Saturday, November 30, 2013

Picking cherries at WUWT: How a few miles in the South East Pacific became the whole world

Sou | 9:27 PM Go to the first of 4 comments. Add a comment

Every so often the signs that deniers are slightly unhinged are too big to ignore.

Anthony Watts decides, eleven months after it was published, to write about a paper on research cruises in the south east Pacific off the coast of South America. (Archived here.)

No.  I'm giving the wrong impression.  Anthony doesn't write anything about the paper at all.  Anthony has written a 725 word article around a single sentence in a research paper, which itself runs to 26 pages not including the appendices.  Anthony uses that single sentence as an excuse to:
  • stoke his audience's disdain of climate models
  • argue that Wondering Willis Eschenbach is right because Willis has written lots of articles about clouds (none of them relevant to the paper, incidentally, except in the general sense that when it's cloudy the sunlight doesn't all get to the surface - duh!)
  • give a plug to Roy Spencer's blunder book about climate
  • meet his quota of blog articles for the day at WUWT.

The paper, by Simon P. de Szoeke et al, published last year in the Journal of Climate, was documenting data from observations on "9 transects from 7 research cruises to the southeastern tropical Pacific Ocean along 20°S, 75°-85°W in October-November 2001-2008".

Notice that we're talking about a small part of the ocean off the west coast of South America only.  But this is what Anthony Watts turns it into:
This paper by de Szoeke et al. published in the Journal of Climate finds that climate models grossly underestimate cooling of the Earth’s surface due to clouds by approximately 50%

According to the authors, “Coupled model intercomparison project (CMIP3) simulations of the climate of the 20th century show 40±20 W m−2 too little net cloud radiative cooling at the surface. Simulated clouds have correct radiative forcing when present, but models have ~50% too few clouds.“
Let that 40 watts/ square meter sink in a moment.
The 40 watts/ square meter underestimate of cooling from clouds is more than 10 times the alleged warming from a doubling of CO2 concentrations, which is said to be 3.7 watts/square meter according to the IPCC (AR4 Section 2.3.1)
So the cloud error in models is an order of magnitude greater than the forcing effect of Co2 claimed by the IPCC. That’s no small potatoes. The de Szoeke et al. paper also speaks to what Willis Eschenbach has been saying about clouds in the tropics.

You'd think the heavens had fallen in.  At the very least you'd think that the paper was about the entire world.  But it's not.  It's about a small section of the ocean and only during October and November.  Here's a map:

Here you can see the area surveyed on the world scale:

Needless to say, most WUWT readers wouldn't care what the paper was about.  Anything that gives them half an excuse to burst into one voice one singing the denier meme "all the models are wrong", is enough to sate their appetite for a short while.

The researchers documented a range of weather and climate variables.  It's a highly technical paper and difficult for the layperson to wade through.  Difficult for this layperson anyway.

The introduction gives a clue why the research was done.  I think what the authors are saying is that it's difficult for models to accurately simulate sea surface temperatures in the south east Pacific Ocean.  At least that's how the intro to the  paper begins.  So the scientists set out to take detailed observations to figure out what is happening in that part of the ocean.  Over a period of seven years in the months of October and November, they sent out a research vessel to take readings and report back.

What Anthony Watts has done is give his readers the impression that climate models are not properly representing clouds world-wide.  Instead the paper is restricted to observations from a small section of the south east Pacific.

The underestimate in cloud amount in CMIP3 isn't the whole story by a long shot.  The paper goes into a lot of detail including discussion of aerosols, long wave and short wave forcing, precipitation, diurnal variation and other aspects.

I think the WUWT article is a wonderful example of cherry picking a single sentence out of a long, technical and detailed paper purely to stoke a feeding frenzy of deniers at WUWT.

From the WUWT comments

The comments bring out everyone from the run of the mill fake sceptics to the utter nutters, just as Anthony Watts intended.  Here is a small sample (archived here).

markstoval says:
November 29, 2013 at 1:29 pm
It has been obvious from the get-go that anthropogenic CO2 was not an important factor (if one at all) in explaining the changing climate on planet earth. It is nice to see that a few hardy men and women are still willing to practice science in spite of all the money and accolades flowing to those practicing mindless myth-making.
Very good article today. Thanks Anthony.

john robertson says:
November 29, 2013 at 1:55 pm
well they are consistent, pretty much everything the Team(TM IPCC) does biases the models high. No highly alarming preprogrammed results results in no more funding.
Science was never more than a cloak for their naked ambition.

ferdberple says how he thinks climate models are programmed (excerpt):
November 29, 2013 at 10:22 pm
they are programmed to predict what the model builders believe the future looks like. and when the models get the prediction wrong, the model builders change the model until the model gives the correct answer.
and how does the model builder know when the model has given the correct answer? when the model delivers the prediction the model builder believes to be correct for the future.

De Szoeke, Simon P., Sandra Yuter, David Mechem, Chris W. Fairall, Casey D. Burleyson, and Paquita Zuidema. "Observations of Stratocumulus Clouds and Their Effect on the Eastern Pacific Surface Heat Budget along 20° S." Journal of Climate 25, no. 24 (2012): 8542-8567. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-11-00618.1


  1. I found Steven Mosher's comment quite interesting. I'd thought he was a WUWT regular but maybe it's even becoming too extreme for him.

    1. Yes, he does sound fed up, doesn't he.

      For the benefit of other readers, here's what Steven Mosher wrote in response to a comment by Nick Stokes (who as usual points out the obvious but gets no thanks for his efforts, except from Steve Mosher):

      Steven Mosher says:

      November 29, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Thanks Nick,

      It gets weary pointing out the obvious. 40 watts, 40 watts, 40 watts, is all they read and jump to conclusions. not very skeptical this crowd.. well selectively skeptical.

      When the models are improved they will complain that the models are being fixed.

  2. Interestingly, deniers who disdain models are quite happy to endorse those that fit their purposes. Andrew Montford over at Bishop Hill has twice in the past week referred to an economic model that suggests an 11% reduction in European gas prices 37 years in the future if we start fracking. He and most of most followers seem oblivious to how laughable such a projection is. Presumably they believe economic models are spot on, whereas climate models are rubbish!

    1. to be fair, their 180° scepticism also applies to climate models: they abhor the physics-based GCMs with every fibre of their beings, but just luuuuurve Scafetta or Spencer's curve-fitting wankery.


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. Details here.

Click here to read the HotWhopper comment policy.