February 14, 2014  
Climate Change? Rely on the Experts

One Hundred and Ninety years ago, French mathematician and physicist Joseph Fourier published an article noting that given the Earth - Sun distance and the solar irradiance, the Earth should be cooler than it actually is. He suggested that the Earth's atmosphere acted to insulate the surface. In other words, Fourier first proposed the greenhouse effect. Joseph is also known for his heat conduction equation -- a parabolic partial differential equation and the use of Fourier series to solve the equation. You will no doubt recall being introduced to the subject in your fifth semester calculus course.

Joseph Fourier

About ninety seven years ago Alexander Graham Bell wrote that the continued use of fossil fuel might cause a greenhouse effect here on Earth. It's now known that carbon dioxide has risen from 270 parts per million in Fourier's time to 400 parts per million as of last spring. We also know that CO2, water vapor, and methane all absorb and re-emit infrared radiation in random directions that would otherwise escape into space. We've observed an increase in the global mean temperature of 1.3 F. Arctic sea ice has been declining dramatically and may disappear by the summer by 2030. Glaciers have been retreating worldwide. The sea level has been rising. The arctic permafrost line has been migrating northward. The altitude of the tropopause has been increasing. The pH of the oceans has been dropping (acidification). The average moisture level of the atmosphere has increased. There has been a dramatic increase in the frequency of extreme weather events.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that global warming will have a significant impact on global food and water supply, habitat, cause extreme weather events, and cause major disruptions in our global ecosystem during the remainder of the century. Their projections for the end of the century are for between 2 F of warming which pretty is bad, and 9 F of warming which approaches seven horsemen, biblical plagues sort of bad.

There are some who would have you believe there is significant controversy about the whole idea of climate change. But there is actually no controversy among scientists who publish peer reviewed articles in scholarly journals. We are free to examine the published literature and make our own determination:

Efficient three-dimensional global models for climate studies: Models I and II by J Hansen, G Russell, D Rind, P Stone, A Lacis

Yep. It's the heat conduction equation. Most of the general public is four years of math and physics away from being able to evaluate this paper. (The conclusions and abstracts are usually somewhat accessible). Thus we must rely on experts to help us formulate an opinion. The folks who write these papers are definitely intellectuals. You can get a general sense of how they are regarded by their peers by looking at how many citations their works have: Climate Experts at Google Scholars. A citation often means that a scholar trusted another scientist's work enough to base their own work (and reputation) on it.

Climate Experts?
Could you discuss the use of Fourier series in the numerical modeling of the heat transfer for climate simulations?
4 A Series? I don't pay any attention to minor league baseball. I know all about this. I did some modeling after high school.

Some Real Climate Experts
Wallace S. Broeker Christopher B. Field James E. Hansen Colin Prentice TML Wigley Spyros Pandis Edouard Bard David Rind

The climate change denial people generally present data or arguments that omit most of the facts. This is known as cherry picking. Weather graphs that show cooling will invariably start at about 1998 -- an extreme El Nino year. If you choose your facts carefully enough you can come to rather outrageous conclusions. For example:

  • The sun is at the same angle and the lengths of day are identical on the first day of spring and the first day of fall.
  • So the Earth receives the same amount of radiation from the sun each day.
  • The average temperature in Des Moines is 42 on March 21
  • and it is 62 on September on 21.
  • Why the difference? Well, the sun is closer by 680,000 miles on March 21st than September 21st.
  • Obviously, the sun must be cold!
That conclusion ignores a few other facts related to heat transfer and, a full explanation can actually be rather complicated. Plus there is a library of congress' worth of contrary data. The conclusion is an outright lie. And so it is with climate change denial. The evidence, according to the scientists of the IPCC, is "unequivocal". The climate denial folks would have us believe they've spotted problems with the prevailing wisdom accepted by many thousands of scientists, yet failed to publish and collect their Nobel prize. Ludicrous!

None-the-less, there has been a leveling off of the average global surface temperature over the last few years. (Bear in mind that 2005 and 2010 were the warmest years on record within the margin of error.) Since there is no reason to believe the energy balance of the Earth due to radiative forcing has changed, then the mystery is where the energy has been going. Energy doesn't just disappear. A reasonable guess would be the oceans, Earth's largest heat sink. And that seems to be exactly what has been happening. A large swath of the southern Pacific has been under the influence of the inter-decadal pacific oscillation. Trade winds have more than doubled, stronger than predicted, and the result was to pull cooler water to the surface while driving warm water deeper. When the winds die down, and they will soon, the warm water will return to the surface and return a significant amount of heat to the atmosphere. The experts predict a 75% chance of El Nino returning this year, and that this year or next year will be another record warm year.

The following science associations and organizations are among those that have issued statements concurring with the IPCC Report:

  • InterAcademy Council
  • International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences
  • The science academies of Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria,
    Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
  • The national science academies of the G8+5 nations
  • Polish Academy of Sciences
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
  • United States National Research Council
  • Royal Society of New Zealand
  • The Royal Society of the United Kingdom
  • International science academies
  • African Academy of Sciences
  • European Academy of Sciences and Arts
  • European Science Foundation
  • InterAcademy Council
  • International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences
  • American Chemical Society
  • American Institute of Physics
  • American Physical Society
  • Australian Institute of Physics
  • European Physical Society
  • American Geophysical Union
  • American Society of Agronomy
  • Crop Science Society of America
  • Soil Science Society of America
  • European Federation of Geologists
  • European Geosciences Union
  • Geological Society of America
  • Geological Society of London
  • International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
  • National Association of Geoscience Teachers
  • American Meteorological Society
  • Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
  • Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
  • Royal Meteorological Society (UK)
  • World Meteorological Organization
  • American Quaternary Association (AMQUA)
  • American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians
  • American Institute of Biological Sciences.
  • American Society for Microbiology
  • Australian Coral Reef Society
  • Institute of Biology (UK)
  • Society of American Foresters
  • The Wildlife Society (international)
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American College of Preventive Medicine
  • American Medical Association
  • American Public Health Association
  • Australian Medical Association
  • World Federation of Public Health Associations
  • World Health Organization
  • American Astronomical Society
  • American Statistical Association
  • Engineers Canada
  • The Institution of Engineers Australia
  • International Association for Great Lakes Research
  • Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand
  • The World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO)