The Ocean Wins Again

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I took a lot of flak last year for my post saying that the global 50% drop in phytoplankton claimed by Boyce et. al was an illusion. I had said:

So where did the Nature paper go wrong?

The short answer is that I don’t know … but I don’t believe their results. The paper is very detailed, in particular the Supplementary Online Information (SOI). It all seems well thought out and investigated … but I don’t believe their results. They have noted and discussed various sources of error. They have compared the use of Secchi disks as a proxy, and covered most of the ground clearly … and I still don’t believe their results.

In other words, I took my chances on my experience and went way, way out on a limb with my statements. And of course, people didn’t let me forget it.

 Figure 1. Life Cycle of Phytoplankton

Now we get these two Brief Communications Arising, from Nature magazine (emphasis mine).

Nature  Volume: 472, Pages:  E6–E7 

Brief Communication Arising (April, 2011) Arising from D. G. Boyce, M. R. Lewis & B. Worm Nature 466, 591–596 (2010)

Phytoplankton account for approximately 50% of global primary production, form the trophic base of nearly all marine ecosystems, are fundamental in trophic energy transfer and have key roles in climate regulation, carbon sequestration and oxygen production. Boyce et al.1 compiled a chlorophyll index by combining in situ chlorophyll and Secchi disk depth measurements that spanned a more than 100-year time period and showed a decrease in marine phytoplankton biomass of approximately 1% of the global median per year over the past century. Eight decades of data on phytoplankton biomass collected in the North Atlantic by the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey2, however, showan increase in an index of chlorophyll (Phytoplankton Colour Index) in both the Northeast and Northwest Atlantic basins3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (Fig. 1), and other long-term time series, including the Hawaii Ocean Time-series (HOT)8, the Bermuda Atlantic Time Series (BATS)8 and the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI)9 also indicate increased phytoplankton biomass over the last 20–50 years. These findings, which were not discussed by Boyce et al.1, are not in accordance with their conclusions and illustrate the importance of using consistent observations when estimating long-term trends.

Along with this one:

Nature 472, E5–E6 (14 April 2011)

Brief Communication Arising (April, 2011) Arising from D. G. Boyce, M. R. Lewis & B. Worm Nature 466, 591–596 (2010)

… Closer examination reveals that time-dependent changes in sampling methodology combined with a consistent bias in the relationship between in situ and transparency-derived chlorophyll (Chl) measurements generate a spurious trend in the synthesis of phytoplankton estimates used by Boyce et al.1. Our results indicate that much, if not all, of the century-long decline reported by Boyce et al. is attributable to this temporal sampling bias and not to a global decrease in phytoplankton biomass.

OK, so I was right. The Boyce paper was nonsense, the claimed trend was spurious, plankton biomass is holding somewhere near steady or even increasing, and a number of independent records show that the Boyce et al. paper is garbage built on bad assumptions.

I bring this up for three reasons. The first is to show the continuing shabby quality of peer-review at scientific magazines when the subject is even peripherally related to climate. Nature magazine blew it again, and unfortunately, these days that’s no news at all. It’s just more shonky science from the AGW crowd … and people claim the reason the public doesn’t trust climate scientists is a “communications problem”? It’s not. It’s a garbage science problem, and all the communications theory in the world won’t fix garbage science.

The second reason I posted this is just because I enjoy it when it turns out that I’m right, particularly on a risky statement made with no data and in the face of opposition, and I wanted to enter that fact into the record. Childish, I know, but at least I’m adult enough to admit it.

The third reason is a bit more complex. It is to emphasize the value of actual experience. I didn’t disbelieve Boyce et al. because I had any data. I had no data at all.

What I did have was a lifetime spent on and under the ocean. Phytoplankton form the basis of all life in the ocean. If the phytoplankton had actually gone down by 50%, all life in the ocean would have gone down by 50% … and my experience said no way that was true. Fish catches haven’t gone down like that, numbers of species on the reef and along the coast haven’t gone down like that, I would have noticed, people around the world would have been screaming about it.

So I put my neck on the chopping block, and I trusted my experience … and in the end, despite the people who laughed at me and abused my claims, my experience won out over Boyce’s “science”.

Does this mean that we should always trust our experience over science? Don’t be daft. Science is hugely valuable, and often shows that our experience has misled us completely.

But far too many scientists forget to check the obvious – their own experience. Not one of the Boyce authors thought “Wait a minute … since the oceans live almost entirely off the phytoplankton, if plankton is down by half why haven’t I seen oceanic populations from krill to whales and octopuses dropping by half?” Or perhaps they just didn’t have the experience to check the obvious.

The moral of this story? Well, the moral for me is that trusting my experience over the “science” of high-powered scientists living in an ivory tower far above the ocean worked out well … this time.

But the real moral is that scientists need to pay more attention to the “laugh test”. I know when I first heard the Boyce claim, I busted out laughing … and when our experience is that strong in saying that science is wrong, it’s likely worth checking out.

w.

ADDED LATER For me, there’s a few tests that I apply regularly that seem to not be applied by far too many mainstream AGW supporting scientists. These are the smell test, the laugh test, and the eyeball test.

The laugh test weeds out the worst, like the preposterous claim that plankton had been decreasing by 1% per year for the last century. The “Rule of 70″ gives the doubling time for an investment. You divide 70 by the annual interest rate, and that gives the doubling time in years.

The Rule of Seventy gives seventy years for doubling time at 1%, so that means in a hundred years the total biomass of the ocean has decreased by more than 50% … seriously, I laughed. The biomass of the ocean decreased by more than half and nobody noticed until now?

The smell test is more subtle. It depends on the provenance of the information, and the way it has been handled, whether it looks “natural”, the history of the investigators, and the like. While the smell test can’t reject anything, it shows me where to look for something wrong.

The eyeball test is simple. Look at every single dataset. There is absolutely no substitute for the experienced human eye. You say there’s seven thousand of them? Boo hoo. You can’t just make up an algorithm and apply it without seeing what it does to every single station record. If there’s a large number, I just write a program in R that just flashes them on the screen for a second along with an ID number. I just let it roll, and jot down the numbers of the ones that stand out.

Now before anyone starts screaming about computerized checking, yes, they are extremely valuable. I’m a whiz at error-trapping, anomaly finding, and computerized checking in a variety of computer languages.

But computerized checking is only as good as the person who wrote the computerized checks. And until you understand every different way that your data might be contaminated or tainted or erroneous for a host of reasons, you will not be able to write computerized checks to identify those particular errors.

And the only way to do that is to put each and every dataset to the eyeball test. There’s an example of what I mean in my post When Good Proxies Go Bad over at ClimateAudit. (Y’all should definitely visit ClimateAudit, Steve McIntyre is continuing his amazing exposition of the never-ending revelations of the “hide the decline” fandango …)

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154 thoughts on “The Ocean Wins Again

  1. I agree, a lifetime of experience decloaks a lot of the Global Warming myths too.
    A lifetime of watching the weather in California since the mid 60’s tells me that there was a very warm period from the late 70’s to about 5 years ago. Then the bottom fell out, and the weather is very much like before, and it got there fast. It’s rather cool.
    No warmest evers.

  2. Glad to see that follow-up. Instincts, is what I believe sent most of the skeptics to investigate the science of climatology. Given the number of studies refuted, invalidated and different perspectives presented by the skeptics, we can state, the skepticism has been warranted.

    Good job again Willis.

  3. Mr. Eschenbach

    Since Mann nearly every AGW researcher is desperate to get his or her’s 15 minutes of fame. It appears that these researchers were taking every step they could to make their findings bulletproof – hence all of the requisite scientific methodologies to squelch the skeptics. As you so rightly point out, science is more than just data and techniques.

    Congratulations on your scientific approach.

  4. Some of my staff get very confused when I speak to them of “wisdom”- not just knowledge, but the understanding of how and when (and when not) to apply that knowledge. I struggle with the means by which wisdom can be imparted/taught – as it would help stop people making “idiot mistakes”.
    Increasingly, I fear that it (wisdom) can only be learnt (and then only by some) at personal cost while attending the University of Life.

  5. Nice Willis! Good for you.

    Nice on Dr. Boyce also. Any person who can admit when they’re wrong (listening Team members?) is a stand-up character in my book. I will look forward to Dr. Boyce’s next paper, as I am sure that it will be far better. Life lessons are only really learned by making mistakes and then owning them!

  6. The only thing I could think if that might reduce plankton populations is the absolutely astounding rebound of some of the species that graze on them.

    Some species of whale have returned to pre-whaling numbers in many areas of the ocean and are currently at about the limit their food supply can maintain. Adult whales are limited in population only by their food supplies, they have no natural predators. As they reach the maximum carrying population of their environments, I would expect to see “over grazing” of certain plankton species.

    As more areas of the ocean reach maximum carrying capacity for whale populations, we should expect to see a general decline in the health of the herds and “boom/bust” population cycles as changes in ocean conditions occur. This would be analogous to deer populations or any other grazing species that eventually over populates their food supply with no predators to keep the adult population in check.

  7. Experience is a useful tool. Wisdom comes from that experience, including the wisdom to check your answers… and to present them to others, who disagree with you, to check them as well.

    There is no friend so great to your opinions as a person who is willing to cut your opinions to the quick, and expose your biases and fallacies. Without that introspection and that ‘boot to the head’ (with apologies to the Frantics) science cannot progress.

    Echo chambers are not science. Science is the bitter war, the conflict between experience and knowledge, with the ideas flying and the most accurate winning out.. not by ‘consensus’ but by testable assertions with falsifiable outcomes. The truth must out, not by actions of law, forbidding questions, but by actions of investigation, question, introspection, and conversation.

    If the only means by which you may convince others of the truth is the law… then you have not a truth, but a firmly held zealotry.

  8. Childish, I know, but at least I’m adult enough to admit it.

    Maybe, but ain’t vindication sweet?

  9. My high school physics teacher taught me the “Principle of Least Astonishment”: Does an answer make sense in the context of everything you know?

    This principle has served me well over the years. Some scientists seem to have forgotten this, or never learned it.

  10. Trust your instincts first Willis…..

    That and your common sense

    ..in order for phyto to have gone down, something would have to be limiting.

    Running down a quick check list of what would be limiting turns up nothing.

  11. much, if not all, of the century-long decline reported by Boyce et al. is attributable to this temporal sampling bias

    Are we looking at the same Fourier analysis problem I brought up April 2 in “Expect the Best..” By choosing small segments of time series, you eliminate the low frequency part of the information. I believe that low frequency is lost forever. After you re-splice a bunch of short time series together, the only low frequency component in the data is a pure result of the method and bias in your splicing of the shorter segments and cannot be trusted as representing reality.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/03/31/expect-the-best-plan-for-the-worst/#comment-634734

    If I am wrong, I’d love for someone with a background in information theory or signal processing to set me straight. To me, transforming the problem into the Fourier domain makes the folly of short temporal segments obvious.

  12. Sometimes, having a good gestalt of a ecosystem is more valuable than having a lot of individual measurements. Even if your gestalt is wrong, it makes you look at the measurements and methodology a lot more critically.

  13. @ scott

    “Men are wise in proportion, not to their experience, but to their capacity for experience.”——- James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791

  14. Great work, Willis! Yes, climate science produces a huge amount of garbage science. And it practitioners suffer a vast lack of experience, as is evident in WUWT comments often. As regards the paper itself, I could only say “C’est l’absurd!”

  15. One must learn to think well, before learning to think; afterwards, it proves too difficult.

    The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to excapte finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

    The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which “people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.” The unskilled therfore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than it actually is.

    The above sums up most AGW gurus.

  16. Childish, I know, but at least I’m adult enough to admit it.

    Magic, Willis, pure magic.

    Enjoy!

  17. when you set out to be a scientist and never spend anytime learning about your subject firsthand or gathering your own data you run the risk of this sort …

    science starts with reliable data gathered by a known source, preferably you personally … and it starts with raw data, not data adjusted by others …

    this idea that general knowledge can the translated down to specific knowledge has been the linch pin of Climate Science for too long …

    It sucks that you really need to spend years getting immersed in your subject matter but I don’t see any way around that … its called hard work and I don’t see much of it in the Climate Science community …

  18. Wonky science isn’t science. You used a simple test performed hundreds of millions of times each day: Does the answer make sense?

    It is one of the basic tests that almost all arrived results are subject to, and one of the first skills good problem solvers develop is to frame accurately what “sense” means.

    You used your experience to form “sense” and then compared an unrealistic answer to it to form a conclusion that the result is unreasonable and the method should be examined.

    That’s science.

  19. I think Mr Eschenbach might have added a fourth reason for his evident satisfaction over this.
    It has long been the custom of AGW alarmists to publicly deride and dismiss any dissent over their ‘approved’ research as the work of cranks/politically/financially motivated morons.
    This is an instance to enjoy another dent made in their pseudo-scientific armour, but don’t hold your breath for acknowledgement in the ‘official’ publications.
    Nice one.

  20. Last October 6, Anthony posted, “Ocean color affects tropical cyclone formation” about AGU published research, which read in part, “The absorption of sunlight is affected by the concentration of chlorophyll, with the Sun’s heat penetrating deeper in clear, low-chlorophyll waters…researchers note other research suggesting that 1960s chlorophyll levels in the Pacific were about 50 percent lower than at present.”
    My question: Is the albedo of our oceans changing to reflect more than retain heat?

  21. Nice one Willis. Intuition combined with experience is hard to beat. That’s why ‘climate science’ is so far out: as a discipline it has no experience.

    I always say that a week in the field is worth far more than a year in a book.

  22. From the “Others Would Have Bragged” category, try this. Sometime in 2000, I became aware of the hockey stick argument. When I saw the actual graph, my first thoughts were: this just isn’t real, where did this science come from, what are they trying to say, why is it so smooth, why so much spaghetti?

    The things that jumped out at me were: the scale of the graph in 1 degree increments, lack of error bounds, where does one proxy starts & others ends, where do the thermometer reading begin?

    It was a highly confusing chart for such a monumental “discovery.”

    I just couldn’t believe the implication of the “science.” And, lastly I wondered, what the heck is the meaning of an average global temperature? The average temperature over the whole atmosphere? Everywhere? From the sea level up? Ugh?

  23. “If the phytoplankton had actually gone down by 50%, all life in the ocean would have gone down by 50%”

    If primary productivity had gone down by 50%, there would have been major ecological consequences. But that wasn’t what the paper argued, it argued that plankton biomass had gone down, and the link between plankton biomass and productivity does not have to be very strong. For example, if there are many zooplankton, they can potentially graze the phytoplankton until there is little left, but what remains could be highly productive.

    “experience” is only so useful a tool, and is almost as likely to fool us as help us.

  24. So, Willis, what is your theory on the reason behind pouring out all this voodoo science?

    There must be a reason for it. When “Der Mauer” and DDR disappeared, so did The Red Brigade and other terror organisations in the west. Because the puppet masters disappeared.

    But who are the puppet masters here?

  25. I laughed when I saw the hockey stick graph, for exactly the same reasons. Experience and general knowledge of history. Especially, medieval history, and the importance of the medieval warm period and the little ice age.

  26. The really frightening thing is that the Consensus of Scientists are mired in garbage science. Our species is growing stupider thanks to the modern Rise of Superstition and Apocalyptic Panic masquerading as rationality. The oceans will survive, but Homo stupidus nee sapiens may not. We are dumbing ourselves down to self-extinction.

  27. You have good intuition for numbers sir! I keep seeing a cartoon with you up a very tall tree, way out on a limb busy sawing away at the limb. Then the whole tree falls and your little piece of limb just levitates.

    Willis: ” I know this violates the law of gravity but you see I never studied law.”

    Keep up the good work.

  28. Someone with experience, as opposed to and “expert” will usually do a “smell test” before accepting something. If it doesn’t seem right you need to double check to make sure it’s not bad. Obviously the Nature editors lack a sense of smell.

  29. Latitude says:
    April 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm
    Trust your instincts first Willis…..

    That and your common sense

    ..in order for phyto to have gone down, something would have to be limiting.

    Running down a quick check list of what would be limiting turns up nothing.
    ————————————————————

    Phytoplankton taking over the oceans due to increased dissolved CO2 would’ve been a far better scare story !! They blew it.

    Maybe the rebuttal guys are ……. oooooh errrrm …. testing the waters ??

  30. At least Nature was willing to publish several of these comments. They could have, I assume, simply rejected the comments and denied that many in the scientific community were questioning the methods applied. Perhaps the Boyce paper should not have been published, but it was. The fact that Nature was willing to show that it wasn’t such a solid story gives me some hope that better science eventually rises to the surface, even in a sensationalized journal like Nature.

  31. Reality is around us. Some Scientists are so deep in their theories and aristocracy of PhD’s they forget to use the plain simple “smell test” .
    Which is available to anyone, so as aristocrats they despise it.

  32. Many of us, through long experience, develop an instinctive internal BSometer, similar to what Willis is describing here.

    I like to think I can claim to have a fully functioning BSometer in regards to mineral deposits, now that I am in my early sixties.

    Amongst the many problems the Team and wannabe Team members have is that they are increasingly setting off the BSometers in individuals – not necessarily scientists -who are not only smarter than them, but also not reliant on financial sustenance from government grant troughs.

    But let us not forget Rule No 1 of the AGW cult: AGW causes everything, both normal and abnormal, so everything needs a grant in order to be investigated.

  33. Good science can not exist without healthy skepticism. Being correct is a good thing too. Well done, Willis.

  34. A decline in phytoplankton would have presented a problem to the EPA’s and NGOs’ current push to enact restrictive nutrient TMDLs (permitted total maximum daily load) that presume increasing nutrient loads and temperature are creating “accelerated” harmful rates of eutrophication (simplistically- an increase in phytoplankton).

    Nitrogen pollution is the new CO2—and with it EPA can actually achieve what it hoped to do with CO2. Almost every human activity in some way alters the nitrogen cycle. If you restrict the allowable amount of nitrogen you can control development, agriculture, transportation, fossil fuel power etc. There are so many similarities– especially the sensitivity issue. Watch this one!

  35. Willis, you write:

    “Does this mean that we should always trust our experience over science? Don’t be daft. Science is hugely valuable, and often shows that our experience has misled us completely.”

    One thing that people do not realize is that if nobody writes their own and other people’s experiences down, there would be no books for scientists to learn their science from.

  36. Willis , you, you… Secchi disk denier you!

    This episode illustrates just how fragile many people believe the Earth and it’s ecosystems are, that a small temperature rise of about 0.7C per century, is enough to decimate whole ecosystems on a global scale.

    Glad you wrote this up, I had one in the que. No need now. Well done sir.

  37. Many people would agree that about half of our man-made CO2 ends up in the air with the other half either going into the ocean or increasing photosynthesis in plants. Since plants on land grow better due to higher concentrations of CO2, it would only be logical that phytoplankton in the ocean would also grow faster due to more CO2 in the ocean. This also has implications for ocean acidification, or more accurately, a very slight lowering of pH which is still in the basic range. Would anyone have 20 year old predictions of what the pH of the ocean is expected to be now versus what it actually is? My guess is that the pH would be higher than expected due to more phytoplankton using more CO2.

  38. The Total Idiot says:
    April 25, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Experience is a useful tool. Wisdom comes from that experience, including the wisdom to check your answers… and to present them to others, who disagree with you, to check them as well.

    Wisdom allows us to make less mistakes. Unfortunately, the same wisdom is generally purchased at the cost of my early iterations of those self-same mistakes …

    w.

  39. This is an example of something that constantly concerns me.
    That being that far too many people who blindly follow peer reviewed articles seem unable, or unwilling, to compare what they are led to believe with what often can be observed in the real physical world around them.

  40. Boyce et al…. showed a decrease in marine phytoplankton biomass of approximately 1% of the global median per year over the past century.

    That wouldn’t have left much, would it?

  41. Good one Willis!
    Many scientists undoubtedly get so immersed in the minutae of their world that they forget to raise their eyes and look around them or, even more important, take a few steps back and say “Does that make sense?

  42. Richard Telford,
    You are correct—phytoplankton biomass is a function of grazing (among others). It is not always a representative analog for total eco-system biomass. I like to show a picture of a fenced in field of waist high grass and another of a cropped pasture with sheep and ask -which has the higher productivity?

  43. Stephen Rasey says:
    April 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm
    “I believe that low frequency is lost forever. After you re-splice a bunch of short time series together, the only low frequency component in the data is a pure result of the method and bias in your splicing of the shorter segments and cannot be trusted as representing reality.”

    Very good reasoning. It remains to be seen what BEST produces. I don’t trust Muller (with his geo-engineering links and all…). He might come up with a method that he can play like a fiddle; becoming a Hansen re-incarnate.

  44. Smokey,
    it would have left 50%, assuming the median is at the mean (i.e. a symmetrical distribution).

  45. At least every other day I encounter a Science Headline that causes me to LOL, as did the Phytoplankton loss story.
    I would offer this as another:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ozone-hole-may-have-cause-australian-floods&WT.mc_id=SA_CAT_SP_20110425

    Could not you infer, that since Australia has had as large or larger floods in the past, that perhaps the ozone hole has been here for awhile?

    More funding for ozone research needed now!

    RW

  46. “far too many people who blindly follow peer reviewed articles seem unable, or unwilling, to compare what they are led to believe with what often can be observed in the real physical world around them.”

    Apparently it depends on the conclusion the article reaches. If the conclusion is validating of the reader’s own view, they tend to believe it. If it is counter to the reader’s own view, then it isn’t so blindly followed.

    I seem to remember an incident a couple of years ago where certain stations in Finland and Russia reported the same temperature data in consecutive months. In other words, one month’s data was reported again as the subsequent month’s data. It turns out that this had happened before but had gone unnoticed. During the middle of summer or winter when temperatures are stable, this might not be noticed at all, it was only noticed in spring when certain stations reported exceptionally cold temperatures because they were reporting March data in April. GISS then noticed and corrected it. They apparently didn’t notice it when the same thing happened in the fall when temperatures were being reported exceptionally high (September temperatures being reported for October) because they “wanted” to see exceptionally warm temperatures and so they assumed those reading were “correct” and they validated their hypothesis.

    It was Steve McIntyre who noticed it in the autumn months and the list of “bad” data was expanded on at this site with several more being located.

    So the moral of the story is that people tend not to closely check data that validates their expectations.

    Even so, if you have data that are suddenly wildly different than data surrounding them, it is always good to give it a close look, one’s own view notwithstanding.

  47. Good work Willis but you make one statement I have to disagree with. You say you had no evidence. Not true, you had exceptionally good evidence notably that life in the sea had not gone down by 50%. The chain of inference is extremely short and robust – phytoplankton form the basis for all marine life, if they decreaseso should all marine life. The fact that marine life had not decreased was quite enough of itself to discount the claims.

    The instinct of an experienced person is often based on data that should be “obvious” but often is not. Their paper as as bad as the student who is given a problem to calculate the power output of a power station and submits the answer of 50 microwatts without thinking of what the answer would imply.

  48. I remember reading (somewhere lost in time) that excellence comes from applying equal parts of knowledge, skill, and talent. If any of these three get out of balance, excellence suffers. We are a society too willing to presume excellence flows from knowledge alone.

  49. A 1% decrease in phytoplankton biomass per year, every year for 1 century would produce a total drop of 2.7x. By today, 111 years later, phytoplankton biomass would be only 33% of the 1900 biomass. Cetaceans should be lined up outside soup kitchens.

    Phytoplankton are also responsible for about half the atmospheric oxygen. I’d guess we’d be seeing a decrease in oxygen content by now, if phytoplankton output was down by ~67%.

  50. Some wisdonm learnt by me in engineering over the years is to identify early on the particulars of what “Governs” for a particular project.

    For Willis here I think he knew that plankton “Governs” ocean life.

  51. It comes down to pattern recognition. Animals can do it, computers can’t.

    If you want to examine the data, start by graphing it. Too many scientists trust their ‘closed form’ equations using statistics and various kinds of transforms, which don’t present temporal patterns in a way that the MK I Eyeball can analyze.

    Look first at the waveform.

  52. Willis: Common-sense and reasoning can only take us so far, usually in the direction of our personal biases. For example, common sense says that the amount of relative humidity of the atmosphere will remain constant as the earth warms from radiative forcing. For science (as opposed to the blogosphere) to progress, we need solid observations and analysis to reject the conclusions from papers like this one.

    The peer reviewers did a lousy job with this paper. a) With a gradual changeover from one measurement technique to another, the reviewers should have demanded to see separate trends for each measurement technique. b) What effect does temperature have on the growth of phytoplankton under controlled conditions? If a 1 degC change in temperature causes little change in growth rate, then something besides global warming must be responsible for observational changes. The center of large oceans are unproductive environments because nutrients (particularly iron) are in short supply. Averaging results of a large area means that the large variation of productivity with location is lost.

  53. Well I am going to put myself out on a limb. I reckon ALL the sea and land temp data from GISS, Hadcrut, NDCD, NOAA and the arctic ice data from cryosphere and NCDC has been manipulated to suit the AGW agenda. Basically previous temps have been lowered and recent temps have been artificially increased to show the artificial warming. The ice data has been manipulated by changing the areas they measure in NH and manipulating base averages. Let’s see if I have been right (for future records)

  54. richard telford says:
    April 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    “If the phytoplankton had actually gone down by 50%, all life in the ocean would have gone down by 50%”

    If primary productivity had gone down by 50%, there would have been major ecological consequences. But that wasn’t what the paper argued, it argued that plankton biomass had gone down, and the link between plankton biomass and productivity does not have to be very strong. For example, if there are many zooplankton, they can potentially graze the phytoplankton until there is little left, but what remains could be highly productive.

    “experience” is only so useful a tool, and is almost as likely to fool us as help us.

    If I recall correctly, you (or someone) made that argument over in the original thread. You are correct, but it is a difference that doesn’t make a difference.

    You are correct that the primary productivity is what counts. You could think of it with an analogy from the land. Suppose we are taking a snapshot of the amount of hay in the field. Does that tell us the productivity of that field?

    Well, no, because it might be that the field only produces one crop of hay per year, or it might produce three crops of hay in a year … but looking at the snapshot (the instantaneous biomass) can’t tell us which one it is. So you are right, there is a difference between biomass and primary productivity.

    The reason that it is a difference that doesn’t make a difference is that the plankton in the ocean isn’t suddenly changing from one crop per year to three crops per year, to use the previous analogy. Plankton doesn’t suddenly get three times as efficient, it does what it has always done.

    So as a result, the primary productivity varies roughly proportional to the total biomass. Not exactly, but their claim is that the biomass in 2010 is only a third as large as in 1900 … are you trying to explain that by saying there’s only a third the plankton, but they’re three times as efficient?

    Again, the laugh test is in play. You are 100% correct, but that doesn’t explain their erroneous results.

    w.

  55. illustrate the importance of using consistent observations when estimating long-term trends

    Well Duh…

  56. Willis:

    Reminds me of a time when I was a young engineer, arguing about the cause of a problem. An old stationary engineer posited a possible cause for the problem. I expertly, concisely and totally demolished his argument. I made him look like a total fool . . . expect for that small problem of his being right and me being wrong. Science involves debating at times, but the rules are a little different. Just because you win the debate doesn’t mean you are right. Sooner or later, science will out and the right answer will be known.

    Well done with the BS meter.

  57. kwik says:
    April 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    So, Willis, what is your theory on the reason behind pouring out all this voodoo science?

    There must be a reason for it. When “Der Mauer” and DDR disappeared, so did The Red Brigade and other terror organisations in the west. Because the puppet masters disappeared.

    But who are the puppet masters here?

    I’m not into conspiracy theories (although I was wrong in the case of Climategate), and even that one had no “puppet masters”, just a host of victims of noble cause corruption.

    w.

  58. Wisdom is what you have when you have made every possible mistake so many times that you have finally learned no to make them! Alas, some people revere their mistakes and never learn.

  59. Willis,

    Would you believe that this planet was a water world greater than 1 billion years ago?
    This planet looses .00025mm of water through the atmosphere per year which translates to 2.5mm/10,000 years.
    If you decide to follow this math, then a few hundred meters of water has been lost in 1 billion years.

  60. eNihilist says: April 25, 2011 at 1:32 pm “Nice on Dr. Boyce also. Any person who can admit when they’re wrong (listening Team members?) is a stand-up character in my book.”

    The brief communications that Willis quoted are not by Dr. Boyce. His reply can be found at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v472/n7342/abs/nature09953.html

    He maintains that the problems pointed out by the 3 brief communications regarding his paper are minor and do not materially affect the results.

  61. How to confound a scientist:

    Ask him
    “how do you call an instrument to look at very small things?”
    And he’ll answer matter-of-factly “a microscope”

    “how do you call an instrument to look at things very far?”
    and he’ll answer, obviously, “a telescope”

    “how do you call an instrument to look inside objects?”
    He’ll think a second and answer “an endoscope” with the tiny smile of someone “in the know”

    Then ask him:
    “how do you call an instrument that can make you see through walls?”
    Then, watch him break a sweat, think of various ray or remote sensing devices… then give him the answer: “a window…”.

  62. Anthony Watts says:
    April 25, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Willis , you, you… Secchi disk denier you!

    When I was a kid, first we plowed, then we disked, then we harrowed, then we planted. I deny categorically that we used Secchi disks.

    This episode illustrates just how fragile many people believe the Earth and it’s ecosystems are, that a small temperature rise of about 0.7C per century, is enough to decimate whole ecosystems on a global scale.

    Life always astonishes me with its tenacity and power. Grass grows up through cracks in the concrete, tree roots split stones, species stubbornly refuse to go extinct …

    Glad you wrote this up, I had one in the queue. No need now. Well done sir.

    Thanks, Anthony, and thanks as always for the superb site.

    w.

  63. Werner Brozek says:
    April 25, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    … Would anyone have 20 year old predictions of what the pH of the ocean is expected to be now versus what it actually is? My guess is that the pH would be higher than expected due to more phytoplankton using more CO2.

    We have little global data on oceanic pH. In addition, pH is an intensive variable, so an “average” is a somewhat tenuous concept.

    w.

  64. Smokey says:
    April 25, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Boyce et al…. showed a decrease in marine phytoplankton biomass of approximately 1% of the global median per year over the past century.

    That wouldn’t have left much, would it?

    Around a third.

    w.

  65. “It’s a garbage science problem, and all the communications theory in the world won’t fix garbage science.”

    That’s true and that’s why they have to roll out Flannery. It’s a brain washing exercise in the same vain as they daily brainwash our children. You can see that they are getting desperate because now in Leftist press and just the other day on a-pac TV the rumblings are indignant that so many people are against the carbon (sic) tax. The elites are lamenting our democracy and think that we should have a government like communist China. That way the govt. could just tell us what to accept! This is about science but it’s now gone way beyond this. We are fighting for our current way of life. Capitalism is purposely being demonized and is under attack here and the USA, socialism is lauded. It’s an agenda which is being played out in most western countries. My grandfather died in WWII fighting such tyranny. He’d be turning in his grave right now.

  66. When reading about the latest high profile publication in climate science, I’m frequently reminded of the term that Phillip Morrison used in his book and old PBS videos on physics: “the ring of truth”. Most of the time the sound is more of a thud than a ring, and I think, Who reviews this stuff?

    Good call, Willis. Now about those lizards in Mexico…

  67. Berényi Péter says:
    April 25, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Here is the full exchange in Nature including the Boyce et al. reply.

    Many thanks for that, Berényi. I’m always reluctant to post material that’s behind a firewall … I don’t really understand the ethics and limitations of that.

    w.

  68. +1 For this article.

    There are some bloggers in the AGW camp who have shown time and time again that they have no understanding of the data they’re looking at. They tend to be on the mathematics side of the field and I daresay are a bit younger with little real world experience.

    Really effective real-world-based intuition is an invaluable skill as a starting point when considering a result.

    I’ll give it another +1 actually :-)

  69. There’s another old saying that goes something like, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” That evidence was something the “50% decliners” could not provide.

  70. “The eyeball test is simple. Look at every single dataset. There is absolutely no substitute for the experienced human eye. You say there’s seven thousand of them? Boo hoo. You can’t just make up an algorithm and apply it without seeing what it does to every single station record. If there’s a large number, I just write a program in R that just flashes them on the screen for a second along with an ID number. I just let it roll, and jot down the numbers of the ones that stand out.”

    I do assays in 96-well plates, and typically measure 16 minute-6 minute, typically measuring a n=4, 8 or 12. 5 min gives me a temperature equilibrium, so all the wells are at the same temperature.
    I could (and have) calculate the rate of a line drawn from 6 to 16 minutes, but it takes a while and also includes blips.
    I eye-ball each one and find that 16-6, or 15 -5, far better than plotting.
    I can get the spec-computer to do all the analysis, running the company software, but it misses bubbles, blips and pipetting errors. Far better to eyeball and stick the whole thing in excel.

  71. Frank says:
    April 25, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Willis: Common-sense and reasoning can only take us so far, usually in the direction of our personal biases. For example, common sense says that the amount of relative humidity of the atmosphere will remain constant as the earth warms from radiative forcing. For science (as opposed to the blogosphere) to progress, we need solid observations and analysis to reject the conclusions from papers like this one.

    I couldn’t agree more, Frank. I just a) didn’t have solid observations and b) knew that their claim wasn’t valid. So I went with what I had, and I’m overjoyed to see that my position is supported by the science.

    Also, I would distinguish between “common sense” and the “laugh test”. For me, the laugh test is always based on observations and experience, not just common sense. I’ve spent a lifetime on and in the ocean, as a commercial and sport fisherman, a commercial and sport diver, a surfer, a transcontinental sailor, and a boatbuilder. So my judgement was based on much more than common sense.

    w.

  72. Joe Lalonde says:
    April 25, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Willis,

    Would you believe that this planet was a water world greater than 1 billion years ago?
    This planet looses .00025mm of water through the atmosphere per year which translates to 2.5mm/10,000 years.
    If you decide to follow this math, then a few hundred meters of water has been lost in 1 billion years.

    I hate uncited claims, particularly ones that start with “would you believe”. No, I wouldn’t believe it, not without a citation, although it certainly may be true.

    And even if true, and in the four million years that kinda-human life has existed on earth the sea level has gone down by one whole metre … so what?

    w.

  73. Willis: “The third reason is a bit more complex. It is to emphasize the value of actual experience. I didn’t disbelieve Boyce et al. because I had any data. I had no data at all.”

    Sometimes things just don’t pass the common sense test. Before I knew anything about climate science or had any reason to doubt it, one of the first things I was exposed to was Mann’s hockey stick. Both the nonvariation in the handle and the extremeness of the blade made me react with “horsepucky”. I had no evidence at all, but my BS sensor still went off. It did make me want to learn more. Since then my BS sensor has gone off many times, and when more results come in, the sensor is usually right.

  74. scott says April 25, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Some of my staff get very confused when I speak to them of “wisdom”- not just knowledge, but the understanding of how and when (and when not) to apply that knowledge.

    Scott,
    I totally agree with you, building on Rudyard Kipling’s “Six honest serving men”
    Science is a process of refinement in which we progress from Data to Information to Knowledge and then achieve Wisdom through the application of Knowledge.
    In science Data are the numbers, they allow us to answer the question What?
    What time is it?
    What is the temperature?
    Information is organised data.
    Information allows us to answer the questions Where? (e.g. by charts & maps) and When? (e.g. by graphs & timetables).
    Knowledge is organised information. Knowledge allows us to answer the question How?
    How do I bake a cake?
    How do I get to Dublin?
    Wisdom allows us to answer the question Why? as in
    “Why should we do (or not do) this?”
    Wisdom, the application of appropriate knowledge, can only be achieved by experience. Experience is achieved by the investment of time in the practice of a skill and as such wisdom cannot be imposed, wisdom can only be learned.

  75. Assumptions not checked against empirical data are simply good guesses and we all know how good guesses are. This is a perfect example of hard and honest work for nothing because the assumptions that were assumed correct were later shown to be other. Not good science, not science at all.

  76. Willis, as a junior engineer I did some database work for our mine’s production tracking. We took information from equipment timecards (as filled out by the operators) and entered it into the computer. Knowing GIGO, and trying to be a conscientious junior, I built some checks for the most likely errors that would cause imbalances in the day or for the monthend balances (differences in load counts between the loading units and the trucks hauling from them, differences in where a shovel was). One button click ran all of the tests, and displayed any data that didn’t pass my BS filter. After my boss thought I’d suffered enough, he passed the data entry on to a technician. The technician wasn’t as involved in the day to day operations of the mine, so frequently had questions about what equipment could do what and where it was working. He had reasonable computer skills, and asked for my help in adding to the list of daily-data-entry-checks. We were up to 8 checks when he was promoted away from the database, and it was passed to a co-op student for a short time. After the next monthend balances, we were up to about 15 checks. When the co-op went back to school and the data entry was passed on to a payroll clerk with no knowledge of how the mine worked and what equipment could do what activities, we eventually wound up with 24 automated checks to be done every day to check the data entry.

    Why did I type all of this? 1) When you make it more idiot-proof, they’ll make a better idiot. 2) Whether something passes the smell test depends upon your background. Your bio was interesting, and explains why you knew something was wrong from the start. The payroll clerk in my example above was quite bright, but didn’t know enough about the field to splot even what I would have considered the most obvious of mistakes. If one only looks at numbers and computer screens, results that a fisherman would laugh at can still look reasonable because the programmer doesn’t know any better.

  77. Boyce et al are holding their line in their reply….

    Based on the extensive robustness
    analyses reported here and previously, we conclude that the
    observed global decline in Chl is independent of the data source used,
    and is not biased as a result of combining transparency and in situ data.

    And claim that the CPR (Continuous Plankton Recorder) color index is not comparable to direct Chlorophyll or transparency measurements, as it is biased towards larger more visible plankton.

    Confusing? it is to me, and I agree with Willis that these creatures are the start of a long food chain, that does not seem to be diminishing.

  78. “The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation…. The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.” – Jacob Bronowski (The Ascent of Man 1973)

    “I believe that there never was a creator of a philosophical system who did not confess at the end of his life that he had wasted his time. It must be admitted that the inventors of the mechanical arts have been much more useful to men than the inventors of syllogisms.” – Voltaire (Philosophical Dictionary 1764)

    “The doer alone learnith.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

    “It is good to be learned in the things that are hidden from the wise and the intellectual ones of the world but are revealed, as if by nature, to the poor and simple, to women and little children.” – Vincent van Gogh (letter to Theo van Gogh, 1878)

    “Man thinks, God laughs.” – Jewish proverb

    “Tell me where is fancy bred. Or in the heart or in the head?” – William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice 1598)

  79. Willis,
    And even if true, and in the four million years that kinda-human life has existed on earth the sea level has gone down by one whole metre … so what?

    You didn’t follow through to 4 billion years then which would be 1,000 meters.
    Actually we DO have proof. Trapped sea salt is found in high elevation to the sea level.
    Trapped oceanic life gives the material to date when the formations were formed.
    A few waves does NOT make a mine full of sea salt deposits. It takes many layerings of ocean water to achieve the thickness and the slow dropping of the ocean level.

  80. Secchi disks are not precision instruments. The error bars on readings have to be rather large because water surface roughness and reflectivity are highly variable. I know, having used one long ago, the difficulty of accurate measurement. Yet, in the pre-electronic era, it was the best you could do. The most costly error arises, though, with trying to squeeze too much meaning out of inherent uncertainty.

  81. Willis,

    Forgotten to mention that with over 1,000 meters of water on land when volcanic activity is occurring produces a great deal of deposits blamed on Ice Ages that where NEVER around many areas.

  82. I have commented several times on here about the water vapor hypothesis that is the basis of the AGW hypothesis. ie. that water vapor in the air increases the temperature.
    As someone who lives 300metres from the Pacific Ocean, this has never passed the eyeball/smell/laugh test for me. The temperature is never as high at the seaside as it is inland where there is no large body of water. Go look at any temperature graph.

  83. Is this settled? Really? To claim “you’re right” about this so quickly seems a bit premature to say the least, though I can well understand your self-admitted “childish”
    desire to be right about this, but I think a proper skeptic might sit back and remain skeptical toward either side of this issue until a wee bit more data and studies have been done.

  84. Gates,

    Even Nature acknowledges that Boyce et al. were in error:

    “…much, if not all, of the century-long decline reported by Boyce et al. is attributable to this temporal sampling bias and not to a global decrease in phytoplankton biomass.”

    And:

    “…indicate increased phytoplankton biomass over the last 20–50 years.”

    C’mon, admit it: your world view is 110% warmist. We’ll understand.

  85. Willis, if you haven’t done so already, download a copy of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcom Gladwell. Yours is a classic example of the process in action.

    As a teaser, the initial story in the book concerns a famous museum that acquired for possible purchase, what was presented as a fabulously rare antique statue. Not wanting to tip off the art dealers who might outbid them, they studied the statue in minute detail, mass spectrograms of the paint, analysis of the wood composition and carbon dating, on and on. Until they had convinced themselves that the statue was real, at which point they paid a very large sum of money to the seller.

    Then they created an “opening” to show their new discovery to the art community. The experts entered the room and in seconds broke into laughter, commenting that “I hope you didn’t pay much for that forgery” and the like. The museum staff were mortified and not a little offended – after all, they had spent a year studying this statue in the most minute detail. But the museum had indeed been bilked out of millions of dollars by an artful fraudster.

    The individual educated human brain is one of the most powerful integrators of information around. Not surprising that your “BS detector” went off immediately. And thanks for putting it out there for all to see.

    Personally, I had a similar experience (with the opposite sign) upon reading your hypothesis about the tropics as the Earth’s thermostat. Living in Panama at 9 degrees North and observing the weather patterns from an excellent observation point at 4100 feet with a view to the Pacific, your hypothesis instantly made sense out of what I was seeing. Correlating that with the available satellite imagery, SSTs and such only strengthens my “hunch” that you are absolutely right.

  86. Good work Willis and what I truly admire is the fact that you are one who has extensive real world maritime experience. I’ve found many old Crabbers and Trollers know more than many ‘scientists’ who have never made a living off the Sea…

  87. Mike D. says:
    April 25, 2011 at 2:13 pm
    “Our species is growing stupider thanks to the modern Rise of Superstition and Apocalyptic Panic masquerading as rationality.”

    Yeah, this is another case of “over-exuberant hysteria.” It is the most characteristic psychological dysfunction of this era. Unfortunately, the Left sees it as virtue. The Left busts their buns to promote hysteria, but they also suffer from it. I would like to see the editor or editors who approved this article. I bet he bounces off the wall moment to moment.

  88. Douglas C
    From a speech by the great John Isaacs:
    “I have much greater faith in simple observations and untrammeled
    thinking than I have in sophisticated observations and simplistic thinking!
    And I have much greater confidence that man’s relationship to the sea and
    its resources will be enhanced by thoughtful and observant people closely
    involved and broadly acquainted with the sea—scientist and non-scientist
    alike—than by frantic bureaucratic responses to public hysteria or by the
    pontification of the scientific hierarchy.”

  89. Willis, I’d have the same suspicions about this data. A 50% drop in plankton would affect all sea life and, (as Pat Frank beat me to it), atmospheric O2 levels would be showing a small decline as a result. Considering the precision to which atmospheric composition can be determined for the last 50 years, it would have been prudent for the authors of the declining plankton paper to have checked if their conclusions were consistent with atmospheric O2 concentrations.

    I also graph all data I’m working with and find that I can pick up patterns that don’t show up in simple statistical analyses. What I’ve found recently is that looking at various fractal measures of data seems to be a way of coming up with similar conclusions that eyeballing the data does. What I find striking about climate “science” is that paucity of analyses appropriate to what is chaotic data. Hurst was was ahead of the game in his analysis of river flows over 50 years ago but most climate “scientists” seem to assume that statistical methods appropriate for Gaussian distributions can be used for their data.

  90. “Joe Lalonde says:
    April 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    Joe Lalonde says:
    April 25, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    This planet loses .00025mm of water through the atmosphere per year which translates to 2.5mm/10,000 years.
    If you decide to follow this math, then a few hundred meters of water has been lost in 1 billion years.

    You didn’t follow through to 4 billion years then which would be 1,000 meters.
    Actually we DO have proof. Trapped sea salt is found in high elevation to the sea level.”

    Joe, I am a physics teacher and not a geology teacher so on this topic, you may wish to take my comments with a grain of salt. : -) But just because sea salt is now found at high elevations does not necessarily mean that Earth has lost a lot of water. Is it not just as likely that there were profound changes in the geology of the Earth so previous low lying areas under the ocean were lifted up due to the movement of plate tectonics?

    Now as for water escaping, do you have a source I can read to verify that? The fact that sea salt can now be found at high elevations does not prove water was lost. I know for example that hydrogen and helium can reach escape velocity high up in the atmosphere. Water, with a molar mass of 18 would have a much harder time escaping, but water has the additional huge problem of condensing when it gets cold and then falling as rain or snow. So unlike all other gases, there would be extremely few water molecules in a position to reach escape velocity very high up in the atmosphere.

  91. Keith Minto says:
    April 25, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    “Confusing? it is to me, and I agree with Willis that these creatures are the start of a long food chain, that does not seem to be diminishing.”

    It is reason enough to deploy the age-old slur “sophist” in science. Prior to Galileo, scientists were sophists. After Galileo, only lawyers and armchair sophists were sophists. Now scientists are sophists. Devolution.

  92. Excellent followup Willis. I was behind you 100%. As I said in the original thread, I married into cattle farming. And while I certainly don’t know nearly as much as I should about it, I know for a FACT if you have half the amount of food, you can only have half the number of cattle. It really gets no simpler than that. That paper failed the sniff test from the get-go.

  93. Willis Eschenbach says:
    April 25, 2011 at 4:27 pm
    “In addition, pH is an intensive variable, so an “average” is
    a somewhat tenuous concept. ”

    Temperature is also an intensive property of matter, and thus, the “average temperature” of a system has no physical meaning either.

  94. Boris Gimbarzevsky says:
    April 25, 2011 at 6:48 pm
    Willis, I’d have the same suspicions about this data. A 50% drop in plankton would affect all sea life and, (as Pat Frank beat me to it), atmospheric O2 levels would be showing a small decline as a result. Considering the precision to which atmospheric composition can be determined for the last 50 years, it would have been prudent for the authors of the declining plankton paper to have checked if their conclusions were consistent with atmospheric O2 concentrations.
    ——————————–

    ……. and the answer would have been, according to this link, oxygen has gone from 20.95% to 20.95% from 1990 to 2001 (an essentially imperceptible 0.0003% change).

    A few months ago, there was a poster on WUWT who was convinced that the (purported) decrease in phytoplankton was going to cause his own asphyxiation due to oxygen depletion in the atmosphere. Sad but true.

    Here’s another related link, and I draw no conclusions from this. Possibly another imperceptible factor on O2 concentrations, but interesting nonetheless:

    http://news.stanford.edu/news/2008/april2/plant-040208.html

  95. Generally I apply a “this is new and let’s see if it holds up test.”

    Were there any replies from the authors? Oh yes, there were. The provide evidence that their blending of different proxies for phytoplankton abundance was valid. At this point it still seems to be an open question with the balance of the evidence being on the side of the commenters. More research is needed to answer this question. But then this is how science proceeds. A single paper does not a finding make.

  96. It is sooo valuable to develop a knowledge filter, aka BS filter. All of one’s background in science contributes to the filter. The laugh, smell, and eyeball tests are aspects or manifestations of this filter.

  97. “philincalifornia says:
    April 25, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    according to this link, oxygen has gone from 20.95% to 20.95% from 1990 to 2001 (an essentially imperceptible 0.0003% change).”

    If my source is accurate, then CO2 went from 353 ppm to 370 ppm between 1990 and 2001. That is an increase of 17 ppm. You may or may not agree with the following, but I will assume that half of the CO2 that is produced by man ends up in the atmosphere. (The other half then would go into increased photosynthesis and into the ocean.) The bottom line is that 34 ppm of additional CO2 was produced between 1990 and 2001. Therefore 34 ppm of oxygen must have been used up in the process as it takes one O2 to produce one CO2. So the oxygen should have decreased by 0.0034% based on the CO2 produced. Since the change was an order of magnitude smaller according to the above, we need to figure out why. Is it possible the plankton greatly increased?

  98. R Gates

    Failure to comment on new findings is an abdication of responsibility.

    That is part of how we got into this AGW snowballing effect. Nearly everyone ignored the enviroscientists and climatologists and thier research. We were all going about our own legitimate business. But since they were not doing adequate quality control the rest of us probably should have wised up sooner and applied the smell test, and other tests in a more vigilent manner.

    Fortunately there are an increasing number of people who are no longer going to accept that there is anything special about climate science. This branch of research is comming under increasing scrutiny. In my opinion the result is a widespread loss of confidence in climate scientists.

    By the way, well done Willis.

  99. Well either you are wrong or right on any question, the clever bit is demonstrating why you are right, so I am not sure why Willis is so self satisfied?

    Andy

  100. I am an AGW sceptic from life experience. Having lived and worked in desert areas over many decades I never noticed any change in night time temperatures.
    I think a long term record of MINIMUM temperatures from some remote desert region would provide interesting data.

  101. Rob R says:
    April 25, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    R Gates

    Failure to comment on new findings is an abdication of responsibility.

    ____
    Uh…Boyce did respond, though apparently Willis failed to mention that. Part of his response says:

    “Although we cannot entirely discount the possibility that changes in sampling methods may introduce fractional bias, extensive sensitivity analyses detailed below show that this is not responsible for the observed Chl declines. Furthermore, the accuracy of CT as a proxy of surface Chl has been independently verified4, 5, and indicates that CT explains only 0.5–1.5% less of the variance in surface Chl than precision measurements of water-leaving radiance (remotely sensed ocean colour)5.”

    Again, this is far from settled and I think Willis is crowing a bit too much and way too early…

  102. Interesting that you use the “eyeball test”.

    I’ve spent a great deal of my life as a Harry The Hacker, looking at strangeness or figuring out how various computer programs work. Many of my colleagues don’t and they wonder at how I reach a better understanding than them. For me its simple, I look at stuff.

    If’ I’m peripherally interested in something, I’ll get the source code and take a look. I don’t really try to understand, just glean the general principles. You can look at a lot of stuff quickly and get a rough feeling for how it works, as well as the discipline of those who created it.

    And its amazing what your eye can pick up if you want to find something – I’ve done a lot of “string dumps” of executable programs, over the years, looking for strings, messages, or other things that might be in there. Just doing a dump, and holding your finger on the page-down key letting the pages of crap go flicking by… its amazing how soon you just KNOW that something interesting stood out – without knowing exactly what or why. Thats what going back and looking again is for.

    The quick-eyeball-scan of large amounts of stuff is amazingly good at spotting things to go look at in more detail.

  103. I don’t think it’s smug or childish to point out that you were right. It’s also worth highlighting this correction to yet another sloppy paper accepted for publication by Nature. You can bet MSM will not be making a song and dance over it.

    You went out on a limb and were proved right , fair game.

  104. Joe Lalonde says:
    April 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    Willis,

    And even if true, and in the four million years that kinda-human life has existed on earth the sea level has gone down by one whole metre … so what?

    You didn’t follow through to 4 billion years then which would be 1,000 meters.
    Actually we DO have proof. Trapped sea salt is found in high elevation to the sea level.
    Trapped oceanic life gives the material to date when the formations were formed.
    A few waves does NOT make a mine full of sea salt deposits. It takes many layerings of ocean water to achieve the thickness and the slow dropping of the ocean level.

    First, you do understand the meaning of “citation”? I asked for one for the claim of the amount of water loss, if you recall. Saying “We DO have proof” is not a citation …

    Second, you seem to think that the oceans being ~1,ooo metres deeper four billion years ago is significant to something … but I still don’t understand what practical difference that makes.

    w.

  105. Hi Willis, good smell test and good tip about oxygen (can’t remember commentator who made it). Hope this reply is not too late, just saw it. I think I remember commenting on the original article.

    I worked for 25 years in biological oceanography and regularly used secchi discs in very clear, tropical, oceanic water. There are all sorts of rules for using these simple instruments, but one which has been routinely ignored is the wearing of polaroid sunglasses. Sunglasses, especially polaroid ones, came into vogue in the 70s and 80s and even more in the 90s and 00s, when we were willing to pay ridiculous amounts for these fashionista items and when eye-health warnings came about. Wearing sunglasses, again especially polaroid ones, allows you to see deeper into the water (less surface reflection). Hence, scientific staff (or often crew members) would give greater secchi disc readings when wearing these sunglasses, hence the appearance of “clearer water” and lower phytoplankton (chlorophyll) counts. You could probably track increasing sunglasses with “clearer” ocean readings.

    Of course, the mixing of such diverse data sources should already have rung alarm bells. It certainly is a message about the quality-control of Nature magazine.

  106. R. Gates says:
    April 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Is this settled? Really? To claim “you’re right” about this so quickly seems a bit premature to say the least, though I can well understand your self-admitted “childish” desire to be right about this, but I think a proper skeptic might sit back and remain skeptical toward either side of this issue until a wee bit more data and studies have been done.

    R. Gates, if you want to continue believing that there is only a third of the phytoplankton there was a hundred years ago until the final nail is put in, you are welcome to do so.

    Me, I still say it’s nonsense that doesn’t pass the laugh test. I didn’t believe it when there was no scientific evidence supporting my position, and I believe it even less now that there is scientific evidence in that regard. Of course, YMMV.

    w.

    PS – My joy in being right is childish, I admit that, but there is nothing childish about desiring to be right as you claim, that’s your misunderstanding. I rather suspect, for example, that you desire to be right … is that “childish” on your part?

  107. Phil’s Dad says: (April 25, 2011 at 1:54 pm)
    No one under 50 should ever be allowed to make a decision that affects someone else.

    This statement need’s thought and refinement, Phil’s Dad. It has a kernel of truth and a useful caution within it; but to be entered into the roll of great statements of mankind it requires further work. I think it deserves that work.

  108. AndyW says:
    April 25, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Well either you are wrong or right on any question, the clever bit is demonstrating why you are right, so I am not sure why Willis is so self satisfied?

    The clever bit is demonstrating why you are right? No, the clever bit is getting the right answer. Only if you get the right answer can you demonstrate why you are right.

    And it is particularly clever if you can get the right answer with only a few hints and no scientific data to support the answer. Finally, it is really clever if you take a big chance and announce your result quite publicly and await the outcome. I put my experience, logic, and intuition on the line, and it was right. So yes, I’m satisfied. If you publicly put your name behind a gamble like that and it came off, I certainly hope that you would be satisfied as well.

    In my case, I was right because my fisherman/rancher’s logic was correct—a cut of phytoplankton to 1/3 of its biomass in 1900 would have huge repercussions in the ocean, and we haven’t seen those repercussions (or anything like what would be expected).

    As the world works, I just saw on TV a woman who went to her doctor convinced that she had a tumor. The doc said no. The woman persevered. The fourth doctor she went to found the tumor … and you think she’s not clever until she can explain why she was right?

    w.

  109. Roger Carr quoted Phil’s Dad @ April 25, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    “No one under 50 should ever be allowed to make a decision that affects someone else.”

    and commented:

    “This statement need’s thought and refinement, Phil’s Dad. It has a kernel of truth and a useful caution within it; but to be entered into the roll of great statements of mankind it requires further work. I think it deserves that work.”

    I thought it too stupid to comment on when I read it.

    Women over 50 are usually beyond childbearing age. Therefore, the proposition is equivalent to no woman of childbearing age should be allowed to make the decision to bear a child. Bearing a child affects the father, grandparents, siblings etc. It would be preposterous in our society to suggest that women be denied the right to make that decision. Presumably in Phil’s Dad’s world, the donor of the man-juice would be over 50. Dunno how the young ‘uns would take to that!

    BTW Excellent work Willis. It was the O2 levels that were the giveaway for me.

  110. The second reason I posted this is just because I enjoy it when it turns out that I’m right,

    And you deserve to glory in it, because after all if it had proven to be completely wrong, you would have had egg on your face.

  111. Werner Brozek says:
    April 25, 2011 at 9:12 pm
    “philincalifornia says:
    April 25, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Werner, I somehow managed to lose the link to my source of data in my original comment. It’s here:

    http://www.rsbs.anu.edu.au/o2/O2_2_Atmosphere.htm

    On the assumption that this is accurate (the original source of the numbers is not referenced) first, they calculated the 0.0003% based on 7 years of oxygen “consumption”, and I think it’s badly worded and should read 0.0003%/year, so it jibes with your calculation. Sorry for the confusion.

    Whatever, it still doesn’t impact 20.95% oxygen.

  112. “It’s just more shonky science from the AGW crowd … and people claim the reason the public doesn’t trust climate scientists is a “communications problem”? It’s not. It’s a garbage science problem, and all the communications theory in the world won’t fix garbage science.”

    Indeed.
    And the AGW crowd do know this. That’s why we see the proclamation by the AGW proponents that the science behind this paper, for example, isn’t ‘settled’, and that therefore ‘more research is needed’ – meaning ‘we need more money’.

    Why is there no mechanism to cut off funding for those who produce such papers? Why should the taxpayers cough up more money to be wasted on such projects?
    I’m sure a lot of unemployed Ph.D.s, who dare not open their mouths in fear of never getting a job might be gainfully employed by some agency to cut fundings to research which is refuted by other scientists. That would certainly concentrate some minds …

  113. Oh Willis I love your approach. It’s like watching an oxygen bubbling system starting up in a tank of stale water and torpid fish.

    Now I’ve got two topics that to me fail the smell test big time – but they need careful deconstructing and crowdsourcing here is such a joy. These topics are crucial planks/cards in the House Of Cards of AGW and I’d love to see you write on them here. I’d do them myself but… various reasons… but if you don’t bite, then I shall, but you’d do them better, quicker, and are more likely to get them posted here.

    I’m indebted to others for the first; the second is my own hobbyhorse. First, a glaring issue in Trenberth’s famous diagram of energy exchanges. Second, the Ice Hockey Sticks – almost the only remaining bit of visual science in the now-threadbare IPCC Summary For Policymakers and Synthesis Report – the Ice Hockey Sticks which “show” a “sudden catastrophically big rises” in the concentrations of CO2, N2O and CH4 “since industrialization”. Mann’s Hockey Stick of 2001 has been disappeared, and has not been replaced, even in the text, in the Summary; there is also no mention of UHI challenges to the temperature record.

    If you want more info please email me action [...at] greenworldtrust.org.uk – cheers.

  114. Thank you Willis for this post, and many earlier posts too of course, and Anthony for the many posts and long hours, and to the many others who work at this blog:
    I find the articles and discussion here absolutely amazing. That such great issues can be discussed with such candour – such willingness to share – such fun in the challenge – and scientific rigour. There’s so much to learn. I really appreciate the opportunity to read and learn new things, not only about the science, but the way you deal with disagreements and how open discussion can work. Excellent stuff – simply excellent!
    Robin

  115. I haven’t read through all the comments, but in my own (very) small way I’ve read lots of things that utterly fail the smell test and the other tests, which I have no idea how to prove wrong, and have no time to anyway. I like a ‘That smells like nonsense to me’ statement’, so long as the person saying it, often me, at the same time says ‘but I can’t prove it (yet).’

    Back in the eighties I was staying with a friend whose husband had recently died of AIDS, also staying was the HIV specialist doctor who had treated him. This doctor explained everything he knew about HIV to us. Of course he knew far more than anyone, and it was fascinating – but it sounded like nonsense to me then, and, without going into his specific projections, has turned out to be so. I fully expected him to be right, as I had no medical or scientific basis for my scepticism at all. Ever since I’ve trusted my nose more.

  116. Werner Brozek says:
    April 25, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    The movement of massive rocks by glaciation is one example of “head scratchers” to a theory. Massive amounts of snow and Ice build-up, plus a few earthquakes are suppose to move rock around. Rocks breaking off other rocks are sharp and defined. Straight rainfall would pit and flatten or pool over extremely long periods of time. An Ice Age would cover a massive area with snow and ice, the melt off is at the edges heading northerly slowly.
    Volcanic activity at the beginning of this planet should show massive amount of outcropping and many vents. If this was under a massive amount of water pressure then would flatten these activities, inhibit ash in the atmosphere and generate massive amount of silica from venting and pressure that would implode porous rock. This would also generate pressured rock formations not like some porous rock formations from volcanoes. A water world loosing it’s water then can have massive icebergs that can easily scrape and move rocks around. Freezing and breaking off massive chunks of ice can pick up rocks and move them impressive distances. The receding water can also move rocks around and round them up through much wave actions.

    Most ice buildup is water freezing from underneath the ice. Very little is attributed to precipitation on down.

  117. Well if Boyce is wrong (as I believe he is) then he should be forced to admit it.

    Then there is the matter of the 67,400 results from a Google of
    phytoplankton boyce

    most of which are alarmist articles, which need to be corrected.

    Also, all cites of the Boyce paper need to be corrected.

  118. Willis,

    1,ooo metres deeper four billion years ago is significant to something … but I still don’t understand what practical difference that makes.

    This has a difference of pressure exerting on the newly formed crust of this planet. There is a great deal of trapped and pressurized gases under this planets crust. Even the planet slowing down makes a difference in allowing these gases to expand after 4 billion years. Heat transference from water is a great deal different especially in massive amounts of pressure compared to todays atmospheric pressure. Compressed sand does form sand stone. There was very little glaciation below a certain point on this planet. most of this is through theories.

    Our understanding of Ice Ages is through ocean core samples that show a build-up of H2 18 O in the shells of a certain ocean species that give us a time line of when they occurred. And not what they have done.

  119. Willis,

    Must be old age…I missed adding that this planet was close to where Venus is and rotated faster 4 billion years ago.

  120. Nice one, Willis, and reminds me of the multitudes of idiot ‘surveys’ carried out by unknown ‘scientists’ and trumpeted in the MSM; older people who have been around the block a time or two examine these and think ‘Why didn’t the scientists just go down to a local pub and ask the same question and get a reasonably accurate answer for free?”
    A classic case; an earnest young Sociologist I worked with years ago was awarded a generous grant by the government of the day to examine and write a paper on the marriage patterns of a specific migrant community; after he carefully explained the results of his survey to me, I said “You have spent all that money finding out that we marry who we meet!”
    He looked startled, then laughed ruefully. “You bastard, Alexander! You’ve accurately summarised my ten thousand word paper in five words! My reviewers never saw what you’ve seen, either.”

  121. Willis, the laugh test doesn’t work when the punchline is what they accept without question.

  122. @Willis

    > The clever bit is demonstrating why you are right? No, the clever bit is getting the right answer.

    So a stopped clock is “clever” twice a day?

  123. Dave H says:
    April 26, 2011 at 9:00 am (Edit)

    @Willis

    The clever bit is demonstrating why you are right? No, the clever bit is getting the right answer.

    So a stopped clock is “clever” twice a day?

    Thanks, Dave. No, a clock is stupid, stopped or not … but a man who can tell the time using a stopped clock is clever.

    w.

    PS – I am reminded of the class of students who were challenged to tell the teacher how to calculate the height of a tower using a very expensive and very accurate barometer. One kid said “Drop it off the top of the tower, and measure how long it takes until it smashes on the ground”.

  124. Another barometer solution is to look at the cornerstone of the building. Go to the Architect and say, “If you tell me the height of your building, I’ll give you this shiny new barometer.”

  125. Alan Mitchell says (emphasis mine):
    April 25, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    … I worked for 25 years in biological oceanography and regularly used secchi discs in very clear, tropical, oceanic water. There are all sorts of rules for using these simple instruments, but one which has been routinely ignored is the wearing of polaroid sunglasses. Sunglasses, especially polaroid ones, came into vogue in the 70s and 80s and even more in the 90s and 00s, when we were willing to pay ridiculous amounts for these fashionista items and when eye-health warnings came about. Wearing sunglasses, again especially polaroid ones, allows you to see deeper into the water (less surface reflection).

    Alan, many thanks for highlighting a couple important points.

    The first is that even the simplest of measurements (e.g. Secchi disk measures of water clarity) is subject to operator error.

    The second is to underscore again the importance of experience. I’ve never used a Secchi disk, and despite years and years on the ocean, when writing these two articles on the subject I never once thought about the issues regarding polaroid sunglasses. And that invisible factor may explain a large amount of the difference in the measurements.

    w.

  126. Willis Eschenbach says:
    April 25, 2011 at 11:30 pm
    R. Gates says:
    April 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Is this settled? Really? To claim “you’re right” about this so quickly seems a bit premature to say the least, though I can well understand your self-admitted “childish” desire to be right about this, but I think a proper skeptic might sit back and remain skeptical toward either side of this issue until a wee bit more data and studies have been done.

    R. Gates, if you want to continue believing that there is only a third of the phytoplankton there was a hundred years ago until the final nail is put in, you are welcome to do so.

    _____
    Willis, again, I would urge caution to you on this issue. The more you crow now about being right could lead to a larger amount of crow you will need to eat later…again, this is far from settled.

  127. “the Boyce et al. paper is garbage built on bad assumptions.”

    I don’t understand the apparent vitriol here. Sometimes that’s the way science works. Boyce et al. gathered data, analyzed it and reported the findings. Findings that may have surprised them. So they ask around and nobody can see anything they’ve done wrong (including reviewers), so it gets published. Others see it and question -doing their own science. As a result, now everyone knows what they did wrong and we all understand a bit more about the system.

    Like I said, sometimes that’s the way it works. The way it doesn’t work is if authors don’t provide enough information for others to find out where they may have made a mistake.

  128. Willis, despite all alarmist attempts to educate, you still have it backwards. Instead of questioning this catastrophic phytoplankton decline, you should be wondering what measurement errors are hiding the decline in marine animal populations!

    /sarc, as if it’s needed.

  129. Joe Lalonde, are your comments accidentally being posted on the wrong thread? I’m sure you must be making very valid points, but I just can’t figure out what they have to do with Willis’ post . . .

  130. It would make a lot of sense if before a scientific paper was published the authors had to fly around the world, and look, not sleep. I am convinced that 99.9% of the worlds population have no idea how big our planet is.
    From one that has sailed all 7 seas.

  131. Willis,
    While I agree that a decline of 50% doesn’t pass the smell test for a global average- I’m wondering about your statement: “Phytoplankton form the basis of all life in the ocean. If the phytoplankton had actually gone down by 50%, all life in the ocean would have gone down by 50% … and my experience said no way that was true.”

    Lets leave aside the limitations of chloropyll a (or spectrophometric) and secchi measurements as an appropriate proxy for phytoplankton abundance. Phytoplankton abundance at any point in time is a function of a complex set of variables.

    Lets use one of the more important variables controlling phytoplankton – grazers. A decline in the number or type of grazers can produce both a crash in fish population and an increase in phytoplankton. As I noted earlier we can have a fenced pasture that allows no herbivores and end up with waist high grass. Let sheep enter and we have a finely cropped system. So which is more productive? If we move the analogy from the terrestrial back to the aquatic– the collapse of the oysters along the Atlantic coast is much like removing sheep from a pasture. Phytoplankton can boom with the loss of grazing and crash with an increase in grazing. Many other things can also cause phytoplankton increases and decreases as well. (I’m one that thinks the composition of the phytoplankton may actually tell us more than the mass)
    Sorry if this seems like splitting hairs but am in the middle of some local disagreement about the cause of increased phytoplankton being linked to a politically correct cause (nutrients). My point- phytoplankton alone is insufficient to describe total biomass in an ecosytem -either going up or down.

    I will add to your smell test that with the increased use of fertilizers world wide and increased fish and shell fish harvest (and hydrology modifications to estuaries)– one would not expect such a drastic decline. But that is admitting to not knowing what impact the long term ocean cycles (upwellings (nutrients), T, and grazing pressures) may have on phytoplankton production.

  132. R. Gates says:
    April 26, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    April 25, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    R. Gates says:
    April 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Is this settled? Really? To claim “you’re right” about this so quickly seems a bit premature to say the least, though I can well understand your self-admitted “childish” desire to be right about this, but I think a proper skeptic might sit back and remain skeptical toward either side of this issue until a wee bit more data and studies have been done.

    R. Gates, if you want to continue believing that there is only a third of the phytoplankton there was a hundred years ago until the final nail is put in, you are welcome to do so.

    _____
    Willis, again, I would urge caution to you on this issue. The more you crow now about being right could lead to a larger amount of crow you will need to eat later…again, this is far from settled.

    Thanks for the words of wisdom, R. Gates, but I didn’t get here by following that path. Occasionally wrong but rarely uncertain, that’s me. Is it settled whether we have only a third of the biomass of phytoplankton now than we had a hundred years ago, or half of what we had when I was a kid? It’s settled for me, because I’m a man of the ocean and I have both eyes and a brain. You can continue to claim that the Boyce is correct.

    For me, I’ve seen nothing in all of my commercial fishing or my sport fishing or my extensive diving or any of the reading that I’ve done to suggest that Boyce is correct. So while you may claim that the question is “far from settled”, it is not at all clear what you are basing that on.

    I mean you say it as though there was other evidence that Boyce is right, that we have half the phytoplankton we had in 1950 … but as the citations I gave indicate, the evidence actually indicates the opposite.

    And we know that the ocean is generally slightly warmer than in 1950 … and plants in general grow faster when it’s warmer, so there’s no theoretical reason to expect a drop in phytoplankton from slight warming.

    Finally, I found Boyce’s arguments, in opposition to the scientific objections to his claims that I quoted in the head post, to be weak and un-compelling. He said, for example, that the reason that the plankton counts went up while his counts went down was that the plankton counts included larger plankton including smaller zooplankton.

    But so what? If the total including the smaller zooplankton are increasing, are we to believe that there’s half the phytoplankton, but despite that decrease the number of zooplankton has gone through the roof? What are all those zooplankton eating, if there’s half the biomass of phytoplankton? Again, that logic doesn’t pass the laugh test.

    You are correct, R. Gates, if I stick out my neck I may have to eat crow in the future. But for me, that falls into the zone of “no guts, no glory”. I believe I’m right, and I’m not afraid to say so. If I’m wrong, I’ll eat plenty of crow, I’m sure you and others will see to that, and rightly so.

    w.

  133. John T says:
    April 26, 2011 at 12:49 pm
    “the Boyce et al. paper is garbage built on bad assumptions.”

    I don’t understand the apparent vitriol here. Sometimes that’s the way science works. Boyce et al. gathered data, analyzed it and reported the findings. Findings that may have surprised them. So they ask around and nobody can see anything they’ve done wrong (including reviewers), so it gets published. Others see it and question -doing their own science. As a result, now everyone knows what they did wrong and we all understand a bit more about the system.

    A couple points about that, John. First, if this were an isolated incident, you’d likely be right. But it’s not. All you have established here is that the peer review process was slipshod. Me, I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with slipshod “pal review” in climate science.

    Yes, science generally is self-correcting. But you seem to be using that fact to excuse bad science. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but the extraordinary climate science claims get passed through peer review with no evidence at all, the claims of the paper just get nodded at. It’s not just the air traffic controllers that are sleeping on the job.

    The problem is that the Steig study makes the cover of Nature. But by the time that Steig’s results are shown to be a newbie error (not knowing that his analysis “spread out” the peninsular warming, or that his analysis formed Chladni patterns), the authors have “moved on” and the news is buried on the back pages.

    That’s why, despite the fact that science is self-correcting, the media hype surrounding bogus climate science papers is not self-correcting. And I’m tired of being bombarded by bull, and having to raise the alarm.

    Anyhow, John, that’s why the vitriol. Because I’m sick of the unending stream of the most pathetic excuses for climate science being published as if they were hard fact. I’m tired of the reviewers just phoning it in because it fits their agenda. I’m outraged by the journals taking positions on the climate science question, and then using the power of their rags to spread those positions by accepting and publishing science that falls apart as soon as someone kicks the tires.

    Details available upon request, although they are all around you, including this paper of Boyce’s.

    w.

  134. Pat Moffitt says:
    April 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm
    Willis,
    While I agree that a decline of 50% doesn’t pass the smell test for a global average- I’m wondering about your statement: “Phytoplankton form the basis of all life in the ocean. If the phytoplankton had actually gone down by 50%, all life in the ocean would have gone down by 50% … and my experience said no way that was true.”

    Lets leave aside the limitations of chloropyll a (or spectrophometric) and secchi measurements as an appropriate proxy for phytoplankton abundance. Phytoplankton abundance at any point in time is a function of a complex set of variables.

    Lets use one of the more important variables controlling phytoplankton – grazers. A decline in the number or type of grazers can produce both a crash in fish population and an increase in phytoplankton. As I noted earlier we can have a fenced pasture that allows no herbivores and end up with waist high grass. Let sheep enter and we have a finely cropped system. So which is more productive? If we move the analogy from the terrestrial back to the aquatic– the collapse of the oysters along the Atlantic coast is much like removing sheep from a pasture. Phytoplankton can boom with the loss of grazing and crash with an increase in grazing. Many other things can also cause phytoplankton increases and decreases as well. (I’m one that thinks the composition of the phytoplankton may actually tell us more than the mass)

    Pat, I commented on this objection above. People such as yourself point out (correctly) that grazing generally increases the productivity.

    But if the biomass goes to half, by what mechanism are you postulating the possibility that the net primary productivity (NPP) of the phytoplankton could remain the same?

    As one of the experts in the Revkin article commented,

    However, physical drivers such as light supply, nutrient supply, and stratification are known to have an extremely important role on determining phytoplankton chlorophyll – dominating it on seasonal to inter-annual time scales. If one frames the question differently, and asks whether there is any known physical climate mechanism that might have caused such a precipitous global decline over the last century, the answer would be definitively ‘No’. The climate signal in our current generation of earth system models doesn’t really kick in for another few decades, as was discussed in a recent comparison of satellite and model-based chlorophyll:

    So yes, the NPP of phytoplankton is increased by grazing … but if the biomass goes to half, it is grazed before or after, so there’s no reason to think the efficiency of the phytoplankton would increas.

    w.

  135. Willis,
    Thanks for your reply and again I’m in agreement that a 50% decline doesn’t meet the smell test. My sensitivity was to drawing a linear relationship between phytoplankton biomass and total system biomass. Don’t think about this as phytoplankton efficiency- think of it as the speed of energy flow and the ability of this energy to transfer through the entire food chain. Phytoplankton can explode when grazers are reduced. The loss of grazers either by allelopathy or other factors can do several things including – shifting the species of plankton- often to the smaller more noxious pico-nano plankton which are generally a very poor food source for higher level organisms. A similar shift is seen at times when silica becomes limiting- inhibiting diatom production which is often a higher value food source. (It can also change what is showing up as chlorophyll in measurements especially as we get into the bacterial plankton) So phytoplankton can go up but higher level vertebrates and invertebrates may go down because of the quality of the food source and the non-diatom blooms often have a higher tendency to cause oxygen depletion. As a result we have high level NPP but this energy is not being transferred to the higher levels so we end up with lower total system biomass. (And what I’m trying to show with a pasture with and without sheep– or the Plains with and without buffalo. Remove the herbivores and we have high biomass of plants but lower overall system biomass. Yes -if we also depress the ability to stimulate phytoplankton production we can depress total system biomass– its all in the chaotic feedback loops–(far more chaotic than climate).
    As I’ve said before and with your background you may find it interesting to watch this develop— nitrogen “pollution” may be the new CO2. There is a linear correlation being assumed by regulatory agencies between nutrient additions and productivity (as well as believing anything eutrophic is bad). Section 303D under the Clean Water Act allows them to act on both point AND non-point sources. Nitrogen limitations (TMDLs) can control every human activity from agriculture to fossil fuel use. EPA with respect to the new nitrogen restrictions for the 5 States draining into the Chesapeake not only mandated reductions but also said it has the power to decide what industry segments are allowed how much nitrogen (deciding winners and losers). Because nutrients are a sensitivity issue and the impacts are within a deterministic but chaotic system models are used. And models can give us any answer we want. (The new trophic state model allows a researcher to “calaculate” the future trophic state of the system and then adjust current data for the future and report it as current conditions!) It is a mirror of the start of CO2 and why perhaps I’m sensitive to linear correlations. Just as CO2 is not a single control knob for climate- neither is nutrients or NPP to ecosystem biomass or trophic state—its simply more complex than that.

  136. Pat Moffitt says:
    April 28, 2011 at 6:31 am

    Willis,
    Thanks for your reply and again I’m in agreement that a 50% decline doesn’t meet the smell test. My sensitivity was to drawing a linear relationship between phytoplankton biomass and total system biomass. Don’t think about this as phytoplankton efficiency- think of it as the speed of energy flow and the ability of this energy to transfer through the entire food chain. Phytoplankton can explode when grazers are reduced. The loss of grazers either by allelopathy or other factors can do several things including – shifting the species of plankton- often to the smaller more noxious pico-nano plankton which are generally a very poor food source for higher level organisms.

    I agree that it is the “speed of the energy flow” that is important, every businessman knows that it’s the rate of turnover of your inventory that is the critical factor, not the size of the inventory.

    But if your turnover factor doesn’t increase and your inventory is only a third, profits will only be third. In the ocean, this means that if the biomass has dropped to one-third (Boyce’s numbers) since 1900 and the production rate (“speed of the energy flow”) doesn’t increase, we’ll end up with a third the total production.

    Now, you’re correct that the limiting factor is the speed of the energy flow … but why (if the biomass is only a third the size) would the average speed of the energy flow increase? What factors would make the biomass suddenly produce faster? I can see a variety of things that might make them produce less (e.g. increasing pollution) but not many that would make them produce more, especially three times more.

    And yes, plankton can “explode when grazers are reduced” … but you’ll notice what you mean by “explode”, which is an increase in biomass (not an increase in “speed of the energy flow). But their claim is of a decrease in biomass, not an increase.

    Many thanks,

    w.

  137. Willis-
    I think we are saying the same thing:
    “But if your turnover factor doesn’t increase and your inventory is only a third, profits will only be third.”
    We agree that the turnover rate is important and I agree with your analogy that if all the disparate variables are held constant a decline in inventory by a third will produce a decline in profit. But all the variables are rarely constant.
    If we continue the business analogy – we are trying to create an increase in wealth and for this we need a balance sheet. Phytoplankton may be inventory— but inventory is insufficient to say how much wealth (fisheries etc) we are or are not accumulating.
    Again– I’m splitting hairs here and agree that on a global scale (which is the basis for your position) we can probably make the assumption between productivity and total biomass. However there are many local environments where the problem is “turnover”– and I’m banging my head against a few of them- so perhaps a bit sensitive.

    Thanks for your time and attention and keep up the good work.

  138. Love it.
    Last February I got an e-mail from my friend, Dave, with this story posted on “The Telegraph”. I called BS for the same reason as you and was ridiculed for being anti-science (again.) I just sent him the Nature updates. No doubt I’ll be receiving another e-mail explaining what an idiot I am. Facts don’t really matter to members of the cult of Global Warming.

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