Travesty, sure, but what travesty?

Apropos the recent spate of commenting about the hacked CRU emails, Kevin Trenberth has an article at The Daily Camera.

He makes this remark about his constantly mischaracterized “travesty” quote (“The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”):

The quote has been taken out of context. It relates to our ability to track energy flow through the climate system. We can do this very well from 1992 to 2003, when large warming occurred, but not from 2004 to 2008. The quote refers to our observation system which is inadequate to observe Earth’s energy flows at the accuracy needed to understand small fluctuations in climate; it does not mean there is no global warming, as is often interpreted by the likes of Danaher. What is does mean is that our observing system is not adequate to fully track the energy in ways that allow us to understand and make best statements about the effects of natural climate variability: the La Niña of 2007-2008, and the current El Niño, for instance.

Many have already said that is what it probably means, he is here saying it himself. That should put an end to the mischaracterizations, right? Rriiiight….

He goes on to say:

global warming does not stop weather from happening, and cold outbreaks continue and are fully expected. It does not stop winter. And it does not stop La Niña from happening and setting up unusually cold regional patterns of weather across the United States and other parts of the world that last a year or two.

To misunderstand the role of weather and natural climate variability the way it is being done is to undermine much-needed actions in limiting carbon dioxide emissions. Global warming is happening. It will continue to happen and the way we are going it will jeopardize the very nature of climate on planet Earth some decades from now. Because of the long lifetime of carbon dioxide, by the time it is so obvious to everyone, it will be far too late to do anything about it.

It is a constantly, and often intentionally, misunderstood fact that the large variability of weather will often overshadow the slow and constant march of CO2 driven warming. The weather can change tens of degrees from day to day in one location. In fact, the record change is 57oC, 105oF for our American readers, in a single 24hr period! (I leave it as an excercise for the reader to extrapolate that to a 100 year trend.) Globally averaged annual temperatures are about 2 orders of magnituded more stable but that still leaves room for one or two tenths of a degree each year.

IPCC projections for Anthropogenic warming range around .2 or .3oC per decade, (less now, increasing over time) and before you can assess a rate per decade you need a few. So 10 years, or even 20 years where the 5 year mean does not move much does not say anything about the trajectory of climate change.

I think if we wanted to use a mountain and molehill analogy here with Trenberth’s actual meaning and the misinterpretation that he is admitting global warming has stopped we couldn’t. As with all of the CRU email content, forget the mountain, even the molehill is absent.

(I saw this article via In It For the Gold)

8 thoughts on “Travesty, sure, but what travesty?

  1. Coby – I’ve noticed that over the last 6 months, the weather’s been getting colder and colder here in DC. Based on some blog science I did, I conclude that the only explanation is that the earth has entered into an unstoppable cooling trend. I expect this cooling to continue at least until September of 2010.

    Global warming is over!


  2. The travesty is the lack of observational facilities. That the “science is not settled” is why these guys are doing what they are doing. Certain questions are settled, like is the earth rapidly warming compared to normal climate variations (yes) and is the cause anthropogenic (yes), but many mysteries remain. In the current context, Kenberth would like to know where in the climate system the increasing energy is going while temporarily not into the atmosphere.


  3. So….it is a travesty that the science is not settled?

    Science is never settled, as you well know. However, despite Einstein, artillery tables (or their modern realtime algorithmic computational equivalent) are still useful.

    Likewise climate science, and that’s why Trenberth is annoyed at the misinformation campaign that’s been built up around his statement. He’s talking about difficulty in counting fleas on an elephant, the denialsphere misrepresents this to argue that the elephant doesn’t exist at all.


  4. The problem, WAG, is that northern Nevada is unseasonably warm. Its a “travesty” that we can’t explain it, although it think might be some sort of “cosmic radiation” emanating from the “hot spot” that appears above us daily. The best models predict this will be commonplace sometime starting in March, although as we all know, the science isn’t “settled.”


  5. I think we should leave the parody comments to DenialDepot. They could confuse someone here. Still, WAG’s comment was a chuckle.

    As for the elusive extra heat content, is not the only possibility that it’s going deeper in the oceans than we expected? I thought we had the top-of-atmosphere energy imbalance pretty much nailed with satellite observations, so the deep ocean is the only place left.

    BTW, how good is that satellite coverage? One obvious point is that as Arctic sea ice minimum declines, the Arctic can radiate a lot more heat to space during the autumn months, until it re-freezes over. Of course the Arctic also absorbs more in the summer months (ice albedo feedback). Do we have direct measurements that compare the magnitude of these two effects?


  6. BTW, how good is that satellite coverage?

    Apparently poor enough for Trenberth to conclude it’s a travesty!

    (actually, I don’t know for certain if he included satellite coverage when making that comment about inadequate observations, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to comment!)


  7. Trenberth had already stated his position on this matter in print here (PDF), published last October. Of course denialists felt it necessary to hype his e-mails out of context without spending any time trying to understand his position.


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