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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Anthony Watts, cosmic rays, Hockey Schtick and Dan Pangburn

Sou | 12:33 AM Go to the first of 5 comments. Add a comment

Deniers are having a really hard time at the moment. With climate change getting more and more obvious, Anthony Watts is referring to nutty and nuttier to keep his fans' attention. Today he started off okay, but ended up referring to a denier called Dan Pangburn via one of Anthony's "anonymous cowards" who goes by the name of the Hockey Schtick.

The newly published paper that Anthony was writing about to start with was by J. Svensmark, M. B. Enghoff, N. J. Shaviv, and H. Svensmark. The last author is the scientist from Denmark who is much beloved by fake sceptics for his cosmic ray hypothesis. (The second last author is an "it's the sun" proponent and global warming denier.) In the new paper, the authors report some work where they say they have found that cloud cover decreases in response to Forbush decrease events.

Forbush decrease events and galactic cosmic rays

I looked up Forbush decrease events. They were first reported by S. E. Forbush in 1938.  They are an observed sudden reduction in cosmic ray intensity. When the sun ejects a cloud of magnetised plasma, this plasma screens out galactic cosmic rays. If the plasma hits Earth it can result in a sudden reduction in the amount of cosmic rays reaching our atmosphere.

The researchers looked at data from which they derived cloud cover before, during and after 26 of the strongest Forbush decrease events in the period from 1985 to 2007. The first of these events was in 1989 and the last in 2005. It wasn't easy to detect the effect on clouds, but they reported that clouds decreased, and then recovered several days later. As I understand it, the authors are talking about a change in cloud cover of maybe at most one or two per cent for a very short period of time, so it was hard to distinguish from noise.

Cooler sunmore cosmic raysmore clouds (cooler or warmer Earth?)

That finding would be consistent with the theory that galactic cosmic rays influence cloud cover through ionisation. That is, the more cosmic rays, the more clouds. At this point I should point out that when the sun is strongest, that's when the least amount of cosmic rays hit Earth, so according to the cosmic ray hypothesis, that's when cloud cover would be at its lowest. With the sun losing strength since the middle of last century, and with this last solar cycle being particularly weak, there would have been more cosmic rays and more cloud cover. (For people who think clouds as a whole tend to reduce warming, that means that the rise in temperature of the last few decades must be from other sources - like greenhouse gases.) The authors wrote about the chain of events this way:
The consistent chain of reactions is fewer cosmic rays → less ionization → less aerosol nucleation, fewer formed CCN → fewer cloud droplets → larger cloud droplets [Boucher et al., 2013], decrease in cloud fraction, cloud optical thickness, and in cloud emissivity.
I can't comment on the merits or otherwise of the paper itself. It was published in a reputable journal, which gives it some weight. I can comment on the press release, which goes beyond the paper, and finishes with this:
The effect from Forbush decreases on clouds is too brief to have any impact on long-term temperature changes.

However since clouds are affected by short term changes in galactic cosmic radiation, they may well also be affected by the slower change in Solar activity that happens on scales from tens to hundreds of years, and thus play a role in the radiation budget that determines the global temperature.

The Suns contribution to past and future climate change may thus be larger than merely the direct changes in radiation, concludes the scientists behind the new study.
It really doesn't say much of anything, but could give some false hope to the "it's the sun" crowd, or at least the ones who get the cosmic ray hypothesis back to front.

Anthony Watts gets the cosmic ray hypothesis back to front

What I can also comment on is the article by Anthony Watts at WUWT. He wrote some stuff that suggests he:
  1. doesn't understand the cosmic ray hypothesis
  2. doesn't know that the weaker sun would mean more cloud cover, not less
  3. doesn't "believe in" the greenhouse effect.

The evidence for points 1. and 2. are illustrated by him quoting Roy Spencer. Anthony wrote:
It is worth noting again what Dr. Roy Spencer has said about clouds:

“The most obvious way for warming to be caused naturally is for small, natural fluctuations in the circulation patterns of the atmosphere and ocean to result in a 1% or 2% decrease in global cloud cover. Clouds are the Earth’s sunshade, and if cloud cover changes for any reason, you have global warming — or global cooling.”
Roy Spencer is arguing that fewer clouds mean more warming, and the reverse - that more clouds mean less warming. The problem with Anthony quoting that is that, according to the cosmic ray hypothesis, there should be fewer clouds with the weaker sun of late, not more clouds. Therefore all things being equal (leaving aside the extra CO2), the planet should be cooling, and it's not. It's getting very hot. (That's leaving aside the question of whether clouds have a net warming or cooling influence. Some argue that on balance, more clouds warm, very slightly, but as I understand it the jury is still out. As this article states: high thin clouds warm, low thick clouds cool - on balance.)

Anthony pushes pseudo-science gobbledegook from a greenhouse effect denier

As for point 3, well Anthony promoted some nonsense from a greenhouse effect denier, Dan Pangburn via the Hockey Schtick. Dan visited HotWhopper one time, pushing his somewhat unusual and very contorted hypotheses. He illustrated the saying attributed to John von Neumann: "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk." (Someone's taken a shot at a trunk wiggle.)

The hypothesis was contrived around what Dan calls the time integral of sunspot numbers and accumulated solar energy. It sounds as if he's saying that energy from the sun shines in but doesn't get out and that's what's causing global warming. So what's wrong with that, you might ask. Isn't that what's happening? Well, yes. However you and I know that it's greenhouse gases that are slowing the amount of energy being radiated back off the planet. What Anthony is arguing (via Dan Pangburn and the Hockey Schtick) is that "it's the sun" not greenhouse gases that are causing Earth to heat up. Anthony doesn't explain how this can happen while the sun's energy isn't as strong as it was. He just stopped at "accumulated solar energy plus ocean oscillations" and let his readers try to figure out what that mess was all about. (Don't bother, it's complete nonsense - is all I can say.)

Almost every time Anthony Watts tries to write an article he makes a fool of himself, and this is no exception. Not that he writes much. All he did was top and tail the copy and pasted press release - and even writing so little, he still came out looking like a nincompoop.

From the WUWT comments

There are 284 "thoughts" so far under this latest abomination from Anthony Watts. The first one is probably just what Anthony Watts was hoping for. Latitude doesn't seem to know that the sun hasn't been too hot lately, despite all the ice age cometh articles it's provoked at WUWT, and wrote:
August 25, 2016 at 12:18 pm
maybe the sun did it after all

Salvatore Del Prete hinted that the resident solar physicist at WUWT won't agree with the study.
August 25, 2016 at 12:20 pm
Solar variations affect the abundance of clouds in our atmosphere, a new study lead by DTU Space suggests. Large eruptions on the surface of the Sun can temporarily shield Earth from so-called cosmic rays which now appear to affect cloud formation.
Which Leif does not agree with . We just had a discussion about this today. We shall see.

I couldn't see that Dr Svalgaard disagreed with the paper itself. What he did point out was the bleeding obvious, which Anthony Watts doesn't understand. lsvalgaard wrote:
August 25, 2016 at 4:32 pm
The climate has warmed over the past several cycle, while CGRs have increased…
Leif also commented on Dan Pangburn's mathturbations that Anthony pushed on his unsuspecting deniosaurs. lsvalgaard wrote:
August 25, 2016 at 1:03 pm
Plotting the “time integral” of sunspot numbers from Dr. Svalgaard’s data shows a significant increase in accumulated solar energy beginning during the 1700’s and continuing
1) the integral of positive numbers diverges towards infinity.
2) the integral of the difference between a time series and its mean is always zero
3) the integral of the difference between a time series and some value, depends on what that value is, which then makes it a free parameter. If you vary that parameter to fit some data, you are just doing curve fitting with no physics.
And he continued:
August 25, 2016 at 2:48 pm
As far as I can tell from the Figure, the integral is of the difference between the yearly values and the mean. This means that the integral value at the right-hand end of the Figure is zero [also at the left-hand side]. But the whole exercise is more nonsensical than I thought. Why should the climate system know about when we invented the telescope about 1610 [which is the starting point of the integration]? Why not start in 1700 [when the sunspot series becomes better known], or 1800 [when the data is reliable]?
This is what you get by carrying out those integrals:
Note how all three integrals begin and end with zeroes.
Of course, all of them misses the warming up to 1945.
The whole thing is nonsense of purest carat.

james thinks this is a "big time paper". However it's just the latest attempt to see the influence of cosmic rays by looking at cloud cover. It's been tried before.
August 25, 2016 at 1:46 pm
this is a big time paper….yet…I haven’t seen anything In the huff post, WaPo. Resiliance, Yahoo, mashable, Breaking Energy about it…..hmmmm…wonder if it could be they are biased?

In among Leif trying to inject reason, and lots of deniers who don't understand Svenmark's cosmic ray hypothesis and what it means, there is at least one science denier who is not very impressed. ristvan wrote:
August 25, 2016 at 2:04 pm
Read the paper. There are only 26 FD events. The strength ranking is very mathematical, but the underlying logic is weak, so whether the ranking is ‘real’ is open to question. The matching to clouds involves some semi arbitrary lags, and the end statistics are pretty weak. A Monte Carlo bootstrap does not give you a true statistical significance about the actual observed GCR/cloud data. It estimates a significance for a model of the data. So interesting, but not compelling. Especially as there are many more abundant cloud condensation nuclei sources. Turpines and isoprenes from coniferous and nonconiferous forests, respectively. Dimethylsulfide from ocean algae. Many more of those condensation nuclei in the atmosphere than from GCR, imo.
Little to do with climate even if Svensmark has made his case. 26 FD events in 16 years, with a statistically weak effect lasting about a week. ~26 weeks out of 16 * 52 = 832. Nothing happening concerning GCR and clouds the other 97% of the time that climate is still doing its thing with clouds. 

This comment from Rick C PE is kinda neat:
August 25, 2016 at 6:21 pm
“The eruptions cause a reduction in cloud fraction of about 2 percent corresponding to roughly a billion tonnes of liquid water disappearing from the atmosphere.”
The water in the atmosphere would not disappear. It would just remain in vapor phase. Something that is invisible can’t disappear.

References and further reading

J. Svensmark, M. B. Enghoff, N. J. Shaviv, H. Svensmark. "The response of clouds and aerosols to cosmic ray decreases." Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 2016; DOI:10.1002/2016JA022689
Cosmic rays and clouds: Potential mechanisms - article by Jeffrey Pierce at, September 2011

A review of cosmic rays and climate: a cluttered story of little success - article by Rasmus Benestad at, December 2012

How to fit an elephant - article by John D. Cook (another one), June 2011

From the HotWhopper archives


  1. Hi Sou

    A new paper published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics in August 2016 finds:

    "There is a significant correlation only between cosmic ray (CR) intensity (and sunspot number (SSN)) and the cloud cover of the types cirrus and stratus. This effect is mainly confined to the CR intensity minimum during the epoch around 1990, when the SSN was at its maximum.This fact, together with the present study of the correlation of LSCC with our measured CR intensity, shows that there is no firm evidence for a significant contribution of CR induced ionization to the local (or, indeed, Global) cloud cover.

    Pressure effects are the preferred cause of the cloud cover changes. A consequence is that there is no evidence favouring a contribution of CR to the Global Warming problem. Our analysis shows that the LS data are consistent with the Gas Laws for a stable mass of atmosphere."

    Relevance of long term time – Series of atmospheric parameters at a mountain observatory to models for climate change

  2. The full relationship between solar storms, cosmic rays, terrestrial clouds, and terrestrial heat is complex, potentially confusing, unproven, and unsettled. This makes it good fodder for obfuscation, whether intentional or not.

    Since the effects caused by the relationship(s) appear to be both transient and minor, they doesn't seem to be of real concern in the grand scheme of things. Yes, it would be both useful and important to fully understand them. But they are insufficient to explain the effects we've been observing for the last century.

  3. Correlation is not causation as they say. The study is still speculating that cosmic rays influence cloud formation. But no one has been able to demonstrate that the cosmic rays do influence cloud formation.

  4. Dan Pangburn was over at Nick Stokes's site back in May, promoting his same (completely wrong) "analysis".

    The flaws in Dan's work are too many to go into here. He thinks he is doing "thermodynamics" but he's not. It's entirely based on a non-physical, empirically developed method for turning annual sunspot numbers into a time-series that closely resembles the shape of the CO2 concentration time-series. Because CO2 is closely correlated with temperature, Dan's mangled-sunspot time series is also closely correlated with temperature. He then (wrongly) interprets the high correlation coefficient for his mangled-sunspot data as meaning that the percent of variation in temp explained by CO2 must be small (less than 8%).

    It's all wrong, on so many levels -- physics, statistics, logic, you name it.


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