Nature’s Climate Article Excels in Acronyms

By Renee Hannon


The more the acronyms, the more respected the peer-reviewed article? I typically enjoy reading about climate science, oceanography and extreme weather. However, some of the technical articles are becoming overloaded with acronyms. One of the recent articles in Nature by Bereiter, and colleagues is a good example.

Here’s a few of their acronym loaded sentences:

“MOT is a S-GAST biased parameter….so the synchronicity of MOT and AAT/CO2 is consistent with GAST lagging AAT/CO2.”

“The close relation between our MOT record and AAT/AMOC changes as well as the strong warming during the YD1.”

“It is not straightforward to constrain the LGM-Holocene ASST or GAST change from the MOT change we derive here.”

“The AMOC switched to its strong state, which in turn starts cooling AABW, making it again harder for the AMOC to sustain its strength as AABW becomes denser again.”

I counted over 20 acronyms in their 5-page article, most of which were defined and a few that were not. Here’s the list in no particular order:

MOT = mean ocean temperature

LGM = last glacial maximum

PSS = practical salinity scale

AABW = Antarctic bottom water

NADW = North Atlantic deep water

B/A = Bolling -Allerod

YD1 = Younger Dryas

WD2014 = not defined

ASST = average sea surface temperature

GAST = global average surface temperature

PMIP = Paleoclimate Modelling Intercomparison Project

WAIS = not defined [West Antarctic Ice Sheet]

AMOC = Atlantic Meridional circulation

OCE326-GGC5 = ocean sediment core

IntCal13 = not defined, some sort of calibration [Calibration method for radiocarbon age dating, it replaces IntCal09]

HS1 = Heinrich Stadial 1

AAT = Antarctic temperature

N-GAST = Northern Hemisphere temperature

S-GAST = Southern Hemisphere temperature

NH = Northern Hemisphere

SH = Southern Hemisphere

Once I was able to sift through all the acronyms, the article did reveal interesting observations about ocean temperatures. Bereiter and colleges reconstructed mean ocean temperature using noble gases in ice cores for the Holocene with unprecedented accuracy. They found that mean ocean temperature is closely correlated with Antarctic ocean temperatures or in their acronyms, MOT is biased towards polar regions WRT to ASST. And the ocean warming during the early Younger Dryas period exceeded present day ocean temperatures.

Nice job BSBKS!

[Ed. Note: Renee is not the only one! I don’t care how carefully you did the scientific work, clarity of writing is important. Excessive use of acronyms and abbreviations is clearly poor writing and should be criticized. In my opinion, peer reviewers should flag it and insist that they be clarified or spelled out. AM]

110 thoughts on “Nature’s Climate Article Excels in Acronyms

  1. The use of so many acronyms can only be designed to intimidate and use the knowledge as some sort of newspeak hammer. Perhaps this is a new writing style designed to save space and ergo save paper? Is this the writing style for the future? Oh God help us. tgif (sorry)

    • Naw, it’s an old writing style. I’m used to using, and seeing it, when communicating with folks that are intimately familiar with the topic of discussion, generally a very small audience. The other times it generally gets used is when trying obfuscate the issue/topic or when you don’t have much to say… my experience anyway.

      • I have to say, I write completely differently talking to my peers and management than I post on here.
        It’s a pain to type out pollutants and explain acronyms.

        While I can casually refer to NSPS with them. Here, I have to explain that it’s New Source Permitting System (Solutions?, I truly don’t know what the last digit of NSPS stands for, it’s all the headache of 40 CFR 60 (Title 40 Code of Federal Regulations Chapter 60) that comes into play for new units built or modified after the regulation was passed).

        See, one paragraph vs 4 letters.

      • I’m used to seeing it, too, as an ex-engineer/manager in aerospace. Regardless, we were required to spell it out the first time in any paper, followed by the acronym in parentheses. Only then could we use the acronym only throughout the paper.
        Oh, if the phrase was only used twice in a paper, it had to be spelled out both times.

    • In the old days many journals had page charges for publication. Anything reasonable you could do to reduce article length was encouraged.

      • I think is such a well written blog and Steve Mc is a genius. His writing style is superior to any I have experienced on any website. He does not insult your intelligence, although I find a dictionary a handy item as I have been introduced to an expanded vocabulary. As I have Anomic Aphasia from three stokes it forces me to improve by reading comprehension and verbal skills. The one thing I admire he has an acronym legend on the left side of the blog. Although at times his commenters introduce their own and I find myself just skipping over or hoping someone else provides clarity.

  2. Writing for a Nature journal
    “We ask authors to avoid jargon and acronyms where possible. When essential, they should be defined at first use; after first use, the author should use pronouns when possible rather than using the abbreviation or acronym at every occurrence. The acronym is second-nature to the author but is not to the reader, who may have to refer to the original definition throughout the paper when an acronym is used.”

  3. While on the subject, let me vent my pet peeve.
    ASAP is not pronounced by saying each letter as A S A P. It is pronounced in two syllables saying A followed by SAP ( as in sap from a tree).
    Thank you .

    • “…pronounced in two syllables…”
      I disagree, the proper pronunciation is A S A P. A SAP is just a bastardization for the lazy. :))

      • An acronym is a WORD formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive words.
        NATO is not pronounced N A T O. Laser is not pronounced L A S E R.

      • Ah well, Laser just sounds a lot cooler than light amplification by stimulated emmission of radiation, so that’s ok. :))

        (please note the adherence to Poe’s Law)

      • There are two types of abbreviations: acronyms and initialisms. Acronyms are initialisms that can be — but not required to be — pronounced as a word. For example, laser, which started out as LASER and has entered common usage. FYI, (note, not pronounced) in the 70s NASA published a thick book of their commonly-used initialisms. Near the front was ACRONYM: A Coded Rendition Of a Name, Yielding Meaning.

    • “ASAP” reads to me like like “I wish I already had it, I have no ideas of when you actually can deliver, so feel free to use as long as you can that you believe won’t piss me off, if you care at all”.
      So I don’t use it, ever. Much better to give explicit deadlines.

      • If my boss says A.S.A.P. then it is my top priority. If he says “Asap” then it is my 3rd or 4th priority. If a client says either of these I’ll reply with an email a few days later asking if the task has a schedule.

    • ASAP can be pronounced either way. For example, I once had a drill instructor say “you’d better get your butt going A.S.A.P!!!” On the other hand, I had a boss say that I should call someone “A- SAP.” I understood both versions, but especially the first.

  4. I think that the increased use of acronyms is due to the increased use of TLKB – tiny little key boards.

    • You should try reading hand-written scout tickets for wells… Many of the acronyms and abbreviations don’t have words… /Sarc.

      Fracking is a word that was derived from frac, the scout ticket and daily drilling report abbreviation for hydraulic fracturing.. The words “fracking,” fracked” and “frack” have probably never appeared on a drilling report.

      A search for the word “frac” in Schlumberger’s oilfield glossary yields:

      frac head
      frac iron
      frac job
      frac balls
      frac manifold
      frac crew
      frac pump
      frac fluid
      frac gel
      frac tree
      frac gradient
      frac gun

      A search for “frack” yields:

      Searched for “frack” in Term Name (0 result(s) found)
      No Results Returned

      “Fracking” is a fake word, in common usage, derived from a real abbreviation.

      • Am I correct in thinking that many decades ago, back when George Mitchell was first adopting the technique— before the crazies ever heard it— the word was most commonly spelled “fraccing?”

      • John Garrett, Mitchell Energy and all of their service companies used the word “frac.” I was involved with shale in the early days and the first time I ever saw “frack” was in the NYTimes. I’ve never seen “fracc” or “fraccing.” I suspect frack was invented by an enviro-journalist and caught on because of its similarity to a bad word.

        • I think I have seen “frac’ing” at least a couple of times.

          Although, I do think I remember the word “frack” being used on the 1970’s TV show Battlestar Gallactica.

      • Not “fracc”, but I’ve seen “fraccing” used occasionally, usually by people in the oil/gas business.

      • When I entered the industry in 1979, the words frac’ing and frac’d were already in common parlance and, yes, the word “frack” is a new word created as part of the green lexicon.

        Hydraulic fracturing has a long and illustrious history – the first treatments were done in the Hugoton gas field in Kansas in 1947 and the oil and gas industry has carried out an estimated 2.5 million frac jobs in the 70 years since that date. The vast majority of these jobs have been on land in the continental US where reservoir quality generally required frac treatments to provide production at commercial rates. The recent surge in frac’ing has come about due to advances in drilling & completion technology (multiple horizontal wells with multiple transverse fractures to maximize reservoir contact) to exploit very low permeability (nanodarcy) reservoirs. These massive shale plays are effectively the source rocks where organic deposits are cooked over geologic time to produce hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons historically migrated over thousands/millions of years through pores and natural fractures either to surface (seeps – remember Jed Clampett and the Beverley Hillbillies?) or into natural stratigraphic traps where they became traditional, conventional oil/gas fields. Accessing these source rock reservoirs has completely changed the game in oil & gas, transforming the US into a net hydrocarbon exporter and assuring the world of a plentiful and relatively-cheap supply of hydrocarbon energy, perhaps for several hundred years…….if the enviro-evangelists don’t force us to leave this incredible, energy-rich bounty in the ground.

        David……I know you know all this stuff (I read your columns faithfully) but just wanted to highlight some history to other site visitors and even some regulars who might not realise the significance of frac’ing and its true importance.

        • As a Gulf of Mexico geo… I always appreciate input from “hard rock” people, particularly engineers. Most of our frac jobs are more for sand control, than creating perm… >1 darcy reservoirs are common in the Plio-Pleistocene “rocks” in the GOM.

  5. I understand why the use of acronyms is so convenient. Every field of knowledge has its own lingo and the cognoscenti become comfortable using it. But with the advent of word processors and the “search and replace” feature, there is really no excuse for using these acronyms when writing an abstract or an article for the general public. (Other than, as pointed out above, if it is intended to obfuscate or scare off the unwashed masses.)

  6. Acronyms are fun. You can come up with some lovely stuff for things like the following:

    Fully Articulated Robot Troop Transport
    Special Observational Helmet Optics
    Help Everyone Invent New Obnoxious USages
    Ergonomic Gas Guzzling Sedans
    Naval Underwater Training Systems

    I could do this all day.

    Usually, this kind of thing is done to make it clear that you, the ordinary soul down there in the mudwallow, are not part of the exclusive CLUB (Collective Lackwits & Unified Birdbrains).

    It’s supposed to make you feel bad about yourself, especially when you inquire about the acronym’s meaning and you’re told ‘Oh, you wouldn’t really understand’.

    Exclusivity Is Everything In Output. (E.I.E.I.O.)

      • Probably. Working as a sub-contractor to the Government was where I first learned of Software/Hardware Interface Testing and Beam End Radiation Panels. The latter is not so bad, but I liked the way it sounded, and I could use the acronym in a presentation.
        Not so with the first one.

  7. WRT MOT N-sync with AAT/CO2 but lagging GAST, it astounds this author that AMOC and PDO are primary with with NOAA’s GEFS-MEAN-SPRD models over the ALTPAC/SAMER areas.

    I take refuge in the Marxist Idea that this doublespeak mentality is to strengthen the state (of CAGW), the first step towards dismantling it! Marx may be right for the wrong reason. The concept was just grand enough that people bought it, but lacking enough it will come crashing and crumbling down. I just hope there are academic gulags to send these leaders to when done.

  8. All chemical formulas are a shorthand notation, identical to acronyms. I can only contemplate with horror what a chemistry research paper would look like if all chemical compounds had to be spelled out fully using their long names. (Using the IUPAC naming conventions, of course)

    Another great one is Biology, where they have Latin (or Greek) names for *everything*.

    Around here, if you want to engage in a meaningful fashion, you better know what things like UAH, TLT, NOAA, GISS, GAST mean.

    Learn the language. It is not lingo, it is not jargon, it is techspeak. There are reasons for it.

    • Sorry but the scientific names of organism are not Latin or Greek. As a matter of fact they can be taken from any language whatsoever, though spelling conventions and grammatical endings must follow latin rules.

    • Yah, SF people make up lots of acronyms, too.
      The military’s odd hybrid abbreviations/acronyms are a little more annoying… kind of like SciFi…
      Sounds more like some mangling of skiing on fine dry snow. Fell into that one while trying to tap it in on this TLKB).

  9. Wherever did they get YD1 from? There never was more than one Younger Dryas!

    Traditionally three stadials has been called Dryas: Oldest/Older Dryas (DR1), Middle Dryas (DR2) and Younger Dryas (DR3). DR1 is the Stadial before Bölling, DR2 the short cold interval between Bölling and Alleröd and DR3 is the very cold stadial between Alleröd and the Holocene.

    Nowadays Younger Dryas is often abbreviated YD instead, but why YD1?

    • According to the article, the warming from 12,750 to 12,050 yr BP within the Younger Dryas is referred to as YD1. YD1 represents the strongest global ocean warming phase within their study record.

  10. At times I have felt that excessive use of acronyms and jargon are intended to make what is already arcane even more so. The fewer people that understand what is presented, the fewer that will question it.

  11. I find all this amusing, as a long time member of the SEA*.
    *SEA – Society for the Elimination of Acronyms

      • I once worked on a project for the DoD which had, no kidding, 19 pages of acronyms. Whenever a person started on the project they walked around for weeks with the acronym list wedded to their hand, frantically paging through it in meetings to try and keep up. Complete insanity.

    • Why not SESA – Society for the Elimination of Stupid Acronyms ?
      (That’s an ETLA – Extended Three Letter Acronym)

  12. Minor context-related typo. In Climate Context, PMIP should be Paleoclimate Intercomparison Modelling Project.

    On a related note, here is a real acronym-ready term: Facilities Engineering Command Engineering Services.

    • You mean rather like the acronym for Commander in Chief US Navy (CINCUS) that was changed to COMINCH after Pearl Harbor?

  13. I agree that the use of acronyms in this paper borders on the absurd. I consider myself well-informed about Climate History and Oceanography, and even so I didn’t recognize about a third of the acronyms. Some of them like AAT, S-GAST and N-GAST are definitely not common usage.

  14. I often give up reading when there is too much of this. The laziness and impatience of getting something ‘over with’ rather than ‘finished’, I believe is a hallmark of mainstream climatey writing because with pal review and automat editors for this alphabet soup, they can flood journals. The fact that sloppy promotional tracts can pop out in days before some event, like the Paris Manifesto or an antidote for a Trump tweet or new sceptical paper, underscores this incestuous practice.

    As a corollary, the best, logical, meaty, clearly written papers are, perforce, from the sceptical community precisely for the same reason. It has to be so good on all counts that it would be indecently obvious a political decision to reject it, and even then it still has to navigate the minefield of political climate gatekeeping and intimidation of editors for a year or more and is then followed by a blast of critical papers a week or two later. What the Alinskyites dont know, though, it will be these well written papers that will become the foundation of the science when the fog has lifted.

    Actually there is something to be said for putting devilish reviewers into the mix. Papers will have to start off in good shape on all counts or it could simply be returned to the author without comment to up the game of science publishing.

  15. “Excessive use of acronyms and abbreviations is clearly poor writing and should be criticized. In my opinion, peer reviewers should flag it and insist that they be clarified or spelled out. AM”
    So what does AM stand for?

  16. Love the Bill Wattersen quote! Applies so well to several of the ‘well practiced’ resident trolls found on this blog!

  17. When in doubt, give the acronym to a 12 year-old boy to see if he can find anything dirty about it.

    This might have worked for the Canadian Reform Alliance Party…

  18. And who is “AM” — when he wakes up? (The person who wrote the “Ed. Note”)

    As an essayist, I’ll point out that the use of abbreviations is a great space, time, and effort saver. How many times can one type out “Global Average Surface Temperature” or, worse, “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation”.

    For authors, I recommend the standard, first use, rule — the first instance in a paper or essay use a formula like:

    Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation [hereafter AMOC]

    Some of these abbreviations and acronyms are “industry standard” and need not be spelled out when writing a technical article in a technical journal — in CliSci, AMOC and PDO may be well enough know not to be spelled out at all if one is writing about ocean circulations.

    • Kip,
      Using a few “industry standard” acronyms in a technical article is perfectly fine. However, using six acronyms in one sentence is a bit annoying. The article referenced over 20 different acronyms and I counted approximately 240 times these acronyms were used.

      • Renee ==> Quite Agree.

        The devil is always in the details….one can hardly avoid acronyms for the various ocean circulations, for instance, the acronyms are the normal notation, and the spelled out versions are the exception. Much worse is medicine, especially things like blood serum levels — in which everything is an acronym — many doctors only know the acronym, and not what it stands for. (My father, for instance, and my current GP — well, they know what significance it has, but often can’t tell you what the letters stand for).

  19. If GAST = Global Average Surface Temperature then
    N-GAST = Northern Hemisphere temperature and
    S-GAST = Southern Hemisphere temperature

    are using both Global and Hemisphere in the same acronym, therefore their definitions make no sense (much like many articles on CAGW).

  20. Reminds me of the medical field. Acronyms are widely used, but frowned upon. One acronym can have multiple meanings, some specific to one institution. The confusion caused can potentially kill patients.
    An acquaintance, who is one of the top senior students at medical school, had a paper rejected multiple times, because the academic supervisor couldn’t work out what the acronyms meant.

  21. I took “Verbal Learning” as part of the curriculum in the Psychology Dept in grad school even tho I was in the psychophysics end of things .

    Want to see acronym overload look at articles is a field which studies the memory of nonsense syllables .

  22. Once I was able to sift through all the acronyms, the article did reveal interesting observations about ocean temperatures.
    …They found that mean ocean temperature is closely correlated with Antarctic ocean temperatures

    Thus, today Antarctic ocean temperatures are a close proxy for global ocean heat content?
    Is this a reasonable conclusion?
    And what are Antarctic ocean temperatures doing?

    • Good question on Antarctic Ocean temperatures, however I do know the Gulf ocean temperatures are quite chilly.

  23. This topic is not complete until we explore the world’s greatest acronym artists… the Russians.
    There is GULAG. And then there is, according to Guinness, the longest:


    Someday we can expect an entire paper written only with the first letter of each word, or acronym.

  24. Since no one else has pointed out the abbreviation scene from “Good Morning Vietnam” I will.

    “Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn’t we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? ‘Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we’d all be put out in K.P.”

  25. I’m so glad Anthony posted this, and am heartened by the responses. I started my career working on ICBMs back in 1980, and have worked in rocketry and space launch ever since. So you can imagine that my field is awash in acronyms and initialisms. I took a short course in orbital mechanics and trajectory optimization once. The instructor was many years my senior. At one point, he strayed off topic to note that “if we didn’t use acronyms, we’d be on Mars by now.” He deplored them. He said that when he was touring post-WW-II Britain, he encountered many, many signs which read “UXB.” Baffled, he finally found out that this stood for “Unexploded Bomb.” Upon telling this to one of his classes, he was delighted when a female student noted that they had saved only one letter. “An ‘unexploded bomb’ is just a bomb, ” she said. “There’s no such thing as an ‘exploded bomb.’ There’s only shrapnel and gases.”

    I’ve never, ever seen a field so in love with acronyms and initialisms as climate “science.” It is so excessive that I find articles posted here baffling, and difficult to follow. No one else, including my industry (which largely pioneered the phenomenon), uses so many. And I do think it is an attempt to both obfuscate the message, and to attempt to borrow some of the “prestige” from NASA.

  26. There are times when acronym users best fit the types of backgrounds described here:

    Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science
    by Professor Paul R. Gross (Author),‎ Professor Norman Levitt (Author)

    and here:

    Intellectual Impostures
    by Jean Bricmont (Author),‎ Alan Sokal (Author) (of the classic and much cherished ‘Sokal Hoax’)

    Fine books, both, and a good way to better understand the inanity all around.

    I am not suggesting the Bereiter Nature article attempts to obfuscate its message, but certainly others have prided themselves in so doing.

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