Archive for April, 2010

Climate change makes it on to the leaders’ debate agenda

April 23, 2010

There was a question about climate change during the second leaders’ debate for the UK general election.

Unfortunately, the question was a bit naff.  Essentially, it was “what have you done personally in the last 6 months to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions?”  I guess it was slightly more illuminating than “what’s your favourite colour?” but only just.

So what did they say?

Brown kicked off.  He’s only flown once during the election campaign, which hasn’t been 6 months.  He takes trains.  And he installed solar panels (I think he meant solar water heating).  More relevantly, he mentioned the climate change act and that he’s been working with Europe and the rest of the world to find global solutions to these issues.

Cameron started by saying that he had tried to get the Tory party to embrace environmental issues and pretty much acknowledged that this had failed.  He’s had insulation fitted.  And opposed the 3rd runway at Heathrow.

This question played into Cameron’s hands as he could talk about his own opinions without saying anything about his party. He also had to say nothing about some of his MP’s (and MP candidate’s) dodgy views on the science of climate change.  I was surprised that neither of the other leaders brought this up.

Clegg gets the train to Sheffield (unless he has lots of stuff for his kids). His more general point was that planes create lots of CO2 and that the taxing of flights needs to be looked at.  Because passengers are taxed, not flights, there is no incentive for efficiency in flight numbers.

Brown’s second comment focussed on changing the UK’s energy balance.  He spoke about  reducing our “addiction to oil” and aiming for 50% renewables by 2020, which would include nuclear.  He then questioned Clegg about his opposition to nuclear power and Cameron about his opposition to wind power.

Cameron didn’t really answer the question and mentioned his Green Deal, which apparently encourages efficiency.  Brown responded by saying that Labour had a similar scheme already.

Clegg answered Brown’s question by saying that he had no fundamental opposition to nuclear but thinks its very expensive, would take too long get online and might increase energy costs. Clegg would use the money earmarked to support the nuclear industry to start insulation schemes and support other types of renewable energy.

Personally, I’ve always thought nuclear makes sense from an emissions point of view but I’ve not really looked into the economics of it.  It seems to work for France.

After some more arguing about energy balance, Cameron said that Clegg’s policy of rejecting nuclear meant that there would be “power cuts by 2013″.  Well that just sounded a bit vague.

The debate went downhill from here.  Clegg took a swipe at Brown about his sidelining at Copenhagen and pointed out that Cameron’s decision to align himself with some questionable characters in the EU wouldn’t help with climate negotiations in Europe.

Cameron’s defence was a bit silly: he said that the Lisbon treaty only had 7 words on climate change (why would it have more? it’s a document about the functioning of the EU).  His justification for his EU grouping was even more daft.  It was essentially that the recently deceased Polish president had been in that grouping, Clegg and Brown had said nice things about him after his death so the whole grouping must be fine.  I don’t follow that logic.

If this is the only discussion of climate change at these debates then that’s a shame because I don’t think we really learnt much about what the 3 parties are proposing.

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The Icelandic volcano and weather

April 15, 2010

If you’re in the UK then I’m sure you’ve heard about the Icelandic volcano.  Its caused a shutdown of airspace in the UK as well as in Scandanavia and Holland because volcanic ash doesn’t mix well with aircraft engines.  The satellite image below shows the plume as of 10am on 15th April:

I just saw an interesting volcanologist on BBC News 24 explaining why this volcano is producing so much ash.  Apparently it’s because this volcano is beneath a glacier and this has led to the explosive eruptions that have sent the ash high into the atmosphere (up to the stratosphere).  An eruption from another Icelandic volcano earlier this month didn’t produce any problems as it wasn’t under a glacier and resulted in lava flows.  [Update: here's a blog post about subglacial eruptions by a proper geologist.]

The interesting volcanologist also said that these eruptions can last anything from hours to years!

So it could be down to the weather to sort this one out.  The Met Office have issued a plot showing the location of the plume at 6am on 15th April.

If we take a look at the weather charts, we’re in a region of high pressure at the moment and this is drawing the ash south eastwards at the moment:

There’s not a lot of change tomorrow either so I doubt things will be much different then:

The high pressure moves eastwards a bit on Saturday so that may clear things away but I wouldn’t bank on it:

So it could be a while before the atmospheric circulation clears this ash away to make it safe for aviation.

On the plus side, this large injection of particles (aerosols) into the atmosphere could result in some really colouful sunsets – here’s an example – or even a blue moon.  These particle clouds can catch the light from the setting Sun at different heights to normal sunsets and this can be really beautiful!

Another “climategate” inquiry…

April 15, 2010

This is starting to get a bit repetitive: another inquiry clears the CRU scientists.  This time the report came from Lord Oxburgh’s Science Assessment Panel.

The main criticism from this report was regarding the level of collaboration between CRU and statisticians in relation to the integration of different climate datasets.

New Scientist got a bit carried away and ran with the headline “Climategate scientists chastised over statistics” despite the report saying that “it is not clear, however, that better [statistical] methods would have produced significantly different results” and “in the CRU papers that we examined we did not come across any inappropriate usage although the methods they used may not have been the best for the purpose.

If this is what New Scientist are referring to then this is pretty weak chastisement.

But why not go further?

Others have called for professional software engineers to develop the routines CRU use to industry standards.  How about some editors to help with writing their papers?  The Oxburgh report also pointed out that CRU were quite disorganised so let’s get in some management consultants as well.  They could do with a drawing office to help draft figures.  Professional archivists would be useful to keep track of all their data and they could use some people to deal with all the FoI requests and media interest.  I suspect that some social scientists and politics scholars would help focus their research on the needs of society and policy makers.

Clearly this would all be too expensive for a small research group.

As it is, CRU have 3 permanent staff and the nature of academic research funding means that work is done with the best people available at the time (i.e. PhD students and postdocs who often have in-depth statistical training) with the funding that has come through.

However, I do agree that CRU should keep up to date with the latest advances in all the disciplines that their work overlaps with, which is a huge task in such a new and dynamic field as climate reconstructions. I have no doubt, though, that all the criticism that this field is receiving at the moment will accelerate this process of tightening up the methods.

This isn’t an ideal situation but its the way things have been in UK science for many years and the fact that CRU have produced so much world-class and timely science is a testament to their dedication.  Maybe the New Scientist should have picked a headline from this extract:

“We believe that CRU did a public service of great value by carrying out much time-consuming meticulous work on temperature records at a time when it was unfashionable and attracted the interest of a rather small section of the scientific community.”

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The beginning of the end of climategate?

April 3, 2010

The UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (S&TC) published their report on “The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia” last week. This follows their oral evidence session and requests for written evidence concerning this matter.

What did they find?

The key conclusions from the report were:

“The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced.”

“We have suggested that the community consider becoming more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies.”

and

“Within our limited inquiry and the evidence we took, the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact.” *

I am very happy with the first and third points here. The excellent work of Phil Jones has been instrumental in bringing attention to climate change and its great that this inquiry has acknowledged that.

Data policy

As for the second point above, I have no problem with this as long as any rules imposed are carefully considered and not “knee jerk” measures designed just to show that something has been done.

Indeed, James Annan has pointed out on his blog that this criticism of “standard practice” regarding data policy must surely be aimed at the Research Councils and not individual scientists or universities. Chris Rowan neatly tweeted that this stance boils down to the “Government condemning government-funded scientists for following government IP policy”. Hmm.

It is also worth considering this point from the S&TC report:

“Even if the data that CRU used were not publicly available—which they mostly are—or the methods not published—which they have been—its published results would still be credible: the results from CRU agree with those drawn from other international data sets; in other words, the analyses have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified.”

This seems to be saying that, whilst desireable, even ideal data sharing rules are not fundamental in verifying CRU’s work.

(To clarify my own position, I’ve never said that I don’t think that data should be shared. However, I did think that it was unfair to criticise CRU for not following ideal data sharing standards that never existed. It seems that the S&TC largely agree with this. Rather, the S&TC criticise UEA for not supporting and advising researchers appropriately.)

Evidence

The S&TC came to these conclusions despite receiving a rather skewed view of climate research from their evidence.

For example, there was the flawed IoP evidence submission and there were a high number of submissions from prominent “skeptics” (e.g. McKitrick, McIntyre, Global Warming Policy Foundation).

This input, though, does not seem to have shaped the findings of the report in any significant way, other than some of these people being the source of many of the Freedom of Information requests that CRU received and dealt with poorly.

Looking at the minutes of the report, it seems that Graham Stringer MP attempted to amend some elements of the document to bring it more in line with the “skeptical” evidence. He was unsuccessful. However, as Deep Climate points out, even his proposed amendments would not have changed the conclusions much.

Why did this situation arise in this inquiry? Some of the comment on a recent post from Stoat suggests that those working in climate science should be more active in contributing to these inquiries, which sounds like a good idea to me.

Where next?

Of course, this is only the first of three inquiries to investigate this episode with the other two being the Muir Russell headed Independent Climate Change Email Review and the Scientific Appraisal Panel, which includes some very big names.

Hopefully, though, this report heralds the beginning of the end of “climategate”.

* Graham Stringer MP voted against the inclusion of this point.

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