Understanding Climate Risk

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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Frontiers retraction controversy

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The following is a long post, but on an important issue.

Frontiers is an open source science publisher based in Switzerland. Their aim is to provide an open access, open science platform that empowers researchers in their daily work and where everybody has equal opportunity to seek, share and generate knowledge. They have started up a whole host of “Frontiers in” journals covering a wide range of subjects. They have also been linked with the Nature publishing group who is interested in the open access model Frontiers is developing.

So I jumped at the opportunity to be an associate editor of the newly established area of Interdisciplinary Climate Studies. The Editor in Chief is the Swiss climatologist, Professor Martin Beniston. An associate editor invites a panel of reviewers who review a collection of articles each year. The associate editor establishes their interdisciplinary area with a “challenges” paper to set the ball rolling. Their task is to encourage researchers to submit innovative papers exploring the frontiers of knowledge. Read the rest of this entry »

McLean follow up

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Elaine McKewon book-ended my letter to the editors of Fairfax papers The Age and Sydney Morning Herald regarding the publishing of John McLean’s error-ridden piece on the IPCC (the editors, by the way, have not responded) with a terrific take down of McLean in Crikey.

She questioned McLean’s byline on the original article, to whit:

John McLean is the author of three peer-reviewed papers on climate and an expert reviewer for the latest IPCC report. He is also a climate data analyst and a member of the International Climate Science Coalition.”

asking “But is that accurate? Who is John McLean? What qualifications entitle him to speak as an expert on climate science? What is the ICSC, and which groups, interests and agendas do McLean and the ICSC represent? What exactly does it mean to be an “expert reviewer” of IPCC reports?”

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BoM Annual Climate Statement 2013 – quick links

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On Friday Jan 3, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology released its Annual climate statement 2013. The headline statements include:

Data collected and analysed by the Bureau of Meteorology show that 2013 was Australia’s warmest year on record while rainfall was slightly below average nationally.

  • Summer 2012–13 was the warmest on record nationally, spring was also the warmest on record and winter the third warmest
  • Overall, 2013 was Australia’s warmest year on record: annual national mean temperature was +1.20°C above average
  • All States and the Northern Territory ranked in the four warmest years on record
  • Nationally-averaged rainfall was slightly below average for the year, with 428 mm (1961–1990 average 465 mm)
  • Rainfall was mostly below average for the inland east and centre, and above average for the east coast, northern Tasmania and parts of Western Australia

The statement was widely reported – two good summaries by the BoM crew and Lewis and Karoly can be found on The Conversation. One of the biggest talking points was that 2013 was a normal year meteorologically – no El Niño in sight – but the temperature was still a record. Much of the reporting in Australia pointed out the disjuncture between observations and current government policy. The Australian Science Media Centre also had a rapid round-up that included some words from me.

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How to read an IPCC report

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By Roger Jones, Victoria University and Celeste Young, Victoria University

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the accepted global authority on climate change. It produces reports that are collectively agreed assessments of the scientific literature by leading researchers. The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is being delivered over 2013–2014, starting this weekend.

What an IPCC report is

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is an assessment that collects and summarises current knowledge in relation to climate change. This is done using literature from peer reviewed and unreviewed (grey) sources.

It is considered the leading review globally of climate change and is produced by a team of hundreds of scientists and specialists from a diverse range of disciplines.

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The scientific origins of the gradualist adaptation narrative and how to move beyond it

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The following statements are typical of the gradualist adaptation narrative:

  1. Within limits, the impacts of gradual climate change should be manageable.
  2. Therefore, climate change adaptation can be understood as: (a) adapting to gradual changes in average temperature, sea level and precipitation.
  3. Gradual climate change allows for a gradual shift in the mix of crops and to alternative farming systems.

So why are Gauss and Newton in the bath and Ed Lorenz in the hot tub?

Bath&Jacuzzi

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NCCARF Climate Adaptation Conference 2013

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The NCCARF (National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility) Climate Adaptation Conference climate adaptation knowledge + partnerships is on from June 25-27 in Sydney. I’m attending to present the results of our recently completed project Valuing Adaptation under Rapid Change. There are many researchers and practitioners of climate adaptation from Australia and overseas here, but there is also a sense of things winding down, because NCCARF finishes up at the end of June with no obvious Commonwealth footprint in climate adaptation beyond that date.

Throw in the recent efforts by some state governments to open up for business and cut green tape, there is a genuine uncertainty about the future of research that aims to improve the three pillars of sustainable development: economy, environment and society, over long time scales. Ahh yes, but I hear you say, research is like policy, it doesn’t only need to be enacted (i.e., published in the peer reviewed literature), it needs to be enabled and implemented. And that’s something that research has not always been able to do. NCCARF has managed to do some of this, but with mixed success.

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Uncertainty no excuse for procrastinating on climate change

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Guest post by Roger Bodman, Victoria University and David Karoly, University of Melbourne

Today we released research which reduces the range of uncertainty in future global warming. It does not alter the fact we will never be certain about how, exactly, the climate will change.

We always have to make decisions when there are uncertainties about the future: whether to take an umbrella when we go outside, how much to spend on insurance. International action on climate change is just one more decision that has to be made in an environment of uncertainty.

The most recent assessment of climate change made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 looked at what is known with high confidence about climate change, as well as uncertainties. It included projections of future global warming to the end of this century based on simulations from a group of complex climate models.

These models included a range of uncertainties, coming from natural variability of the climate and the representation of important processes in the models. But the models did not consider uncertainty from interactions with the carbon cycle – the way carbon is absorbed and released by oceans, plant life and soil. In order to allow for these uncertainties, the likely range of temperature change was expanded.

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Time to stop hiding behind warming trends

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Time to stop hiding behind warming trends

By Roger Jones, Victoria University

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, has reportedly acknowledged to Graham Lloyd of The Australian, that there is a “17-year pause in global temperature rises”, a fact that apparently has been suppressed in Australia. Dr Pauchauri endorses debate, saying that people had a right to question the science, whatever their motivations.

But according to Lloyd, Pachauri’s views contrast with arguments in Australia that views outside the orthodox position of approved climate scientists should be left unreported.

Am I an “approved” climate scientist? because I don’t hold that view, nor do I know any who does. What we would like, though, is for science to be reported as science and for opinion to be reported as opinion. And for all reporting to be accurate.

Lloyd makes this claim: unlike in Britain, there has been little publicity in Australia given to recent acknowledgement by peak climate-science bodies in Britain and the US of what has been a 17-year pause in global warming. Britain’s Met Office has revised down its forecast for a global temperature rise, predicting no further increase to 2017, which would extend the pause to 21 years.

This is the Met Office’s latest five-year forecast shown below. Skeptical Science reports the Met Office saying: the latest decadal prediction suggests that global temperatures over the next five years are likely to be a little lower than predicted from the previous prediction issued in December 2011. We’re in the midst of a period of La Niñas, which have a slight cooling effect, as do rising sulphate emissions in Asia. But look at the blue line – do my eyes deceive me? Is it level with the previous black line? It’s warmer? Perhaps Lloyd’s computer has a tilt to the right that makes increases look level.


Observed (black, from Hadley Centre, GISS and NCDC) and predicted global average annual surface temperature difference relative to 1971-2000. Retrospective predictions starting from June 1960, 1965, …, 2005 are shown as white curves, with red shading representing their probable range, such that the observations are expected to lie within the shading 90% of the time. The most recent forecast (thick blue curve with thin blue curves showing range) starts from November 2012. All data are rolling annual mean values. The gap between the black and blue curves arises because the last observed value represents the period November 2011 to October 2012 whereas the first forecast period is November 2012 to October 2013. UK Met Office

The Met Office predicts record global mean temperature over the next five years – now that’s news.

News Corporation sells roughly 70% of the newspapers in metropolitan Australia, and its readers are subject to this kind of fudging on a regular basis. It’s no wonder some “approved” scientists are frustrated.

But that’s not the only thing that frustrates me. It is also time to challenge what Lloyd calls the orthodox position of climate science.

Climatology needs to stop hiding behind long-term trends and explain what is in plain sight, and why variations in the rate of warming might be important. I’m working with colleagues at the moment on a National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility project called Valuing Adaptation to Rapid Change and we’re looking at the economics of rapid change. Non-linear behaviour in climate driving extreme events has the potential to really hurt us.

The first thing to bear in mind is that a trend line is a model. A warming trend is not a theory of how climate changes. If a complex, non-linear system fails to follow a trend, look at the model to see whether it represents the theory sufficiently well.

In a nutshell, the theory says greenhouse gases act like a blanket, trapping heat near the surface. This creates a radiation imbalance at the top of the atmosphere. The earth system warms to return this balance by increasing the heat escaping from the top of the atmosphere so that energy out equals energy in. This is a slow process, taking centuries, because the ocean has to warm sufficiently to support a hotter atmosphere. The scientific confidence in this aspect of climatology is extremely high. A simple trend line is sufficient to measure this process.

But on decadal time scales, the trend-line model fails. Most of the heat trapped in the earth system goes into the oceans. The top 700m of ocean increased in heat content from 3 x 1022 Joules in 1997 to 10 x 1022 Joules in 2010, in a highly non-linear manner, due to mixing rates between the surface and deep ocean. The atmosphere holds as much heat as the top 3m of ocean, about 0.4% of the heat content above. Why on earth then, with highly non-linear processes in the ocean, would we expect a gradual warming trend in the atmosphere?

A paper I published last year shows that most of Australia’s warming occurred in two episodes, one in the late 1960s to early 1970s, when south west WA rainfall also decreased, and the other in 1997-98. The other finding was that most of this warming was anthropogenic. On decadal timescales, step and trend is a much better model for explaining warming than simple trends.

To me, the graph above makes perfect sense: mild trends separated by an instantaneous rise of about 0.3°C. By ignoring non-linearity and projecting future climate change as simple trends, orthodox science is doing us a great disservice. We have not yet woken up to the recent non-linear increases in heatwaves and fire danger in Australia let alone planning for more such changes in the future. The same goes for floods.

Observed and projected percentage area experiencing an exceptionally hot year: Queensland as an example. Note the recent rapid increase (source: K. Braganza, Bureau of Meteorology)

Days above high fire danger, average of 9 Victorian sites, showing statistically significant rapid increase (site data from Bureau of Meteorology)

It’s time to stop defending orthodox science by hiding behind simple trends and come to grips with the fundamental non-linearity of climate change. That’s the risk we need to mitigate, adapting to changes that can’t be avoided.

Roger Jones receives funding from the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. He is affiliated with Climate Scientists Australia and the IPCC.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Wicked, epic fail problem

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Two strategies used in problem solving are reframing and rebadging. A problem can often be reframed or looked at in a different way. Any parent who uses reverse psychology to turn a chore into a game knows that one – Tom Sawyer getting his friends to whitewash the fence for fun is a classic example.

Expert and operating languages around a problem-solution sequence has one or more specific grammars. These terms become the labels for a particular narrative that contains a problem, a process and an outcome. So when Paul Harris, Deputy Director of the HC Coombs Policy Forum at the ANU has a go at wicked problems (Rittel and Webber, 1973) for being, well, wicked – is he rebadging, reframing or is a he just erecting a straw man and flaying it to bits in an attempt to change a prevailing narrative?

straw man THE STRAWMAN ILLUSION

Harris’ complaint is about wicked problems. They are everywhere and their number is constantly growing: Read the rest of this entry »

Rethinking rural research in Australia

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This is an excellent article by Andrew Campbell on The Conversation, republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

Rethinking rural research in Australia

By Andrew Campbell, Charles Darwin University

Rural research is vital. It is about 10% of our national innovation system. Annual investment exceeds $1 billion, according to the Rural Research and Development Council. The rural sector and farm-dependent economy accounts for 12% of GDP, 14% of exports, 17% of employment, 60% of the land mass and between half and two-thirds of total water use. (Mining accounts for 9% of GDP, 35% of exports and 2.2% of employment.)

A vibrant, world-leading rural, environmental and agricultural research sector is more strategically important for Australia now than ever. This is clear from authoritative reviews on climate change, biosecurity, drought policy, biodiversity conservation, food security and energy-water-carbon intersections. The Australian Government has also received the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Rural R&D Corporations and the Rural Research and Development Council’s National Strategic Rural R&D Investment Plan.

All these reviews and reports say we need more and better rural research, development and in some cases extension. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

September 3, 2012 at 11:29 am

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