Clever bees

I suppose this really belongs on the bee blog, but anyway... from Science: honeybees, who have 0.01% of the neurons that humans do, can recognize and remember individual human faces (thanks to JF for the tip).


Bryan Lawrence has a blog

I discover that Bryan Lawrence (head of BADC) has a blog: http://home.badc.rl.ac.uk/lawrence/blog. A mixture of climate and software... should be perfect for JF.

The Economist on Climate Change (sigh)

The last few issues of the Economist have seen a few climate change type articles. One of leaping penguins even made the front cover (headline "Don't Despair: grounds for hope on global warming"; however the grounds for optimism they find are thin: some grassroots action, and hints of voters changing their minds). The Economist (of course) isn't a very good source for the science of GW; its written by economist-types (oddly enough) not scientists. And they have their biases: mostly a free-market liberalism which makes them rather dislike the idea of anything that won't fit within that framework and which might badly strain it. I quite like their general tone usually: I have pinned up in my office two of their front covers arguing for greater immigration, just next to a nearly interchangeable one from Socialst Worker, which I found ironic; one of the first I saw was in favour of same-sex marriage: the Economist, whilst very free-market, is by no means std.right-wing.

As a side note, the most recent edition notes that Lee Raymond is going, which could well be good news.

The Economist has a good reputation in general, and is widely read by business-politician type folks, so we have to care what they say and how they say it. In particular, first paragraphs matter, because many people won't read past them. Which is why the 7th of Dec (or, in the paper version, 10-17th Dec; thanks CH) article is so bad:

THE climate changes. It always has done and it always will. In the past 2m years the temperature has gone up and down like a yo-yo as ice ages have alternated with warmer interglacial periods. Reflecting this on a smaller scale, the 10,000 years or so since the glaciers last went into full-scale retreat have seen periods of relative cooling and warmth lasting from decades to centuries. Against such a noisy background, it is hard to detect the signal from any changes caused by humanity's increased economic activity, and consequent release of atmosphere-warming greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

This is std.septic.sh*t*. Not because its false, but because its misleading. Try this:

People die. They always have and they always will... therefore we shouldn't worry about whether to fund the health service or worry about cars on the roads or terrorists, its just more or less death.

A more honest intro would reflect the std.consensus: that the recent climate change is likely to be unusual and likely to have been caused by people.

The rest of the article isn't too bad: somewhat skeptic (note we've got the k back now) but not too bad. E.g.:

The third finding is the resolution of an inconsistency that called into question whether the atmosphere was really warming. This was a disagreement between the temperature trend on the ground, which appeared to be rising, and that further up in the atmosphere, which did not. Now, both are known to be rising in parallel.

Parallel is wrong, to be picky: the tropospheric trend should be larger, and is.

In case you're wondering, #1 was that its been warm recently, and #2 was the Arctic. #4 is detection of warming in the oceans; #5 is a bit dodgy in their words: The fifth is the observation in reality of a predicted link between increased sea-surface temperatures and the frequency of the most intense categories of hurricane, typhoon and tropical storm. If I were you, I'd read RC. #6 is the THC (again you want RC).

After a slightly dodgy solar bit, they continue with That the climate is warming now seems certain. And though the magnitude of any future warming remains unclear, human activity seems the most likely cause. The question is what, if anything, can or should be done. And thats a fair question. Too rapid or too great a warming, though, risks serious, unpleasant and in some cases irreversible changes, such as the melting of large parts of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps. There is, to put it politely, a lively debate about how far the temperature can rise before things get really nasty and how much carbon dioxide would be needed to drive the process. Unfortunately, existing models of the climate are not accurate enough to resolve this dispute with the precision that policymakers would like. Again, pretty good, apart from that last bit (to me it implies that the poor old policymakers are just sitting there wondering when the GCMs will tell them what to do, which is nonsense: they all have agendas of their own).

Then lastly If greenhouse-gas emissions are to be capped, however, a mixture of political will and technological fixes will be needed. Seems fair to me, but we're heading out of my territory with that, so I'll just observe that political will seems distinctly missing, to me. I'm aiming for a post on Montreal soon.


Connolley has done such amazing work...

Back to wikipedia... Nature has an article on wikipedia vs Britannica. It was an interesting exercise, and as the most notable climatologist on wiki :-) they interviewed me, which lead to the sidebar article "Challenges of being a Wikipedian" (see the Nature article; click on the "challenges" link near the bottom). It contains the rather nice quote from Jimbo Wales "Connolley has done such amazing work and has had to deal with a fair amount of nonsense" (does Lumo still read this?).

What Nature did was to take a number (50; of which 42 came back usefully) of wiki and Britannica articles, and send them out to experts for review. There was a fairly severe constraint on this: that the articles had to be of comparable length in the two sources; which is why I think no climate change type articles were done. I strongly suspect that if you try to find anything about, say, the satellite temperature record in Britannica it will either be entirely missing or badly out of date. The list of articles is here.

There were 8 serious errors in both sources. Then we move onto more minor inaccuracies. The oddest thing about this is that the average number of errors in Britannica is 3 and wiki 4; and Nature (genuinely) expected us to be *pleased* about this, as though being nearly as good as Britannica was something to be happy about! I rather suspect that this may be due to the choice of articles to some extent. The GW articles don't contain many errors (except the septic cr*p, sadly we can't get rid of it all :-().

The most pleasing part, though, is the accompanying editorial which actively encourages scientists to contribute (James, are you listening?): Nature would like to encourage its readers to help. The idea is not to seek a replacement for established sources such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica [oh yes it is... WMC] , but to push forward the grand experiment that is Wikipedia, and to see how much it can improve. Select a topic close to your work and look it up on Wikipedia. If the entry contains errors or important omissions, dive in and help fix them. It need not take too long. And imagine the pay-off: you could be one of the people who helped turn an apparently stupid idea into a free, high-quality global resource.

[Update: there is a Nature blog here and this includes a list of the errors in the EB and wiki versions; see-also [[Wikipedia:External_peer_review/Nature_December_2005/Errors]]. The Nature blogs report on Jimbo's visit is interesting too. And [[Wikipedia:Requests_for_arbitration/Climate change dispute 2#Removal of the revert parole imposed on William_M._Connolley is nice to have...]

News from NZ...

I'm back. And to celebrate, here is a story from a local paper over there. My apologies to all the good folk of NZ, this is not a fair reflection of your country, but it is very funny, I'm thinking of sending it in to Private Eye.

Also, a joke: what do you call a woman who stands between goalposts? A: Annette. And by odd coincidence, Mt Annette was the peak I climbed from the Mueller hut. More on that in the photo-essay to follow "soon".

Also, a note: I'm switching comments to "only registered users" just as soon as I can work out how to do it. I'm a bit fed up with anonymous trolls, named trolls are so much better...

[Update: BL points out the obvious: that Cairns is in Australia (the "West Island") not NZ. Oops. I knew that... He also says that he would have posted that here, except I insist on only registered users. So for the moment, I'm turning that off again, since he is the second person to somewhat dislike that feature, and on reflection I don't need it]


Dunedin: sea ice conf

I haven't blogged much about this conf. Mostly because there is no wireless access (dinosaurs...) but also because much of it is deeply technical sea ice stuff of rather limited general interest. Which is in itself a point of interest: the amount of climate change related stuff is small. A few people have shown the std.pic of Arctic september ice, which shows decline (no-one has shown a similar for the Ant) but only a few people have done anything with it (trying to look at the changes in different ice types: first-yeay, multi-year; but then this is tricky). Also there are only a handfull of papers using climate models.

So what is it actually about? A major theme is sea ice depth (ice fraction is fairly easy (err, thouigh see my brilliant presentation deomonstrating that there are problems even there), depth is much harder). Lots of people are using satellites (radiometer on ERS-2; laser on ICEsat) or helicopter or ship or sfc bourne methods to estimate ice depth. The problem is that while its fairly easy to drill a hole in the ice and measure depth at a point, to get an area value is much harder. EM (electro-magnetic) sensors can detect the water level (on a ship they need to be only 3m above the ice; hung from a helicopter they can be 10 m above the ice, with the heli another 20 m higher up, which apparently makes for exciting flying). So those get you transects. From satellite, you can measure ice freeboard (radar) or top of snow (laser) if you can find enough leads to reference the values to a sea level; this is a major problem. Also measurements from underneath: the late lamented autosub; some stuff from military submarines (their CTDs didn't work so they used the entire sub as a billion pound CTD) which at true cost would be incredibly expensive, but since they are there anyway (not really clear what they *are* doing) they can do some science, even if their sounding kit is a bit dodgy for science.

Apart from that, various things: properties of ice; today a pile of talks about the ice formation mechanism, which isn't really my thing: platelets and congelation and frazil and so on. Special mention for the chap running a molecular simulation of ice formation: with 1,500 molecules his simulation of the 9 ns it takes to freeze took 4 days processing; his value for the freezing temp is 271 (+/- 9) which he regards as extremely accurate. How ice freezes from underneath; new ice dynamics models; measurements from campaigns; etc etc.

Last night we had the conf dinner in Lanarch "Castle" a magnificent but truely fake building, more of a manor house or small chateau. And we had the piping in of the haggis and address to same. And the drinking till midnight.

Note to PH: yes the foxgloves are non-native. But they are lovely.

Road deaths and terrorism

Continuing an old theme, but this time with some actual numbers, via Nature:

114 deaths per million people occurred in road crashes in 29 countries in the developed world during 2001.

0.293 deaths per million people were caused by terrorism each year in the same countries in 1994–2003.

390:1 is the ratio of road deaths to deaths from terrorism.

Source: N. Wilson and G. Thomson Injury Prevention 11, 332–333 (2005).

And if I didn't mention it before, I'm currently in Dunedin because of this.


NZ: eternal sunset

I'm in NZ, Dunedin. And it turns out they do have internet here. To prove it, here are some pics of the flight over.

Heathrow to LA was good: we had a long slow sunset as we headed north, sunrise as we went due W, then sunset again into LA. Its a shame they don't have a better quality "photography" window in the back somewhere. We got to see greenland (briefly; the W side; the E side was in cloud) and sea ice over Hudson bay (see pix: this is the firt sea ice I've ever seen in real life; its from 11,000 m) and the vast expanses of frozen Canada. LA to Dunedin is 12+ hours; I managed to sleep much of it thankfully.

Trivia: on the flight into LA, we had all-plastic cutlery. Out of LA, we got metal forks and spoons.


Catherine Bennett can FOAD

As if the gulf stream stuff wasn't enough to wind me up, the Grauniad published Catherine Bennett Climate march, but will it work?: Going on the climate change protest this Saturday is like marching for niceness - and just as ineffectual. Though the first headline is only in the online edition. The article itself is just blather; she has nothing to say; I interpret it to mean that she has grown too old and fat to bother, and has nothing better to do than mock people who do care.

Anyway, on that temperate note, I'll sign off for the moment, and probably for the next two weeks, unless NZ is connected to the internet.

ps: thanks to those who commented on the poster, I corrected most of the typos.

"Alarm over dramatic weakening of Gulf Stream"?

By now you'll all have read the RC post: Decrease in Atlantic circulation? (see, thats where I got my question mark from); which is about Bryden et al. in Nature. RC, of course, has a nice science analysis; I just wanted to compare it to the Grauniad story: Alarm over dramatic weakening of Gulf Stream. Now the headline is nonsense, because the Nature paper itself sez: the northwards transport in the gulf stream across 25 oN has remained nearly constant. Something more complicated is going on (return flow shallower, hence warmer, hence overall heat transport N is less because more is coming back S), which I'm not going to explain because (a) its over at RC and (b) I haven't read the paper properly yet (I look forward to doing so tomorrow during my long flight). It looks to me like it was too complicated for the Grauniad sci writers.

There are I think various caveats to interpreting this: most notably (as RC notes), that if this really has already happened, you might expect some signal in the SSTs which doesn't seem to have been seen.

Also, the Nature article and the Nature commentary are a bit selective in their reading of GCM results to support this.

[Update: also see James Annan's take and wise words re Nature]