Climate change denialism in bloom

July 28, 2009

It was a minor note, really — USGS released a series of satellite photos of ice in the Arctic Ocean.  The photos were taken with U.S. defense satellites (“spy” satellites, most likely) under an interesting agreement between the Department of Defense and science agencies to look at ice, essentially to look at the cold, not come in from it.

Part of that agreement is that the photos don’t get released until Defense says there is no reason to hold them secred anymore.  For some reason — skullduggery?  bureaucracy? — the photos weren’t released during the Bush years.  The Obama administration hustled out a series of photos for scientists to study.

Very few news outlets picked up on the release of the photos.  The Guardian ran the most provocative, prepared-for-public-consumption set of two photos of the sea just off of Barrow, Alaska, which showed a dramatic contrast between 2006 and 2007.  The icy seas of July 2006 were replaced with miles of clear ocean in July 2007.

The Bathtub ran that poster.  And yesterday there was a surge of hits on the article, most going to other posts claiming the photos had been photoshopped.  A commenter here said the same.  Viewers find it odd that there is a stark contrast between land and sea inthe arctic.  Really.  No, really.

So, they said, those photos must be Photoshopped.  At least one radical right blog claimed the Guardian published a fake photo.

Now, I had expected someone to defend Bush, to say that the Bush administration hadn’t really suppressed the photos, just didn’t release them.

But photo fraud?

Denialists resorted to that solution first.

Here are reasons mitigating against fraud.

  1. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released the poster with the photos.  USGS has a long, long history of accurate science, outside political interference.   On a few occasions, USGS reports have been delayed by political appointees — but the instances where one can say the data were corrupted on purpose are very few (if any — I can’t think of one off-hand).  USGS would be unlikely as a source of doctored photos.
  2. It is a crime to jigger the scientific results under U.S. law.   A few scientists have been caught, tried and jailed.  The reality is that most scientist strive to be well on the ethical side of the line of research laws — but it’s a federal crime for government or government-funded scientists to fake results.  I’ll wager every scientist at USGS knows that.
  3. USGS released four posters total, and a couple dozen other photos.  For Barrow, there were 18 photos from 2005 and 2006, and another 8 photos from 2007-2008.    While only four sites were chosen for poster, there are six sites with photos available for study.  Were anyone to jigger one photo, others would need to be jiggered to make them match.  Since Defense still has the originals, a fraud would probably be discovered.
  4. Government scientists have been champing at the bit for eight years to get rid of the fetters of bureaucrats interfering with their research; they wouldn’t risk a fraud just six months in to the new administration, nor would they be likely to risk a fraud at any time, since they think that the truth is of very high value.

MacsMind jumped on the photos:  “Almost so bad it’s laughable”. The blog offers no evidence of fraud, just the spiteful belief of the author.  Well, he does offer photos of a January 2006 ice surge, as if to suggest that the ice from January of 2006 should have stayed hugging the coast near Barrow even through 2007, so any photo that shows clear sea must be false.  Denialists will abandon all types of measure, even calendars and clocks, in their mad rush to cloak the science.  MacsMind even goes so far as to invent a story that the photo was taken at night, and since it shows no lights of ships at sea, they must have been cut out (photos of ice cover generally don’t work well at night — where did he get that?).

Critics of climate change and plans to do something to slow climate change reveal themselves here as not basing their views on the science — here they don’t need the science to “know that it’s wrong.”

Sometimes I wonder if we could cure global warming simply by getting the critics to shut up.

Oh, let’s make them crazy.  Here’s the poster showing the contrast in sea ice in the Beaufort Sea; the caption:

This site is near the edge of the ice pack. In summer, as shown here, ponds of meltwater form on the surface. These dark pools absorb more of summertime’s solar radiation than does the surrounding ice, enhancing melting. Observations of sea ice conditions reveal considerable year to year variability. These images, displaying the variability with regard to the amount of melting, are an example of the long term sequential record needed to support understanding and analysis of this dynamic system. Pond coverage monitored over time contributes to estimates of surface reflectivity that are needed to understand and model the dynamics of sea ice mass balance and temperature.

Beaufort Sea, showing ice in 2006 and in 200

Beaufort Sea, showing ice in 2001 and in 2007

More information:

Radar images of sea ice around Barrow, Alaska

Radar images of sea ice around Barrow, Alaska -"The animation below is from the radar record of the last three days. The images used to produce this animation are from the 10 kW X-band marine radar mounted atop the 4-story ASRC building in downtown Barrow, Alaska, pointed north."

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