The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Replicating climate change denial papers

A new paper in the journal Theoretical and Applied Climatology tries to replicate the most-referenced papers in the 3% minority that find alternate explanations for human-caused global warming. Turns out, the deniers are still looking for their Galileo:

This new study was authored by Rasmus Benestad, myself (Dana Nuccitelli), Stephan Lewandowsky, Katharine Hayhoe, Hans Olav Hygen, Rob van Dorland, and John Cook. Benestad (who did the lion’s share of the work for this paper) created a tool using the R programming language to replicate the results and methods used in a number of frequently-referenced research papers that reject the expert consensus on human-caused global warming. In using this tool, we discovered some common themes among the contrarian research papers.

Cherry picking was the most common characteristic they shared. We found that many contrarian research papers omitted important contextual information or ignored key data that did not fit the research conclusions.

We found that the ‘curve fitting’ approach also used in the Humlum paper is another common theme in contrarian climate research. ‘Curve fitting’ describes taking several different variables, usually with regular cycles, and stretching them out until the combination fits a given curve (in this case, temperature data). It’s a practice I discuss in my book, about which mathematician John von Neumann once said, "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk."

This represents just a small sampling of the contrarian studies and flawed methodologies that we identified in our paper; we examined 38 papers in all. As we note, the same replication approach could be applied to papers that are consistent with the expert consensus on human-caused global warming, and undoubtedly some methodological errors would be uncovered. However, these types of flaws were the norm, not the exception, among the contrarian papers that we examined.

You can count the insurance industry among the groups that believe the science is settled. Insurers appear to have started looking at climate change as an inevitability, not a risk, which changes their models radically:

[F]lood insurance was not a lucrative business to begin with. Congress set up the National Flood Insurance Program in 1968 as it became clear that private companies couldn’t profitably provide coverage. Now, nearly half a century later, the program is—ahem—under water by $24.6 billion. As a result, there’s a push to move flood insurance toward the private market. That could mean less building in flood-prone areas, as they become effectively uninsurable thanks to sky-high rates. Says Morningstar’s Brett Horn: “Frankly, that’s not a bad outcome.”

Meanwhile, the second major hurricane of the season is heading for Florida...

How wet is Houston?

Via WGN-TV, the fourth-largest city in the U.S. has received more rain in the last week than Chicago receives in an average year. 

Chicago's average annual precipitation is 910 mm. Since last Friday, Houston has gotten 1,070 mm. The wettest year in Houston history (1900) dumped 1,851 mm on it. So far this year, with 4 months left to go, Houston has gotten 1,798 mm. Of course, the odds are pretty good that the city will get another 53 mm of rain before December 31st.

We have no idea how bad the damage is yet. The entire Houston Chronicle website is about the flood. At least the rain has stopped for now—but officials worry about additional reservoir overflows and levee breaks.

We're just beginning to understand the magnitude of this disaster. And with key Federal posts, including FEMA Director, yet to be filled, President Trump is so out of his depth one can only hope that state and local governments can help.

Not looking good in Houston

Hurricane Harvey has dropped so much rain on Houston that two 1930s-era dams have been overwhelmed for the first time in history:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed Tuesday morning that water was spilling from around the dam gates of the Addicks Reservoir, which has been overwhelmed by extreme rainfall from Hurricane Harvey. Officials said they expect the Barker Reservoir, to the south of Addicks, to begin overflowing similarly at some point Tuesday.

A Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist said the overflow from the reservoirs would eventually flow into downtown Houston.

The reservoirs, which flank Interstate 10 on the west side of Houston, flow into the Buffalo Bayou and are surrounded by parks and residential areas. Water levels in the two reservoirs had already reached record levels Monday evening, measuring 32 m at Addicks and 30 m at Barker.

Engineers were unable to measure water levels at the Barker Reservoir on Tuesday because its gauge was flooded overnight, said Jeff Lindner, the Harris County flood control meteorologist.

In response, City Lab asks, why can't the U.S. manage flooding?

For New Orleans, whose below-sea-level position makes it particularly imperiled, the August floods were a reminder of something we should take much more seriously than we have. We ought to apply more aggressively the lessons we claimed to be learning from the Dutch after Katrina. It’s a course of action that would amount to a sea change in how we approach the wet threat that surrounds us on every side.

We need to get as smart and wily about water as Rotterdam. New Orleans’s continued viability as a population center and commercial hub depends on it. We must learn to live with water, to absorb rainfall and storm surge in massive retention facilities, to designate greenspaces that double as parks. We need to stop paving our yardsto make nifty little pads for the family car. We need to build absorbent rooftop gardens on as many buildings as can be put to that purpose.

Speaking of, I'm planning to visit New Orleans this weekend. Harvey is expected to pass northwest of the city tomorrow and land in the Tennessee Valley by Friday afternoon. I'm still bringing water shoes and an umbrella.

Yes, it's getting hotter

We have lovely weather in Chicago today—24°C and sunny—but summer has been pretty warm so far. It's been worse in other places. The Times demonstrates today that this is a worldwide trend:

During the base period, 1951 to 1980, about a third of summers across the Northern Hemisphere were in what they called a “near average” or normal range. A third were considered cold; a third were hot.

Since then, summer temperatures have shifted drastically, the researchers found. Between 2005 and 2015, two-thirds of summers were in the hot category, while nearly 15 percent were in a new category: extremely hot.

Practically, that means most summers today are either hot or extremely hot compared to the mid-20th century.

The Climate Prediction Center calls for above-average chances (+33% to +50%) for above-normal temperatures throughout the U.S. through August, except for parts of the Southwest that are normally too hot for humans. The forecast for August through October calls for 40%+ probabilities of above-normal temperatures throughout all the U.S., particularly along the Gulf, Atlantic, and Bering coasts. The MET predicts the same for most of the world.

 

Could be worse. Will be worse.

Heading home from New York just now, and came across an infographic from today's Chicago Tribune about the weather in Chicago on this day in 1934. My heavens. After 21 days of 32°C-plus temperatures, Midway Airport hit 43°C on July 23rd, with the official temperature at University of Chicago hitting 41°C the next day—the hottest temperature officially recorded in Chicago history. (Lakeside temperatures were 9°C cooler than even a short distance inland.)

It's not quite that hot today, but it could be again in a few years. Regularly. But at least it won't be as bad for us as for the folks in the Southwest and Southeast.

Immense iceberg floating free in the South Atlantic

A 5,800 km² iceberg broke free of the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica yesterday. That's not a good thing:

“It is a really major event in terms of the size of the ice tablet that we’ve got now drifting away,” said Anna Hogg, an expert in satellite observations of glaciers from the University of Leeds. 

At 5,800 sq km the new iceberg, expected to be dubbed A68, is half as big as the record-holding iceberg B-15 which split off from the Ross ice shelf in the year 2000, but it is nonetheless believed to be among the 10 largest icebergs ever recorded.

But while the birth of the huge iceberg might look dramatic, experts say it will not itself result in sea level rises. “It’s like your ice cube in your gin and tonic – it is already floating and if it melts it doesn’t change the volume of water in the glass by very much at all,” said Hogg.

Now at the mercy of the ocean currents, the newly calved iceberg could last for decades, depending on whether it enters warmer waters or bumps into other icebergs or ice shelves.

The Larsen C calving yesterday wasn't necessarily caused by global warming, but it didn't help. Now we just wait and see if the entire Larsen C shelf goes into the ocean in the next few years. Meanwhile, be careful boating off Patagonia for the next few years.

Lovely weather we're having

The good news is that right now it's 21°C out. The bad news is...well:

The Tribune reports:

Northern Cook, Lake and McHenry counties were getting hit hardest, according to the National Weather Service.

By 8 a.m., the weather service received numerous reports of standing water — some as deep as 25 cm in Mundelein, where homes were flooded and residents had to be rescued by rafts.

A flash flood emergency was issued for Lake and northeastern McHenry counties and will remain in effect until 11 a.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. Already, 5 to 8 inches of rain had fallen in those areas with an additional 25 to 75 mm likely.

Metra's Milwaukee North Line service has been suspended between Fox Lake and Libertyville because of flooding. Further south on the line, Metra is providing minimal shuttle service between Lake Forest to Chicago.

Fortunately, I got to the office well before the first line of storms hit. Unfortunately, shortly after snapping the photo above, the second line hit. Fortunately I was only a block from the office.

Bias in science?

Two stories today about science, one implicitly about how money influences reported outcomes, and another about how people don't really understand science.

First, the New York Times reported Monday on a $100m National Institutes of Health clinical trial that is getting $67m indirectly from five major alcohol producers:

[T]he mantra that moderate drinking is good for the heart has never been put to a rigorous scientific test, and new research has linked even modest alcohol consumption to increases in breast cancer and changes in the brain. That has not stopped the alcoholic beverage industry from promoting the alcohol-is-good-for-you message by supporting scientific meetings and nurturing budding researchers in the field.

Five companies that are among the world’s largest alcoholic beverage manufacturers — Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Carlsberg — have so far pledged $67.7 million to a foundation that raises money for the National Institutes of Health, said Margaret Murray, the director of the Global Alcohol Research Program at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which will oversee the study.

George F. Koob, the director of the alcohol institute, said the trial will be immune from industry influence and will be an unbiased test of whether alcohol “in moderation” protects against heart disease. “This study could completely backfire on the alcoholic beverage industry, and they’re going to have to live with it,” Dr. Koob said.

“The money from the Foundation for the N.I.H. has no strings attached. Whoever donates to that fund has no leverage whatsoever — no contribution to the study, no input to the study, no say whatsoever.” But Dr. Koob, like many of the researchers and academic institutions playing pivotal roles in the trial, has had close ties to the alcoholic beverage industry.

Keep in mind, funding does not automatically create bias. But it does make people wonder about the study's legitimacy. (This is an enormous problem in elections, too.)

When people start doubting the legitimacy of a study—or an entire body of research—we can get into real trouble. In an op-ed in today's Washington Post, climate scientist Ben Santer explains how he's fighting back against ignorance:

After decades of seeking to advance scientific understanding, reality suddenly shifts, and you are back in the cold darkness of ignorance. The ignorance starts with President Trump. It starts with untruths and alternative facts. The untruth that climate change is a “hoax” engineered by the Chinese. The alternative fact that “nobody really knows” the causes of climate change. These untruths and alternative facts are repeated again and again. They serve as talking points for other members of the administration. From the Environment Protection Agency administrator, who has spent his career fighting against climate change science, we learn the alternative fact that satellite data show “leveling off of warming” over the past two decades. The energy secretary tells us the fairy tale that climate change is due to “ocean waters, and this environment in which we live.” Ignorance trickles down from the president to members of his administration, eventually filtering into the public’s consciousness.

I have to believe that even in this darkness, though, there is still a thin slit of blue sky. My optimism comes from a gut-level belief in the decency and intelligence of the people of this country. Most Americans have an investment in the future — in our children and grandchildren, and in the planet that is our only home. Most Americans care about these investments in the future; we want to protect them from harm. That is our prime directive. Most of us understand that to fulfill this directive, we can’t ignore the reality of a warming planet, rising seas, retreating snow and ice, and changes in the severity and frequency of droughts and floods. We can’t ignore the reality that human actions are part of the climate-change problem, and that human actions must be part of the solution to this problem. Ignoring reality is not a viable survival strategy.

People are attacking truth on several fronts. We've got to keep fighting.

Still too damn hot in Phoenix

Following up on last week, Ask the Pilot weighs in on exactly why the heat in Phoenix is grounding airplanes:

Extreme heat affects planes in a few different ways. First, there are aerodynamic repercussions. Hotter air is less dense than cooler air, so a wing produces less lift. This is compounded by reduced engine output. Jet engines don’t like low-density air either, and don’t perform as well in hot weather. Together, this means higher takeoff and landing speeds — which, in turn, increases the amount of required runway. Rates of climb are also impeded. Performance parameters require that a plane be able to climb away safely following an engine failure, and this might not be possible. Engines also are subject to internal temperature limits — exhaust gas temps, etc. — beyond which operation isn’t permitted. When it’s really hot outside these limits are easier to exceed.

Then you’ve got the simpler, more tangible effects: overheating electronics, increased brake temperatures, cabin cooling issues, and so on. Airplanes have a lot of internal machinery, and much of it runs hot to begin with. Throw in triple-digit temperatures, and things begin to break down. And let’s not forget the effects on ground support equipment and, of course, the people working outside.

It's currently a balmy 39°C in Phoenix. That's almost tolerable, with enough air conditioning.

Just too damn hot

Phoenix hit a record high temperature yesterday of 48°C, and it's already that hot again today. And right now, it's 50°C in Needles, Calif. In fact, it's too hot for airplanes to take off:

As the Capital Weather Gang reported, the Southwest is experiencing its worst heat wave in decades. Excessive heat warnings have been in effect from Arizona to California and will be for the remainder of the week.

And it was so hot that dozens of flights have been canceled this week at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

American Airlines alerted its customers over the weekend, offering fee-free changes to upcoming flights that were departing or arriving at Phoenix between 3 and 6 p.m., when temperatures peak.

Regional flights on American Eagle were the most affected, because they use Bombardier CRJ planes that can only operate at temperatures of 48°C or below, Feinstein said. Flights on larger Airbus and Boeing planes were not canceled because they are able to operate at higher maximum temperatures: 52.7°C for Airbus and 52.2°C for Boeing.

Meanwhile, a cold front has come through Chicago, dropping the temperature to 18°C at O'Hare around 2pm. And I'm about to walk home in it.