A new Ice Age approaches?

posted at 9:25 am on June 15, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Old and busted: global warming.  New hotness: coldness.  Reports from three different studies released yesterday point to the possibility of an extended period of solar inactivity not seen for three hundred years, and one that could bring a new mini-Ice Age:

According to three studies released in the United States on Tuesday, experts believe the familiar sunspot cycle may be shutting down and heading toward a pattern of inactivity unseen since the 17th century.

The signs include a missing jet stream, fading spots, and slower activity near the poles, said experts from the National Solar Observatory and Air Force Research Laboratory.

‘This is highly unusual and unexpected,’ said Frank Hill, associate director of the NSO’s Solar Synoptic Network.

‘But the fact that three completely different views of the Sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation.’

NASA reminds us what happened during the last such extended period of hibernation, called the Maunder Minimum, occurred:

Early records of sunspots indicate that the Sun went through a period of inactivity in the late 17th century. Very few sunspots were seen on the Sun from about 1645 to 1715. Although the observations were not as extensive as in later years, the Sun was in fact well observed during this time and this lack of sunspots is well documented. This period of solar inactivity also corresponds to a climatic period called the “Little Ice Age” when rivers that are normally ice-free froze and snow fields remained year-round at lower altitudes. There is evidence that the Sun has had similar periods of inactivity in the more distant past.

The NSO and the US Air Force Research Laboratory announced the results yesterday, as the British newspaper The Register reported last night, and the NSO specifically mentioned another Maunder Minimum as a possible outcome:

The announcement made on 14 June (18:00 UK time) comes from scientists at the US National Solar Observatory (NSO) and US Air Force Research Laboratory. Three different analyses of the Sun’s recent behaviour all indicate that a period of unusually low solar activity may be about to begin. …

This could have major implications for the Earth’s climate. According to a statement issued by the NSO, announcing the research:

“An immediate question is whether this slowdown presages a second Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period with virtually no sunspots [which occurred] during 1645-1715.”

Obviously, the solution to this (from an AGW perspective) would be to immediately ramp up carbon emissions.  Why, we should start subsidizing fossil-fuel use and pay drivers a per-mile tax credit!  Build refineries, and fly lots of charter jet flights with only a handful of passengers!  Oh, wait — AGW activists like Al Gore already do that last one, don’t they?

Don’t buy your mukluks for Florida just yet.  This is still a hypothesis, not yet an immutable fact.  The NSO and USAFRL still needs to conduct research to see whether a new Maunder Minimum will come, or if this sunspot cycle has just hiccuped. (NASA notes in a sentence that The Register didn’t include that “The connection between solar activity and terrestrial climate is an area of on-going research.”)  That will take at least a couple of years to see what direction solar activity takes and what its impact on global temperatures might be, so no one should rush into policy “solutions” for climate in either direction.  Of course, this is also good advice for AGW hysterics who have been predicting the end of the world in the other direction for 20 years, and whose predictions have so far all failed to materialize.

Of course, if those AGW advocates suddenly convert to Maunder Minimists, why do I have the sneaking suspicion that the same solutions — central control of energy production and usage, elimination of fossil fuels — will be pushed?

Update: I was rightly upbraided in the comments by Badger40 for confusing “hypothesis” with “theory,” and I’ve changed the wording accordingly.  They mean two very different things in science, which I knew but got sloppy when writing that sentence.  Bear in mind that the decline in activity is not a hypothesis or theory, but actual data; the hypothesis is that it presages a new Maunder Minimum-type period of inactivity, which will cool the planet significantly enough for a new mini-Ice Age.

Update II: Anthony Watts and David Archibald explore another hypothesis of a less-onerous Dalton Minimum.  Note the graphs showing solar activity in Cycle 24 and also the North American snow cover over the last 40 years.  Since the 1970s — the last cooling period — the snow cover has abated significantly, and hasn’t expanded the last four cold winters, but we will need to see whether this starts expanding in the absence of solar activity.

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Damn carbon. Gets you coming and going.

J.E. Dyer on June 15, 2011 at 2:07 PM

Been there, done that… get back to me when Mars is crashing into our atmosphere or something.

Sharr on June 15, 2011 at 2:23 PM

Saying science is always right and wrong is as bad as saying science is never right and wrong. The fact is that the science is right until more or better information comes along. That should be painfully obvious from the Lewis model.

jdkchem on June 15, 2011 at 1:37 PM

The Bohr model is ‘wrong’ but useful for basic concepts regarding electrons.
You have a point.
Perhaps we can really say, some conclusions are just plain wrong & some are just right.

Thus obesity should help you live longer ’cause thinness could increase your chances of freezing to death.

Dr. Charles G. Waugh on June 15, 2011 at 10:38 AM

Obseity really needs to be redefined. Bcs the current understanding is ridiculous. Fat has a real purpose.
I find it interesting, for instance, that from the Donner Party episode, not everyone was involved in cannibalism.
In starvation situations women outlive the men from what I can see.

Chaz on June 15, 2011 at 1:32 PM

The general publicshould know the difference. What goes on between various scientific disciplines, well, that’s amongst them bcs they are assumed to understand the real difference.
I stick on that point bcs lay people need to know there is a difference & need to understand the route to a theory.
Bcs if they don’t, they give credence in their minds to every hair brained idea out there just bcs some sciency person says it.

Climate “scientists” modeled CO2 induced temperature increases. Observation is proving these models to be wrong.

blink on June 15, 2011 at 12:24 PM

This is what really needs to be hammered home.
Atmospheric temps are what influences how much CO2 actually concentrates in the atmosphere.
Now yes, it’s probably possible afterword for CO2 to in turn later affect temps in some way. But nothing like what is being claimed. And remember mankind’s pathetic contribution to this already miniscule gas.
By far & large all should know it is the water vapor that is the dominant gas.
Then when you start pointing out all the holes in the climate ‘models’, where evidently not enough statisticians were consulted in developing them, & everything they have falls apart.
I am amazed they can still say all of this garbage with a straight face. Especially when they say the polar bears are dying out. That is false. And yet the lies keep being repeated by idiots like Greenpeace.org.
It’s unbelievable.

Badger40 on June 15, 2011 at 2:25 PM

“The Next Ice Age” was the panic when I was in elementary school back in the late 70s…

Everything old is new again.

juanito on June 15, 2011 at 2:27 PM

I could go for some global cooling here in Texas right about now. Do the Dems have to become the “Earth is Too Damn Cool Party” now?

txmomof6 on June 15, 2011 at 2:28 PM

And Lewis’ model is most certainly wrong. Just because you’re able to use portions of the model to make certain calculations doesn’t mean that the model is an accurate representation of the atom. Likewise, climate models are not accurate representations of climate – they’re wrong.

blink on June 15, 2011 at 2:07 PM

That is the point here.
A scientific model is only a rudimentary tool with which to represent some phenomenon so that we may study it more practically.
That’s what mathematical equations basically are.
You look at all those statistical equations they use in ecological studies & those are models that help simulate nature, but it’s based on data.
And if you have garbage for data, then the models are just plain wrong.
It’s like looking at a Picasso & claiming it accurately represents real life.

Badger40 on June 15, 2011 at 2:29 PM

For those of you interested in how climate affected human settlements & government, this is a good book.
The author, Brian Fagan, admits to being a shill, inadvertantly, for AGW.
But then all the evidence he presents in his tale points to the complete opposite. It is ironic he never really conceeded this point outright. I do find the history, in my widely read opinion, to be accurate.

Badger40 on June 15, 2011 at 2:33 PM

“The Next Ice Age” was the panic when I was in elementary school back in the late 70s…

Everything old is new again.

juanito on June 15, 2011 at 2:27 PM

I knew when the 70s fashions came back it would all end in tears.

theCork on June 15, 2011 at 2:39 PM

I knew when the 70s fashions came back it would all end in tears.

theCork on June 15, 2011 at 2:39 PM

As long as the major ‘fashions’ of the 80s don’t ever come back.

Badger40 on June 15, 2011 at 2:55 PM

I hear Obowma chimed in on this…

… and suggested that we take the lead and send some astronauts to the Sun to get to the bottom of it.

When advised that a mission to the Sun would be extremely hazardous to any human…

… Obowma just laughed, and said, “I know that, that’s why I will send them at night!”

Seven Percent Solution on June 15, 2011 at 3:17 PM

Former Vice President Al Gore on Wednesday praised GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his acknowledgement of global climate change.

With algore’s endorsement, Romney can count on not being the Republican nominee.

Roy Rogers on June 15, 2011 at 3:18 PM

I do find the history, in my widely read opinion, to be accurate.

Badger40 on June 15, 2011 at 2:33 PM

For the most part, I might add.

Seven Percent Solution on June 15, 2011 at 3:17 PM

OK, did he really say that? Bcs if so, the laughs jsut keep on comin’. Effing disgustingly stupid.

It doesn’t matter if A+B is still useful for predicting C. The model is wrong.

blink on June 15, 2011 at 3:13 PM

+10

Badger40 on June 15, 2011 at 3:20 PM

Epic.

Aronne on June 15, 2011 at 3:24 PM

Obviously, the solution to this (from an AGW perspective) would be to immediately ramp up carbon emissions. Why, we should start subsidizing fossil-fuel use and pay drivers a per-mile tax credit! Build refineries, and fly lots of charter jet flights with only a handful of passengers! Oh, wait — AGW activists like Al Gore already do that last one, don’t they?

Sorry but that wouldn’t work. There is something about carbon that warming cultists don’t want to become common knowledge. It’s a characteristic of carbon that’s been proven over and over again but the warmists do all they can to keep it under wraps.

Are you ready for it?

Ok, here goes:

Carbon (in any form) does not regulate atmospheric temperature, weather or climate.

Therefor, pumping CO2 into thee atmosphere won’t stave off an ice age any more than removing it from the atmosphere will prevent an increase in atmospheric temperature.

single stack on June 15, 2011 at 4:50 PM

Problem is, carbon dioxide is too weak a green house gas to save us.

We will need a much more powerful green house gas, like say, methane.

I recommend beans!

Lonetown on June 15, 2011 at 5:22 PM

When I was attending a major university back in the late ’80′s/early ’90′s, studying Biological Sciences, we were instructed that the Next Ice Age was anticipated. That was two decades ago or so, that was the scientific opinion, consensus, at that time.

It’s based upon increased water vapor in the atmosphere, eventually cools things down, and once that starts, it’s a steam-roller, to paraphrase the material.

Lourdes on June 15, 2011 at 6:15 PM

I’m kind of happy things will ice-up, however. Cooler climates, less insects and reptiles, more space for us thin-nosed Norse people because the rest will run back to the Equator once again…

Yeah, carnivors!

;)

Lourdes on June 15, 2011 at 6:17 PM

…global climate change.

Roy Rogers on June 15, 2011 at 3:18 PM

“Global climate change” is such a generality as to be meaningless: the climate globally is ALWAYS changing. The Earth goes through ongoing fluctuations in solar orbit (creates “global climate change”), the sun itself continues to experience ongoing changes in radiation and events (results in, ditto, “global climate change”), the continents move about the surface of the planet (creates “global climate change”) and even the emergence of the Himalaya is thought to have caused if not contributed to the changes in Northern Africa, from wetlands/grasslands to extreme desert.

So much more occurs on the Earth and to the Earth from affects from elsewhere, that we undergo ongoing “global climate change” even from massive volcanic eruptions here, some of which have caused the Earth to experience massive extinctions, globally, of various life forms if not, at some events, most of them.

Lourdes on June 15, 2011 at 6:22 PM

‘This is highly unusual and unexpected,’ said Frank Hill, associate director of the NSO’s Solar Synoptic Network.

Thought this was going to be another monthly economic report.

fred5678 on June 15, 2011 at 6:26 PM

Okay, only one thing left to do…outlaw all carbon, confiscate it, lock it up…too much is bad, too little is bad…some dem will outlaw all carbon…

right2bright on June 15, 2011 at 6:41 PM

This reminds of ancient tribes that did some dance or some ritual when the moon was eclipsed, than the moon “re-appeared”, so the ritual must have done it. Now every time their is an eclipse, out comes the ritual…and you know what? The moon re-appears each time.

right2bright on June 15, 2011 at 6:44 PM

I’ve followed the Watt’s Up With That blog for years and this is old news. They’ve been reporting sun activity levels consistently and it all points in the same direction, the sun is moving into a less active period.

The sun has the most important influence on our climate, even primitive people from thousands of years ago understood that, it’s too bad today’s Environazis don’t.

Common Sense on June 15, 2011 at 6:50 PM

he sun has the most important influence on our climate, even primitive people from thousands of years ago understood that, it’s too bad today’s Environazis don’t.

Common Sense on June 15, 2011 at 6:50 PM

The meme is that this less active period has softened the impact of AGW. You don’t think these whackos are going to give an inch?

:)

CW on June 15, 2011 at 7:02 PM

Man, now Canada’s really going to suck.

StevenCrowder on June 15, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Hey, Crowder.
Actually, if we fall into an ice age, pretty much everywhere is going to suck.
Well, maybe not Hawaii. But that depends on how unstable the whether gets.

Count to 10 on June 15, 2011 at 7:39 PM

…another hypothesis of a less-onerous Dalton Minimum.

Ominous?

Tzetzes on June 15, 2011 at 7:56 PM

“We are NOT predicting a mini-ice age. We are predicting the behavior of the solar cycle. In my opinion, it is a huge leap from that to an abrupt global cooling, since the connections between solar activity and climate are still very poorly understood. My understanding is that current calculations suggest only a 0.3 degree C decrease from a Maunder-like minimum, too small for an ice age. It is unfortunate that the global warming/cooling studies have become so politically polarizing.”

The above is a quote from the report cited by you, Ed.
Below is what you wrote in the above article:

“Reports from three different studies released yesterday point to the possibility of an extended period of solar inactivity not seen for three hundred years, and one that could bring a new mini-Ice Age”

Now who exactly is being “hysterical” and “predicting the end of the world”, Mr. Morrissey?

Your journalism skills are showing poorly, as evidenced by this and the last article on AGW you wrote this past week (which was false on its face).

oakland on June 15, 2011 at 7:58 PM

I’m waiting for the Science-Whores to weigh in on this before commenting. Let’s throw them a couple million in grant money to “study” the phenomena.

BigAlSouth on June 15, 2011 at 8:26 PM

Your journalism skills are showing poorly, as evidenced by this and the last article on AGW you wrote this past week (which was false on its face).

oakland on June 15, 2011 at 7:58 PM

Your reading skills and comprehension leave a lot to be desired.

Did you note the question mark in the title of the post:”A new Ice Age approaches?“? What does that indicate to you?

Note, also, in Ed’s post the following:

“Don’t buy your mukluks for Florida just yet. This is still a hypothesis, not yet an immutable fact. The NSO and USAFRL still needs to conduct research to see whether a new Maunder Minimum will come, or if this sunspot cycle has just hiccuped. (NASA notes in a sentence that The Register didn’t include that “The connection between solar activity and terrestrial climate is an area of on-going research.”)

Do those qualifications by Ed suggest anything to you?

Your teaching skills should be questioned by your employer.

Yoop on June 15, 2011 at 8:36 PM

Again, in case you missed it, I quote Mr. Morrissey:

““Reports from three different studies released yesterday point to the possibility of an extended period of solar inactivity not seen for three hundred years, and one that could bring a new mini-Ice Age.”

This when the article clearly stated that the calculations by the author revealed to him that an ice age was out of the question.

Mr. Morrissey is a hypester. He also has very poor comprehension of scientific articles, as his analysis of the article earlier this week was way off the mark (by about 180 degrees).

oakland on June 15, 2011 at 9:31 PM

Obviously, the solution to this (from an AGW perspective) would be to immediately ramp up carbon emissions.

From an AGW perspective, maintaining carbon emissions would “solve” the “problem.” That’s why this whole campaign to discredit AGW as a science instead of discrediting AGW alarmism as a political position is so pointless. No matter how you look at it, the best policy is to adapt to climate changes rather than trying to engineer them.

RightOFLeft on June 15, 2011 at 9:42 PM

This when the article clearly stated that the calculations by the author revealed to him that an ice age was out of the question.

Mr. Morrissey is a hypester. He also has very poor comprehension of scientific articles, as his analysis of the article earlier this week was way off the mark (by about 180 degrees).

oakland on June 15, 2011 at 9:31 PM

Was this comment in the initial report OR was the comment in later emails?

Link please, to the comment from the report, because I haven’t been able to come up with it. Instead I found:

From the Media Matters site: (regarding emails to Reuters)

In fact, solar physicist Frank Hill, who was involved in the research, explained via email that those warning of a mini ice age are making a “huge leap” from current scientific understanding of the variables involved:

We are NOT predicting a mini-ice age. We are predicting the behavior of the solar cycle. In my opinion, it is a huge leap from that to an abrupt global cooling, since the connections between solar activity and climate are still very poorly understood. My understanding is that current calculations suggest only a 0.3 degree C decrease from a Maunder-like minimum, too small for an ice age.

Bill Livingston, an astronomist who also contributed to the research said in an email that while the solar conditions “could counter ‘global warming’ somewhat,” he “would not say we are predicting a mini-ice age.”

Yoop on June 15, 2011 at 10:09 PM

Frank Hill, in his own words.

His introduction of the Maunder Minimum into the discussion invited the contrast to a past mini-ice age.

“This is important because the solar cycle causes space weather … and may contribute to climate change,” Frank Hill, associate director of the National Solar Observatory’s Solar Synoptic Network, told journalists today.

In the past, such periods have coincided with lower-than-expected temperatures on Earth. The most famous example is the Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period with virtually no sunspots from 1645 to 1715. Average temperatures in Europe sank so low during that period that it came to be known as “the Little Ice Age.”

Yoop on June 15, 2011 at 10:18 PM

I’m carbon-based.

Do I get a bonus?

profitsbeard on June 15, 2011 at 10:35 PM

New motto of House Stark: Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Ozwitch on June 15, 2011 at 2:05 PM

Heh, Good one. I love SoIaF. Hate the author, love the writing.

LegendHasIt on June 16, 2011 at 1:23 AM

“The Next Ice Age” was the panic when I was in elementary school back in the late 70s…

Everything old is new again.

juanito on June 15, 2011 at 2:27 PM

Newsweek and Time back then were right! So I’m gonna renew my subscriptions I canceled 30 years ago.

/not

Shy Guy on June 16, 2011 at 2:11 AM

I’m carbon-based.

Do I get a bonus?

profitsbeard on June 15, 2011 at 10:35 PM

Dolly Parton is silicon-based. Does she get a pass?

Dr. Charles G. Waugh on June 16, 2011 at 3:14 AM

StevenCrowder on June 15, 2011 at 11:00 AM

No way! The “I just lost my manager” Steven Crowder? Cool.

AshleyTKing on June 16, 2011 at 3:14 AM

Dolly Parton is silicon-based.

Dr. Charles G. Waugh on June 16, 2011 at 3:14 AM

Fact or hypothesis?

AshleyTKing on June 16, 2011 at 3:15 AM

Mr. Morrissey is a hypester. He also has very poor comprehension of scientific articles, as his analysis of the article earlier this week was way off the mark (by about 180 degrees).

oakland on June 15, 2011 at 9:31 PM

I’m guessing you have missed the pure irony of your accusations here.
You evidently have no idea how accurately this describes you.
I do take exception with the 180 degrees remark, tho, when it concerns you.
You’re usually off by 360 degrees.

Badger40 on June 16, 2011 at 11:15 AM

You’re usually off by 360 degrees.

Badger40 on June 16, 2011 at 11:15 AM

OK maybe I was wrong there.
That’d mean you’d come full circle.
And you still have never addressed this fact:
CO2 does not cause atmospheric temps to rise.
Rising atmospheric temps cause CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to rise.

Badger40 on June 16, 2011 at 11:28 AM

““Reports from three different studies released yesterday point to the possibility of an extended period of solar inactivity not seen for three hundred years, and one that could bring a new mini-Ice Age.”

This when the article clearly stated that the calculations by the author revealed to him that an ice age was out of the question.

Mr. Morrissey is a hypester. He also has very poor comprehension of scientific articles, as his analysis of the article earlier this week was way off the mark (by about 180 degrees).

oakland on June 15, 2011 at 9:31 PM

Really, it said an ice age is “out of the question”? That is what it said? I’m pretty sure it did not say that.

I think that Ed’s hyperbolic title is a bit of ironic tweaking to AGW fetishist like you who are predicting the end of the world, even though, as the quote you rely upon stated, we know little about how the sun affects climate. Interesting that the scientists will admit that when it comes to whether or not there will be another mini ice age, but when it comes to computer modeling man’s alleged affect on climate – suddenly the sun is not considered at all.

The point is you are an idiot.

Monkeytoe on June 16, 2011 at 4:29 PM

This when the article clearly stated that the calculations by the author revealed to him that an ice age was out of the question.

Mr. Morrissey is a hypester. He also has very poor comprehension of scientific articles, as his analysis of the article earlier this week was way off the mark (by about 180 degrees).

oakland on June 15, 2011 at 9:31 PM

I’m glad that calculations “revealed” to him an ice age is out of the question, when he admits we know next to nothing about the sun’s affect on the earth’s climate.

I guess this guy is omnipotent. He admits not knowing what the data means, yet he can 100% rule out a mini-ice age accordign to you?

You lack common sense, reading comprehension and any ability to understand scientific discussion. But, like with all teachers I have encountered, that is pretty much par for the course.

Monkeytoe on June 16, 2011 at 4:32 PM

Where do AGW religionists go to worship anyway? Is this new religion like scientology, where you have to pay to belong? Do you learn secret “truths” about the world?

I am very intrigued by this new religion.

Monkeytoe on June 16, 2011 at 4:34 PM

‘This is highly unusual and unexpected,’ said Frank Hill, associate director of the NSO’s Solar Synoptic Network.

Really? Seems to me any number of people in the “scientific community” have been talking about changes in sunspot activity for some time now. Perhaps because most of them aren’t part of the global warming “consensus,” they’ve been largely ignored.

The word “unexpected” sure has been taking a beating of late. It used to mean “not foreseen or regarded as likely to happen.” Now, it’s used to describe something politically untenable that’s known to be likely to happen but intentionally disregarded.

SukieTawdry on June 16, 2011 at 6:42 PM

the snow cover has abated significantly, and hasn’t expanded the last four cold winters, but we will need to see whether this starts expanding in the absence of solar activity.

The snow cover expanded significantly over the northern and western US this year: California’s Sierra Nevada range alone is at 150-200% of normal. There was an interesting post on the recent tornado rampage by Roy Spencer at WUWT, and one hypothesis he mentioned is that the heavier snowfall helped cool the atmosphere which, when it collided with the warmer air in the South and East of the US, created the conditions for tornadoes.

Personally, I’m convinced by Svensmark’s theory of the relation of the sun’s influence on cosmic rays hitting the Earth and thus affecting cloud cover and I think we’re in for an extended cooling period.

Which, of course, is caused by global warming.

irishspy on June 16, 2011 at 7:35 PM

Scientific models, whether they be about climate, population growth, economics, plasma dynamics, or heat transfer, are never (and will never) be able to make completely accurate predictions to infinite precision.

This is a complete straw man, oakland, and I think you know that. The question is not whether the models of climate are perfect or not… it’s a question of how accurately they predict the magnitude of changes (while the direction of change is of course meaningful, the magnitude is vastly more important.)

The issue with climate models as they stand (and as they have for the past 10 to 15 years) is that they quantitatively fail to provide reasonably accurate predictions about the magnitude of future changes (and in some cases even get the direction wrong).

Climate modelling is a challenge, as is any other. The models have come a long way over the last thirty years – in all of the above that I mentioned, including climate modelling. And, they are improving all the time. THose who don’t understand the methods of modelling (such as finite element analysis) are naturally suspicious. I would suggest reading up on the process of modelling to get some idea of what it’s all about.

The question is not whether the models are “improving”. The more proper question is whether the accuracy of the modeled predictions is getting better, or worse, over time.

The one of the common outputs of any given model has been (for the purposes of the IPCC reporting) a curve of predicted temperatures. Fortunately, we have a method for quantifying how well a predicted curve matches an actual curve after the fact. We can compute a correlation coefficient, for example.

In fact, using modelling, scientists have predicted the warming trend we are now seeing (including the strong warming in the arctic).

In order to determine whether “the trend we are now seeing” was meaningfully “predicted”, we need to compare how well the before-the-fact predicted curve matches the actual after-the-fact curve.

So here’s the challenge, oakland, if you dare to take it: Take any of the outputs of models used in IPCC reporting, or even any ensemble of those models. You’ll have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, since we now know what the outcome was… so you get to cherry-pick the best possible outcome to make your case, and we’ll politely ignore the rest of them that are worse-off for the purposes of this exercise.

Take that best-possible “prediction”, and compute the correlation coefficient only for the portion of the curve that had not yet happened already in comparison to what we now know actually happened.

Then compare that coefficient to that of a “null hypothesis” curve over the same time period, with the “null hypothesis stating that temperatures will remain the same for the foreseeable future.

Then tell us which curve you chose (with references) and the results you computed. Then tell us whether the models are “getting better” at predicting what will happen going forward.

THese predictions began nearly forty years ago, and have basically been supported by temperature data.

So how has the correlation coefficient changed over the last 40 years, as these models have “improved”? Has the match to reality been improving, by producing predictions that more closely match the future, or has the correlation been degrading more recently… especially over the last 10 to 15 years, when compared to over the last 40 years?

“Basically supported” is a very weaselly qualification. If the system has been breaking down, and reality is shown to me more and more divergent from what was predicted, it doesn’t really matter if there was a previous run of close matching. It’s perfectly possible to get the “right answer” using a naively-inaccurate model, where you’re getting the “right answer” for the wrong reason, and your model will therefore break down fairly spectacularly when encountering phenomena that were not meaningfully modeled to begin with.

Here’s a trivial example of “right answer for the wrong reason” that I’ve used before (for pedagogical purposes) in classes I’ve taught:

Johnny is standing at the blackboard, and is asked by the teacher to reduce a fraction. Written in front of him is the fraction 19 / 95. Johnny says, “The answer is 1 / 5″.

The teacher congratulates him on getting the correct answer, but asks him to show his work rather than simply stating the answer. Johnny says, “Oh, that’s easy. We were taught that we can reduce fractions by canceling common numbers between the numerator and denominator, so I canceled the nines, and that left behind 1 / 5″.

Exasperated, the teacher tells Johnny that his method is wrong. Johnny counters that if you punch the numbers into a calculator, you’ll see that he got the right answer.

Furthermore, Johnny goes on to show that it’s not just this one odd case, either. He proceeds to write out 16 / 64, and cancels the sixes to get the correct answer of 1 / 4. He also writes out 266 / 665, and cancels the sixes there as well to get another fully-reduced answer of 2 / 5.

Johnny has multiple data points which show that his method can produce “correct” answers. But the important thing to establish is whether his method or model is robust, or whether (as we all know) he’s getting the right answer for the wrong reason, and his system will break down when it encounters something that it doesn’t properly take into account.

Now the challenge is to predict how climate changes will result in the different biomes of the planet due to warming caused by man.

oakland on June 15, 2011 at 6:32 AM

This is question-begging, oakland. You’re assuming that we’ve accurately determined whether or not a significant fraction of any warming was actually “caused by man”. We can’t meaningfully do that until we first determine whether the models are fairly accurate in predicting the future, and whether they are robust enough to handle any changing circumstances which may not have been properly modeled.

One of the things about the vast majority of climate models over the past 40 years or so, which not many people know, is how the scientists deal with the question of clouds. Clouds are an integral part of how heat transfer takes place on planet Earth.

Most people would guess that, in order to get “correct answers”, the current models all have a sophisticated system of modeling the dynamics of how clouds change over time, and the implications that has on the resulting output in this highly dynamic thermal system.

And they would guess wrong. Cloud dynamics are by far the least understood aspect of climate systems, and the inherent difficulties in producing even somewhat accurate models of these dynamics have lead most of the scientists involved to take the (in my opinion, ridiculous) step of reducing all of the dynamics of clouds to a set of parameters instead. They plug in a “fudge factor”, if you will, which “estimates” how much they think clouds will affect the eventual outcome in the model.

It’s too hard to model with the current understanding, so they simply don’t model it. They parameterize it instead, and hope that it’s good enough.

In my book, if you don’t understand clouds and the dynamics of them well enough to dynamically model their effects with some reasonable degree of accuracy, then if you get an “accurate” result, you’re likely getting the result for the wrong reason.

Given that water vapor is such a huge greenhouse-type gas (in comparison to CO2), getting the estimations of what happens with water vapor due to cloud dynamics even a bit wrong can lead to outcomes in a model that are radically different from reality.

One of the classic questions for advocates of the positive-feedback forcing proponents is why the Earth’s ecosystem hasn’t already gone into a runaway condition, leading to a result similar to what’s seen on Venus.

Those who reject the positive-feedback forcing hypothesis instead contend that there are one or more negative feedback mechanisms, which help keep the Earth’s temperatures within a constrained band (as historical estimates seem to strongly indicate).

The most intriguing of these that I’ve seen is the “Iris Effect” proposed by Lindzen, where cloud dynamics lead to a counter-acting force which cools the Earth when temperatures increase. This leads to a natural, dynamic stability in the top end of the system, and prevents the sort of runaway disaster that the doomsayers like to predict.

A trivially naive system or model can have some “accuracy” for a while, as long as the dynamics of the moment are relatively stable.

That’s why naive models like “if we keep increasing atmospheric CO2, temperatures will keep going up and up!” can match up (in some small cases, even match well) over the rising portions of a dynamic system’s curves. But this would likely be a case of getting the “right” answer for the wrong reason, and a naive model like that will tend to break down in the face of changing dynamics, when it fails to take the actual system dynamics into account.

So by all means, oakland, show us how well (using actual numbers) the models have predicted the results of the last 10 to 15 years, instead of just saying they have “basically been supported by temperature data”.

VekTor on June 17, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Think about me building a coin toss prediction model for a coin that gets tossed once per year. My model would have a 50% chance of being right after the first year, a 25% chance of being right after the second year, etc.

blink on June 17, 2011 at 7:19 PM

Indeed! And with a divergent enough collection of different models, one can be picked after the fact to provide justification for the “accuracy” of the field as a whole.

There was actually a scam based around that very concept, where someone was trying to sell a “system” for sports betting picks. They started with a list of roughly one million email addresses that had expressed an interest in sports betting.

Then they built a campaign around the notion that they were going to “prove” to them ahead of time how effective their system was, by giving them a pick in advance without them having to pay anything up front (as I recall, they advocated making some actual token-sized bet based on the pick… which they leveraged later.

The scam revolved around the fact that they sent each of the two possible outcomes to half of the list. After the game, they sent another email, with a second pick… but just to the half of the list that was on the winning side.

They kept repeating the process, with their list getting cut in half each time, until they had a list of almost 1000 names for whom they had emailed in advance ten consecutive winning picks.

They pointed out to these individuals that if they had done as the string of emails had advised, and took the winnings from the first bet and rolled it over into each successive bet, they now had a substantial bankroll with which to pay for the system they were selling! (And if they didn’t, they could at least see for themselves that they would have if they had actually followed the advice, and had seen how “powerful” and worthwhile the system was).

With enough different models, and no requirement that they be coherent with each other, this sort of post-hoc justification can be used to say that “the science worked” in isolating the best of the models, and therefore we can be confident that the future results should be trusted… and trillions of dollars of human productivity altered based on those future predictions.

Which is sad, because this could be a case where the actual outcome ends up “picking” one of a variety of “right for the wrong reasons” approaches and then lends a imprimatur of correctness to it that may be utterly undeserved.

The only way I see to protect against that is to point out the logical flaw in allowing that sort of shotgun blast of models to be post-hoc justified before it happens, or while it is in the process.

We (should) probably expect carnival booth games to be rigged… we shouldn’t tolerate that same approach under the guise of science when the process is set up with a not-so-hidden goal of heavily altering the course of human events.

Ask an AGW / “climate change” advocate what would have to happen in the future to conclusively show that the existing models are wrong. Ask if it even theoretically possible for it to be shown to be wrong.

Ask what would have to happen for them to say in the future, “We should have done the EXACT OPPOSITE of what they recommended!”.

A system that can accept every possible outcome as positive evidence in support of itself is not science… it is, in my opinion, better classified as a cult. Since it “predicts” everything, it is exactly as useful as a system that predicts nothing at all. It has no actual utility whatsoever.

VekTor on June 17, 2011 at 8:38 PM

So by all means, oakland, show us how well (using actual numbers) the models have predicted the results of the last 10 to 15 years, instead of just saying they have “basically been supported by temperature data”.

VekTor on June 17, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Thirty five years ago, the scientific consensus was that the activities of man would probably warm the planet. Now, the average temperature increase worldwide is 1.2 degrees F, which is essentially on the low end of the range of predictions (this, while the sun is apparently in a relative minimum). Nine of the last ten years have been among the warmest in recorded history.

One of the strongest indicators of global warming is the tremendous loss of ice from the Arctic. Considering that it takes 4180 kcal/kg to melt ice at zero C into water at the same temperature, this ice loss represents an extraordinary amount of latent heat absorption that doesn’t translate into warming of Arctic waters (your glass of ice water doesn’t warm up until the ice is essentially gone).

If the sun – (obviously) the greatest forcer of all were providing more insolation than usual, then the recent record-hot decade could possibly be explained on that basis. However, when all forcing factors are considered, the obvious culprit is carbon dioxide, which is 30% more abundant in the atmosphere than it was a hundred fifty years ago.

Now, one could say that scientists are wrong about carbon dioxide as the major forcing for the recent warming, and there is a 5 – 10% chance that this is the case. That leaves at least 90 percent chance that the warming is due to carbon dioxide. These are statistics and probabilities that experts who have devoted their lives to the science have collectively come up with. To dismiss this expertise as bunk is fine for you. Unfortunately, all of us will have to suffer if the probable becomes reality (as it already seems to be).

The easy thing to do is to be a naysayer and insist that modelling isn’t up to the task. Yet, the same basic techniques that weather scientists use to predict upcoming weather are used by climate modellers in predicting climate variabilities. What I have noticed is how much better short range weather forecasting is than it was when I was in HS (forty years ago). This is due to better understanding of atmoshperic dynamics, as well as better computing power. The climate models are far from perfect; however they generally predict the warming that has been taking place (and is expected to take place, continually as carbon loading continues without abatement).

oakland on June 17, 2011 at 9:33 PM

A system that can accept every possible outcome as positive evidence in support of itself is not science… it is, in my opinion, better classified as a cult. Since it “predicts” everything, it is exactly as useful as a system that predicts nothing at all. It has no actual utility whatsoever.

VekTor on June 17, 2011 at 8:38 PM

What is the “everything” to which you are referring? Global warming is warming (not cooling, and not static). Climate change is the result of warming, and accompanies it. Rainfall patterns change, as a result of the general change in atmospheric circulation.

If “everything” is predicted to change, that’s because all the weather we experience collectively is climate.

oakland on June 17, 2011 at 9:40 PM

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