Guest essay by Jim Steele,
Director emeritus Sierra Nevada Field Campus, San Francisco State University and author of Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism
In part one, I wrote “In the simplest of terms, every study that has attributed the recent warming of the 1980s and 90s to rising CO2 has been based on the difference between their models’ reconstruction of “natural climate change” with their models’ output of “natural climate change plus CO2.” However the persistent failure of their models to reproduce how “natural climate changed before,” means any attribution of warming due to CO2 is at best unreliable and at worse a graphic fairy tale.”
Like failed modeling results illustrated in Part 1, scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit published Attribution Of Polar Warming To Human Influence1. Again their models failed to account for the heat during Arctic’s earlier natural warming (black line), a warming climate scientists called “the most spectacular event of the century”. Their “natural models” grossly underestimated the 40s peak warming by ~0.8° C (blue line) and when CO2 and sulfates were added the warming event was cooled further (red line). So how much do we trust models’ attribution when they get climate change half wrong?
Over millennial time spans, researchers reported similar failures reconstructing the Medieval Warm Period writing, “Inter-model differences and model/reconstruction comparisons suggest that simulations of the Medieval Climate Anomaly either fail to reproduce the mechanisms of climate response to changes in external forcing, or that anomalies during this period are largely influenced by internal variability.“2 Modeling also fails at smaller regional levels with superior data coverage, such as California. As Dr. Phillip Duffy, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, wrote “Neither the nature of climate trends in California nor their causes are well understood.”3
Sidestepping such failures, alarmists note models can generate random unforced warming events about every 150 years and that last a decade or so. And so they suggest early Arctic warming was a random event caused by “internal variability” that can’t be modeled. But there was less than a 13% chance that random warming happened in the 30s, and that random warming could have equally contributed to the 80s and 90s, meaning CO2 contributed little. And that arguments does not alter the fact that CO2-driven climate models fail to reproduce natural climate change of the past.
Alarmist believe CO2 is the “control knob” of climate change and Dr. James Hansen, who studied climate on lifeless planets devoid of oceans, proselytizes that belief. On other planets the “radiative balance” is the critical climate variable. But that narrow focus has biased Hansen and his disciples who have underestimated the power of ocean oscillations. Fortunately here on earth, there is a growing awareness that natural ocean oscillations persist for many decades and control how heat is stored, redistributed and ventilated. Those oscillations increasingly appear to be the most powerful “climate control knobs” and many advocates of CO2 warming now blame the cool phases of these ocean oscillations for “masking” or “hiding” hypothesized heat. But natural ocean oscillations have also raised temperatures, and regards to understanding both 20th century warming events in the Arctic, ocean oscillations offer the superior explanation.
From latitudes 40° North or South to the poles, the earth increasingly ventilates more heat than it absorbs. Climate change at those higher latitudes is dominated by variations in the transport of surplus tropical heat. Scientists estimate “Without these heat transports the atmosphere would have an equator-pole surface air temperature difference of 100° C, which is more than twice the present value of 40°C.”4 Equally important, surplus equatorial heat is generated by the sun, with a very small and dubious contribution from CO2. As reported by the IPCC in the Physical Science Basis, “In the humid equatorial regions, where there is so much water vapour in the air that the greenhouse effect is very large, adding a small additional amount of CO2 or water vapour has only a small direct impact on downward infrared radiation. However, in the cold, dry polar regions, the effect of a small increase in CO2 or water vapour is much greater.”
However both 20th century Arctic warming events are associated with greater volumes of warm water intruding into the Arctic driven by the warm phases of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and the Arctic/North Atlantic Oscillation. And as would be expected, the poleward range of southerly marine organisms has ebbed and flowed accordingly.
In a 2013 peer-reviewed paper,5 scientists examined the migration of marine organisms into the Arctic reporting, “The fauna of the southern North Sea exhibits clear changes. Particularly conspicuous is the increase of Mediterranean fish species and the occurrence of sardine eggs and larvae. There is no doubt, that these observations are associated with the climate change which has been shown to occur since several decades, and which, over the last years, has had important consequences for fisheries: decrease of catches, northwards shift of fishing grounds, adaptation to fisheries for different species. …particularly interesting questions are: will climate change continue and, also, shifts and changes of fish stocks, how long will this last, and which are the consequences, if this trend reverses?”
Sounds familiar, but the above quote was written by Aurich in 1953. Like the earlier warming event and migrations, the most recent northward advance of small fish such as sardines, anchovies and herring correlate very well with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and the current distribution of fish from southerly waters is “almost identical to that described by Aurich for 1951.”5 After the earlier warm event those fish retreated and were absent from the North Sea surveys during the 1970s and 90s. So the next few decades should provide the evidence needed to settle much of the climate debate. If natural cycles are indeed the climate control knob, the next 2 decades should witness a cool phase of the AMO and the retreat of southerly marine organisms. And the current scientific consensus that the upper 300 meters of the oceans have been cooling since 2003 bodes well for natural cycles prediction.13
To support dubious climate model attributions, the scientific literature has been increasingly spammed with papers creating the second greatest climate myth: migrating organisms are evidence of CO2 driven warming. However their arguments fail to account for the myriad of confounding factors affecting the biosphere. The same biological evidence used to instill CO2 fear, is also consistent with interpretations attributing landscape changes and/or natural climate cycles that modulate heat transport to the poles. If marine organisms migrated similarly pre-1950s when CO2 was an insignificant player, then the most parsimonious explanation is identical migrations today are driven by the same natural forces.
Good science demands we examine how climate changed naturally in the past, not to uncritically dismiss the possibility of CO2–caused warming, but to understand to what degree present climate change is driven by historical cycles. Only by thoroughly examining climate history can we estimate natural contributions and evaluate earth’s sensitivity to rising CO2. This is most critical because climate history is now repeating itself.
However those eager to blame rising CO2 have downplayed natural oscillations. Alarmists recently published Global Imprint Of Climate Change On Marine Life,” which press releases hyped in the media. Alarmist websites like ClimateProgress ranted, “The research is more confirmation that “global change is real and has been real for a long time. It’s not something in the distant future. It is well underway.”
The truth is natural cycles are well underway, as they always have been. And that dynamic is being hijacked.
The “Global Imprint” analyses suffered from the same shortcomings uncovered in inflated claims that 97% of the scientists agree about climate change. The authors similarly surveyed on-line abstracts from which they extracted only papers suggesting ecological changes were driven by climate change. Their filter effectively removed all analyses examining other confounding factors. Furthermore most of the papers in their compilation only studied responses during the warm phases of natural ocean cycles beginning in the 70s, after most marine organisms had retreated south. Thus their meta-analyses totally obscured the cyclic warming and cooling that accompanied those migrations during the 20th century. From their carefully filtered database, they claimed, “81–83% of all observations for distribution, phenology, community composition, abundance, demography and calcification across taxa and ocean basins were consistent with the expected impacts of climate change.”8
But like the “97% consensus” methodology, their 83% disguised the fact that the vast majority of species were non-responders. Of the 857 species examined, only 279 (or 33%) changed distribution. Sixty-seven percent had no response and therefore “were not included because failure to detect a change in distribution may have several causes, including barriers to dispersal, poor sampling resolution or the dominance of alternative drivers of change.” Changes in distribution also has several caused but again their data selection guaranteed a statistical bias. If all the 857 species were accounted for, a mere 27% behaved in a manner “consistent” with CO2 theory. More importantly most of those species were also behaving in a manner consistent with natural cycles.
It was not surprising to see the IPCC’s Camille Parmesan co-authored this paper. As I have documented before Parmesan has “inaccurately” blamed CO2 warming for extinctions due to lost habitat from urban sprawl, hijacked conservation success to argue poleward movement of butterflies was caused by climate change, and blamed CO2 and extreme weather for a population extinction caused by logging while neighboring natural populations thrived. Now she again hijacks marine migrations caused by natural climate oscillations as “proof” of global warming. And both the “Global Imprint” lead author and Parmesan co-authored a paper contradicting scientific consensus, arguing “Species’ extinctions have already been linked to recent climate change; the golden toad is iconic.”15
In contrast to the fearful “science via press release,” the peer-reviewed literature is filled with evidence that supports a more parsimonious natural cycles explanation. In 1997 fishery biologists (not climate scientists) discovered the climate changing Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) after realizing that every 20 to 30 years salmon abundance shifted between Alaska and Oregon. When the PDO entered it positive phase around 1976, biologists observed northward migrations of plankton, fish and bottom dwelling organisms. Likewise temperatures increased. Climate scientists also reported “when the PDO value changed from dominantly negative to dominantly positive values, a sudden temperature increase across Alaska was observed.”6 After the 1997 El Nino, the PDO began to trend back to its negative cool phase. Sea surface temperature anomalies reverted “to that seen throughout the North Pacific before 1976.”14 Bering Sea ice began to increase reaching record extent in 2012 and Alaska became one of the most rapidly cooling locations on earth as the average for Alaskan weather stations experienced a extraordinary temperature drop of 1.3° C for the decade.6
As eastern Pacific temperature trends from Alaska to the Southern California Bight reversed, species of fish that had once moved northward are now retreating southward. Researchers in the Southern California Bight reported that above all other environmental factors, the changes in fish abundance has correlated best with the PDO regime shifts.7 Such evidence prompted Monterrey Bay Aquariums chief scientist to warn that “These large-scale, naturally occurring variations must be taken into account when considering human-induced climate change and the management of ocean living resources.”8 After all it was the shifting PDO that disrupted Monterrey’s fishing industry as described by John Steinbeck in Cannery Row.
In the Atlantic, poleward intrusions of warm water driven by natural cycles have similarly altered sea ice and the distribution of marine organisms. Satellite pictures (below) clearly show that the recent loss of winter Arctic ice has occurred along the pathway by which warmer waters enter the Barents Sea, deep inside the Arctic Circle, while simultaneously air temperatures far to the south remain cold enough to maintain a frozen Hudson Bay. Before those warm water intrusions facilitated the loss of sea ice, air temperatures in the 80s and 90s reported a slight cooling trend contradicting CO2 theory.12
Much of the warming in the Arctic in the 20s and 40s, as well as in recent decades was likely due to increased ventilation of ocean heat after sea ice was reduced by intruding warm water and the altered atmospheric circulation. A comparison of Danish Sea ice records from August 1937 with satellite pictures from August 2013, illustrate very similar losses of Arctic ice. As would be expected, a slightly greater proportion of thicker sea ice formed during the Little Ice Age would likely remain during the first warming event compared to recent decades. The slightly warmer Arctic temperatures of the recent decade can be attributed to a greater loss of thicker multiyear ice that is ventilating more ocean heat. But past performance never guarantees the future. Scientific opinions and predictions must be validated by experimentation or future observations. If indeed natural cycles are the real climate control knobs, the next 15 to 20 years will settled the debate. While alarmists predict total loss of ice by 2030 (and earlier predictions have already failed), believers in the power of natural cycles expect Arctic sea ice to rebound by 2030. Until then the science is far from settled. And claims that the science is settled just one more of the great climate myths. (Part 3 will look at the chimeras created by averaging and meta-analyses)
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Xue,Y., et al., (2012) A Comparative Analysis of Upper-Ocean Heat Content Variability from an Ensemble of Operational Ocean Reanalyses. Journal of Climate, vol 25, 6905-6929.
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Parmesan, C., et al. (2011) Overstretching attribution. Nature Climate Change, vol. 1, April 2011