Sunday, January 01, 2012

More Physics Follies

Back in March 2011, writing on this very blog, I described the efforts of global warming rejectionists, who tried to get the American Physical Society (APS) to water down or reject its earlier statement on global warming. Instead the APS strengthened its statement.

One result of the kerfuffle was the creation of a Topical Group on the Physics of Climate (TGC). John Mashey, writing a comment on the blog, provided a very illuminating brief history behind the creation of the TGC. Gentle readers of Rabett Run (are they any other kind of readers?) are referred to Mashey's masterful history.

Meanwhile, while randomly twiddling the teevee dial over the holidays, I accidentally discovered a new PBS Nova film about the melting of arctic glaciers, Extreme Ice . The Greenland ice is melting in ways that are not fully understood, but the melting is occurring faster than many climate scientists believed in the recent past. The film is actually quite frightening.

The latest (2007) IPCC document includes global sea level rise from the warming up of the oceans (thermal expansion), but does not include any contribution to the sea level rise from melting terrestrial glaciers, because there was no agreement on how to model the melting process.

This brings us to a point: skeptics and rejectionists stress the uncertainties in the predictions of global warming. However, glacier melting is one factor which, if included, makes the future predictions more alarming, not less alarming. As climate science advances, the case for doing nothing becomes even more untenable.



David B. Benson said...

Damage to agriculture already makes doing nothing untenable.


If Eli's contrarian commenters doubt the expansion of British viticulture or the return of brewing to Greenland's icy clime signals rising temperatures, Austria has begun distilling that luscious tropical fruit, the carrot:

John Mashey said...

Thanks for the kind words.
Related to the original APS effort (and others), I'd recommend Cool Dudes, as per Mooney or the actual paper by McCright & Dunlap, who've done a lot of serious work in this turf.

When I wrote about the APS petition, I noted the demographics were heavily skewed older, male and (to the extent findable) conservative.

Anonymous said...

Do we have an overall ice sheet model? it would be rather complex if we did, each glacial system is different. How would we include: Helen Fricker's active subglacial lakes, the different physical states of ice, the unknown bits of glacial plumbing when we cannot even fully explain Jacobshaven.

Ice sheets are complex not fully understood systems. Is then catastrophic cascading failure a possibility?

Just asking. (and implying)

Rabid Doomsaying Little Mouse

Martin Vermeer said...

Yep, uncertainty is not your friend if you're arguing for inaction. Actually, what you would need then is certainty... of no bad consequences. This simple truth is amazingly widely not seen.

Anonymous said...

"Skeptics" and denialists pathologically behave as though uncertainty only makes extreme warming less likely, not more likely. Pat Michaels has said as much regarding the IPCC, that their errors are always in the direction of more warming or greater disaster (which is demonstrably false). What I keep seeing is evidence that the uncertainty not only goes both ways, but that things tend to be worse than initially assumed. Sea levels are rising at the upper bound of IPCC uncertainty, not the lower one. Greenland's glaciers are melting and sliding into the sea faster than expected, not slower. And the range of possible values for CO2 sensitivity has a very long tail at the upper end, with a steep drop in probability for the lower end.
To explain this seemingly widespread I tentatively conclude that the real scientists are intentionally using conservative estimates, sticking their confidence to the conclusions that are less drastic whenever there's a chance that unknowns give a wide range of possibilities. And yet denialists continually refer to their work as "alarmist." They continually ignore the magnitude and direction of uncertainties in the real world and only think about ways scientists could be over-estimating things, not realistic ones about how they could be (and likely are) under-estimating them. If AR5 contains any upward revisions in warming projections or severe ecological/economic impacts, I can't expect the career denialists to drop their pathological optimism and accept that things really could be worse than we previously thought.

John Mashey said...

Uncertainty: I suggest that scientific arguments will weigh less with some of the public than the financial effects of those whose business depends on pricing risk, ie insurance companies.
Folks like State Farm and Allstate have already left the Florida Coast, for example. Not handy, but rates in Texas have apparently gotten much higher.
Anyway: my suggestion is that insurance companies really dislike big uncrertainties, and a worthy effort for someone with time might be to collect some examples.

David B. Benson said...

Rabid Doomsaying Little Mouse --- Under some circumstances, yes, casading failure is possible. There are quite well studied examples of what appears to be ice dam failures with a massive release of water between 12.9 kya and 8.2 kya.

The current physical arrangements of the various ice sheets seem to preclude at least that possiblity.

ligne said...

the second link John Mashey provided is wrong. McCright & Dunlap's paper can apparently be found here: (PDF, obviously)

John Mashey said...

Ligne: thanks, I wasn't quite awake ... but actually that's a different paper. The one I meant "Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in
the United States" was in an odd place, here.

ligne said...

ah, thanks for clarifying, John! :-)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.

Please link to a global index of all the world's glaciers. Do you have any proof that more glaciers are melting than are advancing?

Do you have the precise dates each glacier starting melting/gaining ice?

Do you have an exact number of how many glaciers there are?

Has there been less ice? Yes.

Is this anything new? No.

Anonymous said...

Also isn't it true that 90% of the world's ice is in Antarctica and there is no evidence of total ice loss there, there is actually a small get gain in the last 30 years.

Typical John Smashey argument.

Anonymous said...

Snow Bunny says:

Jay Cadbury: Googling on "number of glaciers" finds a larger inventory than you can imagine:

Anonymous: Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing mass faster than expected. I didn't locate exact figures for the size of Antarctic vs. Greenland but they are comparable, so Antarctica can't have 90% of world ice.

David B. Benson said...

Best guess for Antarctica Area is 14000000 Square kilometer
Best guess for Greenland Area is 2166086 Square kilometer
Ratio is 0.1547.

John said...


Disintegration of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets can be found here at the web site maintained by Sato and Hansen.


susan said...

Extreme Ice, first aired in spring 2009, was terrific when it first came out and still terrific, if a little understating the case and almost three years behind.. Can be viewed here:

I wish you wouldn't be quite so hard on aging physicists and nobelists - they're not all bad ...

Don't know why I bother, but anonymous "Dr." Cadbury, on glaciers, a look at the full list (about 2000 IIRC) shows 90% are retreating. You can claim the 200 are the whole picture, but we have a name for that, and it ain't truthful.

(Susan Anderson)

Anonymous said...

"...isn't it true that 90% of the world's ice is in Antarctica and there is no evidence of total ice loss there, there is actually a small get gain in the last 30 years."

Are we talking icesheets/glaciers here or sea ice? The continent is losing ice. There's a smallish increase in seasonal sea ice extent - but notice that this was not enough to stop 2011 being the first ever to show a negative global sea ice anomaly for the whole of the year. (And there's a suspicion that *some* of that increase (expected increase, expected to be temporary anyway) in sea ice is due to faster and larger flow of ice from glaciers.)