What Fresh Hell Is This?

November 29, 2014

Isaac Orr Is Almost Certainly Wrong

And so is the Tribune-Review for publishing this column of his.

Isaac Orr, lets get this out of the way, is not a climate scientist.  On his bio page at the well-known Heartland Institute states that he's:
...a speaker, researcher, and freelance writer specializing in hydraulic fracturing, agricultural, and environmental policy issues. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire with studies in political science and geology, winning awards for his undergraduate geology research before taking a position as an aide in the Wisconsin State Senate.
Well good for him but he's still not a climate scientist.

But let's look at what he wrote in the Trib:
First, the science: Many people still don't realize peer-reviewed scientific literature has found there has been no significant global warming since “Seinfeld” aired its final episode in 1998, even though nearly half of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions have occurred since 1990. Additionally, the computer models used by the IPCC to predict temperatures over the past 20 years have been woefully inaccurate and, as a result, the models have predicted warming would be four times higher than the actual observed temperatures.

Even though the IPCC has historically failed to predict future temperatures accurately, it is somehow more certain than ever before that human activity is the driving force behind the changing climate, and humanity must act fast to curb our emissions of carbon dioxide or face dire consequences.
So he's basing his "science" on two points:
  • The supposed pause in warming since 1998
  • The supposed unreliability of the climate models
We've dealt with the first point before but I guess we have to go again.  Here's what National Geographic had to say about the supposed "pause" in the warming:
What Could Cause a Pause?

Still, there's no denying that temperature has plateaued in the last decade. Why? Scientists have considered a number of theories: small differences in solar radiation; volcanic eruptions that spewed sun-blocking ash and gases into the atmosphere; or pollution from factories, power plants, and tailpipes, particularly in Asia.

[Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies] pointed out, however, that the real anomaly in the recent climate record is not the last decade but the year 1998, which saw a sharp spike in atmospheric temperatures. "If you take 1998 out, there is no pause," he said. According to NASA data, the ten hottest years since 1880 have all happened since 1998, with 2010 being the hottest of all. [Emphasis added]

In 1997 and 1998 there was a strong El Nino event in the equatorial Pacific, meaning that the surface water there was unusually warm. As [Penn State Geosciences Scientist Richard] Alley explained in an American Geophysical Union talk recently, the El Nino cycle has a strong impact on how much of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases spreads to the ocean. In 1998, a warm ocean absorbed less heat—which caused the atmosphere to heat up more.

Since 1998, however, the equatorial Pacific has tended more often to the cooler La Nina state. Because a cool ocean absorbs atmospheric heat more readily, that has partially offset the atmospheric warming caused by greenhouse gases. "In the last decade the system has dumped more of the heat in the ocean and less in the atmosphere,"  Alley said. [Emphasis added]

The modeling work by the Scripps researchers, Yu Kosaka and Shang-Ping Xie, supports this idea. So do measurements of ocean temperatures, which show that warmer temperatures are spreading into the deep abyss. According to the BBC, the draft IPCC report suggests that the oceans have been absorbing more heat than expected, in effect insulating global surface temperatures from greater change.
You'll note that both Schmidt and Alley are something that Orr isn't: A climate scientist.

What Schmidt and Alley said (but Orr didn't) is just another way of saying what was written here just a few weeks ago.

So Orr is wrong on the supposed "pause".  Now let's look at those climate models.  In this piece from September of this year, Orr writes:
Some peer-reviewed, scientific studies suggest the period with no global warming has been as long as 20 years. The scientific analysis and climate models that predicted drastic global warming over this period were simply wrong...
It's an attempt to invalidate the climate models, right?  But take a look at what the paper at the other end of that link actually says.  Take a look at this chart:

See that set of straight lines across the bottom of the chart?  Now go take a look in the description as to what it means.  Here's what it says:
Black cross-hatching in the lower section of the graph shows the 95 % uncertainty range of the simulated 1900-2012 model mean trend and the lower red line indicates the corresponding observed 1900-2012 global mean surface temperature trend.
But what does THAT mean?  From the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, it means that:
Over long time scales, global climate models successfully simulate changes in a variety of climate variables, including the global mean surface temperature since 1900.
Something else Orr didn't tell you.

But how about the peer-reviewed science about how reliable computer models are?  Orr says they're "woefully inaccurate" in their assessments.  Note that he doesn't offer any evidence about that.  He just says it.

Ok, so here's some data:

And the explanation from Skeptical Science:
There are two major questions in climate modeling - can they accurately reproduce the past (hindcasting) and can they successfully predict the future? To answer the first question, here is a summary of the IPCC model results of surface temperature from the 1800's - both with and without man-made forcings. All the models are unable to predict recent warming without taking rising CO2 levels into account. Noone has created a general circulation model that can explain climate's behaviour over the past century without CO2 warming. [Bolding in original]
The idea is that if a model can accurately "reproduce the past" (also known as "hindcasting") then it should be able to accurately produce the future - and they have!

Then there's this little bit of climate science, regarding those same climate models:
The question of how climate model projections have tracked the actual evolution of global mean surface air temperature is important in establishing the credibility of their projections. Some studies and the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report suggest that the recent 15-year period (1998–2012) provides evidence that models are overestimating current temperature evolution. Such comparisons are not evidence against model trends because they represent only one realization where the decadal natural variability component of the model climate is generally not in phase with observations. We present a more appropriate test of models where only those models with natural variability (represented by El Niño/Southern Oscillation) largely in phase with observations are selected from multi-model ensembles for comparison with observations. These tests show that climate models have provided good estimates of 15-year trends, including for recent periods and for Pacific spatial trend patterns.

  • How much did Isaac Orr get wrong in his assessment of the climate data and the climate models?  A LOT
  • How much does it invalidate his general argument?  A LOT
  • How much should we trust Isaac Orr, fellow at the Heartland Institute when he writes about climate science?  VERY LITTLE
Happy day after Thanksgiving.

1 comment:

Heir to the Throne said...

Well good for him but he's still not a climate scientist.

So he should STFU.

Dpes the same standard apply to Chris Mooney?
Chris Mooney writes about the environment at The Washington Post as part of the Wonkblog team. He previously worked at Mother Jones, where he wrote about science and the environment and hosted a weekly podcast. Chris spent a decade prior to that as a freelance writer, podcaster and speaker, with his work appearing in Wired, Harper’s, Slate, Legal Affairs, The Los Angeles Times, The Post and The Boston Globe, to name a few. Chris also has published four books about science and climate change.