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Scientists, Data Challenge New Antartic 'Warming' Study

Written by EPW

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January 22, 2009
 EPW
Peer Reviewed data does not agree with new study.... ‘It is hard to make data where none exist' 

Comprehensive Data Round Up Debunks New Antarctic ‘Estimate of Temperature Trends' 

Washington, DC: A new study on Antarctic temperatures -which is contrary to the findings of multiple previous studies -- claims "that since 1957, the annual temperature for the entire continent of Antarctica has warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit, but still is 50 degrees below zero."

Despite the fact that the study was immediately viewed with major skepticism by scientists who are not skeptical of anthropogenic global warming claims, many in the media seized on the study as a chance to attacks those skeptical of man-made climate doom. According to the release of the study: "The researchers devised a statistical technique that uses data from satellites and from Antarctic weather stations to make a new estimate of temperature trends. [...] The scientists found temperature measurements from weather stations corresponded closely with satellite data for overlapping time periods. That allowed them to use the satellite data as a guide to deduce temperatures in areas of the continent without weather stations." (emphasis added)

Few media outlets noted that in 2007 Antarctic "sea ice coverage has grown to record levels since satellite monitoring began in the 1979, according to peer-reviewed studies and scientists who study the area."  [See also other factors impacting Antarctica: "Volcano, Not Global Warming Effects, May be Melting an Antarctic GlacierThe Antarctic deep sea gets COLDER - April 21, 2008 & A January 12, 2008, peer-reviewed paper in AGU (American Geophysical Union) found "A doubling in snow accumulation in the western Antarctic Peninsula since 1850." Map of Volcanoes - See comprehensive data round up below]

The new Antarctic study was published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature and the lead author of the study was Eric Steig, a University of Washington professor of Earth and space sciences. Other co-authors include David Schneider of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., a former student of Steig's; Scott Rutherford of Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.; and Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University.

UN IPCC lead author, Dr. Kevin Trenberth, not in any way a climate change skeptic, said of the study: ‘I remain somewhat skeptical... It is hard to make data where none exist." Echoing Trenberth's analysis were several other scientists. Alabama State Climatologist Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, questioned the study. "One must be very cautious with such results because they have no real way to be validated," Christy told the AP. "In other words, we will never know what the temperature was over the very large missing areas that this technique attempts to fill in so that it can be tested back through time," Christy added. Former Colorado State Climatologist Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., senior scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder said the authors of the Antarctic study "overstated" their results. "In terms of the significance of their paper, it overstates what they have obtained from their analysis," Pielke told the AP. "In the abstract they write, for example, ‘West Antarctic warming exceeds 0.1C per decade over the past 50 years'. However, even a cursory view of Figure 2 shows that since the late 1990s, the region has been cooling in their analysis in this region. The paper would be more balanced if they presented this result, even if they cannot explain why," Pielke wrote. Pielke also questioned how the authors "reconcile the conclusions in their paper with the cooler than average long term sea surface temperature anomalies off of the coast of Antarctica." Pielke added: "These cool anomalies have been there for at least several years. This cool region is also undoubtedly related to the above average Antarctic sea ice areal coverage that has been monitored over recent years."  

A critical analysis of the paper from December 21, 2008 accused the authors of the Antarctic study of making questionable data "adjustments." (See: Scientist adjusts data -- presto, Antarctic cooling disappears - December 21, 2008) the analysis concluded: "Looks like [study author] Steig "got rid of" Antarctic cooling the same way [Michael] Mann got rid of medieval warming. Why not just look at the station data instead of "adjusting" it (graph above)? It shows a 50-year cooling trend," the analysis concluded.

Alarmists Play Both Sides

The BBC's Richard Black filed a report on the new study that included this claim: "'It's hard to think of any situation where increased greenhouse gases would not lead to warming in Antarctica,' said Drew Shindell from Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Giss) in New York."   Sadly, Black of the BBC does not report that the promoters of man-made global warming fears had already concocted explanations for the failure of Antarctica to warm as models predicted. [See: Antarctic temperatures disagree with climate model predictions - February 15, 2007 ]

The warming partisans at RealClimate.org have claimed that a cooling Antarctica is just what the models predict! "A cold Antarctica is just what calculations predict," stated a February 12, 2008 post on Real Climate titled "Antarctica is Cold? Yeah, We Knew That." The website claimed "Despite the recent announcement that the discharge from some Antarctic glaciers is accelerating, we often hear people remarking that parts of Antarctica are getting colder, and indeed the ice pack in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica has actually been getting bigger. Doesn't this contradict the calculations that greenhouse gases are warming the globe? Not at all, because a cold Antarctica is just what calculations predict... and have predicted for the past quarter century."  

So which is it? Models predict Antarctic cooling or do they predict warming? If the Antarctica is now allegedly warming, why didn't the models predict that? The spin by Michael Mann and the media on this study is stunning.

Begley of Newsweek Gleeful  

The media, led by Newsweek's woeful Sharon Begley were downright gleeful about the new Antarctic study. Begley declared: "And now the last holdout has succumbed" to global warming. Begley -- who has been the subject of several blunt but accurate Inhofe EPW Blog critiques -- took a shot at a U.S. Senator and his aide. Begley wrote: "The supposed cooling has delighted climate contrarians, such as the prolific Senate staffer (to ‘global warming is the biggest hoax' Sen. James Inhofe) Marc Morano, who has written, ‘Contrary to media hype, the vast majority of Antarctica has cooled over the past 50 years.'"

Begley concluded: "I look forward to the climate contrarians' arguments that this observed warming is a natural occurrence and has nothing to do with manmade greenhouse gases." [Response to Begley: "Actually Sharon, skeptics of man-made climate fears are going to let the scientists like the UN's Trenberth critique and debunk this study. One new study that "makes data where none exist" and is contradicted by multiple previous studies is hardly a reason for you and your fellow warming partisans) to celebrate. Climate crusaders (masquerading as reporters) like yourself, should take the time necessary to review the latest science developments. How come you are not reporting on the slowdown in sea level rise? Or how about reporting on this: New Peer-Review study challenges 'notion that human emissions are responsible for global warming' or any of the following: The global tropical cyclone season of 2008 ‘close to lowest levels observed' in decades Global temperatures failing to warm; Peer-reviewed studies predicting a continued lack of warminga failed attempt to revive the discredited "Hockey Stick"; inconvenient developments and studies regarding rising CO2; the Spotless Sun; Clouds; Antarctica; the Arctic; Greenland's ice; Mount Kilimanjaro; Global sea ice; Causes of Hurricanes; Extreme Storms; Extinctions; Floods; Droughts; Ocean Acidification; Polar Bears; Extreme weather deaths; Frogs; lack of atmospheric dust; Malaria; the failure of oceans to warm and rise as predicted." Sadly, Begley's attitude and reporting appears to be indicative of most of the mainstream media's shoddy climate reporting. Also See: Defense of Lou Dobbs & Climate Challenge to Andrew Revkin of NYT & U. S. Senate Minority Report: More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims

Alex Morales of Bloomberg News cited the late author Michael Crichton's State of Fear novel. "The findings may help puncture arguments by global-warming skeptics such as the late author Michael Crichton who have pointed to cooling in parts of Antarctica as an indicator that climate change is exaggerated." [Note: Kudos to AP's Seth Borenstein for writing the most balanced of all the media's articles about this new Antarctic study.]

Summary of Reactions to New Study and Peer-Reviewed Studies and Analyses Countering Study  

Michael "Hockey Stick" Mann Touts Study as A Way to Refute Skeptics

Excerpt: "Contrarians have sometime grabbed on to this idea that the entire continent of Antarctica is cooling, so how could we be talking about global warming," said study co-author Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. "Now we can say: no, it's not true ... It is not bucking the trend." [Note: For a reality check on Michael Mann's failed attempt to resurrect the "Hockey Stick", see this report.]  

Study claims large parts of Antarctica has been cooled from 1970's to 1990's

Excerpt: However, autumn temperatures in east Antarctica are cooling over the long term. And east Antarctica from the late 1970s through the 1990s, cooled slightly, Steig said.  

Even Pro-AGW Scientists Wary of This New study! Kevin Trenberth says ‘I remain somewhat skeptical... It is hard to make data where none exist.'

Excerpt: The researchers used satellite data and mathematical formulas to fill in missing information. That made outside scientists queasy about making large conclusions with such sparse information. "This looks like a pretty good analysis, but I have to say I remain somewhat skeptical," Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said in an e-mail. "It is hard to make data where none exist." Shindell said it was more comprehensive than past studies and jibed with computer models.  

Alabama State Climatologist Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville slams new Antarctic study for using "best estimate of the continents temperature"

Excerpt: Technique questioned:  Researchers in this study developed a new technique that combined data from satellites and automated weather stations in Antarctica to make what they say is the best estimate of the continent's temperature so far. However, there are very few weather stations on Antarctica, and the satellite data have been available for only the past 25 years. This troubles some scientists. "One must be very cautious with such results because they have no real way to be validated," says atmospheric scientist John Christy of the University of Alabama-Huntsville, who was not part of the study. "In other words, we will never know what the temperature was over the very large missing areas that this technique attempts to fill in so that it can be tested back through time."  Researchers had thought Antarctica was getting cooler in part because of the ozone hole over the South Pole. This break in the protective ozone layer brings cooling weather patterns across parts of Antarctica. Steig agrees that the ozone hole has contributed to cooling in East Antarctica. "However, it seems to have been assumed that the ozone hole was affecting the entire continent, when there wasn't any evidence to support that idea, or even any theory to support it," he adds.  

Pielke Sr. Challenges New Antarctic Study - January 21, 2009

By Former Colorado State Climatologist Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., senior scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder

Excerpt: 3. How do the authors reconcile the conclusions in their paper with the cooler than average long term sea surface temperature anomalies off of the coast of Antarctica? [see:    http://www.osdpd.noaa.gov/PSB/EPS/SST/data/anomnight.1.15.2009.gif]. These cool anomalies have been there for at least several years. This cool region is also undoubtedly related to the above average Antarctic sea ice areal coverage that has been monitored over recent years; see http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/current.anom.south.jpg]. 4. In Figure 2 of their paper, much of their analyzed warming took place prior to 1980. For East Antarctica, the trend is essentially flat since 1980. The use of a linear fit for the entire period of the record produces a larger trend than has been seen in more recent years. In terms of the significance of their paper, it overstates what they have obtained from their analysis. In the abstract they write, for example, "West Antarctic warming exceeds 0.1C per decade over the past 50 years". However, even a cursory view of Figure 2 shows that since the late 1990s, the region has been cooling in their analysis in this region. The paper would be more balanced if they presented this result, even if they cannot explain why.  

Scientist adjusts data -- presto, Antarctic cooling disappears - December 21, 2008

Abstract excerpt: "We use statistical climate field reconstruction techniques to determine monthly temperature anomalies for the near-surface of the Antarctic ice sheet since 1957. Two independent data sets are used to provide estimates of the spatial covariance patterns of temperature: automatic weather stations and thermal infrared satellite observations. Quality-controlled data from occupied instrumental weather stations are used to determine the amplitude of changes in those covariance patterns through time. We use a modified principal component analysis technique (Steig et al., in review, Nature) to optimize the combination of spatial and temporal information. Verification statistics obtained from subsets of the data demonstrate the resulting reconstructions represent improvements relative to climatological mean values."

Mann's not the only one inventing his own "modified" PCA. Looks like Steig "got rid of" antarctic cooling the same way Mann got rid of medieval warming. Why not just look at the station data instead of "adjusting" it (graph above)? It shows a 50-year cooling trend.

 Antarctic Facts Debunk Alarmists - Comprehensive Report on Antarctic Data & Studies - As of October 31, 2008  

March 27, 2008 Senate Report: Media Hype on ‘Melting' Antarctic Ignores Record Ice Growth

Alarmists Try Again: Claim CO2 Causes 2% of Antarctic to Melt & Ozone Depletion Causes 98% to COOL! - October 30, 2008

Claim: CO2 causing Antarctic peninsula to warm; ozone depletion caused the rest to cool  - Data pins polar warming blame on humans - CNN.com
Excerpt: The report may go some way towards silencing climate skeptics who point to evidence that most of Antarctica has been cooling for some time. "There is strong warming in the Antarctic Peninsula," Karpechko said. "But for several decades there has been a slight cooling of the rest of the continent. This slight cooling is due to circulation changes which are partly caused by ozone depletion. "This is why there has been a bit of confusion as to what is happening in Antarctica. But we expect a recovery of the ozone layer in the future. We may also expect that the Antarctic warming trends will emerge more clearly." Commenting on the study conducted by the UEA, Professor David Vaughan, a Glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey told CNN: "This is exactly the sort of study we need. The poles are extremely important in the climate change debate and the rapid warming in the Arctic is one of the icons." Professor Vaughan, who is studying the patches of warming happening in Antarctica, concedes that the cooling that's occurred in the past 30 to 50 years is "a little perplexing". But he agrees with Dr Karpechko over the effects of the ozone hole.  

Reality Check: Climatologist John Christy Debunks Latest Claims on Antarctica - October 30, 2008 (Kudos to Canadian Press for striving for balance in a global warming article!)

Excerpt: The Canadian Press: Scientists link human activity to warming in polar regions for first time - But some in the scientific community disagree, adding to an already splintered array of opinion on the causes of climate change and whether the Antarctic is actually warming. John Christy, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama, has done studies on climate models and says they are extremely limited tools in trying to mimic what happens in nature. He said they are unable to reproduce all of the naturally occurring influences and, as a result, give a false picture of what might be causing changes in the environment. Clouds, for example, can dampen warming in the real world, but he said models have been shown to amplify warming. "They overstate the confidence of what they have in that result because we have too many examples of models that fail," Christy said from Huntsville. "We have shown that climate models just don't have the variability that nature provides to us." Christy too disputed whether the bulk of continental Antarctica is warming, saying that it is, in fact, cooling. The report looks largely at the Antarctic peninsula - which makes up two per cent of the continent - and the eastern and western coastal regions, where they have found warming. The report focuses on temperature changes going back to 1900 and up to the present, but doesn't include earlier periods when areas in the Arctic were actually warmer than they are today and were not affected by man-made greenhouse gases, said Christy. "Just 1,000 years ago the Arctic was much warmer than it is today so it's interesting that they would use the term conclusively," he said. "Natural variability can account for warming since the Arctic has been warmer before."


CONTINUE FOR SUBSTANTIAL SUPPORTING DATA

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