Scroll To Top

Monday, September 23, 2013

Denier weirdness: Wondering Willis Eschenbach builds a strawman out of volcanic dust

Sou | 7:53 AM Go to the first of 5 comments. Add a comment

Update: New material added below.

Wondering Willis Eschenbach writes another post about volcanoes, which he's done before on Anthony Watts' fake sceptics' blog, wattsupwiththat.  When he's not speculating that occasional landings at remote airports are causing global warming, Willis is a proponent of a type of Gaia hypothesis.  I believe he calls it his "thunderstorm hypothesis" or "thermostatic hypothesis".  He thinks that the earth is self-regulating when it comes to climate and that it's regulated by tropical thunderstorms or some such thing. I won't go into the detail of his mathturbations in his article (archived here - updated WUWT archive here), but I will make a few observations.

Wondering Willis builds a strawman

First up Wondering Willis builds a strawman.  He talks about an urban legend.  He doesn't state which urban area has this legend but anyone who has read climate science would know that it's not a city in which climate research is carried out. He writes:
The amazing thing to me is that this urban legend about volcanoes having some big effect on the global average temperature is so hard to kill. I’ve analyzed it from a host of directions, and I can’t find any substance there at all … but it is widely believed.
The only volcanoes that have "some big effect on the global average temperature" or indeed any effect that's discernible enough to be measured are quite big volcanic eruptions, especially those that occur closer to the equator (but see update below).  But from what I've read - in the main it takes a lot of detailed analysis to separate the signal of a single volcano from the noise in the temperature record.  Dr Hansen and his colleagues on Pinatubo:
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.
Even so, the effect of a single volcano is temporary because aerosols eventually dissipate.

Willis' inexplicable weirdly low "climate sensitivity"

Another weird thing Wondering Willis writes is this - that climate sensitivity is 0.2 degrees Celsius.  He says:
 ...At the end of the day, what we have is a calculated climate sensitivity (change in temperature with forcing) which is only about two-tenths of a degree per doubling of CO2.
Now that is truly weird.  It's even odder because Willis himself in the very same article put up a chart of global temperature anomalies.  He showed monthly anomalies of HadCRUT4.  I'll show annual anomalies:

Data source: UK Met Hadley Centre

Over that period, global temperatures rose by around 0.8 degrees Celsius while carbon dioxide rose by around 40%.  It has a way to go before it doubles.  Willis inexplicably leaves a rise of around 0.7 degrees Celsius unexplained!

My question to Willis is - what has caused global surface temperature to rise by 0.8 degrees Celsius well before CO2 has doubled, if the climate sensitivity is only 0.2 degrees?  (Willis has stated he is using climate sensitivity to mean the rise in global surface temperature from a doubling of CO2.)

The weirdest thing of the lot (not really, given it's WUWT) is that no-one at WUWT asks him this question.  Not a soul.

How does Willis Eschenbach explain ice ages?

Short answer? He doesn't!

In the comments someone asks a good question.  How does Willis Eschenbach reconcile glaciations and deglaciations with his "thermostatic" hypothesis:

Thomas says:
September 22, 2013 at 10:30 am
Jim S, the emissions from individual eruptions is pretty much negligible. Overall volcanoes emit around 1% of the amount from fossil fuels.
Maybe Eschenbach has written about it before, but I’m a bit confused on how he can reconcile “I hold that changes in forcing only marginally and briefly affect the temperature. Instead, I say that a host of emergent thermostatic phenomena act quickly to cool the planet when it is too warm, and to warm it when it is too cool” with the existence of ice age cycles. Whatever thermostat the Earth has doesn’t seem all that good.

In WUWT-land ice ages are caused by a "snap" and "flip" called "hits the rails"?

Greg Goodman comes to Willis' aid with a sciency explanation (WUWT-style): "we don't know" - but says it could be caused by a magic "snap" and "flip" called "hits the rails":
September 22, 2013 at 10:43 am
Thomas: ” Whatever thermostat the Earth has doesn’t seem all that good.”
what happens at glaciation and deglaciation is clearly different from what happens in between.
There is apparently two stable states ( attractors ) for the climate system. A positive feedback seems to make it snap form one state to the other. We don’t really know what triggers the change-over.
Assuming Willis is basically correct there are limits to the tropical storms range as a feedback mechanism. It cannot go beyond totally clear skies or fully cloud covered tropics. May be when it hits the rails the climate state flips?
I don’t see glaciation as being a major argument against what Willis is proposing.
Greg says that the pseudo-scientists at WUWT "don't really know" what causes ice ages!

In other words, Greg is saying that Wondering Willis' "thermostatic" or Gaia hypothesis is bunkum.  Either that or he thinks that there is some huge sudden impact that has happened at the start of a glaciation and deglaciation.  He doesn't know what this is.

Later in the thread, Willis directly responds to Thomas' question by avoiding it - and in the process shows he can't read his own chart.  Willis says, after quoting Thomas' comment above:
The planet’s temperature varied by ± 0.3°C over the last century. This is a regulation to within about ± 0.1% … on a free-running system which is regulated by nothing more substantial than wind and water.  If you know anything about heat engines, you’ll agree that that is a fantastic governor …September 22, 2013 at 1:10 pm
Willis has shrunk the observed temperature range in his own chart, which is a rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius to a mere ± 0.3°C.  Wondering Willis has a very severe case of confirmation bias!

Climate scientists do know what precipitates an ice age

Although WUWT-ers don't know what precipitates ice ages, climate scientists do.  Climate scientists have found that variations in eccentricity, axial tilt and precession of the Earth's orbit, when combined in a certain way, affect earth's energy balance with resulting feedbacks.  A drop in surface temperature will cause atmospheric CO2 to fall which causes a further drop in surface temperature leading to an ice age; while a rise in surface temperature will cause CO2 to rise, which in turn affects global surface temperature causing the ice to melt. (Milankovitch cycles).

We might get another ice age no sooner than 50,000 years from now, depending on how much longer we use our air as a rubbish dump for waste CO2.

Willis' thunderstorms "when the globe cools"

Here is an insight into Willis' thunderstorm hypothesis - if you can call in an insight.  This is what Willis reckons happens "when the globe cools"!
When the globe cools, the tropical clouds form a few minutes later, the thunderstorms form a few minutes later … and that brings the global temperature back up. September 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm
WUWT-ers might think that Willis invented the notion that the hydrological cycle plays an important part in moderating the weather on earth, but of course he didn't.  It's basic thermodynamics.  When water evaporates it cools the surface. When it condenses into clouds the heat is moved to the atmosphere.  But that's no more than an exchange of energy within the system.  It doesn't explain the extra energy being stored on earth as evidenced by the recent very rapid warming.  The only thing that explains that is the huge increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Still, I expect the WUWT-ers will be relieved by Willis telling them that the earth won't have any more ice ages and that David "funny sunny" Archibald has it all wrong!

Update - Willis is "not even wrong" about Super-Volcanoes

Willis Eschenbach shows he doesn't keep up with the latest science when he says "temperature has always recovered" from supervolcanos and that his "hypothesis" explains this but "models" don't.
September 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm
Jim G says: September 22, 2013 at 5:10 pm A true super eruption of a super volcano might be at odds with your “self regulating” surface temperature hypothesis.
We’ve had supervolcanoes in the past, and the temperature has always recovered. Under the models’ view, that wouldn’t happen … with my hypothesis, it would.
Willis is not even wrong!

From the Max-Planck-Institut für Meteorologie (see especially the last point compared to Willis' "a few minutes later" - my bold italics):
The “Super Volcano Project” is a  crosscutting science projects of MPI-M in cooperation with the Univ. of Cambridge. At present the project involves ca 25 scientists from the MPI-M and 7 external scientists.
The major goal of this MPI-M Earth System Modelling (ESM) project is the investigation of the effects  that volcanic super eruptions have on the climate system, employing the coupled MPI-M Earth System model. ...
  • Climate effect of larger volcanic eruptions are weaker and smaller than previously thought. 
  • The global temperature signal is determined by the strength of the SO2 emission and not by the latitude of the eruption
  • Post-eruption oceanic and atmospheric anomalies describe a decadal fluctuation in the coupled ocean–atmosphere system. 
  • Improved description of processes acting on multidecadal timescales is pivotal to constrain the climate response to the 1809 and Tambora tropical eruptions. 
  • Radiative heating from volcanic ash cause rotation of volcanic cloud, which influences the transport in the first days on local scale. 
  • Eruption season has a significant influence on aerosol optical depth and clear-sky shortwave (SW) radiative flux anomalies and for large volcanic eruption also on the all sky SW flux anomalies. 
  • Annular mode response after volcanic eruption increases logarithmically with increasing eruption magnitude. 
  • Deposition of sulphate to the Antarctic polar ice sheet is strongly dependent on eruption magnitude 
  • Mt. Pinatubo eruption causes the observed delay of the QBO cycle in 1991/1992. 
  • Post-eruption sea ice anomalies show strong hemispheric differences dependent on the magnitude of the eruption. 
  • Bare soil coverage is strongly increasing after a very large volcanic eruption with  fewer trees and more grass
  • Post-eruption atmospheric CO2 anomalies are explained mainly by changes in land carbon storage in the initial phase. In the longer term, the ocean compensates for the atmospheric carbon loss.

You can also read more on the impact of super-volcanoes here at New Scientist.

Here again is the link to the archived WUWT article that Anthony Watts posted - updated here.


  1. (This comment is more-or-less a cross-post from WattsUpWithThatBlog, but for the record...)

    Sou nails the craziness about climate sensitivity *and* the apparent inability of the Watties to spot a glaring problem.

    They do nibble around the deglaciation issue, but very feebly. And it is a whopper of a problem for Wondering Willis's hypothesis of self-regulating climate:

    I hold that changes in forcing only marginally and briefly affect the temperature. Instead, I say that a host of emergent thermostatic phenomena act quickly to cool the planet when it is too warm, and to warm it when it is too cool.

    First, who knew there was a magic, ideal climate state maintained by these "emergent thermostatic phenomena"? Endless Holocene, all because Gaia likes it just so... What absolute and utter nonsense.

    But follow where it leads. WW is arguing for an insensitive climate system - such as would result if negative feedbacks were dominant. But this is flatly incompatible with known paleoclimate behaviour which is highly variable, suggesting that the real climate system is dominated by *positive* feedbacks. Deglaciation under orbital forcing is a spectacularly good example of exactly this. A mere seasonal and spatial reorganisation of TSI is sufficient to set of a train of positive feedbacks that ultimately push the climate system right out of a glacial state and into an interglacial. Globally, TSI barely changes at all.

    But if WW was correct, the climate system would never to anything much at all. Endless summer. Holocene forever. Quite how WW can write this tripe with a straight face remains a mystery. How does one ignore the fact that all known paleoclimate behaviour flatly contradicts you? Makes an obvious nonsense of what you say? It's astonishing.

  2. I would add that the key factor in the climatic effect of the Milankovich cycles is how the sunlight is distrbuted over the year on the northern hemisphere (with the largest land masses). If there is more sunlight during summer (i.e. the north pole is tilted towards the sun in summer), all snow will melt away. If there is less sun light during summer (i.e. the north pole is tilted away), then some of the summer snow will stay, and glaciers will build up. These will in turn increase the albedo, causing further cooling. Also the size of the tilt and the eliptical shape of Earth's orbit around the sun has an influence on this distribution of sunlight.
    But it is important to realize that the total amount of light reaching Earth is not very different between a glacial and an interglacial: it is mainly a matter of how it is distributed. That is sufficient to cause great changes in Earth's climate.

  3. Slightly off topic but a window into wishful Willis's world... There is a comment from Forest Mims III which gets an unctuous reply from W. Willis then gets a lot wrong. Mims published 3 Amatuer Scientist columns in Scientific American after the journal had decided they didn't want a creationist in a scientific magazine. Hardly the glowing resume W gives him. And Martin Gardner, who would have seen straight through Wiliis, Watts and his cronies, never did the Amateur Science column either

    1. Lol - I briefly noticed that but skipped over it. Poor Willis.

      Willis sucks up to people he thinks are his betters (we call such sycophancy "crawling"), but gets very nasty and angry with people who disagree with him. Which just makes him look the more hilariously stupid, because more often than not it's Willis who's wrong about whatever is being discussed.

      He's not a very nice person. (Remember his dreadful letter to the new chief editor of Science mag).

  4. Who is Willis Eschenbach?

    As of 2012 Mr. Eschenbach has been employed as a House Carpenter.

    He is not a "computer modeler", he is not an "engineer" and he is certainly not a "scientist" (despite all ridiculous claims to the contrary).

    "A final question, one asked on Judith Curry's blog a year ago by a real scientist, Willis Eschenbach..."


Instead of commenting as "Anonymous", please comment using "Name/URL" and your name, initials or pseudonym or whatever. You can leave the "URL" box blank. This isn't mandatory. You can also sign in using your Google ID, Wordpress ID etc as indicated. NOTE: Some Wordpress users are having trouble signing in. If that's you, try signing in using Name/URL or OpenID. Details here.

Click here to read the HotWhopper comment policy.