The climate change challenge

January 9, 2010


In a recent essay on this web site, (“The Climate Change Hoax”), Matt Kokkonen correctly calls attention to three facts regarding climate change and global warming and manages to draw erroneous conclusions from each of them:

1)  “Dissenting experts” claim that global warming is cyclical

2)  “Dissenting experts” also point out that the increase in carbon dioxide has always followed periods of warming rather than being caused by the warming.

These two statements are true, but totally irrelevant to the problem of present-day climate change. There have been several periods of glaciation between which shorter warmer periods have occurred, with intervals of roughly 100,000 years between ice ages.

Over 70 years ago, the Serbian engineer & mathematician Milutin Milankovitch proposed that the “pace-maker” for these recurring events was very slow and subtle changes in the properties of the earth’s orbit over tens of thousands of years. They cause the amount of solar energy reaching various portions of the earth, especially the north polar region of the earth, which is especially climates-sensitive, to change.

Most, but not all, climate scientists, accept this basic proposition though the details are certainly not clear–after all the armada of satellites now gathering amazingly precise and voluminous amounts of data on our present climate were not orbiting the earth 150,000 years ago. What is agreed is that regardless of the details of the “pace-maker”, it initiated a chain of events (“feedbacks”) leading to an emergence from an ice age. It is further agreed that a key link in this chain was the release of large amounts of  carbon dioxide from warming oceans which strongly amplified the warming and spread the warming over the entire globe.  (A similar sequence occurs for the onset of an ice age).

Without the strong amplifying effect of the carbon dioxide these extreme changes would not occur: the climate is sensitive to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  The fact that in this chain of events the amount of carbon dioxide released lags behind the initial warming is exactly what is expected.

The fundamental fallacy in the two points made by the “dissenting experts” is that changes in the earth’s climate are always initiated by the same cause. That makes no more sense than saying that since lightning has historically caused forest fires, all forest fires are “natural” and never caused by humans.

The present warming, which has been  most dramatic in the last few decades, has nothing to do with the Milankovitch effects which are much too slow and too small to cause this rapid warming and are not even in the right direction to cause warming.  The present warming  is due to the sudden and tremendous increase in the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, which is already at a level never even approached during the past million years and is entirely due to human use  of fossil fuels and deforestation.

“In order to substantiate the claim for global warming, accurate historical data must be available.”

Mr. Kokkonen claims that existing data is invalid  because many of the weather stations maintained by the U.S. Historical Climatology Network are located in areas affected by local man-made heat sources.  This “urban heat island” effect is well known for many years and has been thoroughly studied and corrected for. The effect on the U.S. average temperature trend (let alone the global temperature trend ) is undetectable.  A study by the NOAA  of exactly this effect compared properly located stations with a group of stations regardless of appropriate location  and found no discernable difference in the temperature trend.

But the misunderstanding  propagated by Mr. Kokkonen goes much deeper than this:

* The temperature records used to document global warming are trends, not absolute measures–that is, it is the long term  change in the temperature of each location that is being referred to.

* Any remaining  biases in the global temperature record maintained by NASA  due to “urban heat island effects” are removed by comparing urban with nearby rural trends. Far from introducing errors, this procedure removes any residual errors.

* The global temperature trend records mean just that: they are averages in the trend over the entire surface of the earth–the area of the continental U.S. is about 1.5% of the earth’s surface area, of which about 70% is ocean. There are rather few heat island effects in the middle of the ocean.

* Comparison of the total global temperature trends with the trends from just the ocean surface temperatures show the same overall pattern.

* There are numerous other indications that the earth’s climate system is out of energy balance and is warming: measurements of  the deeper layers of the ocean down to several thousand feet show that they have accumulated a huge amount of heat energy since 1970; glaciers worldwide as well as the Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps are melting at accelerating rates and  summer sea ice in the Arctic is shrinking; the globally-averaged sea level is rising as the ocean warms and the ice sheets melt.

All of the foregoing is well-known and documented. What is most disturbing about Mr. Kokkonen’s statements and those of fellow “climate change deniers” is their eagerness to accept whatever statements they come across on talk radio shows or the Internet without putting in the effort to investigate whether they have any scientific validity. If this is typical of the level of scientific understanding of some present or would-be office holders, then our country is headed for serious trouble.

Ray Weymann is a graduate of Cal Tech and holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Princeton. He lives in Atascadero.



  1. rferris says:

    Dr Weymann proves beyond doubt that a degree in astrophysics makes you a total dummy when talking about climate….just another “James Hansen” embarrassing all serious scientists with politically motivated junk science.

    1. There is nothing in science that give CO-2 magic properties.
    2. Correcting for heat island effect makes data more accurate only when done honestly, something that is currently not the case..
    3. Thinking that folks more scientifically informed than he is get their info from talk radio is dumb, but makes him feel wise and superior,also saves him from actually checking his facts.
    4. All the climate ALARMIST confuse evidence that the planet has warmed a bit in the last 100 years with evidence that human activity plays a significant role
    5. Go to GEOCRAFT.COM for some real science on the subject, especially Dr Weyman, he needs it!

    (1) 5 Total Votes - 3 up - 2 down
  2. Paperboys says:

    Global warming fact or fiction? isn’t even the issue. I don’t need to be a scientist to see smog coming out of a smokestack, a semi truck or a car’s tailpipe.
    The air quality in LA or Fresno, Beijing or Mexico City is enough for me to be convinced that we need to cut the burning of oil, gasoline, diesel and coal.
    We should have started cutting oil use back in the 1970s when this talk about pollution all started. If we had, we’d all be breathing a little easier by now. I could care less about this debate.
    The key issues are: What needs to be done? How much will it cost? and, Is there the political will to see it through?

    (0) 6 Total Votes - 3 up - 3 down
    • rferris says:

      Yep ,and you would also have argued that the earth was flat and at the center of the universe, this is the power that uninformed/uneducated observation has over those who lack the context to put their observations into.

      (0) 4 Total Votes - 2 up - 2 down
  3. RFryer says:

    Fixing a (significant) typo: The difference between NOAA’s temperature reconstruction and NASA (GISS) is 0.3C – or about 0.5F over the period from 1940 to 2000. This is getting a LOT of attention by NOAA though – their online ‘defense’ seems weak but they have a paper due out very soon that should illuminate. In any case, UHI is an active area of disagreement among experts, and Weyman should be informed.

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  4. RFryer says:

    Dr. Weyman says:

    >A study by the NOAA of exactly this effect compared properly located stations with a group of
    >stations regardless of appropriate location and found no discernable difference in the
    >temperature trend.

    One then wonders why the GISS (NASA) UHI-corrected temperature record shows approximately 3 degrees C less warming than the NOAA? Perhaps the NOAA dataset that they show online hasn’t yet been corrected? A reference to the study would be helpful – NASA’s corrections have time and again been found to be replete with station and arithmetic errors (thankfully NASA GISS doesn’t compute shuttle orbits).

    The NOAA website cites Smith and Reynolds 2005 (it will pop right up if you google it) as their processing method – but this doesn’t mention any UHI corrections that I can pick out (I admit I didn’t read it word by word).

    It would be interesting to know more about NOAA’s methods (NASA’s too for that matter). There are some interesting results in the climate literature of UHI effects exceeding 8 degrees C by actual measurement.

    I take issue with Dr. Weyman’s (quoted) statement – I think that neither NASA nor NOAA have made a clear case that their UHI adjustments even APPROXIMATE the measured changes in the US continental temperature record caused by UHI.

    Dr. Weyman also says:
    >If this is typical of the level of scientific understanding of some present or would-be office holders,
    > then our country is headed for serious trouble.

    For my part, I’d give you TWO politicians that went to Copenhagen to be ‘seen’ and escort their plane-loads of sycophants for ONE that is willing to get out in the field and see what’s actually happening. Our county’s NOAA sites are pretty disreputable. Garbage In Garbage Out applies to all parts of science as Dr. Weyman would well know. Kudos to both Matt Kokkonen AND Dr. Weyman for investing some attention and energy to this subject.

    And as far as talk shows and the internet goes, I’m in favor of using all the information I can find. His ‘Challenge’ here would be incredibly more useful if he provided references – I know already that I can find (peer reviewed) papers to debunk some of his sweeping statements – but you need to know the details to really argue points. And from other comments I’ve heard Dr. Weyman make (and the CRU email record) it’s absolutely clear that you MUST use sources in addition to the published literature – it is decidely NOT reliable as an only source! (I can cite examples in Optics, Mathematics AND Climate science of bad papers that journals were unwilling to correct.)

    (3) 9 Total Votes - 6 up - 3 down
  5. mkaney says:

    Well for once I agree with Roger Freberg. There is nothing particularly compelling or scientific in this piece. Although the author cites some facts, he does so in situations where the particular fact just makes him sound informed, but does not support his argument. For example, “there are numerous other indications that the eart’s climate system is out of energy balance…” All of the items he then mentions are subjective in the sense that there are an equal number of observables in the opposite direction. What about Antarctica?

    He also does not sufficiently counter Mr. Kokkonen’s assertions about the placement of the temperature stations, but he does blatantly admit that biases are removed by comparing with nearby rural trends. You cannot remove bias in your data like this. Bias can be REDUCED by using a large population, but the method being described violates all the rules of science and is exactly what the agency involved in “climategate” is being attacked for. He does not address the contradicting data made available from ice coring, nor that the termperatures being measure are surface and not atmospheric temps.

    The list goes on, and I have now seen enough evidence to make me believe that global warming is a scam. Why do I use the word scam? Well, as usual my first clue that something was out of sorts here was the fact that the issue was receiving so much support from the government and institutions which I trust the least.

    (3) 15 Total Votes - 9 up - 6 down
  6. tj says:

    Where to begin…

    First, the conjecture that the gasses classified as greenhouse gasses actually behave like a greenhouse when applied to a large dynamic system like the ecosystem of the Earth is unproven. Recall that a man-made greenhouse is a closed system, a box, where the greenhouse barrier is a sheet of plastic or glass that let’s light pass through but allows little or no circulation, no clouds that increase albedo (reflection of sunlight), no oceans full of biological organisms that love to use CO2 to construct their shells and ultimately lock it up in the form of limestone, etc.

    Second, the conjecture that CO2 is actually responsible for any climate activity is unproven. In fact, data indicates that CO2 levels trail temperature increases by ~800 years. I guess CO2 now has time-travel capabilities too. Evidently the story now is that the warming started, but the CO2 caused it to be amplified and this is now the “expected” outcome that was not previously expected.

    C02, as a fraction of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, is dwarfed by an order of magnitude by one of the other greenhouse gasses, water vapor. In fact, of the 4 primary greenhouse gasses, water vapor comprises 95% of the total, with CO2 weighing in at about 3.6%. A tiny percentage, 3.23%, of that 3.6% (.036 x .0323 = .0012 = .12%) is man-made CO2.

    The assertion that measurements of sea temperatures is also caused by global warming is also conjecture. There are no other possible causes of increases of temperatures in parts of the ocean – certainly not volcanic activity, thermal vents, ocean current shifts or solar heating patterns.

    The measure of a theory is in it’s predictive capacity. In this respect, global warming theory is also an abject failure. I’m sure we all remember the recent predictions (in the wake of hurricane Katrina) of ongoing extreme hurricane seasons driven by the evaporation and heating caused by global warming. Of course the past several hurricane seasons have been extraordinarily mild – I suppose that is now also expected. I’m sure we’ve also seen the as on TV regarding the plight of the Polar Bears in the face of global warming – according to some, they are facing extinction. The truth is that there are more Polar Bears now than there were in 1970 – all while global warming is happening.

    Global warming has so become the “reason for everything” that it’s laughable. Now, global warming is causing cold winters – see here:

    Recall the admonition of CalTech professor Richard Feynman “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    (3) 19 Total Votes - 11 up - 8 down
    • zaphod says:

      Crock of the Week puts the 800 year lag in context. you tube

      (-6) 10 Total Votes - 2 up - 8 down
      • tj says:

        Crock is right.

        1. Anyone who questions global warming is labeled “evil”, “greedy”, “ignorant” and/or “malicious”.

        2. Uses the standard tactic of using graphs of only the last 30-100 years and extrapolating the result for the next 100 years.

        3. Doesn’t even mention the 800 year lag which you indicated it “puts in context”.

        4. Does accurately paint global warming theory as unfalsifiable. No matter what the weather really does, global warming theory is always true.

        (5) 11 Total Votes - 8 up - 3 down
  7. utube says:

    Duuuuh! Roger what a weak link-not ALL data-only a small portion that does NOT effect the overall conclusion-but what idiots! over zealous to prove their point=which is already so obviously true-why be in such a rush to over emphasize the facts-there is already enough data without doing anything!People are afraid that if they don’t make a MAJOR blow it out of the park conclusion-people won’t heed-well thats not science or accurate-Though climate change or global warming IS occurring and is obviously excellerated by human activities-get the data that is accurate and build on that-theres plenty ofevidense everywhere…to prove this “theory”remember Gallileo-?

    (0) 12 Total Votes - 6 up - 6 down
    • northcountyresident says:

      Where are the records of ocean temperatures over the last 10,000 years or 100,000 years? How can you draw conclusions for patterns that could occur over a million years, based on a few decades of monitoring. So far the predictions that have been extrapolated on the last hundred years of data have been false.

      (0) 14 Total Votes - 7 up - 7 down
  8. rogerfreberg says:

    Oh please…

    Let’s see… first we call it ‘global warming’ … and that proved wrong… so now we call it ‘climate change’…. oh, I am so scared. Dr. Weyman should know that correlation is not causation, and that ‘trend’ data is not always predictive…. just look at the stock market.

    I can respect Dr. Weyman’s quasi-religious convictions that the world is coming to an end due to ‘climate change’… but his less than scientific arguments are no more impressive than the ranters on the street corners who wear the sign ‘Prepare to meet thy doom.”

    By the way, it didn’t help when the word got ‘leaked’ that all the data had been tweaked to prove what the global warmers want to show.

    I could use a little global warming about now.

    Roger Freberg

    (4) 34 Total Votes - 19 up - 15 down

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