Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Christy and McNider Fall Into the "Warming Hole"

In the history of science, it is well known that motivated reasoning can revisit any number of old results in ignorance, be it accidental or not, of previous work.  With bad luck authors of such a revelation have their work sent to those who have done the previous.  With bad luck for the rest of the world not.

John Christy and Richard McNider have form on such things, and, of course Eli is talking about their latest damp squib, Time Series Construction of Summer Surface Temperatures for Alabama, 1883–2014, and Comparisons with Tropospheric Temperature and Climate Model Simulations, which appeared in the Journal of the American Meteorological Society C.

Victor Variable is. . .  dubious

This post gives just few quick notes on the methodological aspects of the paper.
  1. They select data with a weak climatic temperature trend. 
  2. They select data with a large cooling bias due to improvements in radiation protection of thermometers. 
  3. They developed a new homogenization method using an outdated design and did not test it.
Tamino has torn this apart showing that it is the result of a stroll through the garden of forking paths looking for something pleasing to the authors state of mind, that of all the ways to dice and slice the data the only one that met their requirements was summer surface temperature maxima in the state of Alabama

This, as it were rang a bell in Eli's chime factory, taking the Bunny back to the late great Nature Blog which, sad to say, essentially died in childbirth when they invited Roger Pielke Jr. to submit a rather Roger Pielke Jr. ish piece of work, which, as is usual with Roger Pielke Jr. ish blog posts at Rolladex impressed large sites (think 538) promptly crashed on takeoff.  Eli had some fun over there, but what stuck in the Rabett's thinkeria was the graphic of cooling in the southeast US.

Buried down, way at the bottom, was a comment from Jim Angel
The area in the southeast US certainly contains enough data and is actually a light shade of blue and represents cooling trends on the order of -0.2 to -0.5C in the lightest shade and -0.5 to -0.8 in the next darkest shade. It’s unfortunate that they chose such ambiguous colors for these two important distinctions. Three of the pixels show a statistically significant cooling trend during this time period.
BTW, this so-called “warming hole” in the 20th century has been addressed in a few papers. For example,
Kunkel, K.E., X.-Z. Liang, J. Zhu, and Y. Lin, 2006: Can CGCMs simulate the Twentieth Century “warming hole” in the central United States. J. Climate, 19, 4137–4153.
which, in the intro, states that
Trends in temperature during the period 1976–2000 for the summer season only (Folland et al. 2001) show an area of cooling in the central United States, centered somewhat to the north and west of the center of the area of annual cooling found by Folland et al. (2001) for the entire twentieth century; this area of summer cooling was termed a “warming hole” by Pan et al. (2004). Robinson et al. (2002) analyzed the 1951–97 period and found annual cooling in the south-central United States, centered somewhat to the west of the twentieth-century annual cooling area and to the south of the 1976–2000 summer cooling area, although overlapping both. The term warming hole will be adopted here to refer to the general phenomenon found in all of these studies while the region to be studied will overlap all of the above areas and will be defined based on both physical and societal considerations. In addition to the lack of warming on a centennial time scale, the multidecadal variations are an interesting and integral aspect and will be examined along with the century-scale trends.
Folland et al is Chapter 2 of the IPCC WG1 TAR so not exactly hidden away and Pan et al is also out in the open, but the Google does well with "warming hole" taking Eli to a web site that talks about a 2012 paper by Leibensperger, et al, that finds that
. .  the regional radiative forcing from US anthropogenic aerosols elicits a strong regional climate response, cooling the central and eastern US by 0.5-1.0 °C on average during 1970-1990, with the strongest effects on maximum daytime temperatures in summer and autumn. Aerosol cooling reflects comparable contributions from direct and indirect (cloud-mediated) radiative effects. Absorbing aerosol (mainly black carbon) has negligible warming effect. Aerosol cooling reduces surface evaporation and thus decreases precipitation along the US east coast, but also increases the southerly flow of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico resulting in increased cloud cover and precipitation in the central US. Observations over the eastern US show a lack of warming in 1960-1980 followed by very rapid warming since, which we reproduce in the GCM and attribute to trends in US anthropogenic aerosol sources.

and, oh yes, the conclusion
Our model results show that US anthropogenic aerosols can explain the observed lack of warming over the eastern US from 1930 to 1980 followed by very rapid post-1980 warming. Without US anthropogenic aerosol sources, we find in the model a relatively constant rate of warming over the 1950–2050 period, driven by increasing greenhouse gases. Increasing aerosols until 1980 offset the warming. Decreasing aerosol after 1980 accelerated the warming due to the loss of the aerosol cooling shield. We find that the observed warming from 1990 to 2010 is significantly greater than would have been expected from greenhouse gases alone.
 That aerosol has a lot of coal and uncontrolled auto exhaust in it.  Good news is that the air is cleaner.  Bad news is that the US Southeast is warming up even more.  There is more work on this issue.

None of these papers are referenced by Christy and McNider.  Perhaps Eli should Google it for them

Tuesday, May 03, 2016


Reading legal briefs is not usually a thing of interest, even at Rabett Run.  Popehat points Eli to a friend of the court brief from Marc Randazza in the recent case to determine whether Paramount Pictures owns a copyright on the Klingon language.  Well, maybe simple an acquaintance of the court brief, because as any sentenient Trekkie knows,  Klingon's don't have friends, don't want friends, and as a matter of course, would rather kill any who presumed foolishly to be their friends, somewhat like polar bears but not so cute.  Eating is optional.  Perhaps Eli can give bunnies a taste of the brief and send you on your way to read the whole thing

Plaintiff Paramount Pictures Corporation (“Paramount”) has claimed this copyright interest for many years, but has not actually asserted it in court before now – most likely because the notion of it is(7) .
7. English translation: “it lacks reasons.” Latin transliteration: “meq Hutlh.”

Saturday, April 30, 2016

You Load 16 tons, and What Do You Get

In the US coal accounts for about 20% of all railroad freight.  Coal is going away and that is going to hit the bottom line of many railroads, some of them a lot harder than others.  No more sixteen tons to load.

So . . . . what else is there to say

Friday, April 29, 2016

No more new natural gas plants in developed countries

I'm sure there's a fact-laden and long version of this post, but the title almost suffices.

Whatever the merit of the argument for natural gas as a bridge fuel may be (never quite decided myself), that bridge is a lot more frayed now than when people started making the argument a decade or so ago. Newly-constructed plants will have a lifetime of 20-50 years. It's unlikely that the developed world would need the additional capacity of new gas plants in 20 years, regardless of whether currently-existing, gas-fired plants will be useful to the grid. We shouldn't need any gas or other fossil fuel plants, new or existing, in much less than 50 years from now. Power variability from renewables could be addressed through storage, hydro, larger power networks, existing nuclear baseload, and lastly through existing natural gas plants. We don't need the new ones, and having the not-fully amortized plants around would tempt people to keep running them when they shouldn't.

I suppose there's always an exception like islands where the need argument might be stronger. New natural gas might run coal out of some regions slightly faster than otherwise, but overall renewables would deploy faster with a near-universal rule of no new natural gas plants.

Obviously there should also be no new other fossil fuel plants, and coal and bunker oil should be shut down in a decade or so.

The case against new natural gas in developing countries is weaker. New coal plants are being built there, so if gas truly is better than coal despite fugitive emissions, then new gas has additional value. The power needs in their near-future will also be far greater than today, so today's existing natural gas infrastructure won't do as much to address power variability as it does in developed countries (and developing countries generally have little or no existing nuclear baseload power to help out). The developed world would have to help financially to make new gas unnecessary compared to more-environmental options.

And yes, an adequate price for carbon/methane would make this command-and-control idea unnecessary.

UPDATE:  edited for clarity.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The tragedy of the climate technocrats

Interesting piece by Steve Waldman critiquing my two favorite econbloggers, DeLong and Krugthulu, for technocratic approaches in a moralizing political context. I've altered it below to make it about climate instead of economics, and removed references to the two (UPDATE - from the comments, I'm not sure this experiment of mine is very clear, so I've altered it some more):

[The technocrat] laments that we have been “mugged by the moralizers” and admonishes us that “climate policy analysis is not a morality play“.

But the thing is, human affairs are a morality play, and climate policy, if it is to be useful at all, must be an account of human affairs. I have my share of disagreements with climate technocrats, but on balance I view them as smart, well-meaning people who would do more good than harm if they had greater influence over policy. But they won’t, and they can’t, and they shouldn’t, if they exempt themselves from the moral fray.... climate technocrats in general engage in [unrealistic assumptions] when they ignore moral concerns and the constraints “legitimacy” places on feasible policy.

It should be no surprise that human collectives choose bad climate policies when they deem those policies to be alternatives to policies that are wrong or unjust. Individual human beings act against their material interests all the time, providing full employment for economists who endlessly study the “ultimatum game“. Political choice combines diffuse personal costs with powerful moral signifiers. We should expect politics, including the politics that determines climate policy, to be dripping with moralism. And sure enough, it is! This doesn’t mean that policy outcomes are actually moral. (There’s a hypothesis we can falsify quickly.) But exhortations to policy that cannot survive in terms of moral framing are nullities. They are no less absurd than proposals to “whip inflation” by demanding increased production while simultaneously imposing price ceilings.... 
On the core climate questions of the moment, the climate technocrat explicitly cedes recognizable morality to the other side - the March of Progress, the American/Western World exceptionalism - and in doing so, he cedes the argument. To be fair, moralizing technocratic positions might not be easy.... 
But even in a challenging landscape it is better to fight than to preemptively surrender. There are ways to address, in explicitly moralistic terms, the arguments of the other side.... Rather than eschewing moralism, the technocrat could turn the table on “energy poverty moralizers” and talk about the responsibilities of fossil fuel companies and their political allies... Ordinary people get this stuff....The lament of the technocrats is self-defeating, counterproductive, and ultimately poor social science. Policy ideas that cannot survive in equilibrium with achievable social mores are useless. This needn’t rule out good policy....Ex post, the “good” in good policy will be a double entendre. Policy will be both effective and right. Ex ante, both policy and morality are contested and undetermined. The policymaker’s challenge is to negotiate a space where morality and policy are mutually reinforcing, and where the results of that coherence are in fact good.
(Again, altered from the original.)

The denialist moral subtext is America Is Right/The Western World Is Right, and climate change is just another guilt trip by the Left against people who shouldn't feel guilty. The technocratic viewpoint ignores this viewpoint and doesn't try to engage or defeat it with a different moral framework.

I think like the technocrat (I think), so this is worth keeping in mind on climate, as well as for reading in its original context about economics.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


I spent most of the last two weeks in Guatemala on a kind-of service vacation. My wife has a better claim for service, she's on the board of a nonprofit that does microcredit and business education for women entrepreneurs there. We went for a board meeting and I stayed for my Rotary Club visit that was checking out projects it has funded over the years, including her nonprofit. Above is one of the stove projects we funded. Stove costs $125 for the deluxe model, owners pay $50, Rotary paid the rest. About 70% reduction in wood use, we tried to get an idea of how quickly they got their $50 back and it wasn't clear, several months I think (when my wife left I became Best Spanish Speaker, so the fault's mine). The project's new so we can't say yet about retention, but prior ones ranged from 50-70%, better than I expected. These prices aren't cheap - they work in certain parts of the country where wood is no longer free and people area a little richer than elsewhere.

We also visited my wife's Peace Corps village from 24 years ago, she said it was unrecognizable and much better off. The women she worked with also had a different type of eco-stove they got 10 years ago and were very popular - one woman used hers in preference to a gas stove she also had. They got their stoves free from a German nonprofit but can't afford to buy more on their own.

Both projects seemed much more successful than I'd expected for eco-stoves. If the stove cooks tortillas well, then apparently you've got a good shot at success.

Other aspects: I liked Guatemala City much more than usual for large Third World cities (I was a church mouse at night though).

Bus Rapid Transit in Guatemala City - standard dedicated lane and ticketing station, and as usual for BRT it seems very successful. Add Guatemala City to Jakarta as places I've seen BRT work, and meanwhile my local towns of Palo Alto and Mountain View in Silicon Valley say they can't make it work and it's too expensive.

Traffic-isolated, dedicated bike lane. Right next to some famous church our guide for the day was showing us. And on Sundays, the main avenue outside my fancy hotel is closed to vehicles and had families everywhere walking their children down the road.

We spent a lot of time in the famous Lake Atitlan region (Villa Sumaya hotel highly recommended, peaceful and beautiful). Probably wrong time to be there, very smoky at the end of the dry season as they burn in preparation for planting. We were informed the lake is in big ecological trouble, primarily from graywater dumping (I was surprised too, I'd have guessed erosion). Anyway it appears that banana trees love the nitrogen and phosphates in graywater, so one project is to get people to construct bioswales with papyrus at the bottom and ringed with bananas partway up. Pic obviously isn't a bioswale but it is a stream outwash hitting the lake. I'm not sure what they do with the papyrus, if anything. Ornamental bananas will grow here in California, so I wonder if we can borrow the idea.

I finally saw shade-grown coffee - didn't look that biodiverse to me, but that's what the experts say. Certainly beats industrial agriculture. I also saw surprising amounts of drip irrigation for seasonal produce, which I take to be a good sign, at least during the dry season.

No time for Tikal or for wildlife areas, unfortunately. Did visit a wildlife rescue project, very worthwhile if also sad. The Mayan archaeology museum in Guatemala City is excellent though, and probably a great backgrounder for people who are smart enough to go to Tikal.

Got quite sick for 2 days. Learn from my foolishness and don't resist taking Cipro, it provides huge relief. Who needs intestinal microflora, anyway.

Last note: I'd like to see less dependence on foreign expats at the top of every organization. There is some value to them as neutrals in local politics. It might also be us foreign funders who are part of the problem. Still, that could use improvement.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Peter Ward Tries It On

Peter Ward asks

1.  What physically is a photon? The standard answer is a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. This is more a concept than a description of what a photon is physically. Is it simply a massless oscillation in space?
Eli goes to the Google:  A photon is the vector boson which carries the electromagnetic force.  It is a massless particle of spin one and zero charge.  Single photons are labelled by energy, momentum and polarization where energy, E = hν and momentum k = 2π/λ

Eli might ask what is an electron?  A sufficient answer is that it is a particle of spin 1/2, unit charge and a mass of 9.10938291 x 10-31 kg.

Quantum electrodynamics provides rules for calculating the probability of photons interacting in various ways with charged particles including electrons.  As with any quantum anything, QED provides an instruction sheet on what to do, but the epistemology oft is lacking.  As John Bell once wrote there is both speakable and unspeakable in quantum mechanics and venturing into the latter is brain threatening.  Ce la vie.

It is worth mentioning that in QED charged particles do not interact directly with each other but do so by exchange of photons.  Using QED one can calculate at least in principle the probability of an electron scattering off an electron, changing the motion (or quantum state) of the electron or charged nucleus in space and time, etc.

Quantum behavior is difficult, but tractable.  Playing the game of why in the quantum realm is not recommended unless you shrink down a bit and acquire some practice.   Assembling the machinery on the blackboard scale takes some time, and anybunny who wants to see the bottom line first might go to minute 37 in the video below where Feynman calculates the interaction of two electrons and then go back and view the entire lecture.

So no, photons do not beat their kids, and asking when they stopped is not going to lead to a fruitful discussion.  They simply will not allow themselves to be forced into your theory of knowledge of choice, but humans can figure out how they will and do behave.
4. Do the photons interact with each other in space? If not, why not? If yes, how?
See the lecture.  Since photons can decay into electron-positron pairs (or other beast pairs at super high energies) and the other photons can interact with the charged particles before they recombine, yes in principle, in practice not damn much in labs with budgets under the price of unicorns.  Without virtual pair production uncharged massless particles like photons do not interact.  No gravitational attraction either, they are massless.

What about interference?  Well from the QED point of view this is a function of the interaction of photons with the charged particles at the detector, that is the interference does not exist until it is mediated by the interaction at the detector.  That also answers the question of where the photon is, it is where the detector detects it.  Some, not Eli to be sure, may not like that but that's the engineering level report.
7. We talk of an electromagnetic field that can be mapped out in three dimensions and time with a suitable sensor. What is the physical relationship of such a field to photons?
In the interest of getting to bed and the comforts of Ms. Rabett, Eli will hand this one off to Lubos and return to the other questions tomorrow.