At WUWT, I saw that there is a new TED-Ed video by a particle physicist at CERN. As you probably know, a team at CERN is investigating the details of how clouds form, as part of a project called "CLOUD".
A fair bit of the video is just basic climate science. I have to say, though, that Jasper Kirkby seems prone to self-aggrandisement, big-noting his research and implying that his experiment is going to pin down a precise number for climate sensitivity.
He's also a bit misleading. Jasper Kirkby said:
"When concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere double, which is expected before the end of the 21st Century, researchers project that global temperatures will have risen by 1.5C to 4.5C. If the increase is near the low end, 1.5C, then we're already half way there, and we should be more able to adapt with some regions becoming drier and less productive but others becoming warmer wetter and more productive. On the other hand, a rise of 4.5C would be similar in magnitude to the warming that's occurred since the last glacial maximum, 22,000 years ago, when most of North America was under an ice sheet two kilometres thick. So that would represent a dramatic change of climate."
- At present rates of emissions, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is likely to double about half way through this century, well before the end of the century.
- We are not yet halfway to a doubling of CO2. CO2 has risen by 120 ppm of the 280 ppm extra required to double atmospheric CO2, which means we are 43% of the "way there".
- Earth's temperature will not stop rising after CO2 doubles.
There is more that I find fault with in his short video. He claims that "it is vitally important for scientists to predict the change in temperature with as much precision as possible so that society can plan for the future". He implies that it's only global average surface temperature that's important. Sure it will help, but just as important is planning for sea level rise, planning for ocean acidification and figuring out what changes there will be at the regional level.
Jasper claims that the "present range of uncertainty is simply too large to be confident of how best to respond". I disagree. We already know enough that at the very least, we need to cut emissions of CO2. We need to switch away from burning fossil fuels and move to renewable energy sources.
Then Jasper Kirkby implies that his experiment is what the climate science world, maybe the entire world, has been waiting for. He claims that the range of climate sensitivity is all down to uncertainty in clouds and aerosols. He said:
"But this estimate of 1.5C to 4.5C for a doubling of carbon dioxide hasn't changed in 35 years. Why haven't we been able to narrow it down? The answer is that we don't yet understand aerosols and clouds well enough. But a new experiment at CERN is tackling the problem."
Although the IPCC AR4 report stated in one section that "...cloud feedbacks remain the largest source of uncertainty in climate sensitivity estimates", they are not the only source. There are other things that impact climate sensitivity, like how quickly the ice will melt and affect the amount of sunlight reflected vs absorbed. Like what can we learn from past climates. Like what will happen to ocean circulation and ocean currents as we heat up the planet. It's not just clouds and aerosols.
Jasper then goes into a short explanation of climate sensitivity and radiation imbalance, which is fairly straightforward. He goes on to talk about the increase in greenhouse gases and the increase in aerosol particles. But he refers to them as "But our activities have, at the same time, increased the amount of aerosol particles in clouds, which have cooled the planet." I might have misunderstood what he's trying to say. It looks as if he is mixing up two notions. Some clouds have a warming and some have a cooling effect. And aerosol particles don't just end up in clouds. AFAIK they can reflect sunlight (not all aerosol particles do this) in their own right, whether in clouds or not.
Jasper goes into a spiel on clouds, saying, quite rightly, that we have no way of knowing how cloudy it was in 1750. Jasper Kirkby makes much of the fact that this is arguably the main source of uncertainty, which is probably true, in climate feedbacks at least. However as noted earlier, it's probably only part of the picture. It seems to me that Jasper Kirkby is wanting to inflate the importance of his CLOUD experiments. The work of CLOUD should help in understanding what happens at the micro level. There is also a lot of work being done at the observational and macro level, such as NASA's CERES.
The CLOUD experiments will no doubt be of considerable value once they starts generating more results. But to suggest that his team and his team alone is going to unravel all the mysteries of climate change is going a mite too far, surely.
Jasper Kirkby explains the different types of atmospheric aerosols - as primary or secondary etc. He describes how a cloud cannot form without an aerosol particle seed. He explains, also quite rightly, that the way aerosol particles contribute to cloud formation is poorly understood, for various reasons. But he goes back to claiming that it's the uncertainty of aerosol/cloud formation that is "the primary reason for uncertainty in climate sensitivity and the corresponding wide range in future climate projections". That seems like a generalisation, or should I say, it's too specific. He could be correct, but I don't know that it's just the aerosol/cloud part that's the primary reason for uncertainty. (He keeps repeating this as if people might not register the importance of clouds to weather.)
Jasper says how he and his colleagues at CERN have "managed to build a steel vessel that's large enough and has low enough contamination that aerosol formation can, for the first time, be measured under tightly controlled atmospheric conditions in the laboratory."
He says that "in its first five years of operation, CLOUD has identified the vapours responsible for aerosol formation in the atmosphere, which include sulphuric acid, ammonia, amines, and biogenic vapours from trees." I believe that a lot of people knew that already, before CLOUD. What CLOUD can contribute is more details of the reactions that take place.
Jasper also says that "CLOUD is also investigating if galactic cosmic rays enhance the formation of aerosols in clouds. This has been suggested as a possible unaccounted natural climate forcing agent, since the flux of cosmic rays raining down on the atmosphere varies with solar activity." Thankfully, as will be seen below, he doesn't try to claim that cosmic rays have anything to do with this period of climate warming.
Jasper sums up by telling us how CLOUD is addressing two big questions:
- Firstly, "how cloudy was the pre-industrial climate and hence, how much have clouds changed due to human activities." Jasper says, "that knowledge will help sharpen climate projections in the twenty first century".
- Secondly, "could the puzzling observations of solar climate variability in the pre-industrial climate be explained by an influence of galactic cosmic rays on clouds".
He doesn't need to grandstand.
If you think I've been too harsh with Jasper Kirkby, let me know in the comments.
From the WUWT comments
As I said, Anthony Watts posted the video at WUWT. Here are some of the comments.
DonM is complaining that the video presented global warming as a fact. He also talks about precision vs accuracy:
October 13, 2014 at 3:05 pm
That’s exactly what first jumped out at me as well (but the video narrative does not say predict the RISE, or increase; although the video narrative does say “…predict the change…”).
The second thing that jumped out was that they think that they need to predict the change with better PRECISION. I don’t care how precise they are … if the predictions are not ACCURATE then the level of precision is worthless. They can miss the predicted target, by a consistent 4 degrees (high) in twenty different manipulated models, and then tout how precise the modeling is, but it still will not prove to be accurate.
Some terms are not interchangeable. Some terms are only interchangeable in proper context. Using the terms in the wrong context is either a show of ignorance … or worse.
Rud Istvan is mistaken. The only claims that were dismissed out of hand were claims that modern warming isn't from greenhouse gases but from cosmic rays. No scientist that I know of dismissed out of hand any claim that galactic cosmic rays might affect cloud formation. Though they obviously aren't a major influence.
October 13, 2014 at 12:28 pm
Actually, I find this hopeful. Previously, Svensmarks hypothesis was being dismissed out of hand. Now, there is serious experimwntation at CERN showing the hypothesis has some merit. Further unsettling the previously ‘settled science, and further unsettling the ‘debate is over’ crowd like Kerry and OBama. The more the general public understands it isn’t settled, the more the political wind goes out of their sails.
BTW thanks to AW to todays WUWT ad on my last book, intentional or not a nice shout out.
This comment from Bill_W sounds a bit like the comment from Anthony Watts about the Berkeley Earth exercise, until he changed his tune when it found the same as every other temperature reconstruction.
October 13, 2014 at 4:44 pm
Now that CERN is doing the experiments with dozens of scientists from around the world (if it is anything like every other CERN experiment) it will be much easier to publish and discuss without repercussions.
You can’t very well say that it’s not physics when it’s done at CERN. And if it has a lot of authors, it is hard to call them deniers. Especially if you don’t want a thousand other physicists to suddenly wake up and jump down your throat. Even if it starts to warm again at 0.15 C/decade, it will be hard to keep up the really wacko alarmist crap.
October 13, 2014 at 1:32 pm
The pitch assumes that the temperature increase from 1750 is due to CO2 increases. That is a grand leap of faith. Faith is a poor substitute for facts. Are any unfaithful scientists working on the CLOUD program?
October 13, 2014 at 2:40 pm
Not a particularly informative video.
October 13, 2014 at 3:52 pm
Their stated objective of determining pre-1750 cloud levels, I find wholly unrealistic.
October 13, 2014 at 11:07 pm
Thanks. Their cloud chamber conditions include ultra clean air and temperature stable to 0.1 C. Nothing like the real atmosphere. They may discover interesting physics but may not be what’s happening in the atmosphere. They should also simulate dirty air and highly varying temperature.
Note: In the original version I inadvertently referred to Jasper Kirkby as James Kirby. Goodness knows why. Thanks to anonymous for correcting me. Sou 14 October 2014.