Guest essay by Dr. Tim Ball
I think, Essex and McKitrick’s Chapter, Climate Theory Versus Models and Metaphors, in their book Taken By Storm, is a very good analysis of the challenges facing climatology. They ask,
Do we have any clues at all on how to start the climb toward the summit of Mount Climate Theory? For a while in the 20th Century, it was looking good. Computers were appearing on the scene, and data were more systematically collected. Many scientists believed that putting in every more copious detail might pull off the climb. Sure, there would always be something missing, but with the aid of more data and the growing computational power, perhaps it wouldn’t matter. It didn’t before. What ultimately did happen in science surprised everyone, and it all had to do with turbulence.”
They raise the internal issue of turbulence, which is legitimate, if you assume the models are valid. I reject that assumption, as I explained in my recent article. I agree with their point that the models changed things, but suggest they are a regression rather than an advance. They created an illusion of possible resolution, with the claim that the only limit was computer size and power.
This raises the question of where we were on Mount Climate Theory before computer models appeared. Where was that relative to the normal progress of the scientific method? A comparison to the development of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is helpful. The work of Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778) was critical to Darwin. The Linnaean system organized a multitude of data into patterns that allowed easier analysis and potential understanding of mechanisms. The Darwinian view is based on the Linnaean system that provides an over-arching or generalist view
Three scientists from the early 20th century impacted our view and understanding of the world and climate. They knew each other well and worked together on global patterns. One was Milutin Milankovitch, Serbian mathematician and climatologist, whose work combined the effect of changes in Sun/Earth relationships on climate. Alfred Wegener contributed the continental drift theory that provides a fundamental foundation for geology. This has implications for climate through changing land/ocean ratios and latitudes, but also changes in volcanic activity. He married the daughter of Vladimir Koppen, whose training combined meteorology, climatology and botany. His system used plants as an indicator of climate to produce a global climate classification that is the basis of most systems since. Milankovitch said Koppen’s extensive understanding of global climate patterns helped him identify that 65° latitude temperatures were a critical measure.
All three saw their ideas challenged in the appropriate scientific way, but withstood attempts to disprove them. Despite this, the public is generally unaware of their work and its implications. They challenged prevailing views, which always creates a struggle. They also challenged the underlying view of uniformitarianism, the western scientific idea that change is gradual over long periods of time. A common denominator for all their ideas was lack of a mechanism that drove the discernible patterns and evidence. This parallels Darwin’s lack of knowledge about genes and DNA. Koppen’s classification was a model of greater reality and understanding than the computer models that purport to replace it. Koppen didn’t know about the problems with turbulence.
The Linnaean classification system that named, ranked and classified organisms, was a major advance in biology. Vladimir Koppen produced a climate classification system in 1884 that named, ranked, and classified climates and was a major advance in climatology. In my opinion, Koppen is where we are on Mount Climate Theory, with little or no advance because of the political abuse of climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and their self-serving creations, the climate models.
There are nine major climate zones in the simplest form of Koppen classification (Figure 1). Zones 1, 3, 7 and 9 are singular with similar weather conditions all year influenced by one major control mechanism. The others, 2, 4, 5, and 6 are mixed weather conditions, because they’re under different control mechanisms as the seasons change.
Figure 1: Which region are you in?
Koppen created a system around these nine divisions that are based on average annual precipitation, average monthly temperature and precipitation. He identified six major divisions.
A. Tropical Humid
C. Mild mid-latitude
D. Severe Mid-latitude
H. Highland (added later).
He subdivided these into second and third divisions, based on unique temperature or precipitation conditions.
Unlike the IPCC, that focusses almost exclusively on temperature, Koppen recognized that water, in all its phases, was generally paramount. His B classification is the only one initially determined by annual precipitation, but in applying the classification system, you first determine if it is a B climate. It is not a B climate if there is sufficient precipitation to support trees. If it cannot, Koppen uses a sub-classification letter to separate regions that support grasses BS (for steppe grasslands), from no vegetation at all, BW (desert). A desert is hot or cold, defined by the lack of vegetation not temperature, so a third letter separates h (hot) or k (cold).. The North Pole, BWk, is a cold desert.
Koppen recognized another important issue called, the effectiveness of precipitation. A portion of rainfall is evaporated, what remains goes into the ground and is available for the plants. Koppen defined what was effective, that is available for the plants, by identifying three different annual patterns: rainfall year round; 70% in the summer; or 70% in the winter. Each may have the same annual total, but the amount left for the plants varies considerably.
Koppen modified his system, with revisions in 1918 and 1936, the latter some 52 years after his first publication. He was not done. He died in 1940 at the age of 90, but not before he had produced a more sophisticated system with Rudolf Geiger, another very important early climatologist. Geiger’s valuable book, Climate Near the Ground, published in 1950, was an important contribution to climate science. The Koppen-Geiger system is still in use (Figure 2).
The IPCC effectively exclude Geiger’s findings by using data from the Stevenson Screen between 1.25 and 2 m above ground, that is above the critical biospheric layer in which all interchange between the surface and the atmosphere occurs.
Figure 2: The generally linear pattern of climate is clear.
A major part of climate and therefore any climate model, is the movement of water through the Water Cycle. In 1931, Charles Thornthwaite (1889-1963) produced a classification similarly based on precipitation effectiveness and vegetation. It uses total monthly precipitation (P) and evaporation (E) to produce a P/E Index. In 1948, he modified it to include a moisture index that relates the amount of moisture a plant needs, Potential Evapotranspiration (PE), to the available supply, to produce the Actual Evapotranspiration (AE).
The 2007 IPCC Reports says little, but acknowledge lack of data and understanding.
“There are very limited direct measurements of actual evapotranspiration over global land areas. Over oceans, estimates of evaporation depend on bulk flux estimates that contain large errors.”
The problem is, this is the major mechanism of transferal of heat energy in the global system.
In 1946 Thornthwaite opened the Laboratory of Climatology in New Jersey and in 1955 John Mather joined him. They produced a revised system that is the basis of most practical applications of climate work today. Experts, from irrigators to hydrologists, use variations of the model. For example, a paper studied the viability of predicting stream flow in Costa Rica. They concluded;
“These results indicate that the Thornthwaite method can be satisfactorily applied to estimate mean monthly stream- flow in the uplands of Costa Rica.”
Another study used the model for Stormwater Management Planning in Ontario. The contributions of Thornthwaite to practical applications of climate were summarized in a 1996 biography, The Genius of C. Warren Thornthwaite, climatologist-geographer.”
The IPCC makes only one comment about Thornthwaite’s work. In his book, Climate Change: A Natural Hazard, William Kininmonth, former head of Australia’s National Climate Centre says,
“The simple one-dimensional energy balance model used by the IPCC to justify its radiative forcing hypothesis is unrealistic in its portrayal of processes at the earth-atmosphere interface.” The IPCC model suggests that the heat and latent energy exchange between the underlying surface and the atmosphere is a direct response to the imbalance of solar energy and terrestrial radiation at the surface. Such a proposal is at odds with the physics of the surface energy exchange processes.”
It’s one of many errors made to achieve a result; actions that are the opposite of even poor science.
Three scientists from the beginning of the 20th century had a profound impact on our view and understanding of the world and climate, yet are little known. Koppen, Wegener, and Milankovitch did more to help us understand the world and its dynamic systems than most. Some blame the education system used to indoctrinate, rather than teach. It’s the only explanation for continued teaching of a fixed pattern of sun/earth relationships when science knew over 100 years ago how much it changed? However, the biggest hindrance in the 20th century is the IPCC and governments who accepted their findings. This was reinforced by funding only research that proved their views. They settled the science.
I’ve been ridiculed for having a degree in climatology issued through a department of geography. Part of this personal attack is by self-proclaimed climate scientists, as discussed elsewhere, who usually can’t see the forest for the trees. Climatology was and remains a natural study area for geography. Alfred Hettner defined geography as chorology, about which he wrote,
“The goal of the chorological point of view is to know the character of regions and places through comprehension of the existence together and interrelations among different realms of reality and their varied manifestations, and to comprehend the earth surface as a whole in its actual arrangement in continents, larger and smaller regions, and places.”
It’s a summary of the challenges for climate science. I think it’s a challenge for all science that has dissected the world into individual pieces, but lacks the perspective and training to put it back together. Koppen, Wegener and Milankovitch knew. They would have known that applying temperature of a single station to the surrounding 1200 km radius area is wrong. Thanks to the IPCC we have not advanced from their point on Mount Climate Theory.