11 November 2009

Wolfgang Knorr on Uncomfortable Research

At the University of Bristol, Wolfgang Knorr has a new paper out in GRL that finds that the airborne fraction of carbon dioxide has increased lockstep not changed with increasing emissions, suggesting that the Earth system may have a greater capacity to take up carbon than previously thought. However, this post is not about the details of the study or its significance, which are important, but rather Professor Knorr's admirable response when pressed about whether his research gives support to the "deniers."

On radio 106.5 in Bristol Knoor was interviewed by Marin Jones who repeatedly asked about whether Knorr was concerned that his research would help the cause of the "deniers." Here is Jones' second effort to elicit a response, which I transcribed from the audio stream:
Is there any sense of trepidation at putting out research like this? People who do want to deny the reality of climate change and the reality that it is caused by human beings can jump on this as an excuse and use it to suggest doing nothing or very little.
Knorr's response is responsible and measured:
We have had a lot of research that could be interpreted that way. I believe science has to be open and fair and we should not hide any of the results. Climate critics will always find something, no matter what the results are. It's not an indication not to do anything and you can always misinterpret results. But I think that kind of misinformation dies out quickly, I don't see a problem.
Kudos to Professor Knorr.

30 comments:

Paul Biggs said...

Alarmists are afraid of the onging climate science research - that's why they want the science to be described as "settled." It most certainly isn't settled!

ourchangingclimate said...

Except perhaps that his last sentence is very naive: Disinformation doesn't easily die out at all, so there is a problem.
I agree with the other parts though, of course all results have to be communicated.

Bart

Stan said...

Yeah, kudos to the professor for slandering the people who disagree with him.

Being in favor of honesty in publishing scientific results is hardly praiseworthy. The question was ridiculously stupid. What was he going to say? -- "Any results which don't fully support our religion should be suppressed."

I read his response to be two-fold:
1. People who disagree with him aren't honest about the science.
2. Regardless of the science, we still need to do something.

Maurice Garoutte said...

That Martin Jones felt free to openly ask such a question says more about the AGW debate than Professor Knorr’s answer. If Mr. Jones interviewed a researcher who had just published a paper critical of the UK health care system would he openly ask a parallel question?

Would he feel free to ask: “Is there any sense of trepidation at putting out research like this? People opposed to the public option can jump on this as an excuse and use it to suggest doing nothing or very little.”

In the AGW debate it seems normal to suppress any scientific research that does not support the IPCC’s policy goals.

W.E. Heasley, CLU, LUTCF said...

The science described as "settled" or "The debate is over" are truly bricks in the Berlin Wall of Science.

Maybe this American Thinker article sums it up:

http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/10/the_science_of_disinformation_1.html

pcknappenberger said...

Not sure how this ammunition for "deniers"--CO2 from anthropogenic activities is still building up in the atmosphere at an increasing rate. Although certainly Knorr's results should give "alarmists" pause.

Notably, it is a rare piece that both finds, and issues a press release, pointing out that something isn't progressing "even worse than expected." (contrary to Joe Romm's take on the issue).

-Chip

Paul Biggs said...

Marin Jones uses the 'straw man' of 'denying the reality of climate change' - no one denies it - I get sick of this moronic phrase. The unproven hypothesis that it is driven by CO2 is what is being questioned by so-called sceptics, along with the current policy of making big cuts in CO2 emissions, without any political feasible way of achieving arbitrary cuts on arbitrary time scales. If the sceptics were wrong about the difficulty of making big cuts in CO2 emissions, the a Copenhagen Treaty would be a formality, but clearly it isn't!

As for the paper, it is reality v models, and reality wins. The result is "it's not as bad as we thought," rather than "worse than we thought" or "accelerating."

Howard said...

Stan is right. It is pathetic when a scientist is given praise for publishing objective data.

Bart is also partially right. How many times must we read headlines like "AGW is worse than we thought" and "unprecedented temperatures" and "tipping points"

Where I disagree with Bart is that it is useful when people lie about science (like turning stuff upside down and plotting noise as signal) because they expose themselves to the cutting ridicule of truth. It's the quiet, sneaky ones you need to look out for.

Jim Bouldin said...

Roger, the second clause of your first sentence is incorrect. Knorr concludes that the airborne fraction is nearly constant (but still slightly positive), not increasing with emissions. Therefore, increasing atmos. [CO2].

Kudos to Chip for at least understanding, unlike other commenters, that the paper gives no actual ammunition to deniers (because the atmospheric [CO2] is still rising rapidly). Not that this reality matters to those desperate for bullets of course.

And I agree with Bart that disinformation does not easily go away, as Knorr claims.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-9-Jim

Yep, bad wording on ("increased lockstep", ug). Now fixed.

Though "ammunition for deniers" depends upon what target they seek to hit. If it is the idea that the airborne fraction has decreased, then this paper will be welcomed. If it is the idea that deforestation has been overstated, this paper might help there as well.

Knorr is correct when he says: "Climate critics will always find something, no matter what the results are."

EliRabett said...

Probably the most significant conclusion is that land use changes are not as important as many thought.

chrisd said...

Oh, it doesn't take long for the deniers to get a hold of stuff like this and abuse it.

Fox Nation's headline: "Earth Absorbs Excess CO2". Much rejoicing over there. Global warming proved wrong (again).

Jason S said...

If this paper doesn't give deniers ammunition, then I plainly misunderstand it.

Conventional AGW theory, as I understand it, holds that CO2 is being removed from the atmosphere at a relatively constant rate.

This paper, as I understand it, suggests that CO2 is removed from the atmosphere at a rate roughly proportional atmospheric concentrations of CO2.

If the latter is true, it implies that additional anthropogenic emissions will spend a dramatically shorter period of time in the atmosphere than previously expected.

This would significantly reduce the long term consequences of short term emission reductions, especially when compared with investing in long term clean power technologies.

Richard Tol said...

Having worked with Knorr, I think Roger's assessment is correct. Knorr is faithful to science only. He reports what he finds, regardless of whether it supports this position or that. There are many like him in academia, but too few in the media.

jgdes said...

What everyone is really missing is this:
"...the trend in the airborne fraction since 1850 has been 0.7 ± 1.4% per decade, i.e. close to and not significantly different from zero."

Now try and absorb that: A trend "not significantly different from zero" with error bars larger than the signal. Not for the first time in this debate the noise has drowned the signal. People just like to imagine the man-made fraction must be increasing because we are putting out more CO2 than ever before, but then they also imagined that deforestation was significant until the actual data showed a happily greening planet. Alarmists still like to ignore that little tidbit.

The IPCC arithmetic for CO2 fractioning is actually laughably absurd: Just have a look at the size of the error margins or the totally fake net deforestation number or just consider the overall natural CO2 flux which is 30 times man's puny contribution, with even wider error bars. Even the notion of a warming ocean being a net sink is anti-science.

And amid all these massive cumulative error margins they blithely repeat like drones that 55% is absorbed by carbon sinks. It's utter innumeracy! In the real world if you tried to design something using such mindless calculations you'd certainly be laughed at and might even be sacked. The real world is something academics need never concern themselves with though.

A. C. said...

Jason S and jgdes, Dr Knorr also says quite plainly in the interview:

"That would be a very superficial interpretation of these results. Half the CO2 we emit stays in the atmosphere and that's enough to cause global warming."

"That" is in reference to the interviewer asking if his research backs up people who deny climate change.

"Also, this research is based on the past. We are pushing the system to it's limits and it might break at some stage, as the model suggests. But is hasn't happened yet. I would not experiment with the climate system."

edaniel said...

If I recall correctly, the mass transfer driving potential is the concentration gradient. If the concentration increases in one chunk of material while remaining more or less constant in an adjacent chunk, the mass transfer rate increases.

The numerical value for the mass-transfer coefficient at the atmosphere-ocean interface is an EWAG of the fuzziest kind. There are some empirical data, but the interface is an extremely messy affair; turbulent flows at geometrically complex, compliant surfaces with waves and breaking, and misting and a whole bunch of other stuff.

The missing sink issue has been around for decades. Maybe it'll make a comeback. The natural sinks ( and sources ) for CO2 are among the EWAGest of EWAGs.

jgdes said...

AC
Well I'd hate to be superficial but it does seem that the more we find out, the less alarming it gets. I'd expect that trend to continue too.

WAG said...

If you think the Knorr study casts doubt on global warming, I think ya'll are misinterpreting the quote above. Knorr is saying skeptics will misinterpret any study to confirm their biases, so it makes no sense to censor findings that could potentially give them ammunition. Here are two reasons why Knorr has no impact on the climate consensus:

First, its conclusion makes no claims about FUTURE carbon cycle feedbacks—it simply finds that carbon sinks' ability to absorb CO2 has not declined in the PRESENT.

Second, the studies that Knorr critiques were published AFTER the 2007 IPCC report came out; so, if Knorr is correct in proving these studies wrong, his findings cannot logically have any bearing on the accuracy of the IPCC’s conclusions. At worst, Knorr simply returns us to the state of science when the IPCC report was written.

http://akwag.blogspot.com/2009/11/duds-skeptic-bombshell-that-never-went.html

Jaye said...

The term "denier" impunes religious connotations on the utterer.

Non-steady state physicists had to suffer the slings and arrows from Hoyle, similarly Schimdt, Mann, and Hansen are slinging the arrows now. Time will tell who is right.

Sam said...

This paper finds that the CO2 proportional absorption rates of the earth's carbon sinks (oceans, rocks, trees) have not significantly changed over recent history. That is fine (and good for environmental health), but all it says is that the atmospheric residence half-life of an emitted CO2 molecule is not rising. In other word, the earth's carbon sinks are not getting so full that they do not continue to absorb CO2. But atmospheric CO2 is still rising at 1ppm per year, a catastrophic rate! The fact that the residence time of individual CO2 molecules is not decreasing at higher concentrations implies that CO2 molecules are not migrating to the sinks more quickly than in the past, an ominous sign. When we burn all of our fossil fuels over the next 200-300 years, our oceans (an important carbon sink) will have their acidity increased by most of an order of magnitude. This is a chemistry experiment fraught with danger, because it is not clear that ocean life can effectively adapt to change this rapid, potentially leading to food chain collapse. I find the obstructionists of all types to climate change mitigation to be willing to make a gamble with the planet's health and legacy that I am not, so I intend to continue to vigorously urge best practices in environmental health. It's what professionals do in health care and engineering, so why not in environmental health care and global chemical engineering? Levy a tax on peeing in the pool and make polluters pay for their effluent.

Freedom's Truth said...

"In other word, the earth's carbon sinks are not getting so full that they do not continue to absorb CO2."
Yes, and since there is no evidence of even a trend in reduced uptake it indicates mileage left to go wrt carbon sinks.

"Second, the studies that Knorr critiques were published AFTER the 2007 IPCC report came out; so, if Knorr is correct in proving these studies wrong, his findings cannot logically have any bearing on the accuracy of the IPCC’s conclusions."
The carbon ppm trend scenarios assumed by IPCC a growing fraction of CO2 being put out into the atrmosphere. Those assumptions dont have any historical trend to back them up now.
It they are wrong, then the scary 'doubling of CO2' scenarios are nearly impossible to hit.

Once again we see possibly large errors (like deforestation impact estimates and absorbtion estimates) are out there lurking in climate model assumptions. This lends credence to the view that key points wrt science on climate / global warming are either not settled or not quite right.

Forrest Higgs said...

"Howard said... Stan is right. It is pathetic when a scientist is given praise for publishing objective data."

Of course he should be praised. The hacked or more likely, whistleblown, communications that have come out UEA/CRU indicate that publishing objective data is quite rare in climate research as it is practiced by the mainstream these days. :-/

Patrick said...

Wait a minute. If the airborne fraction of CO2 has not increased since 1850 then to what do we attribute any warming from 1850-present?

Inferno said...

"Wait a minute. If the airborne fraction of CO2 has not increased since 1850 then to what do we attribute any warming from 1850-present?"

Satellites

SLRTX said...

Of course Knorr would have that reaction - as would any scientist who values their career.

So when you say, "this post is not about the details of the study or its significance, which are important, but rather Professor Knorr's admirable response when pressed about whether his research gives support to the 'deniers.'", your point would be.....?

Is there an implication that the large group of scientists from multiple disciplines who study climate are somehow NOT admirable in their responses?

Since the post wasn't clear, I'll assume you are claiming this is somehow "damning" evidence against ACC.

Not. So. Fast.

Just take a peek at this site for a clearer explanation of this topic. Feel free to go to the IPCC link, where in 2007 they said pretty much the same thing.

The factors forcing ACC are a bit more complicated than deniers can wrap their minds around. That's why reasonable people recognize the climate scientists as the experts, not some "skeptical" blog page.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/Is-the-airborne-fraction-of-anthropogenic-CO2-emissions-increasing.html

justwondering01 said...

I am a little confused by what you all are posting here and I don't have access to the original article, so maybe you can put it in simple terms for me. First, let me tell you my bias, I am a "denier". Knorr seems to be saying in the article, based on the quotes I have read, that the airborne fraction of CO2 is not increasing and has not increased from the 1850's. Does he mean that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has not increased since the 1850's? I am equating "airborne fraction" to % or concentration. Is this correct or is Knorr using a different definition of "fraction"?

Todd Mooring said...

@justwondering01:

You're far from the only one confused. To give a very short answer, Knorr is indeed using a different definition of "fraction", and thus his article does nothing to undermine the scientific understanding that human activities are responsible for a major increase in the CO2 content of the atmosphere. See Michael Tobis' post "Knorr Soup" (linked at the end of the comment thread) for a much longer and more detailed explanation.

justwondering01 said...

Todd, thanks for the answer and the link. So what Knorr is saying is the earth's CO2 sinks are still absorbing the same percentage of CO2 being emmitted thus his comment that we have not filled up the earth's carbon absorbing capacity yet. Is that the gist of his article?

SLRTX said...

justwondering01 --

This is probably way too late, but I noticed you never got a response.

The short answer to your question (#29) is, yes.

The amount of CO2 pumped in the atm is increasing.

But the fraction of CO2 remaining in the atm is holding constant.

Think of it like this (this is just an example):

If the rate of increase of something going into the atm is 2x: 100, 200, 400, etc., but the fraction of that something remaining the in the atm is 40%, we get:

100 x 0.4 = 40
200 x 0.4 = 80
400 x 0.4 = 160
and so on

So, you can see the amount of something going into the atm can increase, but the fraction can hold constant.

40% of an ever-increasing number is still an ever-increasing number.

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