Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Striking at the core of the climate change myth

In the last few days, an incredibly important set of research results went up at Climate Audit—the website of Steve McIntyre. Now, not having followed the chronology in detail, I found the post somewhat mystifying—as I am sure that most of my readers will do—so I thought that I would help out...

As many readers will know, much of the basis for the anthropogenic climate change scare came from a set of results published by Mann et al., which purported to show a massive uptick in temperatures in the twentieth century. This "hockey-stick graph" also flattened an earlier temperature period—which was well documented in historical records—known as the Mediaeval Warm Period.
The Hockey Stick Graph

This chart is Figure 1(b) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report, (c) 2001 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sourced from Wikipedia and, ultimately, from the IPCC Report [PDF].

The significance of the graph should not be underestimated: the graph showed unprecedented temperature levels and was used as the foundation for the IPCC Reports and, ultimately, the anthropogenic climate change (ACC) thesis.

What is less well known is that the reports by Mann et al. (as well as many others investigating similar trends) were actually based on previous reports by Keith Briffa (whom your humble Devil has mentioned before) of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia—and it was he who had constructed the hockey stick graph.

Now, obviously we do not have really accurate temperature measurements for further back than about thirty years—and we have no even vaguely accurate direct temperature measurements for any time before the US land network stations were set up in 1896 (previous blogs at The Kitchen have discussed the accuracy of those temperature measurements).

As such, climate researchers use proxies such as ice cores or, in Briffa's case, cores from the trunks of long-lived trees such as the bristle-cone pine. The research is basically as scientific as counting the tree rings and measuring their widths and assuming that there is a correlation between these widths and the temperature prevailing at the time.

Over the last few years, some problems with this method had become evident, not least the fact that the ring widths have not reflected the temperatures that we have been able to measure in the last few years—an inconvenient truth that has been called "the divergence problem".

Steve McIntyre—who, both solo and with Ross McKitrick, has been a thorn in the side of AGW alarmists for some time now—has been doing some excellent research over the last few years into this area (indeed, because of the entirely unscientific reluctance of climate scientists in general, and Keith Briffa in particular, to make their raw data available—this latest breakthrough has been some three years in the making) the so-called hockey-stick controversy was caused by McIntyre's discovery of the unreliability of the so-called Polar Urals data.

At this point, I am going to start referring to Bishop Hill's excellent and comprehensive summary of what he is calling the Yamal Implosion.
With Polar Urals now unusable, paleclimatologists had a pressing need for a hockey stick shaped replacement and a solution appeared in the nick of time in the shape of a series from the nearby location of Yamal.

The Yamal data had been collected by a pair of Russian scientists, Hantemirov and Shiyatov, and was published in 2002. In their version of the data, Yamal had little by way of a twentieth century trend. Strangely though, Briffa's version, which had made it into print before even the Russians', was somewhat different. While it was very similar to the Russians' version for most of the length of the record, Briffa's verison had a sharp uptick at the end of the twentieth century -- another hockey stick, made almost to order to meet the requirements of the paleoclimate community. Certainly, after its first appearance in Briffa's 2000 paper in Quaternary Science Reviews, this version of Yamal was seized upon by climatologists, appearing again and again in temperature reconstructions; it became virtually ubiquitous in the field: apart from Briffa 2000, it also contributed to the reconstructions in Mann and Jones 2003, Jones and Mann 2004, Moberg et al 2005, D'Arrigo et al 2006, Osborn and Briffa 2006 and Hegerl et al 2007, among others.

So, the new data became the absolute corner-stone of a almost all climate research because, as is often the way, the climatologists were not actually gathering their own data—they were simply remodelling using the same one or two data sets. The flaw in this is obvious: if you are feeding nonsense data into a model, then the results will obviously be nonsense too.

Steve McIntyre wanted to examine the original datasets but was turned down flat by Briffa, and other avenues failed to yield results. It was only when the Royal Society—one of the few, it seems, scientific publications actually willing to enforce their data policy—published some of Briffa's research that a way in was found. After more frustrations (Briffa—deliberately?—had removed, or not archived, any metadata (including the origins) for the tree ring measurements) and more hefty research, McIntyre seemed to be making progress.
When McIntyre started to look at the numbers it was clear that there were going to be the usual problems with a lack of metadata, but there was more than just this. In typical climate science fashion, just scratching at the surface of the Briffa archive raised as many questions as it answered. Why did Briffa only have half the number of cores covering the Medieval Warm Period that the Russian had reported? And why were there so few cores in Briffa's twentieth century? By 1988 there were only 12 cores used, an amazingly small number in what should have been the part of the record when it was easiest to obtain data. By 1990 the count was only ten, dropping still further to just five in 1995. Without an explanation of how the selection of this sample of the available data had been performed, the suspicion of `cherrypicking' would linger over the study, although it is true to say that Hantemirov also had very few cores in the equivalent period, so it is possible that this selection had been due to the Russian and not Briffa.

The lack of twentieth century data was still more remarkable when the Yamal chronology was compared to the Polar Urals series, to which it was now apparently preferred. The ten or twelve cores used in Yamal was around half the number available at Polar Urals, which should presumably therefore have been considered the more reliable. Why then had climatologists almost all preferred to use Yamal?

Yet more research was required—not only to answer the above question, but also to match up the raw core data with the locations from which they were taken.
As so often in McIntyre's work, the clue that unlocked the mystery came from a rather unexpected source. At the same time as archiving the Yamal data, Briffa had recorded the numbers for another site discussed in his Royal Society paper: Taimyr. Taimyr had, like Yamal, also emerged in Briffa's Quaternary Science Reviews paper in 2000. However, in the Royal Society paper, Briffa had made major changes, merging Taimyr with another site, Bol'shoi Avam, located no less than 400 kilometres away. While the original Taimyr site had something of a divergence problem, with narrowing ring widths implying cooler temperatures, the new composite site of Avam–Taimyr had a rather warmer twentieth century and a cooler Medieval Warm Period. The effect of this curious blending of datasets was therefore, as so often with paleoclimate adjustments, to produce a warming trend. This however, was not what was interesting McIntyre. What was odd about Avam–Taimyr was that the series seemed to have more tree cores recorded than had been reported in the two papers on which it was based. So it looked as if something else had been merged in as well. But what?

With no metadata archived for Avam-Taimyr either, McIntyre had another puzzle to occupy him, but in fact the results were quick to emerge. The Avam data was collected in 2003, but Taimyr only had numbers going up to 1996. Similarly, the Taimyr trees were older, with dates going back to the ninth century. It was therefore possible to make a tentative split of the data by dividing the cores into those finishing after 2000 and those finishing before. This was a good first cut, but the approach assigned 107 cores to Avam, which was more than reported in the original paper. This seemed to confirm the impression that there was something else in the dataset.

Having identified some of the other core locations, and running yet more processes on the others, McIntyre found that the final set came from a rather unexpected—and, in Briffa's paper, unacknowledged—source.
Forty-two of the cores turned out to be from a location called Balschaya Kamenka, some 400 km from Taimyr. The data had been collected by the Swiss researcher, Fritz Schweingruber. The fact that the use of Schweingruber's data had not been reported by Briffa was odd in itself, but what intrigued McIntyre was why Briffa had used Balschaya Kamenka and not any of the other Schweingruber sites in the area. Several of these were much closer to Taimyr–Aykali River was one example, and another, Novaja Rieja, was almost next door.

And the significance of this...?
By this point then, McIntyre knew that Briffa's version of Yamal was very short of twentieth century data, having used just a selection of the available cores, although the grounds on which this selection had been made was not clear. It was also obvious that there was a great deal of alternative data available from the region, Briffa having been happy to supplement Taimyr with data from other locations such as Avam and Balschaya Kamenka. Why then had he not supplemented Yamal in a similar way, in order to bring the number of cores up to an acceptable level?

In other words, core data from a wide area were merged together in order to provide a reliable record for the past 1,000 years or so, but this was not done for the twentieth century data. Why?
The reasoning behind Briffa's subsample selection may have been a mystery, but with the other information McIntyre had gleaned, it was still possible to perform some tests on its validity. This could be done by performing a simple sensitivity test, replacing the twelve cores that Briffa had used for the modern sections of Yamal with some of the other available data. Sure enough, there was a suitable Schweingruber series called Khadyta River close by to Yamal, and with 34 cores, it represented a much more reliable basis for reconstructing temperatures.

The results are... interesting, to say the least. [Emphasis mine.]
McIntyre therefore prepared a revised dataset, replacing Briffa's selected 12 cores with the 34 from Khadyta River. The revised chronology was simply staggering. The sharp uptick in the series at the end of the twentieth century had vanished, leaving a twentieth century apparently without a significant trend. The blade of the Yamal hockey stick, used in so many of those temperature reconstructions that the IPCC said validated Michael Mann's work, was gone.

This significance of this cannot be underestimated—it absolutely strikes at the root of the entire AGW scare. The effective conclusion is that the hockey-stick graph—and the huge temperature uptick in the twentieth century that underpins the entirety of AGW alarmism—is false.

Let us be absolutely clear about what this means: if the AGW alarmists are indeed motivated by genuine concern that humanity is causing a catastrophic warming of the planet, then they will now retract their protestations.

If, however, the motivation is different from this—if the scientists are, for instance, motivated by money or by power or by political machinations—they will continue to prophesy doom and destruction.

If you read Bishop Hill's entertaining narrative—which I really recommend that you do—and comprehend the significance of the obfuscation, cherry-picking and outright dishonesty displayed by Briffa and others, then you will know which way I'm betting.

But make no mistake, if honesty still exists—assuming that it ever did—in the climate science community, then the concept of anthropogenic climate change is dead.


Jiks said...

I actually have a degree in Environmental Management, I took this way back in the early 90's when the subject was still a science rather than a religion. Since then, like most people I guess, until recently I was lazy and largely took the view that the stuff that came out after that was right, failed to investigate anything myself, etc.

Climate change is no doubt real, after all otherwise I would be typing this under 6km of glacier. Things warm up, cool down, its perfectly natural. We are currently enjoying an interglacial. However, the concept that "we did it" is entirely another matter. In fact, unless the AGW crowd can somehow move the major land masses away from north pole, what we will see sooner or later is another period of glaciation. This would have a far greater impact than a few degress more warming, even if that were happening, which it looks increasingly like isn't and never was.

I used to work in the energy industry and of late I've tried to open the eyes of my old contacts there as to how there is no warming, we didn't do it and in any case CO2 is not a significant greenhouse factor anyway. You would think with current policies crippling their business (security of supply anyone?) they might be willing to chalenge it.

Unfortunately the poor bastards are so terrified of appearing unclean, sorry I mean not-green, its impossible to even start a dialogue with them.


Ed P said...

Climate change is natural! And warming is less harmful to species overall (including Homo S.) than cooling.

Good books summarising the above revelations are:

Chill, a reassessment of global warming theory, by Peter Taylor.

Unstoppable Global Warming: every 1500 years, by S. Fred Singer & Dennis Avery.

Roue le Jour said...

A wag once pointed out that scientists are like telephones, you can't have just one. Without someone else reproducing your results, you're just messing about.

It follows that as soon as people won't let you look at their data, you can stop right there. Whatever it is they're doing, it isn't science.

As as for disproving climate change, forget it. Standard Operating Procedure for pseudoscience when disproved is to simply say, "Oh, but that was ages ago. We don't rely on that any more."

BTW, there's a really nice underused word, 'sciosophy' meaning 'shadow knowledge', for stuff that has the trappings of science while actually being complete bollox.

Duncan said...

The AGW theory does not require that temperatures were lower and unchanging for the past 1000 years. The theory requires that increasd CO2 in the atmosphere has raised temperatures in the last half century.

The hockey stick was an underpinning of the PR effort of AGW alarmists, not the science. It was important to Al Gore and the IPCC as a way of convincing the uninformed.

Alex said...

One problem with the science around climate change is its increasing politicisation. I suspect a lot of the scientists involved are worried that any retractions will take the worlds collective foot off the green pedal. However climate prediction is an incredibly uncertain past time as there are an awful lot of variables to deal with. And as you point out current predictions rely on merging long term indirect temperature measurement data sets with the relatively short time we have been directly measuring the climate.

For what it's worth I'm still fairly convinced by the thesis that our use of fossil fuels is having a measurable impact on our climate. There is some sense in the precautionary principle here as until we get a handle on geo-engineering planetary climates at will rollback of climate changes may be quite hard to pull off.

In addition moving away from fossil fuels ticks all the boxes from a sustainability point of view. Fossil fuels are finite and getting more expensive to extract all the time. The process of extracting them has fairly severe environmental and political problems associated with it. It makes sense to shift energy production away from these non-renewable sources to avoid the shock to the system that will result when we finally pass peak-oil.

Jiks said...


The problem is we don't really have any useful renewable energy sources in this country.

Take windpower for example, as its so erratic 90% backup is needed on line to maintain the supply. So in reality I doubt it produces any net energy to speak of. Tidal and to a lesser degree other water based systems would be more predictable so require lower back up values but that technology is really in its infancy as is industrial scale geothermal.

Nuclear plants dont release significant CO2 so if you do belive in AGM then you might think that would be a goer but the mere mention of nuclear power invokes crowds chanting "burn the witch." Better energy storage mechanisms would open up all sorts of options but again, not viable yet.

Saving energy is perfectly sensible as it saves money if done sensibly but that won't be enough to stop the lights going out.

Then again if we believe we are facing a runaway greenhouse CO2 is barely worth a mention as the biggest greenhouse factor by far is water vapour so rather than closing all the power stations concreting over the oceans and painting it white would be a better move.

In any case if we cripple our energy supplies being green all we will do is export the pollution to China.

Mr Potarto said...

"The AGW theory does not require that temperatures were lower and unchanging for the past 1000 years. The theory requires that increasd CO2 in the atmosphere has raised temperatures in the last half century."

The AGW theory as usually stated is -

1. Raising the C02 content of the atmosphere raises global temperatures.

2. Raising temperatures creates a positive feedback effect whereby water vapour in the atmosphere increases the temperature increase.

3. Current temperatures are unprecedented in recorded history, we are in unknown territory.

Steve McIntyre's work suggests 3 may be false, and if it is, it suggests 2 may also be false. That leaves 1, which means temperatures will rise as C02 rises at around one degree for each doubling of C02.

This leaves little room for the doomsday scenarios that we hear so much about, with temperature rises over 8 degrees, unless C02 rises 256 times above current levels.

Henry Crun said...

Mr Potarto, the AGW theorists contention about CO2 is and always has been complete bollocks.

Saying increasing the CO2 content from the average of 400 parts per million to 600 parts per million will alter the climate is as cloth-eared as saying that poring a bag of salt into the sea will affect the tide.

David Davis (Libertarian Alliance) said...

Better watch it! Armed Climate-scientists, in Assault-Sandals and acid-rain-proof-vests, and with beards shaved off for disguise, will be after you!

Anonymous said...

The hockey stick was an underpinning of the PR effort of AGW alarmists, not the science. It was important to Al Gore and the IPCC as a way of convincing the uninformed.

Good. Then if that's so we should now see Michael Mann, Gavin Schmidt and the rest of the hockey team hung out to dry or at least cease to be part of the debate.

All the "honest" players like Al Gore, George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and so on will cease to link to Real Climate as credible source.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Mr Potarto,

"The AGW theory as usually stated is -

1. Raising the C02 content of the atmosphere raises global temperatures.

2. Raising temperatures creates a positive feedback effect whereby water vapour in the atmosphere increases the temperature increase.

3. Current temperatures are unprecedented in recorded history, we are in unknown territory."

3 is obviously false.

A number of recent studies (I shall try to find 'em) also suggest that 2 is false.

1 is true but the degree of temperature change has been grossly over-egged (mainly by people who don't understand the difference between logarithmic, linear and exponential relationships).


Anonymous said...

The whole AGW story is shot so full of holes, it's hard to know where to start. But, aside from non-disclosure of data, not implementing data version control (removal of metadata) seems common. This would violate the QA procedures in any normal field.

Jiks said...

Rising temperatures would lead to an increase in evaporation but basing our entire socio-economic policy on that single isolated fact is madness.

The whole AGW thing is based on the concept of a runaway greenhouse effect. This is patent nonsense as we are here discussing it, if there were not also negative feedback mechanisms the Earth would have cooked itself long ago.

IIRC CO2 levels were up to 20 times higher than now in the earlier epochs, if it had the affect various people are suggesting we would have had lead melting on the planets surface. I don't recall that happening but I suppose I could have slept through it. I also seem to recall CO2 is only an effective greenhouse gas at very low temperatures, ie the sort we would expect at 10km+ in the atmosphere or during the iceball periods the Earth is belived to have gone though but not really that relevant now. Been digging around for a reference to that but unable to find it at the moment.

Apologies for spamming this thread BTW :/

Ed P said...

One more point: the so-called science is often (usually?) just data-crunching to arrive at a new conclusion. Actual fresh, reliable climate data, from pristine investigations, field analyses, etc., are rarely used - it's all meta-analysis these days. As some of the data sets included are, almost by definition, out-of-date and unreliable, the extrapolations are inevitably inaccurate.

Pa Annoyed said...

I think you might have got some stuff slightly scrambled. (Not surprising in this topic.)

In the paragraph starting "What is less well known...", the original Mann series used by the IPCC didn't use Briffa's data to get its shape, it relied for its shape on Greybill and Idso's bristlecones. (That they had already reported were not correlated to local temperature.)

It was because (following McIntyre's work) everybody knew bristlecones were a problem and people would laugh if they did that again, they turned to Yamal (which are larches, I understand.) We had the bristlecone data (sort of) but Yamal was still top secret, so while it looked incredibly suspicious the sceptics couldn't prove anything.

So there are some series that rely on bristlecones, and other series that rely on Yamal, and some that use both (and pull the really excellent trick of saying "look, we can remove any one series and the result holds up" - which works because if you remove Yamal it's still got bristlecones, and vice versa). Whichever series you attack and point out all the flaws in, they always respond, "it doesn't matter, there are lots of other series confirming the same result."

Now that we've got Yamal as well, they've got nowhere left to hide. Instead of being able to say "the bristlecones don't matter, because Yamal confirms the same result", we can now laugh at them if they try to use Yamal as well.

AndrewSouthLondon said...

This is like telling 100 million christians or muslims "I've got bad news and you are not going to like,sorry, there is no God. We were made it all up". Thats right, everything you believe is down the toilet.

Earth saved, Rejoice!? No apocalypse, hurrah!? We won't all be boiled alive in 2050, wow that's good news!"?

Look at the fury in their sour faces and understand what drives the Warmist Cult followers. They need to frighten you to feel alright.

The Gorse Fox said...

The Gorse Fox wonders how long it will be before the BBC mention this.

The Great Simpleton said...

When all this blows up and the worldcomes to realise how much they've been conned, Steve McIntyre et al should get Nobel prizes.

Climate Skeptic should also get a mention for talking all real techieand deep maths and making it understandable.

Anonymous said...

Global warming.ha ha ha ha ha ha,
We know it's shite believe me .
We never believe a word those cunts say any way .
But do explain this you fucking middle class wooly liberal cunt arses .
Explain the fucking carboniferous period and other climate change events in the cock sucking worlds pox ridden blood soaked shitty history.
Sorry,im so bloody politically fucking incorrect aint I,but I hate those lying creepy theiving tosspots in the cock sucking, "global warmin" lying industry .
OOhhh, so sorry Guardian readers but just fuck off!

Anonymous said...

Same fucking anonymous.10:00:00
Why are these events occuring in the bloody past when man did not exist.
Explain thet liars and parasites.
Fucking explain it.
ps do not lie.

RichieP said...

Hello Anon,

I think I'd have a spliff and lie down for a bit if I were you. It might all look better in the morning - or not.

DocBud said...

Alex said: "There is some sense in the precautionary principle here"

There is never any sense in the precautionary principle, taking action irrespective of the cost to deal with a possible problem irrespective of the level of risk is just plain dumb. There has to be a cost-benefit analysis for any policy, and with supposed AGW this would say that the best thing to do is to keep growing the global economy, keep lifting people out of poverty and adapt to any climate change, be it natural or man-made, just as humans and other species always have.

DocBud said...

The AGW alarmist scientists always seem to have something to hide, so do the AGW activist celebs:

Diogenes said...

It gets even more surreal the further down the rabbit hole McIntyre looks.

I give you YAD061.

One tree, yes just one tree that has put on a growth spurt in the last 60 years.

Think of YAD061, standing alone in northern Siberia, no longer protected from the sun and rain by his friend who died in 1950.

Then think of him again in December when the leaders of the world destroy the global economy in Copenhagen.

Anonymous said...

"There is never any sense in the precautionary principle"

A vital point Doc B. There is never a free lunch, which is what is implied by the PP.

moonbats are our friend said...

I am tempted to laugh out loud at this news, but I fear the exhalation of gasses from my hearty chuckles will naturally add to the CO2 in the atmosphere. This will have inevitable dire consequences, such as more politicians demanding another climate change conference... one close to an airport of course as they must fly in and out.

Other dangerous side effects of my guffaw might be the BBC having to consider employing journalists who think and don't just type what they are told, and our illustrious newsgatherer being unable to fill hours of airtime with gloomy-faced moonbats and other friends.

Okay, I promise I won't laugh, then.

Kryz said...

I really need a way to understand this, as everything (and I mean everything) I read about climate change is driven by an agenda and I don't have the scientific background to appreciate it all.

Even the scienbtist have an agenda, whether its those pimping the agenda for human-driven climate change and those leaning the oppisate way.

I, like I'm sure many others, am very confused!

Rob said...

"The Gorse Fox wonders how long it will be before the BBC mention this."

When Hell freezes over, which might not be that far away.

Seriously though, this scandal is almost irrelevant - the only people who matter (government, media) will ignore it. Without publicity it will be virtually unknown. They can carry on before, and if anyone complains and points out that the science is garbage they can smear them as a denier and that's that.

BTW, why on earth is Prince Charles taken seriously on this issue? Why is he taken seriously on ANY issue? Is he a climate scientist? No. Is he a scientist? No. He's just a celebrity buffoon, a stuffed shirt who says all the 'right' things and, incredibly, is believed.

bootsy said...

Damn I just don't know what to think. Went to Switzerland a few years ago, and saw photos of where the glaciers were at the start of the 20th Century and it's frightening stuff. Of course, as DK and others say, the world has historically warmed up and cooled off so who knows. I suppose the worry is that this is the only century (give or take) in our earth's history that anyone or thing has chucked so much crap into the atmosphere that we know ain't good. Fossil fuels, chemicals, let alone when you read about the number of nuclear trasts that were done in the 50s. There's no clear cut answers, but surely caution has to be taken at some poiunt, rather than outright dismissal?

Ed P said...

The first (Norwegian) settlement on the south-western shores of Greenland, some 500 years ago, was only possible because it was ice-free, so they could fish from boats, grow veg, etc. The ice returned after 150 years and the settlement perished. Now it's ice-free again. Perhaps they burnt so many trees back then that the climate was affected?