Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Anthony Watts sez: Ice don't Melt in Warm Weather!

Sou | 6:22 PM Go to the first of 4 comments. Add a comment

Wow, the crazy is coming thick and fast from Anthony Watts today.  In the space of not much more than 24 hours he's made a hash of a false allegation against the IPCC, become quite bewildered by the greenhouse effect, discovered aerosols and turned into a Little Ice Age bouncer, said if scientists agree on science (you know, like planets orbit the sun and stuff like that) then it must be false.  It could be that Anthony's head was turned when he was compared favourably with the High and Most Illustrious Birther and Curer of AIDS, Lord (Not a member of the House of Lords) Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, when he gave a denier presentation to a mob of wacky survivalist(?) medicos.

This time it's "Ice doesn't melt when it gets hot!"

I have a theory that the level of wackiness is inversely related to the number of hits on Anthony's blog.  The WUWT stats have dropped a bit in Alexa so he's pulling out all stops.  He can no longer attract real skeptics, except to laugh at him and his mates. So he's trying to attract people from conspiracy theory websites like "Jo Nova" and "Steve Goddard".  The last time WUWT stats went up Anthony was posting things like "it's insects" and the "Greenland ice sheet is less than 650 years old" (he ended up deleting that one).  While Victor Venema could be right that the spike was an artefact of the Alexa toolbar, it could also have been normal people popping in to have a gander at the supreme stupidity on WUWT.

After Anthony's bewilderment and denial just a few hours ago, that greenhouse gases can increase global temperature, he's topped it by implying that ice doesn't melt in the heat.  He's had to tell a fib about National Geographic first, and put up all his arithmetic workings (in case people think that because he doesn't understand anomalies from a baseline average, it means he can't add up).

Here's his fib.  He's picked up on a cover page from National Geographic, showing seas halfway up the Statue of Liberty.  He says that National Geographic didn't say how long it would take.  Anthony writes:
According to the Nat Geo article “Rising Seas”, it turns out that they didn’t tell their readers about how long it would take to reach the level depicted on the cover, so I’m going to do the calculation for you.
Alright, let's be kind and assume Anthony is illiterate rather than being deliberately deceitful, because National Geographic did indeed say how long it might take.  Here is what National Geographic wrote in the cover page article (my bold italics):
In May the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, the highest since three million years ago. Sea levels then may have been as much as 65 feet above today’s; the Northern Hemisphere was largely ice free year-round. It would take centuries for the oceans to reach such catastrophic heights again, and much depends on whether we manage to limit future greenhouse gas emissions. In the short term scientists are still uncertain about how fast and how high seas will rise. Estimates have repeatedly been too conservative....
...Unless we change course dramatically in the coming years, our carbon emissions will create a world utterly different in its very geography from the one in which our species evolved. “With business as usual, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will reach around a thousand parts per million by the end of the century,” says Gavin Foster, a geochemist at the University of Southampton in England. Such concentrations, he says, haven’t been seen on Earth since the early Eocene epoch, 50 million years ago, when the planet was completely ice free. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, sea level on an iceless Earth would be as much as 216 feet higher than it is today. It might take thousands of years and more than a thousand parts per million to create such a world—but if we burn all the fossil fuels, we will get there.

Anthony's done lots of sums and they are all there for the less numerate.  After lots of photos complete with little yellow  pink and black words, numbers, arrows and lines, he writes:
That puts the NatGeo waterline at approximately 214 feet, or 65.2 meters above mean sea level.
So - he's two feet below the sea level that National Geographic said "might take thousands of years and more".  Then he has a go at working out how long it would take if we let the seas keep rising.  He says it would take "23537.9 years".

Thing is, Anthony has made one huge assumption in his calculations.  Can you guess what it is?  Anthony has assumed that we will cut greenhouse gas emissions so drastically that seas will only continue to rise at the same rate as now.  No, I'm wrong about that.  His calculations assume that the sea level rise will only be 2.77 mm a year.  He's going by the tide gauge at The Battery - using not any recent trend, but a linear trend going all the way back to 1856 and stopping in 2006.

He's made another pronouncement as well.  Anthony says:
That’s right, 23 thousand 500 years! A new ice age will likely be well underway then, dropping sea levels. 
Anthony gives no basis for saying that.  No science is called upon.  Anthony just decides all by himself that the earth will have a little think, figure "Anthony sez it's about time" and set about having an ice age.

That's not what some scientists think.  In this paper in Science, Berger and Loutre calculate that even without global warming, Earth wouldn't start getting cold for at least another 50,000 years.  And we sure are heading into some global warming.

Anthony Watts assumes the world will cut CO2 emissions quite drastically!

Okay.  So my question to Anthony is - by how much would the world need to cut current CO2 emissions to restrict the sea level rise to that rate for the next 23,000 years and more?  Could it even be done or is a faster rate already built into the system?  What sort of geo-engineering would have to be put in place to stop the Greenland ice sheet from melting, to stop West Antarctic ice sheets from slipping into the sea, to stop all the world's glaciers from melting?

Come on Anthony, show us your workings :(

The National Geographic article is an interesting read if you are not faint of heart.

BTW I'm not suggesting that the world will keep burning fossil fuel and seal the fate of the world for thousands of years.  I'm certainly not suggesting that a total ice melt is inevitable.  But if idiots like Anthony Watts had their way for the next few decades then it could become inevitable.  The Anthony Watts of the world want to have their cake (low sea levels) and eat it too (keep burning CO2 with gay abandon).

We're probably already on track for at least two degrees of warming by the end of this century.  If by some quirk of fate economies didn't collapse as the world heats up and we kept on burning fossil fuels and chopping down forests, then it's not hard to imagine atmospheric CO2 getting well above 1000 ppm over coming decades.  The worse scenario is that economies did struggle or collapse entirely and the world gave up on the shift to clean energy.  Instead people kept on burning whatever fossil fuels they could extract till it all became too hard.

Think about this.  The chart below shows how quickly atmospheric CO2 would accumulate if it rose by 0.55% or 1% a year.  At current concentrations, that's at an initial rate of 2.2 ppm or 4 ppm a year respectively.  The average increase over the past ten years (2003-2012 inclusive) is 2.1 ppm a year, so emissions would have to continue to increase only very slightly for the lower.  If emissions kept increasing exponentially and/or the oceans started to absorb less the higher scenario is within the bounds of possibilities.


  1. In your quote Nat Geo said 65 feet, WAW said meters.

    1. Read the rest of the quote. The second para of the extracts I copied. The article has two references to sea level rise, both with an indication of time frame and its uncertainty.

      Further down the article says:
      According to the U.S. Geological Survey, sea level on an iceless Earth would be as much as 216 feet higher than it is today. It might take thousands of years and more than a thousand parts per million to create such a world—but if we burn all the fossil fuels, we will get there.

      Which is where they would have got the idea for the illustration of the Statue of Liberty.

    2. Sorry, it was first thing in the morning and no coffee yet!

  2. It's funny the way the "alarmist" IPCC (AR4 WG1) didn't incorporate the effects on SLR from non-linear response by the WAIS and GIS to future warming. It was felt that there was too much uncertainty, back in 2007. But the "sceptics" are certain that if this warming baloney is even true, SLR will proceed according to the linear projections only. As you say, they appear to believe that warm water won't melt the ice. Yet thermosteric SLR is the main driver of those linear trends.

    It's... confusing.


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