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Calderas and Climate Change
Scientists Have a New Explanation for Warming Pause: Volcanoes

The world isn’t warming as fast as our best climate models predicted it would, and scientists are trying to figure out why. A group of American researchers now believes extra volcanic activity may be responsible for the lack of warming over the past decade. The Independent reports:

According to a study in the US, models for predicting the rate at which temperatures around the world would rise from 1998 onwards did not take into consideration the measurable impact volcanoes can have.

Rather than contributing to global warming, eruptions release particles into the air that reflect sunlight – causing temperatures to drop.

This isn’t the first explanation scientists have alighted upon in defense of faulty models. Earlier this month a different study pointed the finger at equatorial ocean currents, which they said were helping store surface heat deep underwater.

None of this uncertainty does anything to undermine the basic argument for man’s contributions to climate change (the greenhouse gas effect remains fairly easy to understand), but it is devastating to the credibility of the computer climate models that greens have often used to back up their preferred policy mechanisms for dealing with the problem.

We don’t yet actually understand how the climate works to the extent that we can make reliable predictions about it. That is hopefully changing and getting better, but greens aren’t doing themselves or the environment any favors at all by claiming the science is more settled than in fact it is. Green fact-hyping remains in our view the leading cause of climate skepticism.

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  • Andrew Allison

    “our best climate models”?? Haven’t they ALL been shown to be useless?

  • Arkeygeezer

    I read elsewhere this morning that the Old Farmer’s Almanac had a better record for predicting long range weather trend that did the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC)

    Investor’s Business Daily:

    With all the grant money that is available to prove man-made global warming/climate change, its no wonder that we will be bombarded with all kinds of explanations of why these models are not working.

    Its a classic example of attempting to buy a scientific hypothesis to support an untenable solution to enable the government to levy a tax on carbon credits

    • Corlyss

      That’s why I bought one for the first time this year.

      • Kavanna

        Haven’t looked at Farmer’s Almanac in years. But they are enthusiastic about the connection of climate to the solar magnetic cycle. So someone there knows what they’re talking about.

  • Tim Godfrey

    While volcanic aerosols are intentionally not included in many models because their effect is temporary the last volcano large enough to effect the global climate was Pinatubo in 1992. There is absolutely no way volcanic aerosols can explain the failure of the models over the last 15 years.

  • Fat_Man

    Yeah. Volcanoes. That’s the ticket. Volcanoes.

    • ljgude

      Indeed. Volcanos and it is hiding at the bottom of the ocean are the same kind of answers you get from 3 year olds when you ask why kitty is covered in chocolate sauce.

  • TheRadicalModerate

    Skills required for determining Earth’s climate history:

    Knowledge of paleoclimate proxies.
    Experience with management of large data sets.
    Knowledge of statistical methods for extracting signal from noisy data sets.
    Knowledge of the history of weather stations and temperature measurement procedures.

    Skills for constructing a climate model:

    Atmospheric chemistry
    Fluid mechanics
    Computation methods of simulating non-linear systems
    Error control in non-linear system simulation.
    Control theory
    Biological response to atmospheric chemistry
    Solar astrophysics

    As far as I can tell, these skill sets are disjoint, other than they both have the word “climate” associated with them. So even if you have some confidence that Earth is warming, why would that give you any confidence that we know how the warming would proceed into the future?

    • Jim__L

      Disjoint skillsets aren’t an overwhelming problem in today’s modern software organizations. They can on occasion be managed quite well.

      On the other hand, statistical methods for extracting signal from noisy data sets start to fail as the systems they model get increasingly nonlinear — “sensitive to initial conditions”, or in other words, chaotic.

      Weather is one classic example of chaos — not predictable, from piling one nonlinearity after another onto the system. Climate scientists insist that climate, on the other hand, is linear enough to be amenable to computer modeling.

      We’re starting to see evidence that that insistence is unfounded. Instantaneous, unpredictable, and difficult / impossible to calibrate one-off events like volcanoes, or ocean currents no one quite understood (but whose action is dependent on its own effects), and there are probably others. In the end, the most important scientific discovery of all this effort may well be that climate turns out to be (on human timescales) as unpredictable as the weather.

      • TheRadicalModerate

        Disjoint skill sets are a huge problem in modeling. Modelers are hardly ever trained in software engineering, which is fine for simple models, but a disaster for more complex ones. But my point was more that you can decide that the “science is settled” on historical warming without drawing any conclusions about the course of climate change going forward.

        Same issue with signal extraction from noisy data–there’s nothing linear or nonlinear about a data set. You just apply statistical methods to it and look for significance. The same is not true for modeling.

        • Jim__L

          In aerospace, at any rate, the Systems Engineer (subject matter expert who writes the algorithms) / Software Engineer (who architects and writes the code) organizational structure can be made to work.

          At least, as far as these models can be made to work.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “the greenhouse gas effect remains fairly easy to understand”

    Oh, really! Then how come the climate models based on this effect all “over” predict “Global Warming” by 200%-900%. Could it be that the actual greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide has been wrong all along? That in reality it is a fraction of the accepted value, or even non existent?

    • Andrew Allison

      The greenhouse gas effect is well understood (it’s the reason that Earth is habitable). What’s wrong is that, as demonstrated by the utter failure of all the AGW models, the effect of anthropogenic emissions is simply not known.

      • Corlyss

        Actually, before AGW got to be the Left/Elite/Environmental Religion, a young graduate researcher studied anthropogenic CO2 as compared to the CO2 levels emitted by plate tectonics, and found human contributions to be less than negligible by comparison. It was on a NOVA back in the late 80s or early 90s. Naturally that show was “disappeared.”

        • Kavanna

          It must be in the memory hole, somewhere … 🙂

    • Jim__L

      A simple thermal analysis of Earth as a blackbody heated by the Sun (minus albedo effects) and radiating into the rest of space (~5 K), comes up with several degrees’ difference between the predicted temperature of Earth and the measured temperature of Earth.

      That the “greenhouse effect” accounts for this gap is generally accepted… but most global warming zealots stop with the “generally accepted” line and don’t bother presenting the evidence. At best, (and VERY rarely), they point to the planet Venus — which has the highest surface temperature in the solar system, despite being only second closest to the sun — as evidence of extreme greenhouse warming, which it is.

      There are any number of supposedly-scientific talking heads bemoaning the “end of the era of evidence”, but honestly, they have a heck of a time getting through an entire argument without casting evidence aside in favor of “consensus”, general acceptedness, or some other form of non-scientific groupthink.

      The pundits who do this are doing science more harm than good.

  • crocodilechuck

    Does whoever wrote this embarrassing piece understand the first thing about how science works?

    • Corlyss

      Unknown, but it’s for da*mn sure that most Americans don’t and those that do have either been co-opted or terminated or marginalized by people whose political and/or financial agenda shouts so loud Truth can’t be heard over the din.

  • Corlyss

    And once again they miss the story: it’s the sun. Currently, sunspots are out of cycle.

    “In 2006, NASA made a prediction for the next sunspot maximum, being between 150 and 200 around the year 2011 (30-50% stronger than cycle 23), followed by a weak maximum at around 2022.[24][25] The prediction did not come true. Instead, the sunspot cycle in 2010 was still at its minimum, where it should have been near its maximum, which shows the Sun’s current unusual low activity.[26]”
    Bottom line? They haven’t a clue or refuse to admit the obvious.

  • ljgude

    “Green fact-hyping remains in our view the leading cause of climate skepticism.”

    Sure, but it isn’t just a simple ongoing problem, it’s cumulative. The more they lie the more difficult it becomes to take anything they say seriously. The human response to serial lying is encoded in our cultural DNA in the form of such stories as ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’. That is why it is generally considered a good idea that scientists take care to avoid lying.

    • Kavanna

      Of course. This episode is the Western world’s version of Lysenkoism or “race” science. We’ve had it before, as eugenics, or a variety of more recent scares.

  • Doug

    “the greenhouse gas effect remains fairly easy to understand” – If all we were worried about was the greenhouse effect and CO2, we wouldn’t have much to worry about because CO2 is a weak greenhouse gas. The whole dispute, the whole reason the science is not “settled,” is over the role of H2O – water vapor – whether and to what extent the slight warming caused by increased CO2 concentrations causes more H2O to evaporate (gaseous H2O being a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2), and whether that atmospheric H2O stays in the atmosphere, whether it forms clouds, whether those clouds trap heat or block solar radiation – the models we have can only make crude guesses about these various feedback loops, so it’s kind of ridiculous to call these models “settled science” – they represent a good effort at modeling complex systems that we don’t fully understand. That’s quite an accomplishment. Trying to stretch these still crude models into the modern version of Newton’s Laws, though, merely invites derision.

    • Kavanna

      Actually, most of the people who claim that the “greenhouse” effect is easy to understand are full of BS and don’t understand the first thing about it. Greenhouses don’t work this way, in any case. They work by trapping heat transported upward by convection and evaporation, NOT the heat transported upward by radiation. And they don’t “trap heat,” really — rather, they change its flow.

      The supposed “global warming,” however, IS due to the change that certain gases in the lower atmosphere impose on radiative heat flowing out into space. Those gases include (in order of importance) water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane. The problem is that the lower atmosphere’s heat flow is a roughly equal mix of radiative, evaporative, and convective transport. There’s no simple conclusion to be drawn about how more of those gases would change the heat flow. The historical evidence is strongly negative about any such noticeable effect. Changes in evaporation, cloud formation, precipitation, and upward convection must be at least as large and are apparently enough to negate the purely radiative mechanism.

      Finally, if this discussion is going to be scientifically literate, we’d better get away from using the term “heat,” because it tends to reify the concept, making it sound as if heat is a “thing,” like the old “caloric” and “phlogiston” theories of the 18th century. Heat is a by-product of the flow of energy in various forms (in matter or radiation). The energy is either organized and low-disorder (like wind) or disorganized and high-disorder (like heat). What we call “heat” happens as organized energy is irreversibly transformed into disorganized energy.

      Relatively ordered energy comes from the Sun as visible and ultraviolet photons (light), gets absorbed by clouds and the ground, then re-emitted as infrared photons (heat), with far more of the latter photons than originally, and going off in all directions (not just the original direction). The same energy is transformed from a relatively more ordered to a relatively less ordered form. The Second Law in action.

      All the debate is about is, how those infrared photons make it back into space. Heating up air or water vapor by absorption? Making the air move upward? Or just moving through the “greenhouse” gases as best they can, until they get to the upper atmosphere?

  • free_agent

    You write, “Green fact-hyping remains in our view the leading cause of climate skepticism.”

    That’s true, but the effect is a bit more subtle. On a matter like this, we (the public) are stuck listening to the experts, and trying to decide how accurate what they are saying is. And as is written above, the devil is in the details — the general process is straightforward, but the wretched question of exactly what choices to make is dependent on the pace, intensity, and specific nature of the climate changes that will happen. The public would trust what the experts say more if it was clear that the experts didn’t have any opinions one way or another as to what *ought* to be done, they were just stereotypical cold-blood scientists looking at the potential end of the Earth and saying, “That’s interesting…”. But instead, the IPCC scientists appear to have a deep desire to convince people that the climate is changing quickly, and we must undertake intense efforts to stop that. There’s a whiff of religious faith about it. Since most people can detect the smell, their level of trust is much reduced. And given that any serious remediation effort is going to be quite expensive, if the public doesn’t trust the predictions of disaster, no preventative action will be taken.

  • Andrew Allison

    Shouldn’t the headline read, “Unsettled-scientists have a new theory to explain warming pause”? Or, less charitably, “The theory du jour to explain the complete and utter discrediting of of the AGW hypothesis.

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