because it's cooler therefore less water vapour, lowering temperature a bit more.

    Because the volcanic aerosols disappear fairly quickly I wouldn't expect them to have an impact on other longer term feedbacks to any great extent. Probably not even on feedbacks like albedo from summer sea ice, which I doubt would recover much after a small-ish volcano. And if there's less precipitation that could mean less snow cover as well - on the short time scales of a year or two while the effect is still being felt. I don't really know.

    A supervolcanic eruption on the other hand could initiate a large climate response.

    Willis' article is completely devoid of any discussion like this, except for his imagining some sort of magical heat from nowhere being collected by the ocean to 'offset' the cooling. I don't think he's just talking about less evaporation meaning less ocean heat loss. He seems to think the oceans will heat up by magic in an equal amount to the surface cooling or maybe fewer of his thunderstorms shooting heat up into space or something. That's if I've got his argument right.

    From the link I posted (the NASA site), it's pretty hard for real scientists to dig out the signal of volcanoes from the noise. So I can't see Willis' fudged equation or volcano stacking getting a meaningful result.

    But what do I know :D

    1. Thanks. I realise that he's not using simply Delta T = lambda Delta F (how do you get greek characters in this editor - I can't seem to use the normal html). All I was meaning was that he is claiming that the climate sensitivity is determined from the constant in front of Delta RF. I think this is only correct if Delta RF is the forcing due to CO2 only and probably explains why his value is smaller than that obtained by others. It's probably not horribly wrong as it seems that the change in CO2 forcing is about three-quarters of the total change in forcing (at least since 1955).

    2. To get greek, use html entities:

      like λ

  6. This last post about volcanoes appears to completely contradict Willis's previous post were he claims to accurately reproduce gobal temperatures using a linear relationship with forcings. (Also discussed on this blog a couple of days ago).

  7. If you want to understand Willis's point about climate feedback, you need to understand his cloud thermostat idea. He's not advocating magic, he's characterizing something interesting about the way water vapor works to regulate global temperatures.

    Margaret got attitude back on that site because she poisoned the well with several posts that were long on attitude and short on thoughtful analyses, followed up by more relatively content free or meandering posts. She should try actually addressing the ideas rather than trying to run a primitive psych experiment on how annoying off topic people are received by existing groups.

    1. I've tried that. It doesn't work either.

    2. Doesn't work in what sense? That clouds (particularly large thunderstorms) over oceans near the equator don't provide negative feedback/heat venting initiated when a certain thermal threshold level has been passed? It seems intuitively likely and a fairly elegant and testable hypothesis. Can you explain why it doesn't work? I'm happy to read your analysis.

    3. No, I was referring to your claim that Margaret would have received less attitude if she had tried addressing the ideas rather than trying to run a primitive psych experiment. I've tried restricting comments on WUWT to addressing the ideas. The level of attitude I received was not significantly less that that received by Margaret - in fact it was remarkably unpleasant. Hence my intention to never comment on the site ever again.

    4. Welcome, Ashby.

      I'm somewhat familiar with the magical thunderstorms hypothesis. Like most of Willis' other 'wonderings', it's folksy, long on imagination, short on facts and evidence but with a few strands of reality woven in amongst the fantasy. I like how he dismisses atmospheric physics and earth science as inconsequential; and how he rejects not only geological evidence of past change in atmospheric composition but also the carbon cycle and the physics of the greenhouse effect. And the evidence he uses to refute all this is stunning in its simplicity. It consists of just one short sentence: "This seems highly unlikely."

      I note that as he did in the current post, in his thunderstorm "publication", he builds a strawman about clouds. No Willis theory would be without his men of straw.

      It certainly keeps the WUWT crowd entertained and entertaining.

      Anyone interested, get your head vice out of the cupboard and have a read at WUWT.

      Or for the short version (recommended if you don't have a head vice handy but not while drinking coffee), try this or this or this.

      Margaret Hardman made some good points which raised the hackles of the WUWT concern trolls, who didn't discuss the points she raised but blasted her with nasty personal attacks. Not very nice but seems to be acceptable behaviour at WUWT, but only if the attacks are against someone who could be taken as a genuine rather than fake skeptic.

    5. I thought Margaret's major substantive point was that the criteria for selection of the eruptions was not fully outlined and then to leave out two of the six smacks of cherry picking the data. To make such a big conclusion based on four data points chosen with possible bias (we don't know) needs something much more secure, much more analytical. It smacks of the sort of science where they laughed at Galileo, now they're laughing at me so I must be right type.

      Margaret pointed out the similarity of various denier threads' comments is to head for abuse and was told that was insulting. That was rich. I think she was right to suggest someone with formal science training should make better use of it when claiming to do science.

  8. Well, I read Margaret's posts and I can see why she got the response she did. If I had come on this site and started my first post supersiliously insinuating that I'd give a bad grade to such work, what do you think the response would likely be? She should have talked about the ideas and pointed out problems with the data and selection criteria without the initial framing and subsequent shallow self referential posts. Reread her contributions with an open mind and I think you will see what I mean. All around her posts people are criticizing and discussing the ideas and Margaret just keeps on about Margaret. Rather tedious.

    1. It may well be that the response to Margaret's comments were justified. However, the idea that one can avoid such responses by focusing on the ideas is where I disagree with you. You could try this yourself. Log in differently, make a benign comment that indicates - for example - that you think that we should consider alternatives to fossil fuels. Or choose anything related to the post in question but that indicates that you think that there might be some merit to the ideas around AGW. I'd be surprised if you weren't somewhat dissappoined by the response you got.

    2. Well, Anthony Watts periodically writes about his solar energy projects. I doubt anyone would have a problem with saying we should look into alternatives to fossil fuels, provided it wasn't off topic and hopefully more than just a bald assertion. I've been reading WUWT for a while and I'd say it's a pretty good example of the rough and tumble of argument over a wide array of abilities and ideas, much like many other large message boards. Where it is interesting is when you get a good argument going between competent amateur and professional geologists/scientists/mathematicians/statisticians etc. with competing ideas. Yes, you are going to get criticized if you post something counter to the general attitude that the dangers of global warming are hyped, particularly if all you are doing is arguing from authority or citing "consensus" without being willing to discuss the evidence, but so what? You would get the same prickly response if you went to a generally pro-alarmist web site and started arguing that they were wrong. Toughen up and wade in if you want to engage. There are plenty who do. It keeps things interesting and honest.

    3. You are kidding, Ashby.

      Even the very mild-mannered long term contributor RGates got banned eventually. Neither Anthony nor any WUWT-afficianados tolerate anyone who understands climate science. If they can't hound them out they ban them.

      98% of WUWTers deny climate science. The complete opposite to the scientific community and at odds with the general public too. There's a reason for that. It's deliberate WUWT policy to keep out the riff raff scientists.

    4. Ashby, maybe it is just the "rough and tumble of argument over a wide range of abilities and ideas". However, I'm a professional scientist with a good publication record who is well cited and who has never experienced the kind of exchanges that seem normal on WUWT. Maybe you're comfortable with that. I'm not, and I don't see any reason why I should toughen up. If you want to limit the exchanges to those who are "tough enough" then that it is your loss (or WUWT's loss). I decided, instead, to start my own blog. At least there people can read my views and can comment if they wish to do so, but I don't need to put up with the attacks that are likely if I comment on WUWT.

    5. Like any popular lightly moderated site on a controversial subject matter, you get a fair amount of lunatic fringe interest. Maybe I just have a strong internal filter for that stuff. < shrug >. I do enjoy reading the sometimes lively debate surrounding these issues, and I certainly prefer a bit of skepticism to things like a link to a discussion on Scientific American that I followed recently where they were discussing how the recent temperature record has lead to a lowering of estimates of climate sensitivity. In the comments, you had triumphant links to articles on that purported to conclusively address all skeptical arguments. When I followed those links, I got to things like a stale refutation of "the models don't reflect reality" which had last been updated in 2011 with data that stopped in 2007. This in the comments to an article about how recent data is forcing lowering of estimated climate sensitivity to doubling of CO2. The comments on Scientific American were as vicious and as group think as anything I've seen on WUWT, with outdated and refuted data triumphantly cited as icing on the cake.

      Now, many of my favorite magazines and newspapers have shockingly abysmal online comment sections, so...what are you going to do? But I don't think WUWT is shocking in that respect. Signal to noise ratio can be bad online. The world has lots of nutters and kids with computers in mom's basement.

      Frankly, Sou's analysis of Willis's Volcano articles are a good example of what I find problematic about a lot of science online. Rather than really thinking about the implications of what Willis is pointing out, I see a fairly shallow analysis heavy on mockery. As a Gedankenexperiment in how the climate system works, I think Willis's thundercloud thermostat and subsequent volcano posts are really quite intriguing. As a plus, they seem to present the prospect of a testable hypothesis. As a trained scientist with a good publishing record, why not try to see if you can help frame the idea in a way that can be tested? If that can't be done, then that is a form of disproof, isn't it? I'd certainly learn more from such an endeavor than I do from criticisms that appear to not even understand his initial hypothesis. Willis may well be wrong, or Willis may be right. Either way, I don't think it actually disproves or proves dangerous anthropogenic global warming (after all, CO2 could still have a long term influence even if thunderclouds do act as a regulator of temperature), but a sympathetic criticism would make for more interesting reading.

    6. Really thinking about the implications? Really! You're not serious I hope.

      Willis is saying "it's thunderstorms not CO2"! I've devoted a lot more meaningful words to him than he deserves. I could have just written 'poppycock' and left it at that. Or pointed to the science.

      Willis is bromide for the WUWT crowd. He's a joke to anyone who knows anything of climate science. There are no 'implications' because his whole premise is based on nonsense.

    7. Ashby, I do find it a little odd that you find Sou's analysis "heavy on the mockery". It seems mild compared to what is fairly normal on WUWT.

      Also, you say
      As a trained scientist with a good publishing record, why not try to see if you can help frame the idea in a way that can be tested?
      In a sense I am because I'm writing my own blog. You're welcome to read what I write and decide whether or not it is addressing the science in a valuable way.

      I assume you mean that I should help "frame the idea in way that can be tested" by commenting on WUWT posts. There are two main reasons why I don't. One is that - as I've said before - I'm not willing to expose myself to the online abuse that is most likely to follow any comment I might make. The other is a little subtler and may come across as arrogant (for which I apologise in advance). Most of who comment or write posts on WUWT appear to have less scientific training than a typical first-year undergraduate physics student. Quite often the "idea" simply has a fundamental flaw (Nick and Sou have pointed out the flaws in Willis's ideas below and Bob Tisdale seems to think that oceans can generate energy). How do I help to "frame such ideas". They're just wrong. All I would be able to say would be "until your ideas satisfy the known laws of physics, they have no merit". I can't imagine that such comments will go down particularly well or help much to "frame the ideas in a way that can be tested".

  9. ...and if you follow along on the subsequent WUWT discussion, you get some interesting links, like this one from Michael Mann:

    It's paywalled, so I don't have access to it, but the basic point appears to support Willis's contention that Volcanoes may have a causal link to subsequent El Niños. You don't find that interesting? What Willis has proposed is a mechanism that may shed light on how the energy in El Niños collects in response to volcanic forcing.

    1. Ashby, as well as the other problems in the bulk of Willis' article, the main problem with that particular theory re ENSO is that Willis writes:

      "When the reduction in sunlight occurs following an eruption, the Pacific starts storing up more energy."

      However, if what he is describing is El Nino, which is what Adams et al talk about, then the ocean is giving up heat, not storing more of it.

      Adams et al write:

      Our results do not indicate that explosive tropical eruptions trigger all El Nin˜o events. Our analyses suggest, rather, that volcanic forcing drives the coupled ocean-atmosphere system more subtly towards a state in which multi-year El Nin˜o-like conditions are favoured, followed by a weaker rebound into a La Nin˜a-like state. This finding, though based on uncertain reconstructions of past ENSO behaviour, is entirely independent of previous analyses confined to the restricted instrumental climate record....

      ...such a trend would seem consistent with the response to the general increase in explosive volcanism during the fifteenth–nineteenth centuries in conjunction with reduced solar irradiance that is responsible for the millennial cooling trend of Northern Hemisphere mean temperature before modern anthropogenic warming.

      Here is a good overview of ENSO states.

      The ENSO part helps demolish his 'theory', not support it.

      Bear in mind, too, that not getting every single thing wrong doesn't make the whole right. Eg in his thunderstorm 'theory', being 'right' about, say, the fact that water evaporates and then condenses to form clouds doesn't make his whole thunderstorm theory correct.

    2. You seems to rely on the idea that ENSO is an event or cycle that you imagine Willis claims is triggered by volcanoes. My understanding of what he is describing runs more along the lines of the oceans being almost like a complicated circulating heat battery that is charged by sunlight. What Willis is describing is that vulcanism can effect air temperature and clouds, the changed air temperature subtly changes the diurnal timing of cloud formation and that changes the rate of thermal charge accumulating in the oceans which ultimately is discharged in an El Niño. The article you cite does not seem to contradict that perspective. If anything, what Willis is describing is a possible homeostatic mechanism that supplies the missing subtle forcing described here: "Our results do not indicate that explosive tropical eruptions trigger all El Niño events. Our analyses suggest, rather, that volcanic forcing drives the coupled ocean-atmosphere system more subtly towards a state in which multi-year El Niño-like conditions are favoured, followed by a weaker rebound into a La Niña-like state." In other words, your article doesn't demolish his point at all. Rather, it seems to support it.

    3. Ashby, you wrote earlier:
      ...Willis's contention that Volcanoes may have a causal link to subsequent El Niños.

      Now you're backing off from that? You shouldn't. Go back and read his testable prediction section. He's even put up a chart.

      The fact that volcanoes can lead to, or as Adams puts it, "drive it more subtly towards.." El Ninos is the entire basis of Willis' 'testable prediction' section. Without it his 'prediction' does not pass his test.

      But Willis doesn't say the energy is discharged by the ocean. He says the opposite. He says the ocean starts to store energy. He writes: I say this is a result of the action of climate phenomena that oppose the cooling....if my theory were correct, we should see a volcanic signal in some other part of the climate system involved in governing the temperature....I should see an increase in the heat contained in the Pacific Ocean after the eruptions

      Thing is, El Ninos release heat from the ocean, they don't store heat. Willis gets it back to front. The heat he 'sees' is the heat being released by the ocean not the heat being 'stored' by the ocean.

      So Willis' theory of the ocean storing heat is demolished! If an El Nino occurs then it has the opposite effect to what he theorised.

      More volcanoes, more El Ninos, earth gets even colder - the very opposite of his 'stabilising' or 'governor' effect of the ocean.

      I notice that Bob Tisdale pulls him up on that but Willis takes no notice.

      The reason the system recovers after a volcano is because the aerosols dissipate after a while, not because of El Nino. If it was just El Nino (with lesser La Ninas) the earth would cool even more, as Adams et al suggest happened in the past.

      These days, the forcing by CO2 is so great that it doesn't take very long at all for the earth to heat up again.

      Looks to me that Willis' 'prediction' has disproven his theory, not proven it.

  10. You are misunderstanding his proposed mechanism. His assertion is that immediately following the volcano you get a fall in energy reaching the earth. That cooling leads to later daily formation of clouds near the tropics which means more sunlight heating the oceans means greater heat transfer into the oceans which subsequently results in lagging feedback in an El Niño that overshoots stasis.

    So following the volcano first cooling then warming, not simply recovery. The difference being proposed is that the subsequent El Niño has been charged by more sunlight rather than simply continuation of normal heating trends as proposed by most mainstream climate science. If he's right, that's an interesting point.

    I haven't reread it, but I thought that was pretty clear. I don't understand why you are missing his basic point.

    1. Willis has not provided any support for that contention. He has not noted the season of each eruption. He has not provided any data on cloudiness.

      "So following the volcano first cooling then warming not, simply recovery" Huh? What is 'recovery' supposed to mean? If cooling the warming isn't that 'recovery'? The observations of temperature always supported that mainstream contention.

      'Normal heating trends as proposed by most mainstream science' factor in net cloudiness/net sunniness: OLR is monitored all the time. Natural variability!.,

      Annual/inter-annual variability because of such factors is a constant that science is more than aware of. Which is why warming trend signals take a long period before they can be confidently detected.

      Back to Willis,he seems to be headed towards deriving some half-baked estimate of TCS,not ECS,from his data torturing,anyway.

    2. What Nick said. Plus you are still missing the point that Willis said that El Nino *stores* energy in the ocean, when in fact it does the opposite. It *releases* energy from the ocean. It does make the air warmer by releasing that energy, but that's not what Willis is arguing.

      If there were, say, several volcanoes back to back and each of them encouraged more El Ninos with only weak La Ninas from time to time, then the oceans would get progressively *cooler* - which is the complete opposite to what Willis is arguing when he talks of the Pacific "storing" more energy. (IMO your redefinition does not capture what Willis was saying in regard to El Nino.)

      With regard to clouds, Willis argues that no clouds in daylight in the tropics will have a net warming effect compared to clouds. That may be correct or not - I don't know. What about at night time? Willis says that "in the morning the tropics is clear". When did it clear? At night time a lack of clouds would definitely have a cooling effect. Unless he's assuming that clouds appear at mid-day and stay there until sun-up the next day and then disappear, which may be the case or not. What about the wet season vs the dry season vs when the volcanic eruption has maximum effect? He doesn't discuss any of these details.

      But it's premature to get into a discussion of clouds because Willis' main argument has gone up the spout. He cannot dismiss the effect of CO2 on a whim, nor on the basis of stacking a few 20th century volcanoes and fiddling about with a fudged curve fit.

    3. I wasn't going to respond further to this because I figure the data will shake out in the end, but then I ran across a link that I think is interesting:,

      Reading through the whole piece on Simpson, the basic idea behind Willis's post seems fairly uncontroversial. Hurricanes, thunderstorms and even clouds are giant heat engines.

      Specifically interesting is the image at the bottom of this page:

      This grand characterization of the latent heat generated by tropical cloud systems occurred in 2002. Here we are 11 years later. Is it so hard to imagine that the magnitude of the influence of the tropical cloud heat pump may still be underestimated? Tropical cloud systems as heat pumps seem obvious. That these heat pumps may be regulating global climate by acting as feedback to various forcings (including volcanoes) doesn't seem all that outrageous.

    4. I'll have a go at this, because I think this is fairly straightforward issue. If I understand the basic idea, when water condenses, energy is released. The latent heat of vaporization of water is 2270 J/kg. A quick internet search tells me that rainfall per year is about 1 metre across the entire globe. This is a total mass of 5 x 10^17 kg. The total amount of energy released - in condensing this water - is therefore 1.1 x 10^21 J. If we consider the rise in ocean heat content it's about 2.5 x 10^23 since the mid 1960s and so about 5 x 10^21 J per year. Interesting, not far off the the amount of energy released in condensing water out of the atmosphere, but more by about a factor of 5 (it doesn't seem as though condensing water in the atmosphere can explain all the observed warming).

      However, there's another problem. When water evaporates again it requires 2270 J/kg. So, all the energy released when water condenses is reabsorbed when it evaporates again - unless what's being suggesting is that there is this massive reservoir of evaporated water in the atmosphere and its been condensing over the last 40 - 50 years, releasing energy which has been heating the ocean.

      Okay, I've written this quickly just before leaving the office, so maybe I've misunderstood something or got something wrong. Happy to be corrected, but it is hard to see how this can explain the warming observed over the last 40 - 50 years.

    5. Ashby, if you are postulating that thunderstorms don't happen all by themselves and are a result of changes in temperature and pressure then yes, of course. It's called colloquially weather and has been studied for a long time.

      If you are asking if energy shifts are involved, then yes, of course. That's how 'weather' works.

      If you are asking if they've got any part to play in climate change then a resounding yes. That's a truism. For one thing, there is more very heavy rain because there's more evaporation. For another thing, patterns of where and when it rains and snows and sleets is changing as climates are changing.

      If you are asking if thunderstorms are causing the world to warm or stopping the world from warming, then no. Global warming is primarily caused by the extra CO2 in the air this time around.

      Are thunderstorms, trade winds, ocean currents, etc changing as the world warms, in response to the extra energy in the earth system? Another truism. They are the expression of that energy. It's what climate scientists study. There are heaps of research papers and articles available discussing such changes and what they will mean in our day to day lives, for nations and the entire world - and especially for the future of humankind.

      Has Willis added anything to the world's knowledge of climate? Highly unlikely. He has half-baked ideas that defy the laws of physics, aka pseudo-science, and a folksy surface charm that appeals to some (but not all from what I've read) people who for some weird reason have an aversion to accepting or learning about basic physics, chemistry, biology, geology, oceanography and any and all earth system sciences. He's to climate science as a homeopath is to medical science - but maybe with even less science to back him up.

  11. Sou

    Your graph with the volcanic eruptions indicated also hints that some of the eruptions Willis left off (eg Cerro Azulejo 1932, Bezymianny 1955) also show a temperature decline. Perhaps they didn't fit the so called model, another sign of the pretend scientist in action.


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