29 October 2008

King Anand

Viswanathan "Vishy" Anand confirms his status as Chess World Champion. Congratulations to the master from a little Patzer!

How the times are changing: 13 years ago I watched a game of the match between Kasparov and Anand on the top floor of one of the World Trade Center towers in New York. It was a terrific game, match, and venue. Kasparov, arguably the greatest players of all times, won a beautiful attacking game (game 10) with a prepared line and from there on dominated the match. And now? The towers aren't there anymore, Kasparov withdrew from tournament chess, and Anand is the champion. And he defeated Kramnik - the one who finally beat Kasparov - quite easily and with great opening preparation.

This could be the beginning of a new golden era for chess. The confusing times with two world champions seem definitely over. And new parts of the world enter the stage: Anand's win will further boost chess in India, China is also coming on strongly, and the magnificient Magnus Carlsen promises excitement for European chess fans. Some sponsors would be needed, though. There were times when Swiss banks such as Credit Suisse sponsored our great strategy game. Lately, they seemed to prefer gambling. Maybe times are changing in this respect as well...

26 October 2008

Watch Heat

Following the recommendation of Michael Tobis, I watched the PBS broadcast "Heat" online. It really was good, and I can only recommend it to anyone interested in the climate change issue. This is indeed an excellent piece of journalism. It's amazing how good the public media in the US often are, compared to the crap that the private stations are producing most of the time. It reminds me of my time in New York, when I used to listen to National Public Radio in my car. It was the only station that had good information and no advertising - I loved it.

Maybe the best piece of "Heat" for me was part 4, about coal, or "clean coal" as the industry likes to call it today. I particularly liked a statement of Jeffrey Ball from the Wall Street Journal: "I think there is a reality check going on about carbon capture and storage right now." Yes indeed, some of the potential solutions to the climate problem do need a good reality check. If I find the time, I'd like to come back to such issues again...

21 October 2008

India Flying High

Climate change, peak oil, financial meltdown, US elections - all interesting topics, but the eyes of the chess fan these days are directed to Bonn, Germany, where the Indian world champion Anand defends his title against the former Russian world champion Kramnik.

Yesterday, Anand won for the second time with the black pieces in a sharp line of the Queen's Gambit - an amazing performance. So Anand is on a good way to win the match and end the Russian dominance in chess. And India is flying high not only with their scheduled moon mission ...

19 October 2008

Viscount Monckton's Rebuttal of my Rebuttal

The 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley is a well known and entertaining figure in the climate change blogsphere. For example, Deltoid has an entire category on this self-proclaimed climate expert. Obviously, the Viscount has published a lot of controversial texts (NOT scientific, peer-reviewed papers, though) on the climate change issue. The one that I am most interested in is of course his rebuttal of my rebuttal of the Khilyuk and Chilingar piece in Environmental Geology, published on the SPPI website.

As Deltoid has rightfully pointed out, defending Khilyuk and Chilingar is not exactly a proof of being a true climate expert. But of course, Christopher Monckton has other credentials, such as being an aristocrat and having served as an advisor to Margaret Thatcher, Baroness herself. Quite impressive, indeed. Ok, as a Swiss I have to admit that I have no real sense for the British love of such titles, as in our country we happily got rid of foreign lords some 700 years ago. But that's another story...

So did the honorable Viscount provide a convincing rejection of my arguments? Not really, it seems to me. In his rebuttal, he shows an amazing unwillingness to discuss the issues in any detail or with any precision. He rather adds to the confusion that Khilyuk and Chilingar have initiated. Some examples:

When I tried to explain that Khilyuk and Chilingar's statement about the insignificant (less than 0.1 °C) warming caused by humanity's energy production was misleading, because the warming is not due to direct heating by energy use but to the indirect effect of CO2, Monckton just claims that the 0.1 °C are not that far from the scientific consensus, completely missing the point.

By the way, there recently was an interesting paper in AGU's journal Eos, where the direct warming resulting from releasing the energy of fossil fuels and other non-renewables was extrapolated into the future to show that it represents an ultimate limit to our ever-growing energy use. Of course, it is more than questionable whether such an enormous growth of fossil fuel use is at all possible, but it is an interesting conclusion nevertheless. Even if there was no peak oil and no greenhouse effect, the simple energy balance will eventually put an ultimate limit to growth. Unfortunately, we will see the other limits closing in much earlier, I suppose.

But back to Monckton. He also challenges my statement about the very small global mean insolation changes due to variations of Earth's orbital parameters, by asking how then the large glacial - interglacial temperature changes could be explained. Of course, it is the point of the Milankovitch theory that changes in the latitudinal distribution of insolation can drive glacial cycles even in the absence of changes in the total mean irradiation, but this argument seems to be too subtle for Monckton as well as Khilyuk and Chilingar.

Next, Monckton suggests that the indeed surprising current pause in the rise of methane in the atmosphere is linked to a recent stabilization of tectonic activity - apparently backing Khilyuk and Chilingar's claim that volcanism rather than human emissions is the cause of the rise in greenhouse gases. Interesting point, but where is the evidence that tectonic activity has changed over the past centuries or even just decades? Is there any scientific reference for this?

Monckton also does not like my argument that it may be misleading to compare the total CO2 degassing over Earth's history with the anthropogenic release over the past 250 years or so. Again, the argument that the time scale matters seems too subtle.

Similarly, Monckton just stirs up the confusion about the role of the ocean's warming in causing the atmospheric CO2 increase. Of course, Henry's law requires that a warming ocean release CO2. However, if at the same time the CO2 partial pressure in the atmosphere (due to fossil fuel combustion) increases even more strongly than that in the water (due to warming), the net effect is still an uptake of CO2 by the ocean, as has been observed for the 20th century.

Monckton seems to like simple arguments, even if they are demonstrably wrong. He also prefers the simplistic temperature history of the past 1000 years shown by Khilyuk and Chilingar over the much more detailed records of other authors (not only the much criticized hockey stick of Mann et al., by the way).

Unfortunately, reality is not always simple. And sometimes not the way we would like it to be. Even a Viscount of Brenchley cannot change this.

15 October 2008

No News on Twin Papers

I was motivated to start this blog by my outrage about the duplicate publication of a nonsensical climate skeptical paper, which in one version was disguised as a response to a rebuttal of mine on an earlier, similarly strange paper. As I mentioned back then, I took what I think are appropriate steps: I informed the editors of the two involved journals about this rather obvious scientific misconduct (if not the nonsense in the paper, then definitely its recycling).

So what has happened? Nothing! Apparently the editors of the two involved journals (Energy Sources and Environmental Geology) are not interested in the case, or at least not inclined to inform me about any steps they may take. Well, I somehow expected this, because, as I pointed out before, the editorial boards of these journals do not seem to be impartial on the issue. I'm just wondering what to do next....

04 October 2008

Politicizing Climate Science

I got the news about Richard Lindzen's new, hmm, let's call it pamphlet on the state of climate science via Lubos Motl and Michael Tobis. Interesting indeed.

One of the main messages of the treatise is that climate science has been politicized and hence is not able to provide answers anymore. Well, surely Lindzen's pamphlet does its best in politicizing climate science. Another thread of the paper is that skeptical opinions are systematically suppressed in the literature. As I have pointed out in my last post, this claim is typical for bogus science. But ok, it surely is difficult to publish something that contradicts established theory. So the claim may in some cases be founded, but if it grows into some large scale conspiracy theory, it becomes suspicious. As a general rule, I am very skeptical about conspiracy theories.

Michael Tobis criticized one gross misstatement in what he calls the Lindzen Diatribe, but suggested that others may find more grotesque mischaracterizations. Well, I think I found a number of points that are worth discussing.

One point in Lindzen's text that I found distorted was his account of the "correction" of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) paleotemperatures. I have a quite different memory of the story, in which I was to some extent involved by determining noble gas temperatures (NGTs) from groundwater that played a certain role. It is true that there was some conflicting evidence, but it was more of a problem between different paleotemperature proxies (oceanic foraminifera versus continental snowline, NGTs, etc.) than between model and data. The data available in the 1990s indicated that tropical LGM sea surface temperatures (SSTs) were about as warm as today (the CLIMAP result), but continents and high elevations were some 5 °C colder. Could that be? That's where the models came in and - hardly surprising - they said no, it was not possible. So it was essentially inconsistent data and some of the proxies had to be wrong. It seems that new evaluations of the oceanic proxies come up with cooler LGM SSTs, which more or less solves the problem. This is normal scientific progress and in no way needed to save the greenhouse paradigm.

A basic theory put forward by Lindzen is that science fosters fear to secure funding. Well, politicians on all sides, including environmental activisists, certainly use this tactics sometimes to gain votes. But scientists? I know of many examples where science actually tries to fight exaggerated public fears, e.g. nuclear energy, genetic engineering, or the recent LHC-micro-black-holes panic. The argument that fear is the basis for funding science simply does not convince me at all.

Another critique of Lindzen is that science has deteriorated by moving from theory to simulation and modeling. I completely disagree: Numerical solution of complex equations is simply the logical way forward once your basic theory is known (which is the case in atmospheric and ocean dynamics) but you want actual solutions of the equations. The reason that modeling has become so large is simply that ever better computers have made this possible, a tool that was not available to scientists in the good old times conjured by Lindzen. An example of the power of numerical modeling is weather prediction, where models using the same core physics as climate models have achieved tremendous progress. Just remind yourself of how the tracks of this year's hurricanes have been predicted accurately many days in advance. This would not have been possible by theory alone, without numerically solving the equations.

Professional scientific societies are all politicized and infiltrated by environmentalists, according to Lindzen. This is why they require impressive presences in Washington. But what about the many non-US scientific societies which all support the global warming theory (see Coby's list, for example)? Are they all affected by the same virus? Global conspiracy in science, I suppose. See my remark above about conspiracy theories.

A funny detail is how Lindzen uses a workshop invitation by an IPCC organizing committee as a proof for political bias. I may be completely blinded, but I can't see anything suspicious in the document, which Lindzen adds as appendix 1. What's wrong with listing some of the topics that should be discussed at the workshop? I don't get it.