There have been some interesting sessions at the House of Commons Climate Audit Committee.
Conventional coverage by the media largely covers the debate between official scientists (such as those in the IPCC) and the climate sceptics (or lying bastards as some of us call them). But for us cognoscenti the real debate is between the officials and the provisionals. The climate provisionals think climate change is much worse than the officials admit.
I don’t want to be disrespectful of those that have suffered in the complicated Irish tragedy and I have tried to think of alternatives to the terms “officials” and “provisionals” but I can find nothing else that has the right emotional power. The many tragedies that climate change is beginning to visit on the world will dwarf the troubles in Ireland.
Briefly, the officials are mostly hard core professional of academic scientists, who are cautious in their approach and chosen by governments to work on the science and publish or advise when they are sure of their work. Many of them are climate modellers, who are using computer programmes to predict the future course of our climate from a myriad of data sources.
On the other hand provisionals, are a more mixed bunch, some scientists with enough qualifications to join the officials, if they so wished, but the provisionals also include various bloggers. The provisionals generally believe that the officials are not up to speed.
The officials have a much greater presence in the scientific literature – nearly all of them have better qualifications than the provisionals – they publish mostly in peer reviewed scientific papers. The provisionals publish in blogs – occasionally making the leap into the scientific literature such as Tamino’s blog piece that is also a paper, Global temperature evolution 1979–2010, in Environmental Research Letters.
I include in my meaning of the “climate provisionals” those that have significant knowledge of what’s going on with the climate. They will tend to follow climate related issues day-to-day. They seem more willing to speculate than the officials – in public at least. The Arctic Methane Emergency Group are on the alarmist fringe of the provisionals but they may well be right.
These representatives of the provisionals had a chance to put their case to the House of Commons Climate Audit Committee recently. So did two representatives from the officials: Professor Tim Lenton and Professor Julia Slingo. There were two interesting topics that were quietly disputed.
- How fast will Arctic Ice disappear?
- Will much methane be released from Arctic seas soon?
Do form your own opinion (see Appendix) but my assessment is:
- The provisionals said that summer Arctic ice will disappear in a few years. They panic about methane releases.
- The officials said that summer Arctic ice will disappear in decades. Don’t worry about methane yet.
Not all provisionals go with the methane panic (See DOSBAT) but one of their defining characteristics is a reluctance to simply follow the official line.
I’m waiting with interest but I expect the Climate Audit Committee not to completely follow the official line and give the provisionals some credence.
A good quote from an honorary provisional “The trouble with climate modellers [the officials] is that when there is conflict between their models and the real world, they believe their models.”
P.S. The BBC reports the Arctic Methane Emergency Committee, Climate ‘tech fixes’ urged for Arctic methane. This has an stunning graph on Arctic Sea Ice. If the sea-ice goes will the East Siberian Arctic Shelf become a serious climate feedbacks? That may be the next question.
Appendix – the Arctic sea ice debate
The excerpts in this Appendix show different views on the rate of sea ice loss in the Arctic. Tim Lenton and Julia Slingo estimate the pace of sea ice loss to be significantly slower than the Peter Wadhams suggests using data from the Polar Science Centre, University of Washington. Tim Lenton and Julia Slingo are experts in climate models. Peter Wadhams is a scientist that measures ice thickness.
If the historically verified climate models are found to be under-performing is this a sign that new feedbacks are beginning to be important. If so, how important?
Tim Lenton, Peter Wadhams and John Nissen at the HOC Environmental Audit Committee
Peter Wadhams: “Every time a submarine goes to the Arctic, we go on and collect ice thickness data. That has been going on for 40 years and it is what has enabled us to spot the thinning of the ice. In fact, it was 20 years ago that we first detected from the 40year data versus the 20-year data that the ice had thinned by about 15%. Now, looking at the latest data, it has thinned by more than 40%, about 45%. That is perhaps more serious than the shrinkage so far, because what we have now in the Arctic sea ice cover is a cap over the top end of the earth that is shrinking slowly but thinning rapidly. The next stage will be a collapse, where the thinning becomes great enough that the winter growth is more than offset by the summer melt. That is something that, if we look at the volumes of ice that are present in the summer, the trend is so rapidly downwards that that might be happening within three or four years.” From transcript.
Tim Lenton: “ I personally think it highly unlikely that we would lose the ice in the next few summers. My best guess is sometime in the 2030s, maybe 2040s roughly, there will be an ice-free summer. I personally would put quite a lot of clear blue ice-free water between my own position and John’s about how strong the feedback from the methane release is. It is not fair to say it is never really addressed. My colleagues down the road in the Hadley Centre in Exeter have permafrost in the latest state-of-the-art model being run at the moment for the next round of IPCC projections.” From transcript.
Julia Slingo at the HOC Environmental Audit Committee
This is reported in the Guardian, Met Office: Arctic sea-ice loss linked to colder, drier UK winters:
Slingo also dismissed fears that the Arctic could be entirely free of sea ice in summer as soon as 2015. Between 2025 and 2030 would be the earliest date she would consider it possible, she said, and the Met Office’s latest models suggested 2040-60 as most likely. “Our expectation is certainly not in the next few years as you’ve heard from some evidence,” she said.
She also said that suggestions the volume of sea ice had already declined by 75% already were not credible. “We know there is something [happening on the thinning of sea ice] but it’s not as dramatic as those numbers suggest.”
The problem, she explained, was that researchers did not know the thickness of Arctic sea ice with any confidence. She hoped a new ice-monitoring satellite launched in 2010, Cryosat2, would help with more accurate measurements.
The Polar Science Centre, University of Washington describes the Arctic Sea Ice Volume Anomaly in technical terms. This is reported in the Guardian, Arctic sea ice is melting at its fastest pace in almost 40 years.
Separate, less reliable, research suggests that Arctic ice is in a downward spiral, declining in area but also thinning. Using records of air, wind and sea temperature, scientists from the Polar Science Centre of the University of Washington, Seattle, announced last week that the Arctic sea-ice volume reached its lowest ever level in 2010 and was on course to set more records this year.
The new data suggests that the volume of sea ice last month appeared to be about 2,135 cubic miles – just half the average volume and 62% lower than the maximum volume of ice that covered the Arctic in 1979. The research will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research.
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