Some of the Major Myths about Vegetation, Soil, and Climate

Guest Opinion: Dr. Tim Ball.

People like Vladimir Koppen (1846 – 1940) knew more about climate and climate mechanisms than any member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and most people purporting to study or know about climate today. He demonstrated his understanding in the creation of a climate classification system that is still the basis of all attempts to produce something better. His grasp of the interplay and interactions between, temperature, precipitation, soils, and vegetation are unequalled.

You cannot understand climate, a generalist discipline, without understanding all of these. A good example of Koppen’s knowledge and skills are reflected in the recent misunderstandings and exploitation of the fires and drought in California. The critical point in California that Koppen identified is the effectiveness of precipitation and the ability to support various forms of vegetation. He distinguished between climate regions first by precipitation and the ability to support trees and then to support grasses. He differentiated between three categories – 70% in the summer, 70% in the winter, and evenly distributed throughout the year and how the vegetation will differ. Compare this with this quote from the 2007 IPCC Report.”

“For models to simulate accurately the seasonally varying pattern of precipitation, they must correctly simulate a number of processes (e.g., evapotranspiration, condensation, transport) that are difficult to evaluate at a global scale.”

Hubert Lamb documented the transition from the Koppen world to the failed computer model approach in his autobiography, “Through all the Changing Scenes of Life: A Meteorologists Tale.”

“…it was clear that the first and greatest need was to establish the facts of the past record of the natural climate in times before any side effects of human activities could well be important.”

Lamb knew what was going on because he cryptically writes,

“My immediate successor, Professor Tom Wigley, was chiefly interested in the prospects of world climates being changed as a result of human activities, primarily through the burning up of wood, coal, oil and gas reserves…” “After only a few years almost all the work on historical reconstruction of past climate and weather situations, which first made the Unit (CRU) well known, was abandoned.”

The obsession with computer models and temperature have taken climatology into a blind alley where the chances of understanding are eliminated. Neither weather nor climate forecasting has improved, yet billions are wasted on them not to mention billions more every year on research to improve them. Just one example, Environment Canada spent $2 million on forecasting 3, 6, and 12-month forecasts of temperature and precipitation. It was abandoned after the best results were less than 50% accurate. To add insult to injury, these failed science and forecasts are the basis for wasting trillions more. Witness the failed forecasts for hurricane Florence as just one more recent example. I identified these problems in a 2014 article titled, Government Weather and Climate Forecasts Are Failures.”

I was amused to see the article about the “Arab Spring” saying it wasn’t about climate change because I wrote this in an article in 2011.

“Everyone praised the “Arab Spring” riots as being about democracy, but the first major one in Egypt was about food prices.”


The only part of the story that was political was the exploitation of a failure of the food supply. This was due to local climate conditions and exacerbated (as some comments on the article observed) by the diversion of so much of the US corn crop to ethanol by the Obama regime. It pushed the price of foodstuffs essential to the poor, already rising because of local climate conditions, beyond their reach. Sadly, Trump continues the ethanol practice.

My interest in the impact of climate and climate change on the human condition led me to study similar situations throughout history. One aspect of this involves the rise and fall of civilizations. Another involves the triggers that push people to real, grassroots revolution, not political revolutions. These are revolutions when the people, who historically tolerate incredibly bad government, decide they can’t and won’t take anymore. In every case that I studied the catalyst was a failure of the food supply. People tolerate lousy government because they know, as graffiti in Pompei expressed 2000 years ago, if we get rid of this bunch of scoundrels, we just get another bunch of scoundrels.

There are many examples throughout history when the hostility between the people and the power elite are pushed into revolution. The trigger of the 1381 Peasants revolt was a Poll Tax but only because it made already expensive food because of poor weather conditions throughout most of the 14th century beyond their reach. The people of France always experienced the tension between aristocrat and peasant. Consecutive harvest failures in the two years before storming the Bastille in July 1789 pushed the price of bread alone to an estimated 88% of a peasant’s income.

At the other end of the spectrum, the surplus food allows surplus time, and people migrate to the cities and become detached from the food supply. They are unaware of the continuing changes on the land because of agriculture. The most common are increased rates of soil erosion, increasing salinization of the soil, and decreasing fertility as minerals are not replaced at an adequate rate. These are aggravated by climate change, as was the case in the Fertile Crescent or in the collapse of the Mayan civilization.

These things are happening today across the spectrum of agrarian societies. The failure to replace minerals is an insidious problem driven by the cost of the chemicals and the fear of using them promoted by environmentalists. I tell farmers that to replace minerals you have sent to the city in your crops and livestock is simply recycling.

There are two examples, of which I have personal knowledge. One involved public hearings I chaired on water resources in the Assiniboine River basin. We learned in calculations made by Professor Les Henry at the University of Saskatchewan that some 50% of the nitrogen removed from farmed soils had not been replaced. The other involved a request by two Canadian farmers for my opinion on the agricultural potential of farms they planned to buy in the former Soviet Union. One was in the region of Magnitogorsk east of the Ural Mountains; the other was near the port city of Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. I provided them with a complete climate analysis and recommended they ask for soil samples. Both reported the soil samples were terrible, devoid of or diminished in all important minerals. When I was told of the results, I pointed out that they received the best samples.

It is amazing and troubling how much soil suffers from erosion, increasing salinity and loss of minerals. Most often in developed nations, it is in semi-arid regions, like the Imperial Valley in California or the Murray and Darling basin in Australia. The latter region recognized the problem and are attempting better management strategies. All California has done is blame natural conditions for their political and leadership failures.

What appears to be good soil because of the apparent color and texture is deceiving. Years ago, I took students on a field trip west of Winnipeg. When we reached Portage la Prairie, we stopped for a break. A student said Dr. Ball you told us soils were very limited, but we just drove 50 km, and I saw tons of soil. I explained that volume does not mean the soil was fertile. You only need to lose a tiny portion of the soil for it to become infertile. It is like chewing gum without the flavor. Virtually all of that tiny portion is in the clay content, the smallest particles in the soil and the most easily eroded. You need to understand how granite, the original igneous rock, is broken down to clay, its smallest particles.

What is soil? How is it formed? Are all soils the same? Why do they differ? Why is it at risk? Why is it so important? Most people, especially urban dwellers, take it for granted or don’t even think about it at all. Most people assume that because there is soil where they live, or a considerable portion of the Earth’s land surface is covered with vegetation, it is growing on fertile soil. They don’t consider that the most soils are only capable of supporting a very specialized type of vegetation. The truth is about one-third of the Earth has no soil at all, and the remainder has only small pockets of agricultural quality soil. Most countries have limited amounts yet, they bury some of the best soils in the world under their urban areas.

A simple formula for soil formation is,

Soil = parent material, climate, organisms, relief, time.

It was this formula that started my quest for answers to the question of human’s role in the changing face of the Earth. I discovered that the ’organisms’ did not include humans and that led to my Honours Thesis title, Some Philosophical Considerations of Humans as a Source of Change.” All of the elements combine to form soil, but it is a slow process often taking thousands of years. It is why human history after we switched to sedentary agriculture, is directly tied to controlling and enhancing the food production capability of the soil.

The parent material is initially igneous rock formed when lava cools (Figure 1).


Figure 1

Immediately, the Geologic Cycle is set in motion (Figure 2.) The climate begins what is called the weathering process, the breakdown of the chemical and physical bonds that hold the individual minerals together into smaller and smaller pieces.


Figure 2

One of the most important physical processes is freeze/thaw. I witnessed this when trying to walk across the Tundra north of the tree-line). It is as if a giant with a massive hammer has applied it with great force (Figure 3). Close examination sees the other processes of organic and chemical weathering underway. The primary agent is lichen that is green, orange, or black. I learned on Arctic survival that the black lichen, when scraped off and boiled up in water, produces a broth loaded in minerals.


Figure 3

There is a specific sequence and name for each stage based on the size of each level known as the Wentworth Scale (Figure 4).


Figure 4

Because climate changes with latitude and altitude, the freeze/thaw actions cover a very large part of the land surface. As the rock breaks down, it is transported by gravity, ice, and water down to the oceans. This is where the relief portion of the formula is paramount. However, don’t assume that the same slope produces similar rates of movement. For example, slopes of 2° in Arctic regions can experience rapid and voluminous downslope flow known as solifluction (Figure 5).


Figure 5

Once soil starts to form it takes a long time to get to an ideal form as shown in Figure 6.


Figure 6.

Notice that now the parent material (bedrock) is being broken up beneath the surface. In this profile, you have the accumulation of the components of fertile soil, and it is mostly the smallest particles on the Wentworth Scale, Sand, Silt, and Clay. Unfortunately, these soils only form in small areas. They are not the soils found under the two greatest forest regions, the Boreal Forest and the Rainforest.

The boreal forest creates the illusion that they are on good quality soils and therefore could be adapted to agriculture. The only thing these soils grow well and naturally are the trees that cover them. You can see that in the uniformity of the trees over vast areas (Figure 7). The Hudson’s Bay Company had gardens at each post, and the only thing they grew successfully at boreal forest locations were turnips and potatoes.


Figure 7

Koppen identified that the tropical rainforests exist in a climate with very high year-round rainfall over 2000 mm, and consistently high temperatures between 20°C and 30°C. The soils experience almost a complete washing out of minerals leaving high concentrations of iron and aluminum. As a result, the soils are very red and infertile. They are generally called laterites


Lateritic Soils

In the rainforest, the trees are not deciduous with an annual growth and shedding of leaves. Nor are they evergreen, like the coniferous trees. Instead, they are continuous deciduous continually shedding and growing new leaves. Those leaves fall to the ground and immediately begin to decay in the hot, humid conditions. The rotting vegetation in the rainforest is one of the biggest sources of methane in the world, so why does the IPCC AR5 Report say about methane,

Despite significant progress since the AR4, large uncertainties remain in the present knowledge of the budget and its evolution over time.

This statement flies in the face of all the claims about methane and its threat as a greenhouse gas. It was the focus before CO2 became the target. We have known about the cycle that maintains the tropical rainforest on impoverished soils for a long time. Why then, is it such a surprise that in 2017 we see this headline?

“Scientists solve mystery of missing methane source in Amazon Rainforest.”

The trees immediately take up the minerals, and so maintain themselves; the soil is merely an anchor.

The real tragedy of clearing the trees in the Rainforest is that it was done to increase agricultural potential. The incentive was grants from the World Bank to countries that cleared the forest for agriculture to sustain the economy. The trouble is, clearing the trees exposes the soil, and two major changes occur. The heavy rains guarantee severe erosion, or the soil bakes literally iron hard in the tropical sun. Indigenous people understand all this and practice ‘slash and burn’ agriculture. They clear a small patch in the forest and burn the vegetation to add minerals to the soil. They grow crops for one or two years and then move to a new area.


Tropical rainforest

The arrogance of outsiders, fooled by believing fertile soils supported the dense vegetation, led to major agricultural development failures. By 1900 rubber trees taken from Brazil were flourishing in plantations in Malaya (now Malaysia). Before World War II industrial growth, particularly of motor transport, increased the demand for rubber. In 1928 Henry Ford built the town of Fordlandia in the center of the Brazilian rainforest. It was to be an industrial center around a rubber plantation. Ford wanted to control the production of every component of his newly massed produced cars.

During World War II Fordlandia became more important because of the Japanese invasion of Malaya. However, they misjudged three things. First, the locals could not accommodate to an industrialized society. Second, the soil exposed by clearing the forest quickly lost its fertility without falling leaves. Third, the pressure of demand led to the creation of a synthetic rubber.

The second failure to deal with tropical soils was known as the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme. Groundnut is the English term for peanut. Most people don’t know that vegetable oils are the most important agricultural product in the world. During WW II, the British government realized they had to develop a reliable supply. Immediately after the War in 1946, a private company began looking for a site in Africa. They settled on 150,000 acres in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and cleared the land. The project failed within five years and was completely abandoned by 1951. Labor difficulties were again a problem, but the primary reason was the nature of the soil. These African Laterites baked rock hard, and they used machines that were part tank and part tractor to break it up. In addition, the soil also had quartz particles, and the combination of the iron and quartz ground a steel plow to nothing in a couple of days. Within 1 year, two-thirds of the imported tractors were out of service. It was a short-lived, expensive disaster. A fool and his money are soon parted.


Rubber plantation

The third was called the Jari project and was the idea of US billionaire Daniel Ludwig. He bought 1.6 million acres to produce a rapid growing tree to produce pulp for paper. He anticipated a growing demand for paper that slower growing boreal forest-trees couldn’t provide. He even had a processing plant built on a huge barge and towed from Japan. The problems of the soils combined with health issues among the local people forced him to quit the project in 1961 after just 10 years.

There is no place in the world where the adage that people can’t see the forest for the trees is more appropriate than in modern so-called climate science. We have not improved our knowledge or understanding since the work of people like Vladimir Koppen. The failure to improve weather or climate forecasting is proof that scientific understanding has not improved. Indeed, I would argue that we have regressed into the situation an English Geophysicist described when he wrote, “There are no students of earth, we all dig our specialized holes and sit in them.”


130 thoughts on “Some of the Major Myths about Vegetation, Soil, and Climate

  1. Besides a general shortage of water, Australian soils also suffer from a lack of volcanoes. The Australian Plate is blessed with volcanoes, but they’re across the epicontinental seas in New Guinea, on the leading edge of the continent’s tectonic movement.

    Like much of the other rich soil on Earth, mine is loess, a gift of Miocene flood volcanism, the basalt layers of which were ground up by Pleistocene glaciers and deposited by prevailing Ice Age winds on the uplift of the Ochoco and Blue Mountains of NE Oregon and SE Washington State. Palouse series are the most productive soft white winter dryland wheat soils on the planet. The strong dollar however is giving Oz (which has its own Blue Mountains) a shot at Asian markets.

    • The Tilghman (as originally spelt) arms back in Merrie Olde carry the motto (in Latin), “Hope flies with the farmer”, however others derive our name from Medieval roof tilers rather than soil tillers.

      But in most generations since arriving on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in the 1630s have indeed been farmers, to include my dad. But his dad was a mechanical and civil engineer who bought farms during the Depression, and his dad was a doctor. Farmers interspersed with soldiers, some of whom got their farms due to service in the Revolution.

      Same for my mom’s side of the family, who started out at Jamestown (Metoaka “Pocahontas” Powhatan Rolfe, who with her husband inflicted the Red Man’s revenge of tobacco upon the European invaders) and Plymouth (Priscilla Mullins “Speak for yourself, John” Alden), and included COL James Barrett, CO of the militia of embattled farmers at Concord Bridge. But that was true for most Americans for most of our history. Nonfarm population didn’t exceed farm until the 1920s.

      Now we’re one or two percent of the population, so at the mercy of national policy over which we have no influence.

    • And New Guinea, unlike most tropical rain forest areas, therefore has good soil. The forests often are quite literally impenetrable, something I’ve never experienced in other rainforests.

      Tropical crops also generally grow quite well, though waterlogging and erosion can be problematic.

      Incidentally there are volcanoes in Australia, in western Victoria.

      • Kristi and Tty,

        Yes, New Guinea boasts one of the few literally impenetrable jungles on Earth.

        I didn’t mean to imply that Oz has no volcanoes. I should have said “shortage” rather than “lack”. But the area they cover is small, and they’re not very active. Not enough anyway to provide the whole continent with good soil.

        Mt. Gambier, SA, most recently erupted some 5000 years ago. Please compare and contrast with the activity level of New Guinea, Indonesia and New Zealand’s more massive volcanoes. Or those of mainland Asia, Africa, Europe, Antarctica and the Americas.

        The US, with an area similar to Oz’, experiences an eruption at least once a year on average, excluding Hawaii. Mesoamerica is much more active, upping North America’s total dramatically.

        Here are last year’s eruptions worldwide:

        Papua New Guinea had three, and the US three, with two in the Aleutians, AK and of course Kilauea, HI.

          • De nada!

            The Aleutians are especially active. It extends into the Kamchatka Peninsula.

            The Aleutian Trench is an oceanic trench on a convergent plate boundary which runs along the southern coastline of Alaska and the Aleutian islands. The trench extends over 2100 miles from a triple junction in the west with the Ulakhan Fault and the northern end of the Kuril–Kamchatka Trench, to a junction with the northern end of the Queen Charlotte Fault system in the east.

            It’s classified as a “marginal trench” in the east, as it runs along the margin of the continent. The trench’s subduction zone gives rise to the Aleutian volcanic island arc, running through the open sea west of the Alaska Peninsula. It’s a convergent boundary between two tectonic plates. Here, the Pacific Plate is being subducted under the North American Plate at a dip angle of nearly 45°. The rate of closure is 3 inches per year.

            The second most powerful earthquake ever recorded occurred in AK in 1964, following Numero Uno in Chile in 1960.

            The Hawaiian Islands get hammered by tsunamis from all sides. But of course, they have their own indigenous, hyperactive volcanism. Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983.

          • Hey, I just remembered something I have always wondered about. Why are the so many trenches on the ocean floor straight? The ones that run perpendicular to plate boundaries, as in this image:

            Or here
            “The spreading, however, is generally not uniform causing linear features perpendicular to the divergent boundaries.”

            (I visited my uncle at work at NOAA in Boulder, and he got a colleague to give me my very own presentation of Science on a Sphere. Are you familiar with this? It was amazing!!! The sphere was about 10′ diameter. There’s an SOSx lite version people can download onto a PC. I don’t have enough RAM for it, though. …But I didn’t see this before – there are a bunch of datasets/videos one can choose from and view online, like this – click on interactive sphere and then watch the video – I liked it, anyway…there’s more to explore)

          • Kristi,

            Trenches often look straight because they’re shorter sections of arcs or other curves.

            Subduction occurs where plates meet, often at fairly straight angles. The Peru-Chile Trench subduction zone is straight in the south, ie Chile, but curved off the coast of Peru.


            On the Ring of Fire, you can find both “straight” and “curved” trenches and subduction zones. The Ring of Fire isn’t so much a ring as a rectangle. The Aleutians and the Pacific Coast of Antarctica are the shorter legs, with the eastern (Americas) and western (Oceania and Asia) Pacific the long legs.

          • John,

            I shouldn’t have said “trenches,” probably – I’m not sure if they are trenches or rises or what. I’m not talking about the junctions between plates, I mean the straight lines running (sometimes, roughly) perpendicular to the main junctions. You can see a few of them in the image you sent (thanks!).

            What surprises me is that the are so straight. (I long ago first noticed other very straight lines on the ocean floor looking at a map of the bed south of Australia.) I guess it’s just a result of the physics of the relative movement, the tremendous pressures involved, and the composition of the crust, but it’s very striking. If I had lots of time, I’d try to find out more on my own; I just thought perhaps you might know something about it off the top of your head. No big deal.



            Besides the parallel lines running across the junctions of the three plates, this shows a cluster of very long straight lines coming off the ring of fire.


          • Kristi,

            As you may know, triple plate junctions such as the Juan de Fuca off the PNW coast, the Nazca off southern South America and the notorious one off Indonesia, are famous for producing horrific quakes and tsunamis.

      • To be fair, I could exclude AK as well, since its the 48 contiguous states which most resemble Oz in area.

        The last eruption in the Lower 48 was none other than one of my local volcanoes, Mt. St. Helens, which erupted repeatedly from 2004 to 2008. After the beautiful, Fuji-like symmetrical cone committed seppuku in 1980, it was by no means finished.

        The Cascade Range averages two or three major eruptions per century. Besides St. Helens, the other in the 20th century was Mt. Lassen, CA in 1915. Mt. Rainier could cause a catastrophe, with Tacoma and Seattle downstream. Luckily for Portland, Mt. Hood is considered dormant, but still a threat.

      • tty,

        Have you been to Australian rainforest in far north Queensland? I wonder how it compares with New Guinea.

        When you say impenetrable, I wonder how so. Due to thorny vines (“lawyer cane” they call them in Australia)? Lianas? Or is the understory of trees just too dense?

        I would love to see New Guinea, especially for the birding. The birds of paradise there are amazing.

        Sugar cane in the lowlands and pasture in the uplands occupy much of what was once tropical rainforest in Australia. Basalt soils.

      • I just ran across this article linking warmer temperatures in the Atlantic with drought and subsequent fire in the Amazon.

        Climate change? Could be. Two 100-year droughts within 5 years. Not conclusive by any means, but it fits the general picture.

        There is much we have to learn about the variety of ways climate change can affect the biota. The expansion of pest insects alone could cost billions in damage and control. The expanses of dead timber in the Rockies are phenomenal; it is reshaping the ecosystem. The range of emerald ash borers and gypsy moths are limited by cold winters. Once the canopy is open through the death of trees, it allows invasive plants to establish and take over. There are many species of invasive plant that cost the forestry industry millions (probably billions nationwide) in lost productivity, hampered harvesting and re-establishment, and control efforts. Climate is one thing that limits their range and capacity to do damage.

        We in MN are experience a very wet fall. This is a problem for farmers. It’s hindering harvest. Soil compaction is a problem. The wet crops (soybeans, corn) have to be dried, adding to the cost. Of course, wet falls are not unheard of. But increasing intensity of episodes of precipitation is one thing that has been fairly well-documented – much better than drought.

        It is “details” like these that make me take climate change seriously. There are many changes that could be just natural variation or random weather events, except that they are following a general pattern that coincides with the picture of climate change we get from temperature observations and CO2 levels. These local and regional events are costly, and the costs add up.

        I have my ideas about policy, but maybe I should write in the IPCC thread. It’s just so demoralizing reading the comments there – so much boring, general, mindless condemnation. It’s unproductive. I find the statement pretty absurd in some ways, too, but …oh, I’ll save that, and stay on topic here.

        • Kristi,

          The cold and wet upper Midwest fall is WX, not “climate change”.

          But for whatever reasons, economic, political or meteorological, farmers are switching from beans to corn. Trump’s tariffs have to figure in. The big beneficiary of the trade war between the US and China has been the Brazilian soy bean industry.

          Given the switch to corn, Trump’s recent comments in IA about the ethanol program come into focus.

          I agree with forcing China to engage in fairer trade practices, but the negative effects US geopolitical policies seem disproportionately to fall on farmers. And why not?, since we’re such an insignificant share of population. Too bad that we’re also disproportionately dependent on foreign trade.

          • John Tillman,

            Yes, of course they are weather events. But climate is composed of weather patterns, including variability. What I’m suggesting is that this is another data point making up the climate – as is every variable. One pattern has been an overall increase in the average intensity of precipitation events that has been expressed most frequently in certain regions, including the eastern half of the U.S. That includes snow.

            Many, many changes have happened in the last few decades (or longer) as a result of climate change, from growing season length to timing of buds opening to range of pest populations to fish ranges in the Atlantic. They can’t all be “weather” and they can’t all be coincidence.

            “I agree with forcing China to engage in fairer trade practices” How are tariffs going to achieve this? Obviously, tariffs just lead to retaliatory tariffs. But that’s off-topic.

          • Kristi,

            China is far more dependent on trade with the US (and spying) than the US is on trade with China, although it’s not insignificant. This imbalance has already had a salubrious effect on China’s willingness to make its practices more fair. We’ll see how good a deal the Trump Administration manages to make. It has already evened up the playing field with Mexico and Canada.

            Climate is supposed to be the average of weather over some longer period. There is no correlation between increased CO2 and changes in any “extreme” WX event. Hurricanes and tornadoes have become less frequent and energetic, not stronger.

            I’d like to see the precipitation data you cite for the Eastern US, not that more rain is a bad thing. But even if you’re right, the null hypothesis that it’s just WX can’t be rejected. During the last natural warming cycle, the Midwest, at least, suffered drought.

            For you to link the ENSO to “climate change”, you’d have to show that Ninos or Ninas have become more common or stronger, or less common or weaker, since CO2 took off after WWII, and propose a testable explanatory mechanism.

            The fact is that nothing the least bit out of the ordinary has happened to Earth’s climate since 1945, and there is no way to connect what has occurred with a fourth molecule of plant food per 10,000 dry air molecules. From 1945 to 1977, when the PDO flipped naturally, the planet cooled dramatically under rising CO2.

            The only clear effect of more CO2 has been beneficial, ie the greening of the planet.

      • It’s surmised that there are native tribes in the interior of PNG that have never been contacted by modern man, the formidable natural barrier of its uber-jungle being a major reason.

  2. Nice general article thanks Dr Tim

    I would add one point. Parent rocks of productive soils can be from a very diverse provenance – not just igneous. Most productive volcanic soils originate as air fall tephra, not lava. I have both on my farm.

    Alluvial plains throughout the world form some of our most productive soils. These commonly originate from sedimentary and/or metamorphic rocks.

    Don’t discount organic derived soils (peat) either. Correctly managed they can be very productive too. Ask the Irish 🙂



    • “Alluvial plains throughout the world form some of our most productive soils. These commonly originate from sedimentary and/or metamorphic rocks.”

      Except, Dr. Ball included silt in his essential component list. Silt that provides fertility in alluvial plains via floods and often contains substantial quantities of sand and clay.

      “you have the accumulation of the components of fertile soil, and it is mostly the smallest particles on the Wentworth Scale, Sand, Silt, and Clay.”

      Soil in alluvial plains is by definition sedimentary. Igneous, metamorphic or sedimentary sources end up as sediment in an alluvial basin.
      Identifying exact original source of alluvial soils is problematic.
      Sand is often small pieces of quartz that originates from granite; as is the clay that comes from weathered granite.

      The rest, that is termed ‘silt‘;

      “The term is also used for a soil or rock component between clay and sand in particle size.

      In the Udden–Wentworth scale (due to Krumbein), silt particles range between 0.0039 and 0.0625 mm, larger than clay but smaller than sand particles. ISO 14688 grades silts between 0.002 mm and 0.063 mm. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Texture Classification system, the sand-silt distinction is made at the 0.05 mm particle size. In the Unified Soil Classification System (USCS) and the AASHTO Soil Classification system, the sand-silt distinction is made at the 0.075 mm particle size (i.e., material passing the #200 sieve).

      Silts and clays are distinguished mechanically by their plasticity, irrespective of particle size, by geotechnical engineers.

      Most silt is mineralogically distinct from clay, usually comprising mostly quartz, feldspars, chlorites and micas, rather than mostly clay minerals as in clay, though there is some overlap. Silt can also be mostly carbonates. Clays are formed from thin plate-shaped particles held together by electrostatic forces, so present more cohesion than silt.”

      N.B. “Most silt is mineralogically distinct from clay, usually comprising mostly quartz, feldspars, chlorites and micas”
      Feldspars, chlorites and micas are of igneous origin. Much of quartz, (silicon dioxide), originates from igneous sources also. There is silica uptake in plants.

      What alluvial plains provide most is easy agriculture. Reasonably flat lands where orderly mechanical agriculture is easily pursued.

      “Most productive volcanic soils originate as air fall tephra, not lava.”

      Which, explains why volcanic islands, e.g. Hawaii, New Zealand, etc. are such productive lush vegetation sites…
      Volcanic soils, whether lava or ash fall, are often very rich.
      Ash eruptions, happen to be lava erupted skyward.

      • My “soils” professor taught us an “old school” US SCS method to distinguish sand, silt, and clays. If the particles feel gritty, they are sand. If the particles don’t stick together, can’t be individually felt between your fingers, but are small enough to fill the gaps between your fingerprints then it is a silt. If the soil sticks to itself and can be rubbed and extended into a ribbon (plasticity) then it is a clay.

        Here in the hills of NW Louisiana, I can find all of the above, and gradations, on my own land. We also have loess (windblown soils), iron ores, silt-stone, and peaty lignite.

        The damage done by cotton farming is tremendous all throughout the uplands of the Gulf Coast. Many areas have lost nearly all the former topsoils as well as fertility.

        The lining requirements on what is left can be as much as 2 to 3 tons per acre every 3 to 5 years to restore cation exchange capacity due to the Al in the clays.

    • Peaty soils require a lot of fertilizers, but are good for e. g. potatoes. They also retain moisture very well in dry conditions. The main problem with them is that they disappear. Since they are almost all organic once drained they oxidize and turn into CO2 and water. Peaty farmland can lose as much as a centimeter of soil per year.

      • When I was studying agriculture at Cambridge University ( the course has since been closed as it was not ‘academic’ enough!) we were taken to Holme Fen where a 6.7 metre cast iron post from the 1851 Great Exhibition building was driven through the peat into the clay beneath.
        Within 10 years the peat had shrunk under cultivation by 1.5 metres, and now over 4 metres of the post is showing above ground. A rate of shrinkage of 2.5 cm per year caused mainly by oxidation of the peat.
        As regards nutrient loss, much of the phosphate from soils end up in graveyards, although I did hear somewhere that a certain fertiliser company collected bones from the Crimean War battlefields to grind up for use as a raw material!
        The other problem with nutrients is that for many years sewage from urban areas was flushed down to rivers and out to sea, thus losing large quantities of nutrients.
        There are some recycling plants that treat urban waste by producing methane from the sewage and burn this to dry the treated solids which can then be pelleted and spread on farmland. The only problem is if the solids have a raised heavy metal content, but control of discharges from industrial plants has reduced this risk.

        • “There are some recycling plants that treat urban waste by producing methane from the sewage and burn this to dry the treated solids which can then be pelleted and spread on farmland.”

          Interesting! Nice use of “green” technology. I wonder if this could be economically viable where there is a high concentration of feed lots or hog farms (North Carolina comes to mind).

  3. “After only a few years almost all the work on historical reconstruction of past climate and weather situations, which first made the Unit (CRU) well known, was abandoned.”

    Well, of course. Creating models and manipulating them to produced desired results is so much more fun, faster, comfortable, and lucrative than getting out in the sun, rain, snow, heat, cold, bugs, disease, aching feet and back, etc., of doing actual field work and actually observing things over time and taking direct measurements.

    • The US government should never have allowed NOAA gnomes near the supercomputers at Boulder intended to model reactions inside thermonuclear explosions.

      It has been all downhill since then. Real climatology has been replaced by the GIGO computer gaming of consensus climate science. So convenient not to have actually to collect any data, ie observations of nature.

      • John Tillman,

        “So convenient not to have actually to collect any data, ie observations of nature.”

        You really have no idea what is behind computer modeling, do you.

        • The problem is NOT that the alarmists don’t incorporate real data. Rather it is when they combine that real data with meta data from computer modelling to create reanalysis data. Furthermore instead of studying long term earth cycles in the field ( some real scientists are doing this) , the most vocal and alarmist climate scientists are producing computer simulations that they then start to believe are real. As Dr. Ball said “The obsession with computer models and temperature have taken climatology into a blind alley where the chances of understanding are eliminated.”

          Going down the rabbit hole of computer climate modelling, inevitably makes any climate scientist believe in his models. The models will never get the earth RIGHT and will always lead to fundamental dichotomies between them and the real world.

          • Alan,

            It seems to me one of your mistakes is in thinking that climate scientists in general are oblivious to long-term Earth cycles. I don’t think that’s true. The thing is, these cycles aren’t enough to explain the observations. GHG emissions do.

            Even with cycles, you have to identify what causes them in order to understand how they affect climate if you are going to attribute observed changes to them. Say it’s solar radiation. Well, that doesn’t fully explain observations. So you look for other contributing factors. Volcanic eruptions. Albedo. Ocean temperatures and currents. On it goes. And the only way to put all the data together is through modeling. Modeling ranges from drawing a regression line on a graph to coupled GCMs. They are all models. The more variables you look at, the more complex the models. And climate has a lot of variables, right?

            There is no other way to understand climate. It’s not perfect, but it’s all there is. You could make a hundred graphs and they would all be meaningless because it is the interaction of variables that determine climate.

            “the most vocal and alarmist climate scientists are producing computer simulations that they then start to believe are real”

            I disagree. What is you evidence? I think that’s an assumption.

            I believe climate scientists are very aware that the models are just models, and that they are not right in all respects, and there are errors in them. Gavin Schmidt knows this, so why wouldn’t others? The confidence of the projections are not always very high or even high – projections for some parameters have low confidence. This tends to be ignored, it seems, in the eagerness to say models have no value at all.

            The models can simulate the past reasonably well for some parameters – even that to which they are not tuned. Emergent properties correlate with observed data. That shows they have “skill.” Skill means they help scientists understand the climate.

            By varying different parameters, scientists can learn how they affect other parameters. Models are a tools for exploration and learning. Again, not a perfect tool, but science is a process. No one should expect perfection. 150 years after Darwin we are still studying evolution and debating facets of it; why should climate be different?

            It’s important to realize, too, that scientists can’t just fiddle with things. There are a procedures and deliberate choices. And with every adjustment, there is the potential to send the whole model onto a completely unrealistic path – the models are constrained by the theory and data that goes into them.

            Of course, a model will never be able to reproduce the Earth exactly – they will never get it “right.” That is the nature of models. That is the nature of ALL data. Data are a sample of the whole, not the whole. It’s not like physics, where laws and fundamental relationships are discovered. Most scientific disciplines aren’t. F=ma is not data. It represents a concept, not a physical thing like water or CO2. It’s like geometry – you can draw lines, but those lines are actually representations of a concept. A single line is one-dimensional and has no width, but we have to give it width to see it.

            Climate models are built on data and on these physical and mathematical concepts. There is nothing inherently wrong with them. They do pretty well, and they are getting better, more skillful. I know you disagree. That’s your prerogative. We each have our views. But remember that you are making an assumption when you say that scientists think they represent the real world – one that is in direct opposition to what they say. The most cursory knowledge of the IPCC reports should tell you that.

          • John Tillman,

            (Sorry for my last comment about you not knowing anything about modeling. I get frustrated sometimes. I’m not here to make enemies – I’d much rather not – but often I feel like the enemy.)

            I’m not sure what you mean by constructs. My perception is that the models are based on as much hard data as is known. There are also estimations that are based on data, but not known with precision, such as water vapor flux from different types of vegetation associated with each area of the grid. Then there are physical processes that are described mathematically to relate the data and estimates.

            So, as I see it, the models are based on observations of nature without replicating the real world – that cannot ever be done. They are models, after all.

            How do you see the models?

            (I find this rather interesting – it’s a survey of 23 modeling groups, asking questions about modeling and tuning

            And the associated article about tuning:

          • Kristi,

            There really are no hard data for hindcasting models. They can curve-match for HadCRU or some other “surface data” set, but it’s clear that that does no good for forecasting, projecting or predicting. Just one of the many reasons that GCMs have failed so miserably at trying to foresee the future.

            GCMs remind me of war on cancer research in the 1970s. Massive amounts of research dollars squandered because the basic science wasn’t yet up to snuff.

          • John Tillman,

            “There really are no hard data for hindcasting models.”

            ??? There are enough to be able to compare simulations with observations. Are you actually saying that the data are untrustworthy, or maybe that the models simulate only the data that are put into them?

            I honestly don’t understand why people say the models have failed miserably, even though I’ve seen some of the same examples others have. There is a wide disparity among graphs of projections vs. observations. It takes going into the reasoning why some graphs are nearer the “truth” than others in order to choose what to “believe.” In any case, it seems too soon to evaluate the latest round, and CMIP3 did a good job of predicting surface temps. (What I haven’t seen here are the predictions/observations of sea level change and NH sea ice extent, both of which have changed more quickly than predicted. This seems like indirect evidence that the oceans have taken up more heat than expected, as some suggest.)

            It seems clear that you and I have very different ideas of how models are constructed, validated and used. Where have you learned about computer modeling, if I may ask? I want to understand where you’re coming from. (I’m really glad to have a civil conversation with you, by the way!)

            The following are excerpts from a TED talk given by Gavin Schmidt. I encourage you to watch it instead, because of the graphics and the demonstrations of what models can do. It’s only 12 minutes. Below excerpts are a few comments.

            “We can look at all of the different equations that go into making the ice grow or melt or change shape…fluxes…. rate at which snow turns to ice, and we can code that….These models are around a million lines of code at this point, and growing by tens of thousands of lines of code every year….What happens when you have clouds? What happens when clouds form, when they dissipate, when they rain out? …What happens when we have radiation coming from the sun, going through the atmosphere, being absorbed and reflected? We can code each of those very small pieces as well. There are other pieces: the winds changing the ocean currents. We can talk about the role of vegetation in transporting water from the soils back into the atmosphere. And each of these different elements we can encapsulate and put into a system. Each of those pieces ends up adding to the whole.

            “And you get something like this. You get a beautiful representation of what’s going on in the climate system, where each and every one of those emergent patterns that you can see, the swirls in the Southern Ocean, the tropical cyclone in the Gulf of Mexico, and there’s two more that are going to pop up in the Pacific at any point now, those rivers of atmospheric water, all of those are emergent properties that come from the interactions of all of those small-scale processes I mentioned. There’s no code that says, “Do a wiggle in the Southern Ocean.” There’s no code that says, “Have two tropical cyclones that spin around each other.” All of those things are emergent properties.

            “But what we really want to know is what happens to these emergent properties when we kick the system? When something changes, what happens to those properties? And there’s lots of different ways to kick the system. There are wobbles in the Earth’s orbit over hundreds of thousands of years that change the climate. There are changes in the solar cycles, every 11 years and longer, that change the climate….(etc – you should watch it!!!)”

            “Each of these different kicks provides us with a target to evaluate whether we understand something about this system. So we can go to look at what model skill is. Now I use the word “skill” advisedly: Models are not right or wrong; they’re always wrong. They’re always approximations. The question you have to ask is whether a model tells you more information than you would have had otherwise. If it does, it’s skillful. This is the impact of the ozone hole on sea level pressure, so low pressure, high pressures, around the southern oceans, around Antarctica. This is observed data. This is modeled data. There’s a good match because we understand the physics that controls the temperatures in the stratosphere and what that does to the winds around the southern oceans.

            We can look at other examples. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 put an enormous amount of aerosols, small particles, into the stratosphere. That changed the radiation balance of the whole planet. There was less energy coming in than there was before, so that cooled the planet, and those red lines and those green lines, those are the differences between what we expected and what actually happened. The models are skillful, not just in the global mean, but also in the regional patterns.

            “I could go through a dozen more examples: the skill associated with solar cycles, changing the ozone in the stratosphere; the skill associated with orbital changes over 6,000 years…. ice sheets 20,000 years ago… the 20th-century trends over the decades…the North Atlantic 8,000 years ago. And we can get a good match to the data.

            “Each of these different targets, each of these different evaluations, leads us to add more scope to these models, and leads us to more and more complex situations that we can ask more and more interesting questions, like, how does dust from the Sahara, that you can see in the orange, interact with tropical cyclones in the Atlantic? How do organic aerosols from biomass burning… intersect with clouds and rainfall patterns? How does pollution,…affect the temperatures at the surface and the sunlight that you get at the surface?

            “…Because if we had observations of the future, we obviously would trust them more than models, But unfortunately, observations of the future are not available at this time.

            ” …Sherwood Rowland, who won the Nobel Prize for the chemistry…asked this question: “What is the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?” The models are skillful, but what we do with the information from those models is totally up to you.”

            >>>Takeaway messages: Schmidt knows the models are “wrong,” they aren’t the “real world.” Models are based on observations and physics, chemistry, biology, etc. Models are skillful: they can simulate the past and emergent properties. They are getting more complex, looking at a wider range of parameters at a finer resolution. They are a tool for understanding.

            And Schmidt does not use his talk to advocate a specific policy; he doesn’t even explicitly advocate doing anything. This is how I, personally, think scientists should communicate with the public. They should make the science understandable, but not talk about what people should do. Contrasted with this is nearly every talk or essay I’ve come across by contrarian scientists. If they don’t talk about policy, they talk about how wrong mainstream science is. I know that some mainstream scientists (Schmidt included) do similar things; I’m just telling you my position. This is debated among AGW scientists.

  4. It is proving hard to educate the eating public about the depletion of nutrients in farm soils. You have to replace potassium and those trace elements in the bananas you just selected from the market shelf.
    The larger worry is the chemophobia taught in schools and promoted by mass media. It is trendy to go for organic products grown with no synthetic chemicals. How else can you put potassium back in the soil apart from a bag from a potash mine somewhere in the world?
    Then the chemophobia that greens promote gets to pesticides, etc.
    Here in Australia the major at outlets have withdrawn the chemically clever neonicotinoid Confirm and the weedicide Roundup. There is no science in these bans, only pagan belief.
    It is beyond me to do this, but I do see a global need to cost the dollars lost to such belief through the reduction of yields and the inefficient use of land for this stupid organic farming far so promoted by our ABC government broadcaster.
    And as you note, Tim, this ignorance of science is in common with those promoting the global warming scare. Sad. Geoff

    • My favorite saying muttered loudly in public when confronted with a sign declaring “ORGANIC BANANAS” or the like, is to say, ….”as opposed to Mechanical Bananas?”…..:)

      • Quite a few smart-alecks here have laughed at Organic food. You look like idiots to me because I have LOOKED. When my Dad wanted me to work at a local Big Box store, I felt uncomfortable because I have a pot belly and the Health Food store staff and customers seemed so much thinner. I looked at a few hundred bodies walking out of health stores vs regular supermarkets. I adjusted for apparent age (you can’t actually ask!) and found fewer super fatties and stick figures buying from health stores, but plenty of pot bellies. Unfortunately, I lost my data, so I can’t share. But two other things struck me with greater force.
        I won’t tell you what they were. Go look for yourself. Most of you here know how to do simple science like this.

    • you can get potash by burning off and ploughing in asap. saves a mint on chem weedkillers as weed seeds burnt.
      rockdust is a slow release from 2 to 3yrs effect and very useful
      we should be reusing all sewage water to paddocks for the nitrogen and phosphorus.
      old farms sold the grain kept the hay/some grain and fed it to working animals and stock thereby keeping a fair bit ON farm
      now its shortstemmed breeds and thats often sold to os buyers to make paper n cardboard from- further depleting returns to soils.
      my west vic soil is a tiny sandy topsoil around 10 or so inches of lousy grey sand NO calcium and then ironstone buckshot layer 6 ins deep then heavy yellow/red clay thats slowly turning into ironstone rocks! ;-( grows magnificent phalaris and Tef and wild oats and kikuya and couch;-/ good for grazing stock, the sheep round here are so fat they look like comic sheep
      the only years i got some better show of pasture and knockdown of wild geranium etc was when rockdust applied. i use no chem weed/ pest or boosters and till slash and burn.
      i farm..sort of ,alone and havent got funds for ruinous chem anyway..
      this year Im finally going to get quinoa in, and buckwheat to see how they do
      quinoa should be a winner with saline bore water and poor soil. buckwheats a try n see.
      i recommend the Albrecht papers for a man who also was decades ahead on soils and minerals management.

  5. “You cannot understand climate, a generalist discipline, without understanding all of these.”

    Words of wisdom that I hope young aspiring climate scientists will heed and be sure to study and understand everything they can about the multidisciplinary nature of the complexity in numerous dynamic processes interacting simultaneously. It isn’t all just meteorology, chemistry, biology, geology, vulcanism, glaciology or physics/mathematics and many, many more disciplines. It is about how all of these interact together to produce the world as we see it. Hard to be an expert in every discipline but to at least know that one should have the humility to know they need to have an understanding of how everything works in general should be the first class in climate science. Perhaps that is why basic geography is such a basic prerequisite to understanding everything else in this new field of climate knowledge. I sometimes feel sorry for the ‘specialist’ in one discipline that has blinders on only for their field of study and that is the only perspective they have.

    Excellent essay Dr. Ball. I hope you find the time to put all these essays together in another updated book that explains the importance of how all these work together to produce weather and long term climate in the complexities of Earth’s processes. We don’t often hear the importance of soil in the big picture of all this, but the survival of humanity depends on it for a very long time.

    • Earthling2,

      “Hard to be an expert in every discipline but to at least know that one should have the humility to know they need to have an understanding of how everything works in general should be the first class in climate science. ”

      There are few degree programs in climate science. There is really no need for all atmospheric physicists who study climate to have an understanding of soil chemistry. Scientists are often very specialized out of necessity, they couldn’t possibly keep up with the literature in other fields, and the depth of knowledge needed to be productive in their own gets ever greater.

      What is necessary are those who understand how soil chemistry contributes to atmospheric chemistry – but they don’t also need to know how ocean currents work to transfer heat. See what I mean? It’s necessary to have those with cross-disciplinary knowledge, but it’s asking too much for climate scientists to have an understanding of everything. Even if they took “everything” in a class (much less their first one), chances are they’d forget much of it if they didn’t use it in their field.

      (BTW, this reminds me of how irritating it is when people complain that ecological studies (or whatever) tie their results in with climate change, as if it’s simply a way to get funding or promote a cause.)

      “It is about how all of these interact together to produce the world as we see it. ”

      And THIS is why we need climate models to “connect the dots.” No one can possibly ever understand how all the variables interact over time. It’s humanly impossible.

      Please read my comment about Dr. Ball’s essay if you want to get a different perspective of it. (I admit I’ve been biased against Dr. Ball ever since I read his interpretations of Climategate emails, which I consider extremely prejudicial and misleading. Be suspicious whenever someone wants to interpret quotes for you, as if you can’t do so on your own. “In other words…”)

        • It might be in the bit bucket and the mods will fish it out when they find it. But after spending some time writing a longer comment, best to copy your comment first, refresh your browser, and re-paste it and post fresh. Frustrating to go to all that work, and then that happens. That generally works for me, and I have a copy in Notes if I want to post it again later if it doesn’t appear within a few hours, or sometimes longer if it is night time PST.

      • Kristi, I must have missed your critique of Dr. Ball’s interpretation of the ClimateGate e-mails, and I’m very curious to hear your own interpretation, as well. Could you please point me to your comments on these two items, or repost them?

        • Mickey,

          If I recall correctly, I didn’t write anything. I didn’t want to rock the boat at that point. Seemed pointless. I couldn’t find the post if I tried, it was so long ago.

          • Ok, Kristi, thanks for replying. Although I confess to being disappointed that there’s nothing to read. 🙂

            For what it’s worth, I think that your auditors gaining an understanding of what has persuaded you about the relative risks of AGW and CAGW, the right or wrong of special interest corruption, the standards of evidence you seem to demand to judge these things, is not “rocking the boat” but rather it’s explaining a bedrock foundation of why you say some of the things you say.

          • Mickey Reno,

            Just a couple things…

            “Mikes Trick” I believe is innocent. It’s just casual talk, and “trick” is used in science to talk about perfectly acceptable ways of doing something. It’s a statistical process they were talking about.

            “Hide the decline” is talking about removing faulty data. The fact that recent tree ring records don’t correlate with temperature was well-known at the time. That doesn’t mean earlier records are questionable; there’s something about the last several decades that influenced tree growth so that it’s not a good proxy.

            The idea that the scientists were conspiring to suppress skeptic research is incorrect. The peer review process was abused in the journal Climate Research, and it resulted in half the editorial board resigning in protest. The CRU scientists saw at the beginning that something was awry, and they were concerned that scientific integrity was at stake. They were also concerned by the Soon and Baliunas paper that started the whole thing (the science was of poor quality, but was used for political and policy purposes, as the CRU scientists predicted). So they took action. Eventually the publisher said it shouldn’t have been published. There was another peer review scandal at Energy and Environment; the editor admitted to publishing bias. It wasn’t about suppression, it was about scientific integrity and systematic abuses.

            I believe that Jones probably acted unprofessionally in the peer review process. He spoke unprofessionally about not letting a paper be considered in the IPCC report (though it was anyway). I believe that sharing of data was handled unprofessionally, but I also believe that Michael Mann was bombarded with requests, and that this was orchestrated. I also believe it’s true that there were questions of where the data were and whether Mann had authorization to give out data that belonged to others.

            The sharing of code is a different matter. It must be seen in the context of the times, and the nature of experimental replication. Normally scientists would use the data and either their own statistical techniques or those the original researchers used and see if they came up with the same results. This is the heart of reproducibility. Reproducibility is not about trying to find mistakes in order to discredit results for political purposes. If there are mistakes in the publication, or statistical processes that weren’t fully described (which was the case here, I believe) that’s a different matter. Then those errors should be pointed out. Back when the hockey stick was published, it wasn’t the norm to make code freely available, and Mann knew that M&M wanted to use it to discredit him. He may also have known that he made an error, I don’t know (the error did not have a major impact on the results, anyway, as later researchers showed). (M&M also made errors; other researchers pointed out that they didn’t take out the hockey stick signal before running their red noise tests, greatly increasing the chance that it would appear.)

            The internet was relatively new, and before then it was only possible to share code through disks. Making data freely available to all was not even possible, an the standards had yet to be worked out.

            In short, the whole thing was complicated, and it’s hard to look back at a bunch of casual emails and judge what was really going on without knowing the context. That’s what the investigations were able to do.

            There are others I could comment on, but this is enough for now. I hope you see that I try to take a balanced, objective view. These are just my opinions, I don’t have the whole story, and I have not read every single one of the emails.

            What I really objected to was the fact that Dr. Ball took excerpts out of context and interpreted them for others. People should not need to have quotes interpreted unless it’s by putting them in the proper, correct and objective context. This is done frequently at WUWT, and I think people should be aware of it, since it’s commonly used to manipulate opinion.

          • The trouble with things like “Mike’s trick” or Trenberth’s “data must be wrong” has little to do with the extreme assertions of most skeptics. What such phrases reveal is the attitude of the investigators who used the words. “Mike’s trick” was at least in the eyes of the correspondents an “innocent” effort to make the curve appear as it should. The tree rings were headed the wrong way so mask them with real temperature data that “agreed” with the hypothesis. That is expectation bias run rampant. It wasn’t fraud; it wasn’t criminal; it wasn’t proper science either. And, when you really sit down and read through the CG emails, and things like the “Harry Read me” text, the pattern is clear. And, it is a pattern replicated in science history for over two centuries, not just climate science. Even within the last half of the twentieth century we have far more serious parallels in medicine, psychology and diet-related science (Ancel Keys’ Seven Countries study was a high water mark in bad science with long term effects on national policy).

          • Kristin, first, thanks for your thoughts. I hope there’re be a lot more of that kind of thing in the future. Secondly, I hope you’ll try to be a bit more original. it appears that you’ve taken your points (some almost verbatim) from SkS and or William Connelly (CAGW’s wikipedia king). I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that I find none of your arguments the least bit persuasive.

            I hope you’ll think about what the world would look like, who would act and think in certain ways, who would seem authoritative to some while not being authoritative to others, IF the whole CAGW is a giant public cult, with members self-selecting from the ranks of paid bureaucrats, government funded scientists, public school teachers, their unfortunate captive students, activists and NGOs, the leftwing media, Democrats and Progressives, college aged SJWs, and their self-interested professors and administrators.

      • “There are few degree programs in climate science.”

        Good point. Which just reinforces my comment and opinion that climate scientists should really have a good understanding of everything that contributes to this vast and varied discipline. And to be fair, you are right, they can’t possibly know everything about every discipline. Just to understand solar dynamics is a subject and career all in itself. But my point is that they should have a generalist level of knowledge about the entirety of the field of climate science, because that will allow a lot of other ideas to infill their field of expertise. When a real and original climate scientist like Dr. Ball takes a keen interest in many disciplines of the entire field, I think that leads to further insights about the topic all together. Add it all up, and I think you get wisdom with years, and is the difference between knowledge and intelligence. Add all three together, and I think that has to be taken seriously especially given that so many recent graduates have a lot of knowledge but not the intelligence to yet put it all together wisely. I hope this make sense to you.

        • Earthing2,

          I would say that recent graduates have as much intelligence now as freshly-graduated students did at other times, but not the knowledge or (particularly) experience to put it all together well. Someone can have plenty of knowledge and little intelligence, but I would be surprised if people with little intelligence could get PhDs in science, and then get a postdoc postition, then go on to academia or whatever. Of course, there is variation, but science is a highly competitive, demanding field. Researching and writing a thesis is no walk in the park. There are always exceptions. There are better and worse schools.

          “Wisdom” is different, in my view. One doesn’t need knowledge to be wise. There are different kinds of intelligence, and some people who don’t have, say, the ability to pass calculus can nevertheless be wise. That comes from experience and observation and thoughtfulness. Wisdom is something that often – though not always! – comes with age, I agree there.

          The problem with knowing a little about a lot is that one can give the impression that one knows a lot about a lot, simply by saying a little. Dr. Ball knows about a lot of different things, and that’s fine for him. It’s good to have wide interests. But I’m simply not impressed by the depth of his knowledge about some of the topics he writes about. To me it comes across as if he’s cobbling bits and pieces together around a general theme, a motive, and that is to discredit mainstream science. It’s clever. Take this passage:

          “The most common are increased rates of soil erosion, increasing salinization of the soil, and decreasing fertility as minerals are not replaced at an adequate rate. These are aggravated by climate change, as was the case in the Fertile Crescent or in the collapse of the Mayan civilization.

          These things are happening today across the spectrum of agrarian societies. The failure to replace minerals is an insidious problem driven by the cost of the chemicals and the fear of using them promoted by environmentalists. I tell farmers that to replace minerals you have sent to the city in your crops and livestock is simply recycling.”

          Soil erosion, etc. are aggravated by “climate change”? What does that mean? In what way? Why would he be arguing this. The remark about the Fertile Crescent/Mayan Civ. explains it: it has happened before. That’s the message. Then there’s the slur on environmentalists. Then the advice to farmers. But what farmer doesn’t know about soil fertilization? It all seems odd to me, contrived somehow.

          “They don’t consider that the most soils are only capable of supporting a very specialized type of vegetation.” Specialized how? There are vast areas that have been converted from one vegetation type to another. “The truth is about one-third of the Earth has no soil at all, and the remainder has only small pockets of agricultural quality soil.” Small pockets? If this were true, we’d all starve. I don’t know what he means. It’s all so vague.

          I don’t know, maybe I’m being too harsh because I don’t like his writing style. But with every single post he writes I can’t help but get the feeling that underlying it all is subtle manipulation. On the other hand, I suppose he could just be passing the time, writing his ideas, and some of those ideas happen to be disrespectful and filled with condemnation.

          I’m tired of it. I should just leave the site. But it inspires me to learn. I really, really love to learn.

  6. So what is the answer to poor soil. Can we make good soil by a manufacturing process. True it would cost, but if the result is better crops then it may be a worthwhile exercise.

    T he altternative of course is to grow our food directly in the needed chemicals, i.e. hydrophoncally. i

    A very interesting article.


    • ‘So what is the answer to poor soil?’

      Pile up a lot of organic matter and let it rot for a while. The richest topsoils in the world are made that way naturally over thousands of years but you can do it yourself in a few weeks.

      That’s the basic idea of organic gardening.

      Doing it on a large scale is definitely a lot of work.

      • Albert,
        But that ‘lot of organic matter’ has taken away the essential nutrients from the soil where it first grew, so you are doing nothing better than shifting the depletion problem from one place to another. Not a solution at all. Geoff.

        • the idea is to use your own material or save green waste thats being burnt or dumped, treeloppers shreddings are excellent , local lawnmowers services really appreciate a place to dump waste for free. heat it n add some poop if you can and its only a short time to be a rich addition to soils,, nothing green/once was green/ ever leaves my land.
          what major cities landfill from food and green waste is sheer criminal waste.

          • ozspeaksup,

            Some cities now collect food waste and recycle it.

            I take the leaves I rake in fall and run them over with the mower a few times, and by the middle of the next summer it’s ready for my gardens, which are on awful clay soils.

      • The idea behind composting is to make a humus-like material. Humus has a C:N ratio of somewhere between 11-15. Grass clippings C:N of about 100. Meat C:N of about 7. If you do not add a nitrogen source (I use dried cow dung), the large amount of carbon (sugar) in the grass clippings will lead to an explosion of the population of microbes. When you add that to your garden soil, these microbes will take the soil nitrogen from your soil. How do you know you are doing it right – watch how the mulch layers begin to get smaller. And don’t forget to add soil because you need certain bacteria to help with conversions. You also need to lime the compost so that your pH will be about 6-6.5. This has been found (based on years of soil field trials) to be the best compromise for the soil availability of the major and minor soil nutrients. Another good thing is that most of your heavy metals are most soluble at low pH (around pH 3). So liming is important. I keep a bag of powdered dolomitic limestone by the pile. I also toss on a few handfuls of bone meal to add phosphorus. You can also smell the pile. When it smells sweet (thanks to Streptomycin), it’s ready.

  7. Ecologists had a chance to explain how life and climate is interrelated but students of that discipline, for the most part, got lost along the way. Today, we hear from people who are, no other way to say it, very ignorant of life in general and climate in particular. Way too many very ignoramus individuals spewing nonsense. And they call themselves scientists! Methinks they got their piled higher and deeper degrees from a box of Twinkies.

    • Bruce Ranta,

      You obviously have no clue at all what is entailed in ecology. What a foolish remark! How on Earth did you arrive at such an assertion? It’s mind-boggling.

      My field is ecology. I am no ignoramus. And what’s a very ignoramus individual? You can’t even write correctly.

      “From a box of Twinkies,” eh? I got my degrees at Amherst College and Rutgers U. Three graduate fellowships, including a Fulbright. Scored in the 99th percentile on the biology GREs. Beat that, wise guy. And I don’t give a frick if anyone thinks I’m bragging – I’m proud of my accomplishments as a student. And don’t have too much to be proud of since, due to health problems – no one can say I’m not honest. Twinkies! FU.

      • Kristi,
        Sadly, you are of a young age mixing with these very ignoramus individuals so you will find it hard to separate the wood from the trees. I’m now 77, a graduate scientist who has commented on climate research since early 1990s, calling it out as poor quality from the beginning.
        There is a high probability that the people around you, from whom you take your cues, have not been well educated in the ways of science. Some might promote organic farming, which is one of many air-head propositions that are all around us, promoted by the power of advertising pain for by vested interests. Some of those around you might favour alternative medicine, cures like homeopathy and reflexology and acupuncture, fads that are are laughing stock of the serious researcher. I could go on and on for a long time about the various anti-science fads infesting young graduate scientists, but I think you have started to get the point.
        Can I suggest, for your sake in being kind to yourself, that you search out and study some of the important scientific papers from the last 150 years? Read of the huge leaps in understanding from the ‘sealing wax and string’ experimenters from Oxford, Cambridge, Germany, Russia. Read some original papers from Lord Rutherford, Mme Curie, even from my namesake Sir Charles Sherrington. Please alloow yourself an open mind, so you can start to catch the wonder of the thinking of these intellectual giants, so you can set personal goal posts for your own achievements. All the best Geoff.

        • of course the oft slammed “organic farming” is what enabled any of our ancestors to live and survive and produce the kids that like now refute their parents knowledge of land soil climate and animal behavior.
          when did we get chem for soils etc?
          right after the wars when they had all the toxic chem they weent using to kill others
          so they needed a use for it.
          like fluoride
          if its not used in water supplies the cost of disposal as toxic waste is huge.
          once i also thought” new and science” was the be and end all
          then i got older and realised change and novelty isnt always better.

        • Sorry, Geoff, you’ve got me totally wrong. “The people around me”! That’s funny. You have no idea! My best friend is a Trumpist conservative. My second family are the Mexicans next door. I take taxis twice a week for intravenous infusions, and chat with the Africans about their homelands.

          I’m 48 and no one I know talks about organic foods or acupuncture. I like to talk about philosophy and religion and art. I’m now reading War and Peace, but I read about history and religion and cognitive science. Ever read Green’s Moral Tribes? Or how about Mlodinov’s Subliminal? Haidt’s Righteous Minds? I strive for an open mind. An open mind is not easy, it takes awareness of one’s own biases and the manipulation that one is constantly subject to.

          What frustrates me is that people here don’t seem to see it. It’s everywhere! Post titles, interpretations of press releases, unending assumptions and generalizations that have no basis in fact – just like the ones you made about me. You don’t know me at all, yet you think you do, and you are WRONG. Why is that, Geoff? Where’s your open mind?

          • What you write and how you write it strongly suggest that you’ve got an open mind already made up.

            And if you don’t want mistaken assumptions to be made about you, then you need to set the record straight and be upfront with the facts about yourself. That you continue to not do so implies that you deliberately want to keep them nebulous so people are forced to make assumptions, so you can always complain about being the victim of wrong assumptions. It’s an intellectually dishonest tactic and if you want to be taken more seriously, you need to cut that sh** out.

          • drednocholson,

            I don’t have any idea what you are talking about concerning my hiding anything. I have said repeatedly that I’m not some fresh-out-of-school bumpkin, but people still make that assumption. Why? Why make any assumptions about me? No one is “forced” to make any assumptions about anything! This is very common, a human trait, but one that I think people should be aware of. Assumptions and generalizations about groups of people are made constantly around here. It’s analogous to HRC’s idiotic, despicable “deplorable” remark.

            I have done nothing intellectually dishonest. There are plenty of people here who don’t reveal their background, don’t even use their real names.

            I should not have been so strident with Geoff, I admit. I’m trying to be nicer, less confrontational. It’s a terrible habit I have. But I have been very often insulted, and even more often indirectly insulted through attacks on groups with whom I identify. You simply insult me more. Over time it accumulates, and it’s hard to not let it affect how I deal with people.

            My mind is made up (with “high confidence”) about some things, and open about others. But if I were to see good reason to change my mind, I would. I haven’t. Sometimes I argue a different perspective just because it’s good to have alternative viewpoints in a discussion – and it’s my nature to play devil’s advocate.

        • Geoff,

          I’m sorry about the tone of my previous post. I think you are trying to help, and I appreciate it. Your suggestions are good, and I will keep them in mind.

      • “You really have no idea what is behind computer modeling, do you.”

        “You obviously have no clue at all what is entailed in ecology.”

        “And what’s a very ignoramus individual? You can’t even write correctly.”

        Of course Kristi, as usual, you present yourself an expert in everything.

        “I’m proud of my accomplishments as a student.”

        Pride comes before a fall.

  8. Also, I Think Dr. Ball mis-quoted his last line….it should read ‘we all dig our specialized holes and shit in them.’

  9. … the locals could not accommodate to an industrialized society.

    The postmodern so-called scholars tell us that diversity is wonderful and that there’s nothing particularly good about our version of civilization. That’s weapons grade bunkum. Our current population is hard working, disciplined, intelligent, and entrepreneurial. Those aren’t characteristics shared equally around the world. Our continued prosperity, and the survival of humanity, depends on us celebrating and passing on western civilization.

    The resident China expert points out that, although the Chinese people are equally hard working, disciplined, intelligent and entrepreneurial, we shouldn’t rely on China to pull the world’s chestnuts out of the fire. If western civilization fails, the world is in serious trouble.

    • I’ve seen wheat grown of soil that was not worth harvesting, that later years produce 100 bushels an acre. The problem was water not soil quality. Farming is a tough business I glad I not in it.

  10. “Groundnut is the English for peanut” ? I am confused: both words are English but, from a UK perspective ‘groundnut’ is the American for ‘peanut’.

    • IMO Dr. Ball meant that “groundnut” is British English for “peanut” in American English. Otherwise known as “goober pea” or simply “goober”. In SE US dialect, a goober is also a fool.

      In North America, groundnut is a twining vine in the pea family.

      • Peanut is Peanut in English English – there being no such thing as British English – or at least I only heard the term groundnut when referring to stories about the US when I was growing up in England.

        • British English = all that’s common to Welsh English, Scots English, Irish English and English [in all its wondrous varieties] English

  11. I very much doubt that the Koppen (don’t know how to get that umlaut thingie to display over the “o”) climate classification system is even taught in meteorology or college earth science classes any longer. It was one of the first things taught in my old program, but of course the educational system has undergone “progressive” change, and is now much improved, I’m sure. /sarc

    There’s no doubt that a lot of what was taught in the 19th and early 20th centuries is out of date and not correct in science fields, but there are many examples of older scientific knowledge (real knowledge) that are just considered passe. The Koppen system is one of them. Thanks, Dr. Ball.

  12. What I find amazing is that people today (and in every generation), still sadly view knowledge is a substitute for intelligence.
    They can snicker at an 18th Century belief in phlogiston or 4 fundamental elements of earth, fire, water and air as practical physical chemistry is learnt and built upon. Those Alchemists were making great insight into how chemical reactions with ordinary substances could produce really useful stuff, even if they didn’t understand the underlying chemistry at all. Raw intelligence working with the knowledge of the day.

    Yeah sure, even a high school kid today might could recite “E=MCsquared” and even spout off some of what Einstein’s theories implied about space, time, and energy. But to have come up with that in the first place in the face of classical deterministic physics?

    I mean think about the world of James Clerk Maxwell, of Maxwell’s equations fame. Or Lorentz, or any of the 19th Century physicists, mathematicians, and chemists, working with what they knew, and achieved so much. They single-handedly brought on the industrial revolution and the betterment of humanity at an astonishing pace.
    And here in this article, not mentioned but ever-present in climate, geology, and paleo-climate science is plate tectonics. An idea set forth over 100 years ago (1915) by Alfred Wegener and his thesis that wholly laughed by fellow geologists and scientists for almost 50 years.

    These men (and a few women) were amazingly intelligent. The mathematicians of the 18th and 19th Century were and still are giants.

    Knowledge is not raw intelligence. And knowledge and a piece of paper from a university may get someone in the door at an academic or industry posting, but it is intelligence and the ability to think critically about institutional assumptions that will determine what happens next.

    Never forget that.

    • True. If anything, people have gotten more stupid, as modern life has made it easier to survive, no matter how imbecilic your behavior.

      I’m reminded of Garbo’s great line in Ninotchka, “There will be fewer but better Russians”. There were fewer Cro Magnons, but on average, each was better than their modern descendants.

      Idiocracy is getting dangerously closer.

      • I mean reading through Tim’s piece here.

        At least those men of the 1940’s and 1950’s, armed with the best “knowledge” they had … gave it a try, to try to grow those crops where no else had. If they’d succeeded, they’d have been hailed visionaries.
        And they gave it a try with their own money.
        Today, Except for Bezos and Paul Allen, most folks are looking for OPM to fund their folly.

        Nichola Tesla spent his own fortune on his efforts and gave electrical engineering much in return even though he died broke. Tesla was brilliant, and he taught us a lot about electrics in an age where ideas were competing (mostly) without government picking winners and losers.

        So much of today big tech is looking to government to protect them from new ideas and competition. Whether it is the internet, 5G mobile IP, or energy, the big names are working to get government to pick them and punish competition with regulations. We do so at our grandchildren’s peril.

  13. Vasily Dokuchaev developed and published the five factors of soil formation (climate, topography, biota (modernized to include people, e.g. Ap-plow layer), parent material and time) in the 1800s. Jenny apparently ‘borrowed’ Dokuchaev’s work from a German language publication in the 1930s. Dokuchaev’s work was thus the basis for both soil science and ecology. Not many people realize that from the very outset soil science considered the way that all factors in the environment interact to result in unique systems that can be characterized by the type of soil that forms. Thanks Dr. Ball and Anthony for bringing these concepts to a wider audience.

    • Wide spread, whole sale Silt formation was apparently a “modern” invention by nature less than 500 million years ago. With the developmet of complex rooted land plants, plant biology also began working feverishly on the sandy and rocky soils to get chemical access to the minerals they contained, creating silts (as in mudrocks in the geological record).

      Mudrocks get a vegetative assist.
      “Mudrocks such as slate and shale are rarely found in stratigraphy older than about 500 million years. McMahon and Davies compiled a large database of mudrock occurrence over the past 3.5 billion years to help assess the origin of this ubiquitous rock type (see the Perspective by Fischer). Mudrocks appeared at the same time as did deep-rooted land plants. The interplay between plants and sedimentary rocks suggests that a change in erosion rate and the chemistry of sediments delivered to the oceans occurred around 500 million years ago.”
      Read More here:

      • No Kristi,
        Said people made laboratory apparatus such as vessels filled with various gases though which they shone light separated into spectral bands by devices like rock salt splitters that allowed IR through. They meausred how much of each band absorbed how much of the incoming light. The work of Wein and Planck etc had already given a mathematic basis to link energy to wavelength temperature, so from there they used not much more than imagination to guess about some possible implications for planet Earth.
        What they did not do, and what still remains to be done, is show the actual, quantitative link between these non-condensing molecular gases that absorb in IR bands and the change if any in the temperature of the atmosphere,
        The work of Arrhenius, Callendar, etc was important and interesting, but it did not give a practical, whole of atmosphere solution to the so-called greenhouse effect. Work in the lab is simple compared to work in the real world and can only be extrapolated and scaled up with the greatest of care.
        Why do you think that climate sensitivity to CO2 is proving so hard to quantify? That is the bit that those early workers did not do in useful detail. Geoff

  14. If these real ecological challenges could be addressed with the money wasted on the climate change debacle, we might actually begin to benefit Gaia for our own gain.

    Can I get an “amen” on that?

  15. An article about soil that doesn’t mention glomalin is a couple decades behind the science.

    Glomalin proteins are extremely common in healthy soil. Non-existent in infertile dirt.

    Glomalin is extremely sticky and it binds to key simple nutrients to build up more complex soil nutrients. At some point an aggregate of soil forms that is big enough to be human visible (roughly the size of a grain of sand). Roughly at that time the glomalin proteins quit cause additional nutrients to accumulate and instead form a waxy protective “bag” around the aggregate. The glomalin bag protects the aggregate from dissolving.

    Basically the difference between dead / infertile soil and healthy / fertile soil is the presence of glomalin in large quantities.

    Here’s a good write-up from a few years ago:

      • lots of locals burn their gumleaves/litter
        i snaffle what i can and mix it into soil
        the myco fungal action on/in it is a huge bonus to poor soil.
        worms are pretty pleased too;-)

      • Thanks Kristi,

        Yes, I agree the PDF you linked too is also very good. Obviously I was just going for an overview of the impacts, not the science itself.

        If we could switch the global alarm from excess CO2 in the atmosphere to a global alarm about a human caused carbon deficiency in the soil, the combination of grasslands, mycorrhizae fungi, and glomalin could transfer all the surplus carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soil.

        I know CO2 is plant food, but I suspect a healthy soil would do more for the world’s vegetation than having surplus CO2 in the atmosphere.

        Have you seen any recent good overview articles about how global farmland restoration and desert greening efforts can sequester the entire current surplus quantity of carbon in the atmosphere?

        I offer a couple:

        Australia’s desert greening project which incorporates current soil science to increase SOC (soil organic carbon):

        A great Quora answer about soil science:

    • useful link ta.
      big problem with that setup is the ridiculous cost of the produced carbon
      and the fact they make it..rather than endorse burnoffs and till in
      allowing oxygen into turned soil with the fresh burnt material gets it moving

      • Oz,

        No idea what you mean by “ridiculous cost of the produced carbon and the fact they make it.”

        The whole concept is the opposite of what you say:

        1) Either find existing grasslands with poor soil or marginal land with no vegetation at all.

        2) Establish 365 day per year growing ground cover (primarily via robust grasses).

        3) Fertilize with mycorrhizal fertilizers to establish a healthy population of mycorrhizae fungi on the root system of grasses.

        4) Let the grass pull CO2 out of the atmosphere, then push it into the roots. The mycorrhizae fungi then pull the carbon out of the roots and build glomalin proteins with the carbon. The glomalin proteins then got sloughed off in great quantities like a snakes skin. Glomalin proteins are very dark in color and give rich healthy soil their dark color and rich texture.

        The cost of doing the above is less than the cost farmers spend today on plowing and amending their farmland, so this is a cost saving mechanism and not expensive at all.

  16. I couldn’t wait to see what bits of “wisdom” Dr. Ball provided this time. What “myths” did he correct about vegetation, soil and climate? This is an area in which I have a bit of knowledge, myself.

    “People like Vladimir Koppen (1846 – 1940) knew more about climate and climate mechanisms than any member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and most people purporting to study or know about climate today.”

    Did he? Did he know about the physics of the atmosphere and oceans? Did he know about solar variation? Koppen was a brilliant and important scientist, but that doesn’t mean he knew more about climate as a whole than anyone since – he knew about land-based climate, soils and vegetation. Big difference between climate zones and climate itself. Nice try making today’s climate scientists look ignorant, though.

    “You cannot understand climate, a generalist discipline, without understanding all of these.”

    Climate is not a generalist discipline, it is interdisciplinary. Many kinds of scientists contribute to the study of climate. An atmospheric physicist is not expected to know what a plant physiologist does, or vice versa.

    “A good example of Koppen’s knowledge and skills are reflected in the recent misunderstandings and exploitation of the fires and drought in California.”

    This is not demonstrated in Ball’s argument. It’s just another manipulative technique, designed to excite and capitalize on the indignation of readers.

    “He differentiated between three categories – 70% in the summer, 70% in the winter, and evenly distributed throughout the year and how the vegetation will differ. Compare this with this quote from the 2007 IPCC Report.

    “’For models to simulate accurately the seasonally varying pattern of precipitation, they must correctly simulate a number of processes (e.g., evapotranspiration, condensation, transport) that are difficult to evaluate at a global scale.’”

    So what? What’s the point? Evapotranspiration, etc. are very different from precipitation and much harder to assess across diverse vegetation types, altitudes, slope and aspect (N,S,E,W), soils, temperature, temporal changes in precipitation, wind patterns… The differences are fine-grained, and therefore difficult to assess at the global scale, while Koppen’s precipitation classes are broad and easily estimated. Surely Ball knows something about plant physiology?

    “The obsession with computer models and temperature have taken climatology into a blind alley where the chances of understanding are eliminated.” Does Ball know NOTHING about modeling? How does he propose to understand climate, a bunch of graphs? A flow chart? Modeling has much room for improvement, but it is the ONLY way to understand climate as a whole. Why don’t skeptic see this? It baffles me.

    “Neither weather nor climate forecasting has improved” Weather forecasting is a completely different process, inherently time-limited due to chaotic factors that are not involved in climate modeling. Duh. Climate modeling has improved, with the ability to skillfully simulate more parameters at increased resolution.

    “The failure to replace minerals is an insidious problem driven by the cost of the chemicals and the fear of using them promoted by environmentalists.”
    Another chance to condemn environmentalists! Farmers aren’t afraid of using chemicals because of them! Some farmers CHOOSE not to use them in order to exploit the burgeoning organic food market, which appeals to normal people who have no interest in environmentalism. There is a difference. There are many ways of replacing nutrients (not “minerals” – sand, silt and clay are mineral. Elemental N, P, K, etc. that plants use are not minerals).

    “You only need to lose a tiny portion of the soil for it to become infertile. … Virtually all of that tiny portion is in the clay content, the smallest particles in the soil and the most easily eroded. ”

    As you should know, Dr. Ball, it’s much more complicated than this (although you may be thinking of modern agriculture, which is in some ways different). In natural systems, the fertility is in the organic matter-rich top layer; that’s what gets eroded once vegetation is taken away. Clay is an important part of loam, but too much is a problem. Maybe you are talking about clay being eroded after tilling, but I would think it more likely leached down to lower layers. It is usually silt that ends up in waterways. Sand and silt are just as essential to good loamy soil as clay. Under some conditions, clay can bind nutrients so tightly that they aren’t available to plants. I worked in Australian rainforest, where the soils are very high in clay.

    Most rainforest trees are not deciduous. By definition, there is no such thing as “continuous deciduous.”

    I visited the Jari Project in 1979. My uncle was a civil engineer there. The paper mill was on two barges – it had just got up and running the year I was there. An amazing feat of engineering just to get it situated. Beyond soil problems (partly due to compaction by heavy equipment, so that Ludwig ended up having to hire people to do deforestation manually), the original Gmelina trees suffered major insect damage; the radiata pine and eucalypts that were brought in did better. Ludwig also grew rice, which did very well, and mined kaolin. Still, the whole undertaking was so expensive that it was unsustainable. Crazy – the world’s biggest plantation forest project, right in the middle of the Amazon!

    (Seems to me Dr. Ball created at least as many myths as he dispelled.)

    • Retraction:

      “(not “minerals” – sand, silt and clay are mineral. Elemental N, P, K, etc. that plants use are not minerals)”

      I’m thinking of minerals in the physical sense of having certain chemical and structural properties that they don’t possess as elements. This is silly, since some nutrients are compounds, such as nitrate. My bad.

    • Kristi…it would be nicer to see you write an essay and defend it, than always picking apart our essays point by point with your criticism. Yes, I get it..this is sort of a peer review and we shouldn’t write anything we can’t defend, but you are always tearing skeptics apart, but rarely you write anything original without always tearing someone else down. I think you would get a lot more respect if you participated with your original thoughts about the state of the climate and related affairs and allowed others to tear into your ideas. I try and do that, it is good therapy to write and perhaps a few read what I write, even if I really don’t know much about anything. I think the reason why so many of us are addicted to this site, is that we often get glimpses of really original genius. There is a lot intelligence here by many people from a myriad of experience and disciplines. Contribute something original of your own, because I think you are actually very smart and have a lot to contribute. But try and be balanced on everything, including your resentment of skeptics.

      • Earthling2,

        Yes, I’ve thought about writing a post.

        You are right – I’m more apt to tear down than build up. I have tried to contribute more productively to discussions and gotten little out of it. My comments are ignored. Finding articles and evidence seems pointless after a while.

        And I’ve been insulted so much that I feel like the perpetual enemy anyway.

        Thank you for your comments, all of them. I will be mindful of them.

        I don’t resent skeptics, I get frustrated. And sometimes angry because some of them are so dismissive and disrespectful of researchers and their work. But it’s not resentment of skeptics in general. I agree there is a lot of intelligence here.

  17. “Neither weather nor climate forecasting has improved”

    Patently untrue (we don’t forecast the climate – it is projected in general global terms for temp/precip as a function of possible scenarios).

    “These scientific and technological developments have led to increasing weather forecast skill over the past 40 years. Importantly, this skill can be objectively and quantitatively assessed, as every day we compare the forecast with what actually occurs. For example, forecast skill in the range from 3 to 10 days ahead has been increasing by about one day per decade: today’s 6-day forecast is as accurate as the 5-day forecast ten years ago, as shown in Fig. 1. Predictive skill in the Northern and Southern hemispheres is almost equal today, thanks to the effective

    use of observational information from satellite data providing global coverage. More visible to society, however, are extreme events. The unusual path and intensification of hurricane Sandy in October 2012 was predicted 8 days ahead, the 2010 Russian heat-wave and the 2013 US cold spell were forecast with 1–2 weeks lead time, and tropical sea surface temperature variability following the El Nino/Southern Oscillation phenomenon can be predicted 3–4 months ahead. Weather and climate prediction skill are intimately linked, because accurate climate prediction needs a good representation of weather phenomena and their statistics, as the underlying physical laws apply to all prediction time ranges.”

  18. An excellent article Dr Ball ,
    Having farmed for over 60 years in New Zealand and come from the horse and cart days and the small holdings of the 40s and 50s.
    I am now still involved with family and staff doing the hard yards as we say .
    Both my grandfather and my great grandfather on my mothers side moved to this area ( the king country ) when it was opened for settlement in the early 1900s .
    Blocks of forest or as we call it ( native bush ) were surveyed and sold or leased by ballot to prospective settlers.
    The bush was felled during the year and burnt in the autumn and grass seed was sown by hand on to the ash and sheep and cattle were purchased after a ring fence was erected to hold the stock in .
    This worked well for about 20 years till the fertility in the ash diminished and scrub and fern started to encroach onto the grassed areas.
    The problem was that these mainly volcanic ash soils are low in phosphorous and regular phosphate dressings have to be made to maintain the productivity of these soils.
    These volcanic soils with continuous pastoral farming then became low in potassium and that has to be applied .
    Calcium carbonate or as we know it as agricultural lime, also has to be applied, as the PH of the soils drop, to rectify soil acidity .
    A small amount of boron is applied for brassicas and beets and cobalt and magnesium is applied for stock health because of low levels after 100 years of farming .
    The minerals in the produce that is sold off the farm in milk ,meat, wool and grain crops has to be replaced .Our soils become deficient in these minerals and have to be replenished otherwise production drops and the farmer goes broke as less and less pasture is grown.

    • “The minerals in the produce that is sold off the farm in milk ,meat, wool and grain crops has to be replaced.” Try explaining that to the yuppies here in the states that are heavily into “sustainable organic agriculture.” There is even a farm in Virginia that teaches classes on sustainability and how growing the right grasses along with the proper rotational grazing of cattle allows you to sell the cattle while still improving the soil. I have had fun with several of their graduates when I explain that the closest thing you can get to sustainable agriculture is slash-and-burn, which they intrinsically despise. After farming or grazing the land and removing the product of that for a few decades the only way to replace the now missing minerals is by adding the hated chemicals or planting tap-root trees, letting them grow for 60 to 80 years then burning them to return the minerals to top layer of soil. And, this will only work for a few cycles then you either need to move on until many years of severe flooding or a heavy layer volcanic ash replenishes them.

  19. “The failure to improve weather … forecasting is proof that scientific understanding has not improved.”

    This I very much disagree with. It’s a pity it was in the last paragraph, as it was otherwise an interesting read. Weather forecasting has dramatically improved in my lifetime, especially since digital integrated electronics became cheap and ubiquitous. Whether scientific understanding has improved depends on your definition of Scientific understanding, and especially the people and institutions involved. Clearly in some areas it has improved. Data improves.

    What has very much gone to the dogs though, is our also ubiquitous fake-media ‘spin’ of the more ludicrous and jaundiced interpretations of the data, which has simply made everyone much, muuuuuccch dumber about the physical world around us.

    Clearly “climate forecasting” does not exist, at all, IMHO. It is nothing more than a delusion. A non-scientific fantasy construct that’s not even a valid formal conception. It has and will continue to waste our time and money and get us absolutely nowhere, any century soon, because nothing about such models can be systematically physically tested on the scale that’s required. It’s not a human-scale phenomena, it is much longer in cycles than mere modern civilization.

    “Climate forecasting” is all guess-work by shameless muppets who are simply bluffing and pretending to know what’s obviously currently unknowable.

  20. About unused potential farmland it reminds me of a historian (unfortunately I don’t remember his name) who once said:

    “There have been farmers around and looking for more land for about 10,000 years, if an area is not farmed there is almost always a very good reason for it”

    • What wasn’t viable even 30 years ago often is today because soil scientists have figured out how to restore degraded farmland at low cost.

      One example:

      China is actively attempting to restore the massive Loess Plateau with its 150 million acres of degraded farmland.

      Arguably, the entire Sahara desert is degraded farmland. No major efforts yet that target restoring it, but as reverse desertification efforts accelerate and continue to easily surpass goals, I can see it happening.

  21. A lovely assemblage of words from what I’ve been putting into here since year dot.
    Anyone heard of (Dr) David Montgomery?
    No matter that, thank you Dr. Tim

    2 points:
    1. Show this to folks who think Earth will become a Venus.
    No. Earth will become Mars.
    Mars became Mars because it didn’t have the Plate Tectonics and the widely scattered volcanoes that Earth does. It has few large volcanoes, like Australia seemingly but you need lots of little ones.

    (Plate tectonics = sort of centrifuge effect from the birth of the solar system? The heavy stuff, not least Uranium by example, fell into the centre. Earth got more than Mars. Their nuclear disintegration heats Earth’s core etc etc – (driving the temperature up to “millions of degrees”, as we all know. ha ha)

    Visit your garden centre(s) and get some “Rock Dust” = ground up volcano, and see what effect it has on your garden and potted plants.
    For folks who like to use lots of artificial fertiliser, rock dust contains a lot of lime.
    Some ‘nutrient’ chemistry for you to ponder.
    And an epic yet lovely (desperately unlovely actually) example of Nutrient Chemistry and its effect on people used to occur not far from me here – check out Derbyshire Goitre

    We had an essay recently about Permafrost in Artica – how it comprised a layer “some considerable thickness” containing *substantial* amounts of organic material. (The concern was that this stuff, when de-frosted, would oxidise to CO2 and turn Earth into a Venus)
    3 Questions arising:
    1. Is that *really* true, is there vast amounts of buried and frozen organic up there in Arctica?
    2. If so, how did it get there. (Fairly easy innit = plate tectonics)
    3. The important one, why is there *not* a thick layer of organics buried in the soil all over the rest of the world? Surely the same processes that created the layer in Artica would operate elsewhere, so, where is the layer of buried soil organics?
    I direct that question (3) especially to ‘slash & burners’, ‘plough owners’ and folks who use nitrogenous fertiliser.

    The good people at Mauna Loa know where that organic layer is now………

    • I believe that the reason for organic buildup in permafrost regions is that the permafrost layer acts as impermeable layer that retards the movement of melted water in the summer months. This results in a poorly drained region so the vegetative remains are not broken down and they accumulate. The number of anaerobic bacteria is limited and their activity is sluggish.

  22. Way back in the Pleistocene (1976), I took a semester of Physical Geography. We learned about something called the “Köppen Climate Classification System”; a procedure that systematically categorizes climate primarily on the basis of soil, vegetation, temperature and precipitation patterns.

    If we’ve experienced drastic climate change over the last 100 years, the Köppen Climate Classification Map should clearly reflect drastic changes… Right?

    • Pretty interesting. Seems to me the climate changes have been pretty dramatic, though not always uni-directional. Maybe partly because of the mid-century cooling.

      I wonder if this map will post. I have a hard time getting figures to show up. Interesting how some areas, such as the lower boundary of the Sahara, shift back and forth, and higher latitudes in the NH are very much affected.

      • Kristi,

        That is a model projection based on the “story” scenario A1F1, which is actually worse bad science fiction than RCP8.5.

        Reality from 1900-2000, minimal changes in climatic zones…

        Bad science fiction model projections 1981-2100, massive changes in climatic zones…

        • David,

          (My last reply was lost.)

          I didn’t mean to imply that I believed that was what would happen. I just thought it was interesting that the models projected very different responses in different areas. The difference between high and low latitudes is striking. And no difference visible in New Zealand, and barely any in Tasmania.

          Thanks for posting the image. I used to be able to do it, but it doesn’t work now? How do you get the image to show up?

  23. The 5 soil forming factors (parent material, time, climate, plants and animals, slope) was reported by the Russian geologist Dokuchaiev in 1883. He had the task of classifying farms based on their productivity so that the most productive farms would be taxed more (what has changed?). He was the first to report that climate was the most influential factor. He had the advantage of surveying soils in different climates because of the large Russian landmass. So soils that formed from different rocks and sediments would be similar in the same climate. This was different from the western European idea that soils that formed from the same rocks and sediment would be the same. The inclusion of plants and animals showed that soil is a bridge between the inorganic and organic worlds. John Tedrow, an arctic soils explorer, closed the book on soils exploration when he was able to prove that this factor did operate as one of the five. His work on soil formation in the high Arctic in his paper “The Torrs of Balthurst Island” of Canada showed that although less than one percent of the high desert landscape had soils, they formed around the base of torrs (large rocks) where life had found an anchor. He called them the “Arctic Brown Soil.” Such admirable people who knew how to survey!

    • Lois,

      He may have done a good job, but the major and most important soil builder was only discovered in 1996.

      Glomalin – Search these comments for the word. There are a few links you should follow.

      So, any theory of soil put together before 1996 is by definition wrong.

      The reality is it doesn’t take millions of years to form quality topsoil, it takes less than a decade if you leverage grasses / mycorrhizae fungi / glomalin proteins.

  24. Kubiena was an Austrian agriculturist who devised a very simple soil classification system. He divided soils into A-B-C soils and A-C soils. A, B, and C are soil horizons in a soil profile. A is the organic rich layer, the lower part is where there is leaching and eluviation (the moving out of fine soil particles such as clays) into the B horizon, the layer of accumulation. The C horizon is parent material. Only the A and B layers are consider true soil. A-B-C soils form under forest and grassland vegetation. Only A-B-C soils are agriculturally productive when modern agricultural technologies are employed. The tropical rainforest has A-C soils which are called laterites. There is no nutrient layer such as the B horizon to feed the vegetation. Instead, there is a root mass and this is where nutrients are found.. For example, termites build fungal gardens in the root mass to increase the nitrogen content of food for their larvae. The tree roots steal this nitrogen source. If you remove the trees, the root mass diminishes in a few years and the land is rendered useless for modern agricultural techniques.

    Kubiena also developed soil micromorphology (thin sections of soil). He discovered that there were certain soil structures that were quite resistant to degradation. His study of paleosols showed that there was climate change in certain areas that could be seen in the change in soil structures. Since the time resolution of soils is on the order of thousands of years (compared to millions for geology), this is interesting.

  25. I am not a modeler. I have read critiques of climate models. I believe you when you say that climate modelers try and use the available data and do try their best to incorporate what they believe into their models. But – let us take clouds for example – it is clear that clouds on Earth can not be modeled accurately and won’t be for a long time. relatedly – evaporation can only be accurately modeled on clear or cloudless days or nights. Since water vapor is the major greenhouse gas, not CO2 (measured in ppm) or methane (measured in ppb) how can the models be accurate when all three (water vapor, evaporation, cloud are among the most important variables aside from the actual Electromagnetic energy from the sun or the content of the oceans or….. However the forcing property of CO2 can be accurately mathematically modeled (with everything else held equal). Since they don’t have the natural variations down pat or the heat in the oceans or even accurate output of the sun except as guesstimated from proxies the modelers say man made CO2 is the only thing that has changed in the last hundred year or so that goes along with rising temperatures – ignoring the fact that temperature has been rising since the end of the Little Ice age and long term falling since the holocene maximum.
    Where are the model runs that explain the Little Ice Age much less than the Younger Dryas where: “The most spectacular aspect of the YD is that it ended extremely abruptly (around 11,600 years ago), and although the date cannot be known exactly, it is estimated from the annually-banded Greenland ice-core that the annual-mean temperature increased by as much as 10°C in 10 years.”
    But the sky is falling if the temperature has possibly increased 1.5C in the last one hundred. I forgot – the science is settled so it has to be true. but everyone agrees on climate sensitivity ho ho ho – they can’t even model what Antarctic sea ice will do from year to year – or can the jet streams really be explained from the rotation of the Earth, fluid mechanics, and Boyle’s gas laws? or… what are the resolution sizes for these Global climate models?
    Basically models can be useful in learning how climate works but not so good at making predictions.

  26. Yogi Berra — ‘It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.’
    the ‘you’ in my first comment was to Kristi Silber

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *