Climate skeptic shell game: ‘Please don’t read how CO2 amplifies warming’

August 8, 2009

In heated political discussions, I’ve discovered that when people stretch the facts, sometimes they do it to protect their interests; but if they exaggerate and stretch things when the facts are on their side, it’s pathological and you can’t trust them on anything.

As the old joke goes, ‘I once knew a guy who cheated at golf so bad that when he got a hole-in-one, he wrote down “zero” on the score card.’

Scientists at Oregon State University released a study that shows the tilt and wobble of the Earth can trigger ice ages and the ends of ice ages. As you can imagine, climate change skeptics and denialist will jump on this study to say we don’t need to worry about carbon dioxide — ‘warming can’t be blamed on carbon dioxide.’

In fact, Anthony Watts has already done that.

Read the entire press release, and don’t skip over the parts that are important to policy on air pollution and climate change.  The paper indeed says that planetary wobble causes ice ages, and warming between ice ages.  That’s part of the climate change debate, probably a sizable win for climate skeptics.

But they can’t leave well enough alone; the study explicitly warns of the warming effects of human-released CO2.  Watts left out this paragraph:

“Solar radiation was the trigger that started the ice melting, that’s now pretty certain,” said Peter Clark, a professor of geosciences at OSU. “There were also changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and ocean circulation, but those happened later and amplified a process that had already begun.”

Watts left this out, too, and this qualifies the Oregon State study as “alarmist” under usual skeptic rubrics:

Sometime around now, scientists say, the Earth should be changing from a long interglacial period that has lasted the past 10,000 years and shifting back towards conditions that will ultimately lead to another ice age – unless some other forces stop or slow it. But these are processes that literally move with glacial slowness, and due to greenhouse gas emissions the Earth has already warmed as much in about the past 200 years as it ordinarily might in several thousand years, Clark said.

“One of the biggest concerns right now is how the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will respond to global warming and contribute to sea level rise,” Clark said. “This study will help us better understand that process, and improve the validity of our models.”

Peter Clark of Oregon State and his associates published an important study in Science on Friday.  The study points to variations in the usual 23-degree tilt of the Earth’s access as triggers for glaciation and retreat of glaciers, over time.  The study poses important questions, such as:  Has human contribution to greenhouse gases prevented cooling in the past two centuries?  The study offers potential insights into research into climate change and human contributions to climate change.

The study in no way exonerates carbon dioxide from implication as a major, human-contributed component to the mix of factors driving climate change in the 21st century.  The study is really pretty cool; it should be fodder for geography and environmental science classes this fall, and it should be one factor in the discussion over warming and what we need to do about it.

Watch:  Some will try to make it the latest political shuttlecock instead.

Here’s the full press release:

8-6-09

Media Release

Long debate ended over cause, demise of ice ages – may also help predict future

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A team of researchers says it has largely put to rest a long debate on the underlying mechanism that has caused periodic ice ages on Earth for the past 2.5 million years – they are ultimately linked to slight shifts in solar radiation caused by predictable changes in Earth’s rotation and axis.

In a publication to be released Friday in the journal Science, researchers from Oregon State University and other institutions conclude that the known wobbles in Earth’s rotation caused global ice levels to reach their peak about 26,000 years ago, stabilize for 7,000 years and then begin melting 19,000 years ago, eventually bringing to an end the last ice age.

The melting was first caused by more solar radiation, not changes in carbon dioxide levels or ocean temperatures, as some scientists have suggested in recent years.

“Solar radiation was the trigger that started the ice melting, that’s now pretty certain,” said Peter Clark, a professor of geosciences at OSU. “There were also changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and ocean circulation, but those happened later and amplified a process that had already begun.”

The findings are important, the scientists said, because they will give researchers a more precise understanding of how ice sheets melt in response to radiative forcing mechanisms. And even though the changes that occurred 19,000 years ago were due to increased solar radiation, that amount of heating can be translated into what is expected from current increases in greenhouse gas levels, and help scientists more accurately project how Earth’s existing ice sheets will react in the future.

“We now know with much more certainty how ancient ice sheets responded to solar radiation, and that will be very useful in better understanding what the future holds,” Clark said. “It’s good to get this pinned down.”

The researchers used an analysis of 6,000 dates and locations of ice sheets to define, with a high level of accuracy, when they started to melt. In doing this, they confirmed a theory that was first developed more than 50 years ago that pointed to small but definable changes in Earth’s rotation as the trigger for ice ages.

“We can calculate changes in the Earth’s axis and rotation that go back 50 million years,” Clark said. “These are caused primarily by the gravitational influences of the larger planets, such as Jupiter and Saturn, which pull and tug on the Earth in slightly different ways over periods of thousands of years.”

That, in turn, can change the Earth’s axis – the way it tilts towards the sun – about two degrees over long periods of time, which changes the way sunlight strikes the planet. And those small shifts in solar radiation were all it took to cause multiple ice ages during about the past 2.5 million years on Earth, which reach their extremes every 100,000 years or so.

Sometime around now, scientists say, the Earth should be changing from a long interglacial period that has lasted the past 10,000 years and shifting back towards conditions that will ultimately lead to another ice age – unless some other forces stop or slow it. But these are processes that literally move with glacial slowness, and due to greenhouse gas emissions the Earth has already warmed as much in about the past 200 years as it ordinarily might in several thousand years, Clark said.

“One of the biggest concerns right now is how the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will respond to global warming and contribute to sea level rise,” Clark said. “This study will help us better understand that process, and improve the validity of our models.”

The research was done in collaboration with scientists from the Geological Survey of Canada, University of Wisconsin, Stockholm University, Harvard University, the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Ulster. It was supported by the National Science Foundation and other agencies.

About the OSU College of Science: As one of the largest academic units at OSU, the College of Science has 14 departments and programs, 13 pre-professional programs, and provides the basic science courses essential to the education of every OSU student. Its faculty are international leaders in scientific research.

Watts did note the abstract of the paper, at Science (to get the full text, you must be a subscriber or pay a high fee for the one article):

Science 7 August 2009:
Vol. 325. no. 5941, pp. 710 – 714
DOI: 10.1126/science.1172873

Research Articles

The Last Glacial Maximum

Peter U. Clark,1,* Arthur S. Dyke,2 Jeremy D. Shakun,1 Anders E. Carlson,3 Jorie Clark,1 Barbara Wohlfarth,4 Jerry X. Mitrovica,5 Steven W. Hostetler,6 A. Marshall McCabe7

We used 5704 14C, 10Be, and 3He ages that span the interval from 10,000 to 50,000 years ago (10 to 50 ka) to constrain the timing of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) in terms of global ice-sheet and mountain-glacier extent. Growth of the ice sheets to their maximum positions occurred between 33.0 and 26.5 ka in response to climate forcing from decreases in northern summer insolation, tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures, and atmospheric CO2. Nearly all ice sheets were at their LGM positions from 26.5 ka to 19 to 20 ka, corresponding to minima in these forcings. The onset of Northern Hemisphere deglaciation 19 to 20 ka was induced by an increase in northern summer insolation, providing the source for an abrupt rise in sea level. The onset of deglaciation of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet occurred between 14 and 15 ka, consistent with evidence that this was the primary source for an abrupt rise in sea level ~14.5 ka.
1 Department of Geosciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
2 Geological Survey of Canada, 601 Booth Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0E8, Canada.
3 Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, USA.
4 Department of Geology and Geochemistry, Stockholm University, SE-10691, Stockholm, Sweden.
5 Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
6 U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Geosciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
7 School of Environmental Science, University of Ulster, Coleraine, County Londonderry, BT52 1SA, UK.

Supporting online material, including a solid discussion of methods and several charts that are not contained in the full publication, is available, free, in .pdf form.  Warning to creationists:  This is heavy on science using radioactive isotopes for dating.  For that matter, it’s loaded with a lot of other science that climate change skeptics generally dismiss as “computer simulation” instead of hard data.  How will they treat this study?  Skeptically?  Don’t bet on it.

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Astroturf as tool for (political) climate change – caught red handed

August 8, 2009

Bob Park’s weekly newsletter gives the story sharply and succinctly (August 6 edition):

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 6 Aug 09   Washington, DC

CLIMATE: LETTERS TO CONGRESS ARE EXPOSED AS “ASTROTURF”.
They look like a grass-roots campaign, but they’re fakes.  The letters  purported to be from registered nonprofit groups.  Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), a sponsor of the climate bill, has begun an inquiry into whether the fake letters amount to fraud.  The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity disavowed the scurrilous tactic and said it was considering legal action against the Hawthorne Group, a firm it paid to make the climate bill disappear.  Hawthorne, however, is only a contractor.  It hired Bonner and Associates to make the hit.  The founder of the firm, Jack Bonner, laid the blame squarely on a wayward employee who has since been fired. Thus was the purity of the legislative process restored. But why had this employee taken it upon himself to do such a thing?  A lowly temp, he was paid according to the number of fraudulent letters he sent to congressional offices.  And nobody supervised his work?

Dr. Park offered facts only, no links.

Let me help you out.  But a word of warning:  This campaign against Al Gore and serious science is really, really sleazy.

Who can you trust?  It’s clear that we can’t trust claims from climate change sceptics and denialists, especially when they claim “thousands” of scientists and “thousands” of citizens oppose laws to mitigate the damage from climate change.

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