University of Arizona

Researchers use citizen poll rather than science to justify climate policy

Researchers from the University of Arizona and Stanford University used a contractor to conduct a survey, by telephone, of 803 Arizona residents about their views on global warming. They then conflated this very small sample into representing the views of all Arizonans.

The second paragraph of the study press release says:

“The survey also found that more than 70 percent of Arizonans support government action to reduce global warming, and a majority of state residents believe people are at least partly to blame for the planet’s warmer temperatures.” Or was it 70 percent of 803 Arizonans?

Farther down in the press release is this gem of a sentence: “Most Arizona residents believe action by the state to reduce global warming will help the state economy or have no effect, and 23 percent believe it will hurt it.” This is followed by “An overwhelming majority of Arizonans favor the federal government giving companies tax breaks to produce more electricity from renewable sources such as water, wind and solar power.” Since when is 70 percent of 803 an “overwhelming majority of Arizonans?” Do you see where this poll is going?

The poll appears to be designed to suck you in:

“Q12. What is your personal opinion? Do you think that the world’s temperature probably has been going up slowly over the past 100 years, or do you think this probably has not been happening?”

My answer: During the last 160 years the planet has been generally warming up from the “Little Ice Age” due to natural cycles. The effects of carbon dioxide emissions are so tiny that they are lost in the “noise” of natural cycles. And now we are experiencing an 18-year- and counting “pause” in rising temperatures while carbon dioxide emissions continue and the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide recently reached 400 ppm (0,04%) which was treated by the mainstream media as a omen of doom.

Then we have Q15 which assumes government can stop global warming:

“Q15. If nothing is done to reduce global warming in the future, how serious of a problem do you think it will be for the United States – very serious, somewhat serious, not so serious, or not serious at all?” This is followed by several similar questions and questions about what kind of actions government should take. These are all very leading questions rather than objective questions.

If you read the whole survey, you might come to the opinion that this is a “push poll,” i.e., a seemingly unbiased survey that is actually conducted by supporters of a particular policy that intends to disseminate misleading information. For instance Question 33 reads: “As you may have heard, greenhouse gases are thought to cause global warming. In your opinion do you think the government should or should not limit the amount of greenhouse gasses that U.S. businesses put out?” The first part of that question assumes facts not in evidence.

Professors at the University of Arizona Institute for the Environment have long advocated for curbing carbon dioxide emissions and more government control. The Arizona Daily Star story about the survey quotes Dr. Jonathan Overpeck (co-director of the Institute of the Environment and a co-author of the survey) as follows: “It blows me away that roughly 75 percent of Arizonans think the U.S. government should do something about it and the Arizona government should do something about it. I’m just happy to see that Arizonans get it…I hope our politicians will start to get more in line with their constituents on this issue.”

This poll of opinion and perception tends to support that position. Apparently those professors could not find any unequivocal physical evidence to support their position, so they used uniformed opinion instead. The press release says that “Results of independent survey will be used to tailor UA research and outreach to the concerns and needs of the state’s residents.” Does that mean that the UofA Institute for the Environment will pander to perceived public opinion and political advocacy rather than do real science?

Several years ago at a public meeting, I asked Overpeck to cite some physical evidence that our carbon dioxide emissions were the major or even significant cause of recent global warming. He was unable to do so.

See the UofA press release here.

See a summary of findings here.

Read the “Arizona Difference” report questions (68 pages) here. (Does not have all the questions)

Read still another version of the questions and results (45 pages) here.

P.S. Statistician William Briggs comments on the study:

Some excerpts:

Guy named Jonathan Overpeck who makes a living ensuring people are nervous about global warming conducted a survey of Arizona residents and discovered three-fourths of them are nervous about global warming. Job well done?

One Gregg Garfin, deputy director for science translation and outreach at Overpeck’s institute, thought it important to say, “This survey shows the majority of Arizonans seem to be concerned about climate change, which is pretty much in line with the majority of U.S. residents.”

We can guess Garfin would have been saddened had his fellow residents believed less strongly (in falsities) than the rest of the country. Does it then follow that in a democracy it is important that consensus is reached, even when the consensus is wrong, even whoppingly wrong?

The answer, I think, is yes. This is proved in the words of fellow survey author professor Jon Krosnick: “The University of Arizona has done a great service by using the science of survey research to give state residents an opportunity to express their beliefs about what has been happening to the Earth and what they want government to do and not do on this issue”.

What a strange thing to say! Were Arizona residents really burning with desire to tell academics their (false) beliefs about global warming, a stress only relieved by Krosnick’s call? If that’s true, there are still some 6.7 million unsurveyed people suffering. Krosnick ought to get them on the phone as soon as possible and put them out of their misery.

University of Arizona says we have been doing climate change wrong, but they can help

According to a story in the Arizona Daily Star by Tony Davis: “New UA center aims to prepare Tucson, world for climate change” the University of Arizona is establishing a new Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions. The new department is to be headed by Kathy Jacobs who returns to Tucson after serving as a “top aide” to Obama’s science czar John Holdren. (Jacobs’ Profile here).

“I think many people think climate change means it will be warmer every year and drier every year,” Jacobs said. “There actually seems to be a lot of variability in these trends.” Does that mean it might get colder and wetter from time to time? Has that ever happened before?

The Star’s headline, that we must prepare for climate change, implies that we have not had to endure climate change before.

The “center’s basic purpose is to help people in Tucson, nationally and globally adapt to a changing climate by offering management options and practices aimed at protecting lives, property and the national environment from its impacts.” One goal of the new center: “Help people understand how variable year-to-year fluctuations in temperature and precipitation are.” Isn’t that called weather?

The previous 10,000 years of experience with changing climate doesn’t count, we have been enduring changing climate and weather all wrong. The new UofA department will help us do it right.

The first sentence in Star story sets up the raison d’être for the new department which I think is designed principally to suck up politically correct federal funds: “We’re going to have to adapt to more huge wildfires, prolonged heat waves, electricity brownouts, floods and severe droughts and other more extreme events in the future, thanks to climate change…” That’s the set up for the scary scenarios and why we might need such a new department. It falls right in with H. L. Mencken’s observation: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”


Wildfires: Data from the National Interagency Fire Center shows that the number of wildfires has been steadily decreasing since 1960. The number of acres burned, however, has been increasing since about 1995 due in part to changes in forest management under the Endangered Species Act. (See wryheat post for more detail)


Heatwave Index

Looks like the 1930s surpass any we’ve experienced recently.

Droughts: No trend since 1900

Drought trend

Unusually wet weather: No trend since 1900

Wet weather trend

Hurricanes: Variable, but decreasing trend since 1993


For more data on extreme weather see the WUWT extreme weather page.

Electricity brownouts:

Here’s a problem that may be real. Our electricity grid will become more unstable with the increased use of unpredictable, unreliable wind and solar energy, and by the EPAs war on coal which is closing generating stations.

According to the Star article, one of the key areas of interest for the new center is slashing carbon dioxide emissions with renewable energy and “non-gas-guzzling vehicles.” That, alone, indicates the new department will be political rather than scientific. Slashing carbon dioxide emissions is not economically feasible, nor will it make any difference in global temperature or extreme weather. It looks like the people in the new center think they can change the course of several billion years of climate change with a few small tweaks.


See: Your Carbon Footprint doesn’t Matter

Failure of climate models shows that carbon dioxide does not drive global temperature

Obama’s Climate Action Plan is Clueless and Dangerous

University of Arizona Scientists Find Evidence of Roman Period Megadrought

Work at UA’s Tree Ring Lab, studying old trees from the San Juan Mountains in Colorado indicates a megadrought about 1,800 years ago.

From the press release:

A new study at the UA’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research has revealed a previously unknown multi-decade drought period in the second century A.D. The findings give evidence that extended periods of aridity have occurred at intervals throughout our past.

Almost nine hundred years ago, in the mid-12th century, the southwestern U.S. was in the middle of a multi-decade megadrought. It was the most recent extended period of severe drought known for this region. But it was not the first.

 The second century A.D. saw an extended dry period of more than 100 years characterized by a multi-decade drought lasting nearly 50 years, says a new study from scientists at the University of Arizona.

 UA geoscientists Cody Routson, Connie Woodhouse and Jonathan Overpeck conducted a study of the southern San Juan Mountains in south-central Colorado. The region serves as a primary drainage site for the Rio Grande and San Juan rivers.

 “These mountains are very important for both the San Juan River and the Rio Grande River,” said Routson, a doctoral candidate in the environmental studies laboratory of the UA’s department of geosciences  and the primary author of the study, which is upcoming in Geophysical Research Letters.

 The San Juan River is a tributary for the Colorado River, meaning any climate changes that affect the San Juan drainage also likely would affect the Colorado River and its watershed. Said Routson: “We wanted to develop as long a record as possible for that region.”

 Dendrochronology is a precise science of using annual growth rings of trees to understand climate in the past. Because trees add a normally clearly defined growth ring around their trunk each year, counting the rings backwards from a tree’s bark allows scientists to determine not only the age of the tree, but which years were good for growth and which years were more difficult.

 “If it’s a wet year, they grow a wide ring, and if it’s a dry year, they grow a narrow ring,” said Routson. “If you average that pattern across trees in a region you can develop a chronology that shows what years were drier or wetter for that particular region.”

 Darker wood, referred to as latewood because it develops in the latter part of the year at the end of the growing season, forms a usually distinct boundary between one ring and the next. The latewood is darker because growth at the end of the growing season has slowed and the cells are more compact.

 To develop their chronology, the researchers looked for indications of climate in the past in the growth rings of the oldest trees in the southern San Juan region. “We drove around and looked for old trees,” said Routson.

 Literally nothing is older than a bristlecone pine tree: The oldest and longest-living species on the planet, these pine trees normally are found clinging to bare rocky landscapes of alpine or near-alpine mountain slopes. The trees, the oldest of which are more than 4,000 years old, are capable of withstanding extreme drought conditions.

 “We did a lot of hiking and found a couple of sites of bristlecone pines, and one in particular that we honed in on,” said Routson.

 To sample the trees without damaging them, the dendrochronologists used a tool like a metal screw that bores a tiny hole in the trunk of the tree and allows them to extract a sample, called a core. “We take a piece of wood about the size and shape of a pencil from the tree,” explained Routson.

 “We also sampled dead wood that was lying about the land. We took our samples back to the lab where we used a visual, graphic technique to match where the annual growth patterns of the living trees overlap with the patterns in the dead wood. Once we have the pattern matched we measure the rings and average these values to generate a site chronology.”

 “In our chronology for the south San Juan mountains we created a record that extends back 2,200 years,” said Routson. “It was pretty profound that we were able to get back that far.”

 The chronology extends many years earlier than the medieval period, during which two major drought events in that region already were known from previous chronologies.

 “The medieval period extends roughly from 800 to 1300 A.D.,” said Routson. “During that period there was a lot of evidence from previous studies for increased aridity, in particular two major droughts: one in the middle of the 12th century, and one at the end of the 13th century.”

“Very few records are long enough to assess the global conditions associated with these two periods of Southwestern aridity,” said Routson. “And the available records have uncertainties.”

 But the chronology from the San Juan bristlecone pines showed something completely new:

 “There was another period of increased aridity even earlier,” said Routson. “This new record shows that in addition to known droughts from the medieval period, there is also evidence for an earlier megadrought during the second century A.D.”

 “What we can see from our record is that it was a period of basically 50 consecutive years of below-average growth,” said Routson. “And that’s within a much broader period that extends from around 124 A.D. to 210 A.D. – about a 100-year-long period of dry conditions.”

 “We’re showing that there are multiple extreme drought events that happened during our past in this region,” said Routson. “These megadroughts lasted for decades, which is much longer than our current drought. And the climatic events behind these previous dry periods are really similar to what we’re experiencing today.”

 The prolonged drought in the 12th century and the newly discovered event in the second century A.D. may both have been influenced by warmer-than-average Northern Hemisphere temperatures, Routson said: “The limited records indicate there may have been similar La Nina-like background conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which are known to influence modern drought, during the two periods.”

 Although natural climate variation has led to extended dry periods in the southwestern U.S. in the past, there is reason to believe that human-driven climate change will increase the frequency of extreme droughts in the future, said Routson. In other words, we should expect similar multi-decade droughts in a future predicted to be even warmer than the past.


This is interesting research that shows extreme weather is part of the natural cycle.  Drought cycles are most closely correlated with various solar cycles of 1,533 years (the Bond cycle), 444 years, 170 years, 146 years, and 88 years (the Gleissberg cycles).  Asmerom,et al. report that periods of increased solar radiation correlate with periods of decreased rainfall in the southwestern United States (via changes in the North American monsoon).   These solar cycles control the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the El Nino system which control weather and climate in the southwest.

I was amused by some of the terminology.  The authors refer to the “medieval period” and “Roman period” rather than the more commonly used terms “Medieval Warm Period” and “Roman Warm Period.”  This may reflect a concession to one of the co-authors, Overpeck, who is reputed to have told another scientist that we had to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period because it gave the lie to Michael Mann’s infamous hockey stick graph.  The last paragraph if the press release may also reflect a reluctance to admit that natural variation is dominant.

This graphic below shows where the Roman Period fits in with the other warm/cold cycles since the end of the last glacial epoch:


Reference cited:

Asmerom, Y., Polyak, V., Burns, S. and Rassmussen, J. 2007. Solar forcing of Holocene climate: New insights from a speleothem record, southwestern United States. Geology 35: 1-4.

See also:

Drought in the West

Droughts in the Southwest put in perspective

El Niño, bristlecone pines, and drought in the Southwest

University of Arizona dances with sea level

Tomorrow the University of Arizona will present some political theater.  In the evening, UA presents will feature a troupe from several South Pacific islands in a program titled  “Water is Rising.”  Preceding that on Friday afternoon is a discussion led by the UofA  Institute of the Environment titled “Vanishing Islands: Culture and Climate Change.” (See article here.)

It is unfortunate that what will probably be an entertaining evening of song and dance is being used as political propaganda posing Pacific islanders as victims of global warming-caused sea level rise that will inundate their homes.  Such propaganda is not new.  Back in 2009, Members of the Maldives’ Cabinet donned scuba gear and held a meeting under water in a publicity stunt about sea level rise.

The UA’s Institute of the Environment has also, in the past, issued alarmist articles about sea level rise flooding low-lying coastlines, see Science Fiction from the University of Arizona.

If you decide to go to the afternoon discussion, here are a few things you should know. Auckland University Professor Paul Kench has measured 27 islands where local sea levels have risen 120mm – an average of 2mm a year – over the past 60 years, and found that just four had diminished in size, the remaining 23 had either stayed the same or grown bigger, according to the research published in a scientific journal, Global and Planetary Change.

The Australian government has been monitoring sea level on Pacific islands with modern instruments since 1992.   In the case of Tuvalu, they state, “If   the   depression   of   the   1998   cyclone   is   ignored,  there   was   no   change   in   sea   level   at   Tuvalu between 1994 and 2009: 14 years. The recent slight fall would probably be related to the recent earthquake.”

Here is the Australian record of sea level for Tuvalu.  Other South Pacific islands show a similar record.


See also:

Sea Level Rising?

Sea Level Rise Declining says EU

Obama parts the waters, sea level drops

Size matters in sea level studies

Error-ridden University of Arizona press release hypes study

It is sometimes amusing to see how scientific papers are promoted by university communications departments. The study in question is modestly titled “The role of ocean thermal expansion in Last Interglacial sea level rise.” (Full citation below.) That’s not nearly as exciting as the alarmist headline of the press release:”Rising Oceans – Too Late to Turn the Tide?”

I don’t have a problem with the basic premise of the paper itself but I do have a problem with the press release . The basic premise of the paper is “Melting ice sheets contributed much more to rising sea levels than thermal expansion of warming ocean waters during the Last Interglacial Period.” I agree.

Within the press release is this sentence: “But the question remains: How much of that will be due to ice sheets melting as opposed to the oceans’ 332 billion cubic miles of water increasing in volume as they warm up?” 332 BILLION? That is hyperbole since the actual volume of the ocean is 332 MILLION cubic miles (see here and here). Okay, maybe that’s just a typo, but should not communications departments proofread their papers and have enough scientific knowledge to recognize a mistake, especially if they write about scientific research?

But apparently the English language is also a challenge. Consider this sentence that captions an accompanying photo: “If sea levels rose to where they were during the Last Interglacial Period, large parts of the Gulf of Mexico would be under water…” The Gulf of Mexico is water. Of course the intended meaning is that if sea level rose, then the land along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico would be flooded.

And, there is this almost obligatory agenda-driven sentence in the press release: “As the world’s climate becomes warmer due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, sea levels are expected to rise by up to three feet by the end of this century.” If the writer of the press release or the authors of the paper have some physical evidence that greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide, cause significant warming, I would be most grateful to learn of such evidence because I have yet to find any.

The contention that sea level will rise at least three feet by the end of the century is highly speculative. The rate of sea level rise is decreasing in spite of rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Questionable statements and spin in press releases are not confined to the University of Arizona. Unfortunately, this practice is becoming too common, perhaps in an effort to grab headlines and grants. It would be nice to see press releases written in the “Dragnet style:” just the facts Ma’am.



McKay, N., J. T. Overpeck, and B. Otto-Bliesner (2011). The role of ocean thermal expansion in Last Interglacial sea level rise. Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2011GL048280, in press.

Update: I notice that the University of Arizona has corrected the two errors that I pointed out in its press release.  Good for them.

See also:

Sea Level Rising?

Science Fiction from the University of Arizona?

More science fiction from the University of Arizona

The headline in the Arizona Daily Star reads: “UA study: Warming oceans will also speed ice melting.” The press release from the University of Arizona reads: “Warming ocean layers will undermine polar ice sheets.”

What is really interesting is the first two paragraphs of the press release:

Warming of the ocean’s subsurface layers will melt underwater portions of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets faster than previously thought, according to new University of Arizona-led research. Such melting would increase the sea level more than already projected. [emphasis added.]

The research, based on 19 state-of-the-art climate models, proposes a new mechanism by which global warming will accelerate the melting of the great ice sheets during this century and the next.

So what is wrong with this? When water freezes, it expands, that is why ice floats; ice is less dense than an equal weight of liquid water. The researchers claim that melting of underwater ice will increase sea level. But the underwater ice is already displacing a certain volume of water. When the underwater ice melts, the resulting water will occupy a smaller volume than the ice did. How can that cause sea level to increase?

Will scientists clinging to the orthodoxy of the global warming religion say anything to get research grants?

Other research questions the basic premise of the UofA research: is the ocean warming?

See: More Evidence that Global Warming is a False Alarm: A Model Simulation of the last 40 Years of Deep Ocean Warming


Sea also:

Science Fiction from the University of Arizona?

Sea level rising?

Size matters in sea level studies

Sea Level Rise in the South Pacific – None

Science Fiction from the University of Arizona?

A soon to be published research paper from the University of Arizona states that rising sea levels will flood our southeast coast. The press release is titled: “Rising seas will affect major US coastal cities by 2100.” The research was conducted by Jeremy Weiss, a doctoral candidate in geosciences, Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and of atmospheric sciences and co-director of UA’s Institute of the Environment, and Ben Strauss of Climate Central in Princeton, N.J.

Sea level flooding SE USThe press release says that greenhouse gas emissions will cause warming which will raise sea level by at least one meter by the year 2100. It also says that “warming will likely lock us into at least 4 to 6 meters of sea-level rise in subsequent centuries…”

In my opinion, this study is nothing more than speculative science fiction with little factual basis and it presents just another scary scenario that begs for government grant money.

I emailed Mr. Weiss asking for information on their sea level projections and asked this question: “What specific physical evidence do you have that carbon dioxide has a significant effect on global temperature?” He emailed some references to me (see below).


  On Sea Level

Sea-level-1992-2009For sea level to rise one meter by 2,100 would require the current rate of sea level rise to more than triple beginning this year and continue for 89 years. For a review on measurements of sea level, see my blog: Sea Level Rising. Research documented in that article shows that sea level, as measured by world-wide tidal gauges, was rising 2.03 ± 0.35 mm/yr from 1904-1953 and 1.45 ± 0.34 mm/yr from 1954-2003. Satellite measurements indicate a rate of 3.2 mm/yr since 1994 with a decreasing rate since 2006. The apparent discrepancy between tidal gauges and satellite measurement is due to the fact that sea level rise is cyclic and the satellites started measuring at the bottom of a rising cycle. However, even using the higher number, it would require tripling of the currant rate of rise to produce a one meter sea level change by 2100.

In the press release, Weiss claimed to use “the most recent sea-level-rise science…” He referred me to two papers:

Pfeffer WT, Harper JT, O’Neel S (2008) Kinematic constraints on glacier contributions to 21st-century sea-level rise. Science 321:1340-1343.

The Pfeffer research was a computer modeling study but with no actual measurements. The abstract reads in part, “We find that a total sea-level rise of about 2 meters by 2100 could occur under physically possible glaciological conditions but only if all variables are quickly accelerated to extremely high limits. More plausible but still accelerated conditions lead to total sea-level rise by 2100 of about 0.8 meter.”

The other paper was: Vermeer M, and Rahmstorf S., 2009, Global sea level linked to global temperature. P Natl Acad Sci USA 106:21527-21532. This too is essentially computer modeling. I found two critiques of the Vermeer-Rahmstorf paper, one in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says their math was wrong; the other by a Senior Scientist at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory lists multiple problems, including using out of date data and bad math.

Greenhouse gases and global warming

The “greenhouse effect” is this: solar radiation penetrates the atmosphere and warms the surface of the earth. The earth’s surface radiates thermal energy (infrared radiation) back into space. Some of this radiation is absorbed and re-radiated by clouds, water vapor, methane, carbon dioxide, and other gases. Water vapor is the principle greenhouse gas; the others are minor players. Without the greenhouse effect the planet would be an iceball, about 34 C colder than it is.

Since the press release said that greenhouse gas emissions (i.e., carbon dioxide) were responsible for the warming that would raise sea levels, I asked Mr. Weiss, “What specific physical evidence do you have that carbon dioxide has a significant effect on global temperature?”

At first, he emailed reference to two old textbooks and referred specifically to a chapter in one of them. I found that book online via Google Books. That chapter discusses the theoretical basis for climate modeling but presents no physical evidence to support the theory.

I asked again for sources and Mr. Weiss emailed links to abstracts of several papers in the scientific literature. It often requires a paid subscription to find the full paper online, but I did find some of them. Here are my comments on the papers Mr. Weiss referred to.

1. Harries, J.E., Brindley, H.E., Sagoo, P.J. and Bantges, R.J. 2001. Increases in greenhouse forcing inferred from the outgoing longwave radiation spectra of the Earth in 1970 and 1997. Nature 410: 355-357.

2. Jennifer A. Griggs and John E. Harries, “Comparison of spectrally resolved outgoing longwave data between 1970 and present”, Proc. SPIE 5543, 164 (2004); doi:10.1117/12.556803

These two papers use satellite data to compare the strength of the greenhouse effect at two different times. A review from says:

Harries et al. (2001) analyzed the difference between the spectra of outgoing longwave radiation obtained by two orbiting spacecraft that looked down upon the earth at periods of time separated by a span of 27 years. The data utilized were obtained over a specific area in the central Pacific (10°N-10°S, 130°W-180°W) and a “near-global” area of the planet (60°N-60°S). The data were further constrained by masking out land/island areas and areas believed to contain clouds.

The results of their analysis showed a number of differences in the land-masked and cloud-cleared data, which the authors attributed to changes in atmospheric concentrations of CH4, CO2, O3, CFC-11 and CFC-12 that occurred over the 27-year period separating the times of their two sets of measurements. Hence, they concluded their results provided “direct experimental evidence for a significant increase in the earth’s greenhouse effect” over the 27-year time interval. Such a conclusion, however, is somewhat misleading, for it does not provide direct experimental evidence for a significant increase in earth’s total greenhouse effect. It does so only for the cloud-free part of the atmosphere located over a portion of the planet’s oceans. Furthermore, research that has been conducted on the cloudy portion of the atmosphere over the oceans has revealed the presence of a highly negative feedback phenomenon that is capable of totally overpowering any temperature increase forced by the rise in greenhouse gases.

Furthermore, the attribution of cause is without supporting evidence. This is interpretation bias. Another review explains interpretation bias and cites other studies which show why the Harries conclusion is unjustified.

 3. Wang, K., and S. Liang (2009), Global atmospheric downward longwave radiation over land surface under all-sky conditions from 1973 to 2008, J. Geophys. Res., 114, D19101, doi:10.1029/2009JD011800.

These researchers estimated the downward longwave radiation over land for the period 1973 to 2008. The concluding sentence from their abstract: “The rising trend results from increases in air temperature, atmospheric water vapor, and CO2 concentration.” What did they expect? When the surface warms from any cause, we should expect these results. The results still provide no evidence on the significance of carbon dioxide emissions.

4. Evans, W.F.J. and Puckrin, E., 2009, Measurements of the Radiative Surface Forcing of Climate, JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH, VOL. 114, D17107, 14 PP., 2009 doi:10.1029/2009JD012105.

The introduction says that these researchers used infrared spectrometers to measure the individual radiative flux of “a number of greenhouse gases”: CFCs, methane, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, carbon tetrachloride, nitrous oxide, and tropospheric ozone. Carbon dioxide is not mentioned, but they do show carbon dioxide in some tables. To obtain the greenhouse flux of individual gases, they used a simulation of the atmosphere. The researchers say that the total greenhouse radiation (excluding water vapor) has increased by 3.5 watts per square meter since pre-industrial times. They also say that the radiation from water vapor has doubled to over 200 watts per square meter. These data suggest that other than water vapor, other greenhouse gases in totality are minor players.

Dr. Roy Spencer, a NASA scientist, explains in a blog why measurements such as those obtained by Evans do not really show what they are claimed to show.

5. Murphy, D.M., et al., 2009, An observationally based energy balance for the Earth since 1950, JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH, VOL. 114, D17107, 14 PP., 2009, doi:10.1029/2009JD012105.

This paper deals with the authors’ estimate of earth’s energy balance and the assumed forcings and feedbacks of atmospheric components. The Spencer comments above and in this article apply. This paper provides no physical evidence that carbon dioxide has a significant effect on temperatures.

The bottom line here is that Mr. Weiss could not provide unequivocal evidence to support the thesis. A point not addressed by any of the papers which mentioned some effect of carbon dioxide is that human emissions of carbon dioxide make up less than 5% of the total amount in the atmosphere. This makes the claim that human emissions are causing warming even more spurious. Much of science is speculation which investigates the what-ifs, but so is science fiction.

African Lake Study Leaves Some Questions

The headline from the University of Arizona News, and many other news outlets said, “Twentieth-Century Warming in Lake Tanganyika is Unprecedented.” The headline from Brown University press release (home of the lead author) said, “Brown Geologists Show Unprecedented Warming in Lake Tanganyika.”

Well, not exactly. The title of the study referred to is “Late-twentieth-century warming in Lake Tanganyika unprecedented since AD 500,” published in Nature Geoscience (16 May 2010). Even that more modest claim doesn’t tell the whole story.

First some background. Lake Tanganyika occurs within the East African Rift, which is a divergent tectonic plate boundary that is gradually separating East African countries from the main continent. The rift contains both active and dormant volcanoes. The lake is 418 miles long and 45 miles wide. Its average depth is 1,870 feet with a maximum depth of 4,820 feet. Portions of the lake are claimed by Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, and Zambia. Fishing the lake provides a major food source for people in the surrounding lands. There is concern that lake warming will disrupt the fish supply.

The abstract of the paper concludes, “Our records indicate that changes in the temperature of Lake Tanganyika in the past few decades exceed previous natural variability. We conclude that these unprecedented temperatures and a corresponding decrease in productivity can be attributed to anthropogenic global warming, with potentially important implications for the Lake Tanganyika fishery.”

The questions I had upon reading this were: 1) Are the temperatures really unprecedented? 2) Do they exceed natural variability? 3) What is the evidence that the warming was caused by anthropogenic global warming? 4) Could there be some other cause of fish decline?

The researchers studied lake sediment cores going back 60,000 years and by using proxies deduced a temperature record for the lake surface temperature. In the current study, the researchers said that during the last 1,500 years, temperature varied between 22.5º C and 25.7º C, and that in the last 50 years the temperature rose by 1.6º C.

However, in 2008, these same researchers published a paper in Science (Vol. 322. no. 5899, pp. 252 – 255) which said the lake surface temperature fluctuated between 27° and 29°C over the last 60,000 years according to their interpretation of lake sediment cores.

I emailed a co-author of the paper, a UofA professor, asking for an explanation of this apparent discrepancy. He replied by referring me to the website of the lead author at Brown University. There, she explained that there was a problem in calibration of the temperature proxies. She presents a graph showing the records after recalibration. It is reproduced below. It should be noted that there are two separate core sample locations. The more recent core was taken closer to shore than the older, longer record. The more recent record initially shows cooler temperatures where the two records overlap. The researchers attribute this discrepancy to upwelling cold water from deeper in the lake. So which record is closer to the real surface temperature?


According to the lead author’s own data as shown on the graph, it is obvious that the current temperatures are not unprecedented, nor do they exceed natural variability. The title of their paper is technically correct only if one accepts cherry-picking start dates.

That leaves the question about the cause of the warming. The UofA scientist replied to my email, “our record only demonstrates a lake surface temperature history, not the cause of that history.” The allegation of an anthropogenic cause, a major conclusion of the paper, was made without any supporting evidence, just speculation.

I am wondering why the paper abstract contains the conclusions it does. Is it time for some scary scenarios to promote more study and more funding?

This whole study purports to be about lake surface temperatures, but it contains very few such measurements from the lake surface. From my reading, the researchers deduce surface temperatures from only two core sample locations. As the NOAA satellite graphic below shows, on any given day, at any given time, the variation in lake surface temperature can be as much as 4º C in different parts of the lake, and that equals or exceeds the entire range of temperatures found in the studies. It would seem, therefore, that any temperature record derived from sediment cores could vary greatly depending on location. Since this study had just two sample locations, it makes one wonder if it gives a true representation of actual conditions.


And about the fish. The current paper says that warming is causing a decline in fish abundance. Yet an earlier study, of which the UofA scientist was a co-author, says the fish decline is caused by land disturbance. “Watershed deforestation, road building, and other anthropogenic activities result in sediment inundation of lacustrine habitats.” “Our faunal analyses suggest that all three taxonomic groups are negatively affected by sediment inundation but may have varying response thresholds to disturbance.” (Citation: Conservation Biology, vol. 13, no. 5, Oct. 1999).

Biosphere 2 Ready for New Research

Biosphere 2, that grand experiment with a checkered history, is being readied for new research conducted by the University of Arizona. Tuesday evening, Dr. Travis Huxman discussed plans for the facility with a group of about 30 people at the Cushing Street Bar.

Huxman, who has a doctorate in biological sciences, and is an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the U of A, is the new director of the Biosphere 2 research program.

For those who may be unfamiliar with Biosphere 2, here is some background. The concept was to construct a self-contained biosphere to investigate what would be needed to colonize other planets, such as Mars. The main structure, built near the town of Oracle, AZ, is a 3.15 acre greenhouse which was to be a self-sustaining ecosystem containing several plant biomes and an “ocean” to grow fish. The facility was built with $150 million in private funds in the late 1980s.

In September of 1991, a group of “biospherians” (four men and four women) entered the greenhouse for a planned two-year stay. It was intended that they depend only on what was inside the enclosure. As noted in a Wikipedia article: “All seven ecosystems of Earth exist within the confines of Biosphere II. They are a rainforest, a desert, a savanah, a marsh, a farmland (in an area called the Intensive Agriculture Biome), and a ‘human habitat’.” [I guess the ocean makes seven.] “Thus, it contains soil, air, water, animals, and plants. About 4,000 plants and animals were introduced to Biosphere II, and the ocean contained 900,000 gallons of water. It was hoped that these provisions would give the ecosystems enough material to be self-sustaining.”

As with many experiments, things didn’t go as planned. One of the main problems was that organic-rich soil consumed too much oxygen. The original oxygen content of 20.9% dropped to 14.5% after 18 months. That’s the equivalent of an altitude of 13,400 feet, and the biospherians suffered from high-altitude effects. Because they were in a greenhouse, the daily fluctuation of carbon dioxide was about 600ppm (current atmospheric concentration is about 390 ppm). During the day, with strong sunlight, plants revved up photosynthesis and used up carbon dioxide, but respired it back at night. There was also a seasonal variation in carbon dioxide, and wintertime levels reached about 4,000 ppm.

This first phase ended in September, 1993 as planned. After a 6-month transition, another group of seven people entered the greenhouse, but injuries and social problems caused abandonment of the project in 1994.

Columbia University took over in 1995 and operated the facility until 2003. Columbia “broke the seal” and formed a flow-through system to test effects of carbon dioxide among other things.

Through all of this, the facility was open for tours and derived much of its operating revenue from visitors. By 2006 the property was zoned for urban development and in 2007 sold to a developer who had planned houses and a resort hotel. However, the University of Arizona took over management responsibilities in June, 2007. And that brings us back to Huxman.

Huxman said that U of A research will “focus on environmental challenges of the day.” And by that he meant they would study initially, at least, the relationship between carbon, water, and energy, essentially photosynthesis, and how it can be applied to current issues.

Huxman mentioned solar power and the smart grid system since apparently Biosphere 2 gets some of its electricity from solar collectors. He said that with a smart grid system, the power company can turn off an individual’s solar system, which might generate power to the common grid in order to protect workers doing repairs on the lines. Biosphere 2 will not be a participant in the smart grid system so as to prevent such power outages. This will allow researchers to better control variables and also test software that manages smart grids.

Huxman says that under U of A management, Biosphere 2 will be better committed to a relationship between science and society, and that even now visitors can watch graduate students conducting experiments.

One of the planned projects is to build a model of a watershed to study the dynamics of how water gets to plants and how soil structures evolve. He wants to know how water gets into the aquifers. (A geologist could tell him that most aquifer recharge occurs at the mountain front.) After the “naive” model is working, they will introduce plants to see how that changes the soil structure. Once they learn from the model, they plan to try it outside in the real world.

They will also study ways to stabilize mine tailings.

Who is paying for all this? According to Huxman, major funding is coming from the facility owners and foundations. Much of the operating budget will come from visitor admissions; a minor part comes from the University and from corporations.

Will they be successful? Only time will tell. You can visit Biosphere 2. You can get information from , email to or call 520-838-6200. Currently admission price is $20 for adults. Lower prices are available for seniors and children.

And, by the way, the Cushing Street Bar has Guinness on tap.