Monday, February 15, 2010

The Science is Back

The man at the centre of the Climategate scandal, Professor Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia’a Climate Research Unit (CRU), has made clear that there has been no warming since 1995. His admission casts doubts on the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where he was a lead author and largely responsible for the claim that warming was moving apace and represented a major threat to the planet.

In an confessional interview with the BBC, published by The Daily Express in Britain, he also said that he was a good scientist but not at all good at keeping records. He has resisted requests to hand over his raw data for scrutiny under the Freedom of Information legislation in the UK, largely because of how chaotic these records were. The Climategate emails themselves confirm this. In fact, it now appears that crucial data, including that relating to the famous “hockey stick graph” which showed dramatic warming over the last fifty years, has gone missing.

Phil Jones's "confession” also makes clear that he now accepts that the Medieval Warm Period, which affected large tracts of Europe, Greenland and North America, was warmer that the current temperature in these same regions.

Part of the explanation for the apparent rise in temperatures, reported by CRU and used by climate scientists as part of computer models, concerns the location of land stations which measure the earths temperature. Many of these have been incorrectly sited, seriously compromising the data by factors such as urbanisation, changes in land use and, in many cases, being moved from time to time. Some are next to air- conditioning units or are on waste treatment plants. One of the most infamous land stations is next to a waste incinerator.

A review of every station that produces data used by climate scientists – and not all of the data produced by land stations is used – suggests that their location presents a warming bias in the data and, when this is taken into account, there has been no statistically significant warming for fifteen years. Professor Terry Mills, professor of applied statistics and econometrics at Loughborough University in England, looked at the same data as the IPCC. He found that the warming trend it reported over the past 30 years or so was just as likely to be due to random fluctuations as to the impacts of greenhouse gases. Mills’s findings are to be published in Climatic Change, a peer reviewed environmental journal.

These developments – the Jones “confession” and the work by a variety of scientists examining the temperature records – cast doubt on the cornerstone of the theory of man made global warming. But the scientists at the heart of this theory are defending their ground. The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts has recently issued a new set of global temperature readings covering the past 30 years, with thermometer readings augmented by satellite data. Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office, said: “This new set of data confirms the trend towards rising global temperatures and suggest that, if anything, the world is warming even more quickly than we had thought,” The Times of London reports.

What is sure is that the tone and texture of the science of climate change is shifting. From there being a consensus and declarations that “the science is settled”, scientists from all sides are now raising questions, offering different or challenging interpretations and offering competing theories.

Climate science is a young science, with many competing views of the dynamics of climate and the ways in which climate can be best understood. What appears to be happening since the collapse of the Copenhagen climate change negotiations is that scientists are now concerned with pursuing noble causes and more concerned with the credibility and veracity of their science. This is a welcome development. Science is about systematic work, theory and scepticism. Its good to see that all three are in vogue.

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