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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The catalyst for hearing problems of an engineer

Sou | 10:00 PM Go to the first of 12 comments. Add a comment

An engineer, Bob Fernley-Jones, has written an article for Anthony Watts' blog, wattsupwiththat.  You can read the archived version here (updated)  (old version here) to save going to WUWT.  It's about a recent showing of Catalyst on Australia's ABC.  The episode was climate change and extreme events.

Before I go any further let me explain the title.  There are a lot of climate hawks who are engineers.  There are a lot of intelligent educated engineers out there.  However for some reason, climate science denial attracts engineers, which is why I mention in the title that Bob is an engineer.  He said so.

You can see the show here.  It's quite good for a short segment.  It runs for about 18 minutes.  There's a transcript as well as a Q&A.

 Back to Bob.  He complains of hearing problems.  Bob shows these screen grabs from the show. Click the image to enlarge it.

This is what Bob writes (his words shriek his ideology, don't they):

The narration elucidated how these bell curves clarified why the weather had become more extreme in the past decade, and, being a tad curious I searched around for the source, but without success. My closest find is contained in a report by our Oz government funded Climate Commission entitled The Angry Summer. (2012/3 DJF) This august body is headed by Prof Tim Flannery and amongst its expert advisors is Prof David Karoly, about whom I guess many overseas readers have heard?
But, engineers like me tend to be suspicious, and one thing I puzzled on was that the change in global average T of 0.80 C took place over a period of ~160 years according to HadCRU, and that the Catalyst show implied that the alleged effects were concentrated into the last decade.

Bob bases an article about the fact that his hearing is deficient, or maybe it's a matter of confirmation bias.  I'm thinking Bob's eyesight might be affected too, because the web page he refers readers to has the complete transcript.  Bob said that the Catalyst show implied that the alleged effects were concentrated into the last decade.  Here are the relevant sections from the transcript.  These are the only statements that mention 0.8 degrees.

Anja Taylor
Global average temperatures have only increased by 0.8 of a degree Celsius. One would think that this would just lead to slightly warmer summers. But, actually, it's greatly increasing the chances of extremely hot weather....
Although an exceptional year, it's not outside the range of what's now considered normal. If you plot temperature records, they fall in a typical bell-curve pattern, with the majority only a small deviation from the average, and the outliers representing extreme hot or cold events. With a 0.8 degree rise in temperature, a much larger portion now sits in the warmer-than-average section, and hot to extremely hot days are far more frequent....
Dr Susan Wijffels
We're already starting to detect and see big changes in the extreme events. And we've only really warmed the Earth by 0.8 of a degree. If we were to warm the Earth by 3 or 4 degrees, the changes in the hydrological cycle could be near 30 percent. I mean, that's just a huge change, and it's very hard for us to imagine....
So nope! Not the hint of a suggestion that it warmed 0.8 degrees in only a decade.  Any normal person would probably think - ah, since industrialisation it's warmed by 0.8 degrees.  Or they might think, since global warming started earth has warmed by 0.8 degrees.  Bob's funny.

He got quite interested in the show and put a number of questions to the Catalyst team.  For example as par of one question he writes, referring to a paper  on the Russian heat wave:
 So, since that was peer reviewed it is not necessary to look any further right?
Yet, elsewhere, and whilst others also claim that it was within centennial natural variability, apparently there was conflict in other peer reviewed studies based on computer modelling that the likelihood of such events is increasing, (based on one recent event, uh?).
Bob isn't a scientist so we should cut him some slack.  If he's ever written a report he probably thinks that's all that needs to be said on the matter and no-one will ever contradict him.  That's not how science works though.  Science is full of contradictions.  That's what makes it fun. Someone will say one thing, another will disagree, more evidence is ferreted out and analysed.  People will look at it all different ways and, depending on the level of interest in the topic at hand, eventually with enough evidence and enough thinking on the matter of how to interpret the evidence, a consensus will be reached.  The more evidence supporting an explanation the stronger the consensus.  Bob seems to think every item of interest only gets picked up once by one person or a team, looked at and then put in a cupboard never to be looked at by anyone else ever again.

With the Russian heat wave there have been papers that differ in one respect or other.  In fact a lot of people have now studied the Russian heat wave of 2010.  For example:

  • Trenberth and Fasullo (2012) Climate extremes and climate change: The Russian heat wave and other climate extremes of 2010, J. Geophys. Res., 117, D17103, doi:10.1029/2012JD018020
  • Coumou and Rahmstorf (2012), A decade of weather extremes, Nature Climate Change doi:10.1038/nclimate1452
  • Otto et al (2012) Reconciling two approaches to attribution of the 2010 Russian heat wave, GRL DOI: 10.1029/2011GL050422
  • and more

Getting back to WUWT, Bob decides the bell curves for temperature as shown above are wrong and he's come up with some alternatives, which readers will enjoy.  Click for larger version.

What Bob seems to have done is mixed up global temperatures with local temperatures - or something like that.  It's really not clear what he is trying to portray.  Anyway, it's got pretty colours.  It's much prettier than Christopher Monckton's yucky pink charts.

How engineer, Bob Fernley-Jones fails arithmetic 

Bob's a bit of a funny one.  As well as having deficient hearing and eyesight when it comes to things climate, he's also not crash hot at arithmetic.  Which is strange for an engineer.  He isn't aware that you can have a summer across an entire continent in the hottest on record without having any state or territory being the hottest on record.

I've covered this before because it turns out that a lot of climate science deniers are very poor at arithmetic, especially the notion of averages.  They must have been away that day at primary school and never had to average anything since.  The following is part of what I wrote some time ago:

Here's a series of numbers to illustrate.  It is sets of numbers grouped by year.  In all but the last two years, at least one of A, B, C, D or E has the maximum for all years.  Each one has a "record" highlighted.  Yet the average for Year 5 is greater than the average in any prior year even though none of A through E has a record in Year 5.

You can read the full article here.

Perhaps Bob has children at school who can give him a remedial lesson on averages.

Bob Fernley-Jones is very organised

Bob has some strengths.  He is very organised.  He broke his article into "Parts".  Here is Part 3.

Part 3:Breaking the mood with something almost amusing:
I’ve also submitted a wider ranging formal complaint to our taxpayer funded ABC, concerning the bias and other stuff in this story, (the ABC is required by statute to serve the public, and breached its own editorial policies). I closed the complaint off with this:
Ms [Anja] Taylor was the declared presenter, producer and researcher for this show. She presented almost entirely extreme views with an apparent lack of investigative journalism. With the exception of Dr Fischer’s input about the warming effect of dry soils, (which is not controversial if we ignore Prof David Karoly), all other topics were either demonstrably false or controversial. Not content with presenting scientific material facts and balance, (the Editorial Policies require impartiality), she adds inappropriate drama and irrelevance including these images:
Bob included some screenshots from the video to show what he was referring to.  There was "inappropriate drama".  Remember, conservative science deniers don't like drama - it makes them scared. They prefer someone to tell them there is no need to be scared.

There's more and you can read the full article without having to go to WUWT by clicking here for an archived version (updated).

From the WUWT comments

Philip Bradley is a pedant.  He reckons that extreme should be relative to the present, not the past.  What would have been extreme yesterday won't be considered extreme in the future.  At least he seems to accept the world is warming, which is unusual for WUWT.  He says:
August 28, 2013 at 3:13 am
The narration elucidated how these bell curves clarified why the weather had become more extreme in the past decade
The usual statistical ignorance. If weather/temperature continues a normal distribution with the same SD, which that image shows, then by definition extreme weather stays the same, although of course the average changes.

thingadonta asks about our winters and I imagine he's saying there should be a bigger fuss made of the record warm winters, too.  They are not so angrily cold:
August 28, 2013 at 3:32 am
Why doesn’t the Climate Commission report on the lack of angry winters since Australia has gotten warmer…..also supposedly due to human activities.
This is for thingadonta from the Sydney Morning Herald:

David L. thinks nothing is extreme unless a record is broken.  (He ought to come here during one of our extreme heat waves.)  David says:
August 28, 2013 at 4:03 am
They’ve started the “extreme weather” meme. Here in Philadelphia I can’t watch a news program without being told of some extreme weather going on somewhere in the country. Just yesterday it was the “extreme, near record temperatures in the mid west”. (How can a near record be extreme?). What was the temperature? 92F. I’m sorry, but 92F is not extreme, even if it lasts 3 days and becomes the dreaded “heat wave”. Oh my! Then we ha the extreme dust cloud, the extreme rain, the extreme flooding, and the extreme forest fires all in the same day! Wow ! The end is surely near….except I remember seeing these things every summer going back to the 1960′s.. In 1973 92F was hot weather, in 2013 it’s extreme weather.
But does the average person fall for this propaganda? When you’re told that 92F is extreme, do you really believe it’s extreme? I certainly don’t and I suspect they’re trying to sell me something.

JohnC might volunteer to teach the remedial arithmetic class:
August 28, 2013 at 7:12 am
The Other Phil is (regrettably) incorrect. Of the 3 types of averages, mean is the one fairly described as dividing an area in half.
Mean – Sum of all members divided by how many members (of a set)
Median – Middle number (after sorting in numerical order)
Mode – Most Common Number
For example: of the set 1 1 1 2 2 3 11
Mean 3 [21/7 = 3]
Median 2 [(1 1 1) 2 (2 3 11)]
Mode 1 [(1 1 1) 2 2 3 11]

Leo G is, to put it politely, confused about the 0.8 degrees:
August 28, 2013 at 5:58 am
If the land surface temperature anomaly for the full set of Australian stations shows a 10-year shift of 0.8 degree C- which appears to correspond to 1SD- then there must be a significant systematic error in play (cyclical variation perhaps).

charles nelson is probably under the illusion that by getting rid of the Climate Commission all talk of climate change will stop and he'll have nothing to moan about:
August 28, 2013 at 4:49 am
There will be a new Government in Australia in a few weeks, and they will not forget the ruthless campaign the ABC ran in support of Green/Labor. The Climate Commission too is ‘toast’ as the Aussies say. This is their last squeal.


  1. "It's really not clear what he is trying to portray." - he effectively made an earth spatial distribution of measured temperatures and found the cold extremes to be much farther from world average than the hot ones (-90 is 105 below, but 60 is only 45 above that average).

    This mixes up weather in localities with extremes over the entire world.

    What is actually happening is that e.g. monthly world average temperatures used to distribute remarkably symmetrical but are recently starting to actually skewer toward the hot side. It looks like this (Hansen 2012): .

    That means the extremes are not moving merely to the right according to the degree or so of global warming, but rather show to be getting out of hand. I.e. an increase of one sd of average temperature leads to an increase of 2-3 sd of the hot extremes. This IS a serious matter, as Russia can testify per 2010, or Texas could like this: .

    I call these things 'hyperextremes'. They basically used not to happen before the end of last century, then this century once per couple years (Euro summer 2003), then from 2006-2011 about one per year (Moskou '10, Texas '11, Hudson/Baffin winter '10, North Sea region July 2006 or Aprils '07 and '11 - three 'once in 10.000 yr events within five years) and since the US 'Summer in March'-insanity apparently couple of hyperextremes going on somewhere at the same time (Scandinavia and US Southwest both twice this summer, accompanied by the Jenisey heatwave that will never receive the attention due, like for the gargantuan wildfires there; China, where Hangzhou measured 40+ twice in the cities record until this summer when that happened 11 times, et cetera).

    I think the precipitation parameter is exhibiting the same behaviour, what with the increasing list of countries having suffered from two 'Floods of the Century' this century alone, or droughts beginning to last years and years again instead of two seasons.

  2. KR

    "...climate science denial attracts engineers..."

    Engineers are problem solvers, not investigators - when faced with a question they pull out the closest fit in their existing toolbox and apply it, even if it's vice grips on delicate glass. They can be very very good at that, but there is a tendency to use a limited tool-set (hammer?) and classify everything according to those tools (all nails?).

    Add to that a tendency (that I have observed in action) to not look beyond what is readily visible (into the distant future, for example), and to treat most problems as limited and closed issues - many engineers tend to whip out the duct tape for a short term fix, rather than looking at longer term solutions or larger interconnected systems. I can see why the simplistic and horizon limited outlook of denial can appeal to some.

    Investigative scientists, on the other hand, are (somewhat) more likely to look around to see what the appropriate tools are, to ask themselves what kind of problem they are examining. Not always - Dr. Pielke Sr. has apparently never seen any climate question that cannot be linked solely to regional land use - but they have a somewhat better chance of an open mind starting out.

    Not a universal observation - but I've certainly seen tendencies in these directions in both groups.

  3. Maybe an engineer should learn more of the science.

    Higher average temperatures without higher extremes are to be expected from the CO2 greenhouse effect. Because of the way long wave radiation is intercepted en route to outer space, the consequence is higher nighttime minimum temperatures, not daily maximums.

    1. Seriously, that would seem to imply that global warming is some local effect and that the energy simply heats the surface from which the radiation initially was emitted (I think). Global warming is simply the trapping of outgoing long-wavelength radiation which means that the energy leaving the climate system is reduced and hence the total energy builds up until surface temperatures have risen so as to reach a new equilibrium (outgoing energy balancing incoming energy). Admittedly, there are local variations but I do not think it is correct to state that global warming will only produce higher nighttime minima and not increase daily maxima. Once the energy is trapped it doesn't get to decide whether it only heats the surface at night.

    2. In fairness, you do have a point in that we would expect the nights to warm faster than the days. Explained very nicely here.

    3. In my experience the nights are warming a lot. We get fewer frosts. We were getting some very hot nights in the middle of autumn this year - but they say that's because of the hot oceans.

      Days are also getting hotter around these parts. Records are still being broken. I hate to think what heat and heat waves the next El Nino will bring.

      From what I've read including BoM charts, I agree with both of you that nights are getting hotter faster.

    4. Also the maximum temperature during the day is increasing, but you are right the minimum temperature during the night is increasing more. Also the winter temperatures are increasing more than the summer temperatures. And the temperatures at the poles are increasing faster as the temperatures near the equator.

      Those would be reasons why temperature variability may decrease. Still heatwaves are expected to get worse.

      The pictures or people in hospitals and some coffins are appropriate. Heat kills a lot of people. The heatwave in Russia in 2010 is estimated to have killed 55,000 people and the one in Europe in 2003 around 70 thousand people.

  4. Yes, that was poorly stated. If I'd spent a little more time on it:

    "...the consequence is more higher nighttime minimum temperatures than daily maximums."

    This generality is frequently encountered (along with winters warming more than summers), but I've never seen an adequate explanation.

    Of course it's going to seem more pronounced at night, when it is acting alone, without the sun. But why isn't there an equal additive effect during the daytime that would raise the daytime temperatures an equal amount? Indeed, even more, since a hotter daytime pavement will give off more long wave radiation than at night, when it's cooler.

    I have these questions. But I'd never let a few engineering courses cloud my judgment. When reading science from a legitimate source, what I don't understand, is something that I need to learn.

  5. Hi SOF, it's mostly down to the fact that outgoing longwave radiation varies as the fourth power of the surface temperature. We can write a crude surface energy balance as:

    LW_up = LW_dn + SW_dn

    This neglects the non-radiative fluxes (sensible heat flux, latent heat flux, and ground conduction) but is enough to show the basic idea. Here LW_up is longwave radiation emitted by the surface, LW_dn is incoming longwave radiation from the atmosphere (the so-called greenhouse effect), and SW_dn is solar radiation absorbed by the surface.

    Since LW_up=s*((Ts)^4), where Ts is surface temperature, we can plug this in on the left-hand side and solve for Ts:

    Ts = ((LW_dn + SW_dn)/s)^(1/4)

    At night, SW_dn is zero so

    Ts = (LW_dn/s)^(1/4)

    Now let's suppose a future world where increased greenhouse gases cause an increase in LW_dn. Call the increase D (for delta). During the daytime we have

    Ts(new) = ((LW_dn + D + SW_dn)/s)^(1/4)

    where LW_dn is our original value. At night,

    Ts(new) = ((LW_dn + D)/s)^(1/4)

    If you're adept at algebra-in-the-head you can see that the effect on Ts is bigger at night because D is added to a smaller base before taking the fourth root.

    If it helps to work out an example, you can plug in some realistic values. In round numbers LW_dn = 300 W/m2, SW_dn = 300 W/m2, and D = 5 W/m2 are reasonable.

    These example inputs will give a too-large value for the diurnal temperature range because we've neglected some of the other fluxes. While adding these other fluxes would give us a more realistic temperature range we'd still get the day/night asymmetry in warming because of the fourth-power dependence of LW_up on Ts. Hope this helps.

  6. Sorry, forgot to mention that s is the Stefan-Boltzmann constant, 5.67*10^-8 W/(m^2 K^4).

    Not to mention that discussions like this would be a lot easier if the blog software allowed things like scientific notation and superscripts/subscripts.

  7. I wonder if chemical engineers (I'm one) are over-represented as AGW deniers? At least they are trained to do mass and energy balances (and study a lot of heat transfer).


    1. Anon Chem E, Thanks. All those equations are needed to really understand what's happening.

      Note that my short form - for everyday use - is based only on your smaller base, and not on the fourth power...

      The effect on surface temperature is greater at night for a given amount of increased long wave radiation because it's added to a smaller (nighttime) base, since the sun's (daytime) radiation isn't included.


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