07 December 2009

Will Howard on Science and Politics

From the comments are these thoughtful views from Will Howard, project leader in the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, in Hobart, Australia.
I am a working scientist, doing research on paleoclimate and biogeochemical cycles. I mostly work on timescales longer than the millennial-scale reconstructions mainly under discussion in the context of the UEA e-mail files, but the principles are similar. I have a lot of experience in developing, calibrating, and applying paleoclimate proxies based on geochemical and biotic tracers. I have done work on developing composite time-series using multiple proxies and multivariate techniques such as principle-components and factor analysis, so I do understand many of the technical issues under discussion.

I also have been doing some work on the impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms and ecosystems, and this work has had some media attention recently which has seen me being asked questions about policy by the media.

In answer to the title of the post, I don't think scientists working in this arena can completely avoid the political implications of our work. The political debate comes to us. My own experience is that I haven't needed to seek out "political debate." The question is how to deal with it? I would place myself, imperfectly, somewhere between "science arbiter" and "honest broker" in Roger's taxonomy, but closer to "science arbiter."

As one example, I've been asked by the media (here in Australia) for my comments on the upcoming Copenhagen conference and the relatively small proposed cuts in emissions. I answered that the science I've been involved in suggests long time lags in the ocean's ability to buffer the anthropogenic CO2 invasion, so action, if any, to cut emissions should be sooner than later for maximum efficacy. In other words, *IF* you are going to do something, do it now. (Dave Archer, whose comments you can see at RealClimate, has done the best work on this question of anthropogenic CO2 lifetimes of anyone in science and I strongly recommend reading his comments whatever your views of RC). Does that make me an "issue advocate?" I don't know, but I prefer to avoid it.

The role of us scientists should be to identify, and if possible quantify, possible risks associated with human impacts on the earth's climate and biogeochemical systems. Like Roger Pielke Sr. I think there's a broader perspective on human impacts beyond just the modification of the infrared budget by CO2, that needs to be discussed more. It is NOT our role to dictate policy.

We have, in my opinion, not done as good job as we might of distinguishing between scientific and non-scientific questions for policymakers and for the media and public. The issue of whether global warming is occurring, and if so, is attributable to human action, is a scientific question.

What actions, if any, to take in response to the problem, if any, come down to political, economic, ethical, even spiritual considerations. A perfectly valid policy response by society may be to just continue emitting greenhouse gases as we've been, and deal with the consequences later. *Personally*, as a citizen/human being/parent, I think that would be a grossly misguided policy. My job as a scientist, as I see it, is to point out the risks.

As long as I'm commenting, there are a few important issues brought up by the UEA email files (however they got into the public domain).

One is the public perception of the process of science, which I think has been damaged by the indications in some of the communications (if true) that there were attempts to subvert the peer-review process.

I have argued - publicly and strongly - that the robustness of the AGW hyopthesis derives, in part, from the adversial nature of scientific discourse. That is, the validity of any scientific hypothesis is contingent upon its standing up to scrutiny and (attempted) refutation. In plain English, it's right until it's wrong. A great example is Darwinian evolutionary theory, which has (so far!) stood up to everything that's been thrown at it, including tests Darwin and his contemporaries could not have conceived of in the late 19th Century.

So I have said in public lectures to often-skeptical audiences, that science is always trying to knock down theories like AGW, and the fact that it's stood up so far argues for its validity if not ultimate confirmation (key distinction there!).

The apparent collusion to manipulate this adversial system evidenced by the emails, if true, would tend to compromise the credibility of this system. If true, it tends to make scientists like me look like fools or liars for stressing the strength of our adversial system.

So for example, Gavin Schmidt was quoted last week on NPR (discussed on this blog under "Redefining Peer Review"):
"'In any other field (a bad paper) would just be ignored,' says Gavin Schmidt at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. 'The problem is in the climate field has become extremely politicized, and every time some nonsense paper gets into a proper journal, it gets blown out of all proportion.'

Most of the papers Schmidt and his colleagues object to challenge the mainstream view of climate science. Schmidt says they may be wrong or even deceptive, but they are still picked up by politicians, pundits and businesses who are skeptical of climate change."
This raises the question: what is a "bad" or "nonsense" paper? A paper Gavin, Mike Mann, and Phil Jones disagree with? The quote comes across as an attempt to arrogate to himself and a few others the judgment of what is or is not a "bad" paper. Do the rest of us get any say in this? (sorry Gavin if you're reading this, but with all due respect that's how it reads, and I'm sure you didn't mean it to come across that way)

The other problem is the attempt to second-guess the political implications of scientific papers. That is not science's place. Opponents of, say, carbon emissions limitation bills, would argue that papers like the "Hockey Stick" publications have been "blown out of all proportion" to justify large-scale and expensive global mitigation initiatives. And Gavin's comment that "in any other field a bad paper would be ignored" is just plain wrong. Climate science is not the only field of science in which the political and social implications of scientific publications get a very public airing. Think of biomedical research and all the controversies there (remember the fraudulent human cloning result?)

One more point (as long as I'm at it!) about the discussion of "gatekeeping": for many of the climate-related questions in discussion now we need data - badly. I would be concerned that in the process of keeping papers out of the literature whose *interpretations* some may disagree with, valuable *data sets* might also be excluded from publication. This is in my opinion a key issue I haven't seen discussed. So good examples are tree-ring data. These are valuable data for fields such paleoecology, archeology, and geochronology, not only for climate research. Their interpretation in terms of paleotemperature may change, as new insights are gained into the sensitivity of tree growth to the multiple drivers of temperature, precipitation, etc. But the data themselves need to be out there to be used, and indeed re-interpreted.

I've been late coming to this discussion, and I think more of us need to weigh in, because the public perception of the credibility of our science is at stake. I commend Judith Curry for the intellectual clarity and integrity of her commentary on this issue, and hope some of my comments here expand upon some of the excellent points she made.


  1. Will Howard's precise yet circumspect comments are a breadth of fresh air. Let's hope that he, Judith and likeminded climate scientists retake their field and provide the scientific facts that allow the development of sensible cliamte related policies.

  2. So, to turn it around, who knows best what papers suck? Mark Morano or Jim Hansen?

  3. Indeed. It's very nice to see a person who can state something clearly, without hand waving, distraction or muddled thinking.

  4. I just lead one project on ocean acidification, not the whole Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, much as I might appreciate the "field promotion."

  5. It's very important that the views expressed here by Will Howard get as wide an exposure as possible. And that scientists who agree with Will, Judith Curry, Hans von Storch, myself and the like make their views known in public also.

  6. In a similar vein, I wrote a post in response to a BBC Radio4 programme on this issue. My perception is that people with a weak science backbround tend to see 'scientists' as oracles, their word is to be accepted without question, maybe interpreted to discover the hidden meaning of their words, or just ignored if it does not accord with an individual's preconceptions.

  7. Clearly a lot of scientists have relied on peer-review being a gold standard but let's be honest, there isn't much incentive to question it if the carbon scare is what keeps the funding coming in.

    The Jones/Mann/Briffa work provided the bedrock for the case that warming was unprecendented and hence the manmade warming could be separated out from natural variation. That low natural sensitivity from these false paleo studies was used in models that were falsely claimed to be able to mimic these (assumed low) natural variations which then gave a false mathematical backup to the attribution studies. This was called solid "evidence" but it's all founded on sand.

    If warming isn't actually unprecedented and hence is mostly natural then a lot of the impacts research likely wouldn't have been funded. And that is the hard reality for those scientists who still remain silent. It would be nice if finding out the workings of our natural world were considered important enough by itself.

    But then it would also be nice if it was generally realized that poverty is the real problem for 3rd world dwellers - not a few mm of sea level rise or any other such minor problem 100 years off. Hey Bangladesh can solve many problems with proper sandbanks. When are we going to give them money to do that rather than employ more climate modelers?

    But anyone who values scientific truth and who thinks that the ocean is somehow storing up energy or CO2, or that CO2 has an enormous lifetime, check out the base assumptions underlying it all rather than just assuming peer review took care of that. It's surely clear to everyone now that alarmist papers have been given a free ride while skeptical papers are held to a much higher standard. If not, then just check out the ludicrous editorial defense of Nature magazine to the chicanery of the climategate scientists.

    Scientists though are still doing good work and hence are now understanding natural events much more and every new bit of real research indicates less to be alarmed about. What the mainstream don't like to admit is that a lot of this reality checking was forced on them by the few skeptical scientists who had the courage to stand up and be counted - and who so far have been correct all down the line.

  8. Dr. Howard's commentary demonstrates that the process by which we do science remains robust. The real-world process of science is a bit more complicated than the rather dry textbook version of the Scientific Method. When activists run the credibility of the scientific process up on a reef, we are well-served by those scientists willing to make themselves visible.

    Similarly, we lay folk are gaining useful perspective from the new blog of Hans von Storch and Eduardo Zorita.

    If you followed that link you will have noted that it was Roger who made us aware of the new blog. And it was Roger who gave me better tools to understand the policy process.

  9. Recently I saw this on a NASA website. Do you or does anyone know the significance of it?

    Here's an excerpt:
    Controversial New Climate Change Data

    November 10, 2009

    New data show that the balance between the airborne and the absorbed fraction of carbon dioxide has stayed approximately constant since 1850, despite emissions of carbon dioxide having risen from about 2 billion tons a year in 1850 to 35 billion tons a year now.

    The rest is at this link:


  10. "...science is always trying to knock down theories like AGW, and the fact that it's stood up so far argues for its validity if not ultimate confirmation..."

    The biggest issue at hand is, is this statement really true? We've been told for several years now that there is a "consensus," and the issue is closed. So there has evidently been no need of "knocking down" AWG for years. So when did this effort to knock down AGW go on? The whole concept is a relatively new one - at least as currently described - so you only had a short period before Kyoto and the claimed scientific certainty to debate the issue. What are the classic papers that sought to knock down AGW? I doubt many climate scientists could name three.

    The problem is that once group-think sets in, and the train starts leaving the station, efforts to challenge the favored hypothesis go out the window (did I mix metaphors?).

    So Dr Howard - or Roger - in the last 15 years, how many studies have been published showing the benefits of a general climate warming? Let's face it - whether the climate goes up or down, there have to be many places on the planet that would benefit locally, so where are the studies that show benefit? I'm afraid I have heard of the local benefits of AGW so rarely that they could be counted on one hand, whereas the "bad news" studies seem to come out every week, year after year. This is an example of the obvious bias in the literature caused by the "right-mindedness" effect. If it shows up in "effect" studies, then I have to assume that it has existed in the more basic cause and effect science as well.

  11. 1) Will frets over a changing ocean…

    Click here for an excellent discussion of the ocean acidification canard.

    Click here for a more general discussion of the absurdity of getting neurotic over anything which represents “change” (oh, the IRONY!).

    2) Will frets over AGW…

    Although utterly unproven, there exists reasonable theoretical basis for assuming that human activity has probably contributed some degree of warming.

    But, every ice core study I have examined indicates that the combination of recent natural and man made warming has failed -- on balance -- to even slow down the 10,000 year cooling trend.

    So, for those seeking some mythical Garden of Eden static climate, one could well argue that MORE AGW is necessary if we are to overcome the (near term) natural cooling and achieve that pipe dream. Once the next glacial period begins, we’ll have to find something far more powerful than CO2 if we are intent on further perpetuating that fool’s errand.

  12. I think that one of the lessons from this episode is that while bad papers may be picked up in a political process as Gavin says, scientists can't help that and should just use the standard process to deal with papers that they personally consider wrong, even if they think it egregiously wrong. S

    end correspondence in response, maybe signed by many people in the specific field. If a journal seems to have a bad process, call for an independent review by a proper institution like a university or scientific academy.

    The process for dealing with research that somebody (whether it is a McIntyre of an RCer) needs to be regularized.

  13. Concerning the problem of distinguishing between "good" and "bad" papers, we need to always remember that in every field of science, including climate science, the majority of peer-reviewed research articles are wrong. Not sure how this bears on this particular debate, but suspect it is not entirely irrelevant. Maybe someone else can say why.


  14. Luke Lea (Tue Dec 08, 10:00:00 AM MST )

    Am I to infer from your link that there is a greater than 50% chance that the conclusions presented in your link are wrong? Of course, if the conclusions are wrong, then we can no longer be confident that they really are wrong -- can we? And the dog continues to chase its tail.

    I’m sooo confused!

    But, in the end, if the public become more skeptical, then I am pleased.

  15. I think that there is a qualitative difference between a paper with a mistake in it, and an egregious paper that in theory should not pass review.

    Who decides where the line is drawn? And given that the latter case is bound to happen anyway, what do we do when somebody thinks it has happened? Do we treat it like a paper with a mistake, or should scientists do something different and stronger?

  16. Hi,

    You write, "The issue of whether global warming is occurring, and if so, is attributable to human action, is a scientific question."

    This is true. But what is also a scientific question is, "What will the future warming be, with and without direct action to reduce warming?"

    This very important scientific question has never been scientifically answered by the IPCC (who is charged with synthesizing available climate science).

    None of the IPCC Assessment Reports to date has come up with anything similar to the work done by MIT:


    ...Thomas Wigley and Sarah Raper...


    ...or me (Mark Bahner):


    If we compare these scientific predictions for warming in the 21st century (all in the "no policy case"), we get:

    MIT: 50% probability of warming of 5.2 deg C, with a 90% probability of warming between 3.5 and 7.4 deg C. (Ho, ho, ho! Sorry, couldn't help myself.)

    Wigley and Raper: 50% probability of warming of 3.06 deg C, with a 90% probability of warming between 1.68 deg C and 4.87 deg C.

    Mark Bahner: 50% probability of warming of 1.20 deg C, with a 90% probability of warming between 0.02 deg C and 2.45 deg C.

    Obviously, those are 3 quite different nearly completely mutually exclusive predictions. Also, it should be obvious that the policies to be pursued would depend on which set of predictions is correct.

    It is towards future warming that the IPCC should concentrate, if the IPCC could do honest and rigorous scientific evaluations. (This isssue alone provides abundant evidence that they can't.)

  17. SVOR

    I had read the SCIENCE article on Plankton growth. If they are taking more CO2 out in an enriched CO2 environment pH is not lowering as fast as they think. pH is a 20th century concept so I assume someone has made a calculation using partial pressures and solubility for 1800. The Oceans have a large buffer capacity (plenty of dead CaCO3 shells) its hard to imagine how the pH could shift very fast. In any event I never see it mentioned. I guess it doesn't meet the needs of the AGW gang.

  18. Thank you Will, a really helpful balanced piece and a great post from jgdes - I totally agree.

  19. jgdes @ #8

    Interesting post. Sorry if I'm being dim but would you mind clarifying your remarks about natural sensitivity as I don't quite follow. Are you arguing that natural sensitivity is high and that Jones/Mann/Briffa found it to be too low?

  20. When a euro-Socialist (jgdes) and a quasi-Libertarian (me) can -- so far -- agree on ONLY one thing -- the unsupportable hysteria over AGW -- it's time to sit up and take notice!

  21. When a study is published, it amounts to nothing more than a theory. It doesn't (or at least shouldn't) be considered worthy of basing public policy upon until it has been thoroughly picked over. This is one of the biggest problems we face in the current climate debacle.

    Take Mann's first paper on the hockey stick. No one ever checked it. No one ever audited it. He declared that everything science knew about the MWP was wrong despite the previous consensus being the result of work in a lot of different disciplines by a multitude of academics.

    Mann relied on bizarre new statistical techniques and invented his own novel measure of statistical significance (because he failed normal measures), yet no one was curious enough to check. No one made a peep. He overturned the world and was prominently proclaimed throughout the IPCC assessment which followed shortly thereafter. Not even a shrug.

    The climate science community is so incompetent or corrupt that no one checked his work. Of course, no climate scientist ever thought to check the temperature monitoring sites, either. Or thought to check the data manipulation. Or made a stink about the amateurish code.

    Not til outsiders brought the issues to the fore. Yet these "scientists" demand that they be given the final word without rebuttal. They'd be a joke, if their cost weren't so frightening.

  22. After the CRU leak, the defence of global warming that I hear cited most often asserts that even if the CRU got the temperature record wrong, one need not worry because there are other ‘independent’ records from GISS and NCDC. Pielke Sr. questions the independence of these reconstructions but the leaked emails show that Jones believes that Pielke Sr. wouldn’t know independence if it slapped him in the face (sorry to bring up a possible sore point).
    I would like to hear the assessments of other scientists (Will, Roger, etc.) regarding the issue of this claimed independence which is playing a starring role in the defence of climate science.
    In short, what is the value of the independence?
    (If this discussion has occurred elsewhere, forgive me and please point me to it. There has been more written in the last couple of weeks than I can keep up with.)

  23. If there were more Will Howards in the world and fewer "Eli Rabetts"/Gavin Schmidts/Michael Manns/Will Connolleys/"Taminos" I might very well have never become a skeptic.

    The reason I started delving into the issue is because what I was hearing didn't pass the "smell test".

    The debate is over. The science is settled. Everything bad that happens is caused by the theorized phenomenon. Every adjustment goes "the right way". These were all concepts that were alien to every study or project I was ever involved in.

    Indeed, in all of the areas I've done research, more data invariably raised more questions. What other area of science has almost every single new bit of data magically support the hypothesis? (At least that's the "consensus" spin.)

    Without a robust debate, we don't have science. All we have is a well-crafted screenplay.

    Fine for winning Oscars, but...

  24. Has no one noticed comment #10?

    What is it's significance?

  25. Thanks for all the comments. I feel like "The Accidental Blogger." I will try to respond to a few of the comments.

    jgdes: Good points all. I'm a bit of a "purist", often arguing for just doing science for its own sake.

    Your point about poverty is a good one. Not a scientific issue, but one of social and economic equity and priorities. I notice a lot of policy makers stressing the point that developing countries have to be part of the solution in reducing emissions, and I think there's truth to that. But when I look at the many problems facing people in many of those developing nations right now - not 100 years from now - I wonder how many of them consider global warming their biggest problem? If you are worried about your children dying of malaria or diarrhea right now, global warming might not be your biggest worry. So I think if we in the developed world want those in the "third world" to take climate change seriously, shouldn't we be looking at ways to solve the more immediate development and environmental problems facing them? (That's me speaking as a citizen not a scientist.) Bjorn Lomborg, I think, makes some of these points.

    "Not Whitey Bulger" (isn't Whitey Bulger supposed be under Fenway Park?): I agree that not all the effects of climate change are going to necessarily "bad" everywhere. In my current area of research (ocean acidification), there's evidence that the added CO2 to the ocean may benefit some organisms in some ecosystems. So I think the important question is how to work out how the ecosystems will change with the "winners" and "losers" changing abundance and/or function in the ecosystem. Papers citing "benefits" to at least some organisms include:

    Ries, J. B., A. L. Cohen, and D. C. McCorkle (2009), Marine calcifiers exhibit mixed responses to CO2-induced ocean acidification, Geology, 37(12), 1131-1134, doi:10.1130/g30210a.1.


    Iglesias-Rodriguez, M. D., et al. (2008), Phytoplankton Calcification in a High-CO2 World, Science, 320(5874), 336-340, doi:10.1126/science.1154122.

    So will it all be "bad?"(Note again, "good" or "bad" is a value judgment - not a scientific conclusion). Perhaps not, but it is likely to be different, and we'd better do all we can to anticipate *how* it will be different to put ourselves in the best position possible to adapt if necessary.

    More later.

  26. Finally something smart.

    Lot of respect for such a voice

  27. SBVOR and MIKE,

    I commented earlier that the effects we are talking about may not all be "bad," and cited the Iglesias-Rodrigues et al. paper your link mentions. As far the ocean's buffering capacity is concerned, it is large but the long-term buffering agents are in the form of reactive marine sediments. Problem is the largest available stock of buffer is on the bottom of the ocean, whereas the carbonic acid (CO2) is entering from the top. It will take time for the anthropogenic CO2 to mix through through the whole ocean (ocean overturning time scale of ~ centuries) and then time for the dissolution to take place (millennia probably). Meanwhile the ocean buffers via shifting carbonate ion (CO3=) to bicarbonate ion (HCO3-) and pH does, and has gone down. About 0.1 pH units so far. Still, and likely to remain, an alkaline solution, but at the expense of CO3= ion, which does affect many organisms' key metabolic activities such as shell formation.

    Archer, D., et al. (2009), Atmospheric Lifetime of Fossil Fuel Carbon Dioxide, Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 37(1), 117-134, doi:doi:10.1146/annurev.earth.031208.100206.

    Moy, A. D., W. R. Howard, S. G. Bray, and T. W. Trull (2009), Reduced calcification in modern Southern Ocean planktonic foraminifera, Nature Geoscience, 2, 276-280, doi:10.1038/ngeo460.

    in addition to papers cited in earlier reply.

  28. Luke Lea and Dean,

    "Bad" papers do get published, and scientists have the option to write comments on papers in the literature, with "Comment" and "reply to comment" exchanges published. The comments themselves are sometimes widely cited. Alternatively there is the option to write another paper putting forth an alternative point of view or interpretation.

    My perspective on current science being "wrong" is that the question should be not *if* it's wrong but *how* might it be wrong? In the case projections of future climate, and question becomes not "are the projections wrong?" but "in which direction?"

    Also plenty of good and valid science is ultimately proven wrong; its value is that along the way we learn a lot. A well-formed hypothesis that is disproven is extremely valuable in motivating science.

  29. RichieRich
    That natural sensitivity is high is not my argument, it was an accepted scientific conclusion before the Mann hockey stick came into being. In fact it is even now used in "tipping point" arguments, ie that we are perturbing a chaotic system which has in the past demonstrated a tendency to suddenly shift dramatically. (To my mind this is the only plank left in the argument).

    The hockey stick seems to have been made to match the Siple curve of CO2 and helps the argument that airborne CO2 is the major dominant force on the climate which was is also reinforced by the Vostok ice-core data that shows an almost linear relation between CO2 and temperature. Suddenly lots of scientists had the cause and effect they'd been searching for. Hence you now see many papers that try to explain all these previous climate shifts in terms of rising and falling CO2 levels. Of course there remains an implicit assumption about cause and effect in that argument. ie does B cause A instead of A causing B or maybe unknown C causes both A and B.

    Now imagine a major dataset that shows an historical discrepancy between CO2 and temperatures. It complicates things doesn't it? Maybe nature isn't so predictable after all. Maybe large natural cycles exist that are completely unrelated to CO2. If so, then how do we show that in a computer model and how do we separate out man's contribution? Not so easy! In fact though they did use a natural component but they damped it down with a totally guessed aerosol component to try to wiggle match that mid-century hump.

    Mann and the rest of the team argue for a small natural (ie non CO2) sensitivity on realclimate. When Scaffetta and West did a solar proxy match to the Moberg reconstruction it was lambasted on realclimate who argued that a larger natural sensitivity gives us even more reason to worry about putting CO2 into the air. Just think about that. Classic circular reasoning?

  30. "If warming isn't unprecedented and hence is mostly natural . . ."

    This statement makes no sense. What ever the cause was of previous warming episodes does not mean it can't be anthropogenic in this case. Houses burn down because they are struck by lightning. That doesn't mean that there isn't also cases of arson.

    What ever the scope and magnitude of the MWP, making such a case from it suggests that climatologists must describe causation for every blip in the temperature record before we can ascribe the current one to AGW.

    This ignores the physics, which is over 100 years old and is one thing that is truly settled. The greenhouse process is physics and chemistry. It doesn't depend on computer models or tree-ring historical records. It is defined and proven by physical properties that can be tested. There are many details to be resolved that are not settled, but physics and chemistry form the core of the foundation of AGW science.

    This is why (I think) a skeptic like Roger accepts the core of AGW, and it is what deniers ignore when they make an alleged chip in the corner of a huge brick building and then claim that the building is going to fall.

  31. jgdes

    Thanks for getting back to me. Very helpful. I'd been conflating natural and co2 sensitivity, hence my confusion!

  32. Re Will Howard # 29 "A well-formed hypothesis that is disproven is extremely valuable in motivating science."

    One of the problems with the issue of climate change/AGW is the distinct lack of well-formed hypotheses. The hypotheses we have had to date have either been too broad to be testable in any meaningful way, or their testability depends on data/knowledge we don't yet have.

  33. jgdes and RichieRIch

    One of the difficulties with the team's approach to natural sensitivity (as identified by Warren Meyer) is that they require natural sensitivity to be high at the moment (so that natural factors can mask purported AGW) while at the same time requiring natural sensitivity to be low so that they can attribute the warming from 1975 to 1998 to CO2.

  34. Just a correction to my own writing: It's "adversarial" not "adversial." How embarrassing...

    While I'm on acceptable spellings, is it "adaption" or "adaptation?" My dictionary gives both as alternative spellings but somehow "adaption" doesn't sound right.

    Also: "acclimation" versus "acclimatization?"

  35. -35-Will

    I always use "adaptation" and "acclimatization" and I thinks that is standard in the impacts community, though other communities will have their own jargon;-)

  36. Comment #10 from Konstantin describes a paper:
    Knorr, W. (2009), Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions increasing?, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L21710, doi:10.1029/2009gl040613.

    In which Wolfgang argues that the airborne fraction of CO2 emissions (the proportion that stays in the atmosphere year-to-year rather than being taken up by some sink) has stayed fairly constant. This result, if true, would imply that some sink has been increasing its uptake rate as emissions have grown and/or some source of emissions has been overestimated, Knorr suggests emissions due to land-use changes. Knorr's conclusion is in contrast to other estimates suggesting the airborne fraction is increasing, carbon sinks are becoming saturated and losing their tendency to take up anthropogenic CO2, e.g. the ocean which theoretically should start to become "saturated" at some level of CO2 absorption from the atmosphere:

    Le Quéré, C., et al. (2009), Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide, Nat. Geosci., 2, 831-836, doi:10.1038/ngeo689.

    Le Quéré, C., et al. (2007), Saturation of the Southern Ocean CO2 Sink Due to Recent Climate Change, Science, 316, 1735-1738, doi:10.1126/science.1136188.

  37. Dr. Howard,

    Raymo and Ruddiman argue that the drawdown in CO2 since the Eocene optimum was caused by increased weathering loss caused by the uplift of the Tibetan Plateau. The counter argument was that an increased sink of that size would have drawn atmospheric CO2 down to very low levels, not just to the 180 ppmv observed during glacial conditions. But what if the net effect of higher CO2 levels is increased calcification by marine organisms (see here)? Wouldn't that act as a negative feedback loop and maintain a nearly constant uptake fraction?

  38. -28-Will Howard (Wed Dec 09, 01:53:00 AM MST ),

    Okay, the environment is changing. When has the environment ever not changed?

    Okay, some marine life may find the change harmful. Others may find it beneficial. When has this ever not been the case?

    If, today, the entire human race disappeared forever:

    1) Glaciers 1,000 feet tall would still scrap New York City off the map (about 50,000 years from now).

    2) Unless the present interglacial warming period proves to be unlike each of the four which preceded it, sea levels would still rise 4-5 meters at some point during the next 50,000 years.

    We will not have caused either circumstance. And, there isn’t one darn thing we could do to stop it.

    Why focus on such incredibly minor anthropogenic driven changes? Every living thing as well as every inanimate thing has an impact on the ever changing environment. Why should Homo sapiens be the only entity which does not?

  39. Dewitt:

    Responding to your comment (which raises some really good points):

    It's important to bear in mind the timescales involved. The weathering processes Mo and Bill (and Flip Froelich) invoked in their 1988 Geology paper, and later reviewed in their 1992 Nature, would act on timescales of millions of years to change CO2 concentrations (balance of weathering-driven drawdown versus crust/mantle degassing). You are correct that burial, long-term, acts as one of the sinks.

    These are long-term (and I mean hundreds of thousands to millions of years) constraints on the carbon cycle. The input of anthropogenic CO2 is happening within centuries, orders of magnitude faster than the weathering feedbacks you've cited. The concern, in my view (and that of other scientists working on these issues), is what happens meanwhile over the next few centuries, before the long-term buffering mechanisms have a chance to kick in.

    As far as "increased calcification by marine organisms: you've linked to a Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst. media release accompanying the recent Ries et al. Geology paper I cited above in this discussion thread. Indeed, this may end up being an important feedback, but note that 10 of the 18 organisms tested showed lower calcification rates under elevated CO2. The impact on the overall ocean carbon cycle (via changes to alkalinity) due to changes in calcification will depend on how much of the ocean carbonate budget the organisms' calcification accounts for. They did not look at foraminifera (my own area of research; Moy et al. 2009 cited above) or coccolithophorids, large "players" in the pelagic (open and far from land) ocean carbonate production cycle. The former, in the taxa studied so far, show reduced calcification, the latter show mixed responses so far. This is an active area of research and we still have much to learn.

    As it happens I am a convener of a session the AGU Ocean Sciences Meeting which will explore just this kind of question:


    Justin Ries will be one of the presenters.

    As an aside, carbonate precipitation, by itself, does act to some extent as a "counter-pump" in raising the pCO2 of water. But in the real ocean, almost all carbonate precipitation is biological, and thus coupled to organic production, so that the "rain ratio" of carbonate:organic carbon in sinking particles produced by biota can influence ocean pCO2.

    There's a huge body of literature on the question of long- and short-term carbon cycle feedbacks, and it's an active area of research as I've mentioned.

    See (if you want to read primary literature):

    Raymo, M. E., and W. F. Ruddiman (1992), Tectonic forcing of late Cenozoic climate, Nature, 359, 117-122.

    Raymo, M. E., W. F. Ruddiman, and P. N. Froelich (1988), Influence of late Cenozoic mountain building on ocean geochemical cycles, Geology, 16, 649-653.