Solar, Space, and Terrestrial Weather: Some Reflections
By Stephanie Osborn
Our gracious hostess, Sarah Hoyt, has kindly asked me to write a bit about this subject, because, she told me, I was the most expert, most knowledgeable in the subject, of everyone she knew. For myself, I make no claim to expertise on certain of the topics, but my background and training does, perhaps, position me well for understanding the matter, and explaining it to others.
For those who don’t know me, or who know me only by my books, I suppose a bit of introduction is in order. I’m a bit of a Johnny-come-lately with respect to professional writing. I started off as a scientist. Specifically, I’m a polymath. I have graduate and undergraduate degrees in astronomy, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. The astronomy specialized in spotted variable stars. The mathematics included a crap-load of probability and statistics. Also got an undergraduate minor and graduate sub-concentration in geology. And since I walked out with those particular sheepskins, I haven’t stopped; I’ve gotten various advanced studies and certifications in additional subjects. That includes being a NWS-certified storm spotter.
I begin with all this not to brag, but so you will know me better. So you will know that I have verified the things I am about to say.
There are some…issues…with anthropogenic global warming.
Please note that I specified “anthropogenic.” Human-caused. Why? Because there has always been global warming…and global cooling. Earth’s climate has cycles. It was warmer than it is now, 600 years ago during the Medieval Warm Period. It was warmer than it is now 2300 years ago during the Roman Warm Period. It was warmer 3400 years ago during the Minoan period; 4250 years ago during the Old Kingdom period; 10,000 years ago at the beginning of the Holocene epoch; and 350 million years ago at the beginning of the Carboniferous period. And many of these periods ended colder than they started. Given that there weren’t even any humans of any variety during the Carboniferous, it cannot be said that the climate change at that time had anything to do with humans. Nor can it be said that humans made any significant changes in their actions to cause the shift during any of the other historic and prehistoric shifts. So we know that climate has changed…naturally…in the past, but there’s NO evidence that humans had anything to do with it.
And when you start looking at the modern data, things get really squirrelly.
Different satellite systems show different things, and they all show different things from the ground-based data. One satellite system looking at sea level variations has internal errors so large that they exceed the amount of change they are supposedly recording. Another satellite system shows sea levels FALLING, and it takes a substantial, manually applied “correction factor” — which has no legitimate antecedent — to get it to show a rising sea level at all. And most of the glaciers which are supposed to be melting, to provide all of this, are in Antarctica and Greenland, and are not monitored at all. Translated: we have no clue if those glaciers are advancing or receding.
And then there’s the ground-based data.
You see, there are at least three different official databases on global temperatures: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN); the Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) database; and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) database. And they do not agree.
How so? Well, for instance: the GHCN says that 2014 was the hottest year on record. The RSS and UAH databases don’t show anything of the kind. Further, to quote Christopher Booker writing for The Telegraph in April of this year, “Careful analysts have come up with hundreds of examples of how the original data recorded by 3,000-odd weather stations has been ‘adjusted’, to exaggerate the degree to which the Earth has actually been warming. Figures from earlier decades have repeatedly been adjusted downwards and more recent data adjusted upwards, to show the Earth having warmed much more dramatically than the original data justified.”
The situation is so bad that the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has initiated an independent investigation. The investigators are — get this: experts only in climatology, because only climate experts can understand? No. The chairman of the investigatory team is a physician/biochemist. There’s TWO physicists, a statistician, a climatologist specializing in applied environmental physics, and a meteorologist/climatologist. Surprise.
The concern is not just in the adjustments, but in the fidelity of the data versus the model predictions. A model, in scientific terms, is an algorithm (usually programmed into a computer) which takes the data and cranks out a prediction. Properly done, the model is developed by initially using data with a known result, and tweaking the algorithm until you get the known result. When you can produce known results for several different database sets, you know you have a good model. It probably isn’t perfect, but it should be reliable.
The problem here is that not only do we NOT get known results, previous predictions have been drastically wrong. Moreover, there’s a little matter of significant figures to consider. Dr. James K. Woosley is an old friend of mine, going back to graduate school. He has a doctorate in particle physics, which is a field in which huge quantities of data must be analyzed using probability and statistics. In private communiques, he and I have discussed the problems, he having originated the discussion, so the idea, while yet-unpublished, is his.
You see, significant figures, in scientific data, pertains to accuracy and error bars. If, for example, you have a measurement that is accurate down to a tenth of a unit, you cannot then present results that are accurate to finer than a tenth of a unit. If you have data of mixed accuracy, some of it being accurate to a whole unit, some to a tenth, and some to a hundredth, your result can only be accurate to a whole unit; that is to say, it is accurate only to the largest error bar in the data. (It is possible, if there is only one data point accurate to a whole unit, to do some statistical computations and get final accuracy to, say, half a unit.) It is NOT possible to have a legitimate result that purports to show changes (“deltas,” in scientific terms) of less than the error bars of the data, i.e. you cannot state that there is a change occurring of 0.02 units per second, if the data is only accurate to 0.1 units.
Yet this is consistently what the climate models are producing. They are producing deltas to the worldwide average temperature with so many significant figures that, according to Dr. Woosley, “predicting the type of warming that the models claim requires 10 ppb data or better, based simply on error propagation of dQ = CpMdT, with dT/dt = 1 degree C/century with 0.3 degree C error. That is an oversimplification…but the claim… is that they can detect a trend in that temperature that the negative feedback doesn’t compensate for.” (NOTE: “ppb” stands for “parts per billion,” and is accurate to 0.000000001 units. Moment-by-moment fluctuations in temperature caused by breezes, cloud cover, etc. is MUCH larger than this.) He goes on to say, “One contention [against his argument] which I can’t per se disagree with, is that the climate includes a number of feedback mechanisms, such that with appropriately accurate models (which we lack), we could with reasonable confidence say that in the absence of perturbations the temperature would be stable to within about 1 degree Celsius…My 10 ppb accuracy is based more or less on the idea of an initial value problem.”
More, there are problems with the monitoring stations themselves. As we build, we often incorporate areas that were once rural, surrounding older stations with structures and pavement. The reflected radiation skews the results from that station, causing it to read hotter than it should (there are rules regarding how far away from a building, road, or paved area the station must be placed, but these are often ignored, especially where construction is going on around established stations). This has even happened in Death Valley, where an extant station had a welcome center, parking lot, and road built next to it. Unfortunately, the additional station that was installed to help compensate…was set up with a wraparound bluff face (within the distance limits) on two sides, and a paved road (within the distance limit) on a third side — so that didn’t help provide more accurate data.
The notion that the last couple of decades has continued a purported warming trend is patently false. Temperature deltas have flatlined for nearly two decades now. And this is demonstrated by examples of unusually severe winter weather (sometimes NOT in winter) all over the world. Here are a few headlines as examples.
May 2015: Antarctic snow and ice storm blankets parts of New Zealand! This is a huge storm, folks. “A storm blasting Antarctic weather over New Zealand is currently the biggest storm on earth according to WeatherWatch. The low stretches from just south of Fiji to Antarctica’s ice shelf, but only 20 per cent of the storm is affecting New Zealand. WeatherWatch.co.nz said the forecast air pressure at its centre over the next 24 hours would be greater than that of Hurricane Katrina when it made landfall in 2005.” Do note that winter will not officially begin in the Southern Hemisphere until June. This would be something like a monster blizzard hitting the Southeastern USA in mid-November. I live in the Southeastern USA and I’m often out in shirtsleeves on Thanksgiving weekend.
February 2015: Rare snowstorm blankets Jerusalem, Israeli desert! They do well to get 4” of snow a year.
November 2014: Biggest Snowfall of the Year in Patagonia! During the Southern Hemisphere Spring!
December 2013: Antarctica ship passengers prepare ice helipad after latest rescue bid fails! A research vessel — ironically, studying global warming effects on the Antarctic, among other things — gets stuck in the ice off the Antarctic coast — during their SUMMER — and three attempts by at least two different icebreakers to reach the stranded ship failed.
July 2011: Rare Snow in Atacama Desert, Chile!
August 2013: It happens again! A rare snow falls in Atacama desert of Chile!
And let us not forget the nasty polar vortex weather of the Northern Hemisphere winters of 2013/14 and 2014/15.
So if the data is fiddled-with, and the models are wrong, what’s going on? Why DOES the climate go up and down over centuries and millennia? Well, let’s look at something else for a few minutes.
The Sun is a spotted star. It has a known spot cycle. Actually, it has two: the 11-year cycle, and the 22-year cycle, because sunspots are magnetic in nature, and at the end of 11 years, the polarity of the fields has reversed; it takes two 11-year cycles for the fields to return to their original configuration. Hence, a 22-year cycle. But there is also evidence for longer cycles, because there are things called “extended minima,” when solar activity bottoms out for decades at a time. And a recent study indicates that in general, other stars (stars that aren’t considered to be variable stars) don’t show such periodicities. This points strongly in the direction of our Sun being a variable star, even if only slight.
The Roman Warm Period ran from roughly ~250BC-400AD. This was followed by a cool period, and then the Medieval Warm Period, ~950-1250AD. Then came the Little Ice Age, ~1350-1850AD, during which time we had the Year Without A Summer in 1816. In the late 1800s it began to warm up again, reaching a peak roughly in the 1960s. The last two decades (roughly) have seen moderating to cooling temperatures again.
The Oort extended solar minimum ran roughly ~1010-~1080AD, followed by a period of high solar activity called the Medieval Maximum from about 1100-1250AD. That ended with back-to-back-to-back extended minima:
- Wolf minimum 1280-1350AD
- Spörer minimum 1460-1550AD
- Maunder minimum 1645-1715AD
- Dalton minimum 1790-1820AD
And the Modern Maximum started ~1900AD.
So we have a very interesting correlation here. Active Sun and Warm Periods seem to go hand in hand. Extended Minima and Cold Periods also seem to go hand in hand. And the Little Ice Age seems to correlate very nicely to the extended inactivity of the closely sequential Wolf, Spörer, Maunder, and Dalton extended minima. If we throw in a decade or so of lag time for the energy differential to work its way through Earth’s equilibrium systems, it matches very nicely, actually.
AND the last 3 solar cycles have been weak and getting weaker, with the current cycle the weakest since the Dalton minimum. “I would say it is the weakest in 200 years,” said David Hathaway, head of the solar physics group at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala back in 2013. And lo and behold, we’ve entered a flattening to cooling phase climatically.
More, the clues that the sunspots for the NEXT cycle have started forming…are more than half a cycle late in showing up, and still haven’t shown yet. This means that the next sunspot cycle will likely lag by just as long as it takes for the new spots to show up. These clues include observations of the solar polar “jet streams” through helioseismology, and structures and movements within the corona. More, the magnetic fields of each cycle’s sunspots have been decreasing in strength for the last couple of cycles. We’re running around 2000 Gauss now. At the point where the spot field strength drops below 1500 Gauss, they’re predicted to go away entirely. All of these clues, and more, are some 5-7 years behind schedule in showing up. And there is no sign they are imminent even now. Many astronomers are predicting the Sun to produce the barest bump for the next cycle, or possibly flatline.
A further complication is that this lessened activity then reduces the solar wind, allowing cosmic rays entry into the solar system. Cosmic rays impinging on the atmosphere generate condensation nuclei, which tends to increase cloud formation. Cloud formation in turn regulates nighttime radiative cooling. But we don’t have a good cloud formation model, because we don’t understand cloud formation well enough. So there is a possible feedback loop/equilibrium cycle (of which Earth has an abundance) that would affect the situation.
Now, correlation does not necessarily imply causation. This is an old axiom in science and especially statistics. However, when the correlation becomes strong enough, a wise scientist starts looking for possible causation. And I, personally, see high correlation, far higher correlation for a solar-climate connection than I do for a civilization-climate connection.
 Private communique, Dr. James K. Woosley
 Additional private communique with Dr. Woosley.