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Mixed Message on Antarctic Warming   January 21st, 2009
Is Antartica Warming or Cooling?       

 
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Maybe I'm just stupid, but it's getting hard to keep up with the logic according to global warming proponents.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/01/21/tech/main4745503.shtml

Antarctica, the only place that had oddly seemed immune from climate change, is warming after all, according to a new study...

"Contrarians have sometime grabbed on to this idea that the entire continent of Antarctica is cooling, so how could we be talking about global warming?," said study co-author Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. "Now we can say: no, it's not true ... It is not bucking the trend."...

The study has major ramifications for sea level rise, said Andrew Weaver at the University of Victoria in Canada. Most major sea level rise projections for the future counted on a cooling - not warming - Antarctica. This will make sea level rise much worse, Weaver said.


First, if it had previously been understood that Antarctica was cooling, why have we gotten news reports every time a state-sized iceberg broke away from the continent? It's not like we were told that those ice sheet breakups were the fault of localized cooling in Antarctica... no, we were supposed to understand that they were some abnormal events due to warming.

Now we're told that some scientist has concluded (albeit based on very limited, imprecise, extrapolated data) that Antarctica is warming and we had better get ready for even worse sea level rise because most sea level rise projections were based on a cooling Antarctica, not a warming one. Which raises the question: If they based their models on a cooling Antarctica, doesn't that mean they had some reason to believe it should be cooling? And if not, shouldn't these accurate climate models have puked when given that bogus assumption?

Here's the thing... a climate model is supposed to be able to take inputs about the current state of the global climate and then, based on our knowledge of how the climate works, project what the climate will be in the future. A working climate model shouldn't have to be told whether Antarctica is warming or cooling, rather its logic should be able to predict that as part of the output of the model itself.

So "most projections" assumed that Antarctica would be cooling since apparently that was how scientists understood the climate worked. Now a scientist produces a study that shows that, actually, Antarctica is warming. At first blush that could be interpreted as suggesting that global warming is even worse than we thought. However, what it really means is that scientists were previously making gloomy predictions based on climate models that were designed from a flawed understanding of how the climate works. The scientists that wrote those models obviously didn't actually know how the climate worked! Had they known, and had the climate model been able to predict the future climate, the scientists would have told the model "Antarctica is cooling" and the model would have come back and essentially said, "Nonsense, Antarctica has to be warming."

And perhaps it did. But since Antarctica was observed to be cooling, the scientists just modified the model so it would predict a cooling Antarctica. They fudged the model. They didn't know why Antarctica was cooling, but it was. So even though they didn't understand why, they had to make their models coincide with reality. But you can't make a model unless you do understand the "why."

Now an obvious response to that criticism is, "Yeah, but now we've improved the model so it'll be more accurate." Really? It seems to me that it's just been demonstrated how limited our understanding of the climate is. When a model can't even correctly predict whether Antarctica should be warming or cooling, am I really supposed to feel better about the accuracy of the prediction now that it has again been fudged to keep up with reality?

I have a hard time putting this into words, but it's the kind of thing us software engineers deal with often: If the models were really accurate and trusted, they should have predicted the warming and that's the end of it. However, instead, apparently scientists modified their models so they'd reflect a cooling reality that was observed in Antarctica. Now it turns out that Antarctica is warming. That tells me three things:
  1. If their models showed warming in Antarctica and they really trusted their models and they were observing cooling in Antarctica, they should've deployed more sensors to Antarctica to see why the data was contradicting their models. Instead they just modified their models.
  2. If they've had to tweak their models to show Antarctic cooling when it's actually warming, they're just adding in fudge factors.
  3. If a model is so inaccurate that they can just dictate whether certain sections of the planet should be warming or cooling, the whole model is a farce and will produce whatever result they want. Such a model is not based on solid science where "A happens because of B and C" but rather just a mish-mash of correlations that may or may not have causation.
In short, I see no way we can trust models where Antarctica can arbitrarily be "configured" to be cooling or warming. A real model would predict that based entirely on the input parameters, not by some forced adjustment to make Antarctica show warming instead of cooling, or vice versa.

Or maybe this study is just wrong. In which case scientists can't agree on whether Antarctica is warming or cooling now, let alone what it'll be doing decades in the future. Funny how regardless of whether areas are warming or cooling, these models tell us we're in trouble. If areas are cooling, we're screwed. If areas are warming then we're really screwed. It seems strangely like regardless of what errors the models may have, what they all have in common is their conclusion: We're screwed. It's almost like someone wants that answer and the climate models are just there to churn out the magic answer.

But let's go ahead and spend billions of dollars and change the nature of our economy based on the gloomy predictions of these fudged models, anyway. After all, they might be right.

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