E-Mail Interaction With Chris Colose Of The University Of Albany (SUNY)

Chris Colose of the University of Wisconsin  [Chris e-mailed this afternoon 2/24/2012] and said he is currently at the University of Albany (SUNY)]. Chris had  alerted me to a post that he presented on Skeptical Science titled

Tropical Thermostats and Global Warming

He invited me to participate there, but I declined based on my previous negative experience with the lack of open constructive debate at Skeptical Science. With Chris’s permission, I am posting below our exchange of e-mails and at the end he has answered a set of questions I posed to him. I appreciate his agreement to constructively interact even though we have quite substantive disagreements in views.

On Thu, 16 Feb 2012, Colose, Chris wrote:

Roger Pielke,

In response to the WUWT article (and your embracement of it) on the tropical thermostat see, http://skepticalscience.com/tropical_thermostat.html

In case you would like to contribute to the discussion…


I replied

 Hi Chris

Thank you for alerting me to their post. My experience with Skeptical Science (as I have documented extensively on my weblog) is they are not really interested in a constructive debate. I have given up trying with them.

I presented several papers that show evidence of self-regulation (each in the peer reviewed literature), and that is where the debate really needs to take place.

P.S. Skeptical Science never even responded to my request for their answers to these two questions:

1. Is global warming (and cooling) a subset of climate change or does    it dominate climate change?

2.  What evidence exists that the multi-decadal global climate models    can skillfully predict i) the real-world observed behaviour of    large-scale atmospheric-ocean circulation features such as ENSO, the    NAO, the PDO, ect. and ii) CHANGES in the statistics (patterning and    in time) of these circulation features?

I posted on this in


The questions would challenge them too much, I assume, so they have ignored them.


On Thu, 16 Feb 2012, Colose, Chris wrote:


Please keep in mind that SkS is run by multiple authors, each of which have their own specific interests and topics of choice that they post on.  Personally I am not very active on the site, but I don’t have my own blog running anymore so it’s a good place for me to post an article if I feel inclined to do so.

The posts are largely voluntary, in which people submit what they feel are worthwhile articles for internal review and after suggestions/edits, it would get published. If someone seen your challenge, then they may have felt compelled to write on it (I’ve not seen any indication that they were aware of your post, but again, I’m inactive there for large intervals of time and don’t check the “authors only” forums frequently)…one of the moderators would be a better contact for this.  I personally am not really interested enough in inter-blog “challenges” of this sort.

All I intended to convey to you was my post on the Willis Eschenbach tropical thermostat, and your follow-up to it. And I would respond to comments in the form of discussion/debate on that article independently of how other authors would.


I responded with

Hi Chris

I was in direct contact with one of their contributors – Rob Honeycutt where we exchanged a number of e-mails. He said they would respond to my questions (this was months ago) and they never did. I had an extensive interchange with commenters and presenters on the weblog last year (these exchanges are summarized in detail on my website).

My conclusion of their weblog is that it is a place for the “convinced” to vent their views and, for some, disparage those who do not (e.g. see their small links on the upper left of their weblog home page – Christy Crocks. ect). To my knowledge, most people do not pay any attention to their weblog because of their tone and arrogance in some of their posts, and certainly in their comments.  Rob was cordial and we constructively interacted in our e-mail exchanges but this approach is not a general case for a number of others on that weblog.

Because of your interest (and your alerting me to your post), however, I will post on the self-regulation issue later next week on my weblog. It is actually quite easy to show this self-regulation exists, at least to some extent, if one accepts the IPCC radiative forcings as being reasonably accurate.

As a side issue, you might be interested in these several new papers of ours

Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J. Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2012: Dealing with complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based vulnerability perspective. AGU Monograph on Complexity and Extreme Events in Geosciences, in press. http://pielkeclimatesci.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/r-365.pdf

Pielke Sr., R.A., and R.L. Wilby, 2012: Regional climate downscaling . what’s the point? Eos Forum. Jan 31 2012 issue http://pielkeclimatesci.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/r-361.pdf

Pielke Sr., R.A., A. Pitman, D. Niyogi, R. Mahmood, C. McAlpine, F. Hossain, K. Goldewijk, U. Nair, R. Betts, S. Fall, M. Reichstein, P. Kabat, and N. de Noblet-Ducoudré, 2011: Land use/land cover changes and climate: Modeling analysis and observational evidence. WIREs Clim Change 2011, 2:828.850. doi: 10.1002/wcc.144. http://pielkeclimatesci.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/r-369.pdf

I would also welcome your answers to the two questions posed in my earlier e-mail, which I would be glad to post on my weblog (and you can repost elsewhere as you see appropriate).

Best Regards


Then Chris resplied and I have posted it and my comments together (which I sent back to him) in the following (with very minor edits for formating). I have presented my comments with italics to better distinguish them from Chris’s comments.

Hi Chris

As promised, please see my replies below. Do I have your permission to post our e-mail exchanges?

Best Regards


Chris’s reply 

On Thu, 16 Feb 2012, Colose, Chris wrote:


I appreciate your concern, and if I could run SkS it would probably be in a different fashion than they do now, but for the most part I think they try to be consistent with the general scientific literature (and I certainly try to do so in my posts, and to mention various viewpoints when it be relevant).


My Comment: The issue of “relevancy” is quite subjective and SkS clearly has an advocacy perspective.

Chris continues:

You’ll see that I mentioned many older articles relating to the tropical thermostat hypothesis, but the fact is that this is now an outdated concept in the literature, and the analysis of Eschenbach is certainly not “new” as you implied in your title. Even if some negative feedbacks exist to dampen climate sensitivity beneath the IPCC range, the ideas in the WUWT article (and going back to Ramanathan and Collins) would, if taken literally, mean temperatures in the tropics could not change much at all.  This has been shown by a number of papers to have no basis in physics.  The Sun and Zhang study sheds no light on this, and in fact their results may not even be highly applicable to future global warming (and actually there’s been a few CMIP5 models that do quite well with this problem).

My Comment- Please send the papers that refute the findings of Sun. Their results also directly relate to the multi-decadal climate prediction issue, as one has his results are on climate processes, which are an integral component of the longer term climate variability. You also did not even discuss the self regulation of the coldest arctic tropospheric temperatures that we discuss in the papers I alerted you to.

On showing that the radiative imbalance involves a negative feedback (which means there is a self regulation of this aspect of the climate system), if one accepts the net radiative forcing given in the Statement of Policymakers of the 2007 IPCC report, the actual observed radiative imbalance is significantly less.

I have discussed this issue often on my weblog; e.g. see

Climate Metric Reality Check #1 . The Sum Of Climate Forcings and Feedbacks Is Less Than The 2007 IPCC Best Estimate Of Human Climate Forcing Of Global Warming http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2007/11/30/climate-metric-reality-check-1-the-sum-of-climate-forcings-and-feedbacks-is-less-than-the-2007-ipcc-best-estimate-of-human-climate-forcings/

Why We Need Estimates Of The Current Global Average Radiative Forcing http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2008/01/04/why-we-need-estimates-of-the-current-global-average-radiative-forcing/

Chris continues:

Hurley and Galewsky 2010 showed that the ENSO humidity change tend to relate more to where air is dehydrated, owing to the dynamics, rather than changes in the temperature field (see also the Dessler and Wong paper on ENSO vs Global warming water vapor feedback simualtions)- you cannot make up your conclusion about what you think their results show for for future radiative-changes just because they have no data for it!.

My Comment: I am unclear what you are using these papers to show in terms of our discussion. Clearly, the Sun work is on a climate process, and he shows that the models are inaccurate in terms of how it is represented in the models. The real world, using ENSO events, has a limit on how warm the ocean SSTs become when cloud-precipitation-ocean feedbacks are included. It should come as no surprise that the IPCC type models do so badly; e.g. see

Stephens, G. L., T. L.Ecuyer, R. Forbes, A. Gettlemen, J..C. Golaz, A. Bodas.Salcedo, K. Suzuki, P. Gabriel, and J. Haynes (2010), Dreary state of precipitation in global models, J. Geophys. Res., 115, D24211, doi:10.1029/2010JD014532. http://europa.agu.org/?view=article&uri=/journals/jd/jd1024/2010JD014532/2010JD014532.xml&t=jd,2010,stephens

Chris continues:

You do not allow comments on your blog, and the subject in the WUWT article is pretty exhausted in the literature, so I seen no other appropriate venue for discussion than to invite you to SkS.  But evidently you tend to be just as biased as others in the papers you present and your interpretation of them, so there’s really no point in arguing how we like various blogs.

My Comment:  I did try to debate on SkS and found that the tone was inappropriate for such exchanges (and posted on this; e.g. see

Response To Skeptical Science On A Series Of Weblog Posts http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/response-to-skeptical-science-on-a-series-of-weblog-posts/

Two Questions To Skeptical Science Regarding i) The Relation of Global Warming To Climate Change and ii) The Predictive Skill Of Multi-Decadal Global Climate Models http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/two-questions-to-skeptical-science-regarding-i-the-relation-of-global-warming-to-climate-change-and-ii-the-predictive-skill-of-multi-decadal-global-climate-models/

The subject of the limit on the tropical SSTs is hardly a closed debate as illustrated by the Sun work as well as that of Stephens.

I also permit the presentation of alternative viewpoints on my weblog, and you certainly are invited to do that. I would then invite other climate scientists to respond is guest weblog posts.

Chris continues:

As far as your ‘challenge,’ I have let the rest of the SkS team know about it, so I will leave it to them to sort out who (if any) would like to do a post on it.  It’s really not of high interest to me.  Your first question has the obvious answer that global temperature is not the only thing important for the more broadly encompassing “climate change,” but I think it is a much more useful diagnostic than you do in that other variables (such as water vapor content, decrease in cold days, etc) follow suit with temperature anomalies, and most regions of the globe follow suit with the global-scale radiative forcing (with the usual caveat that there are heterogenities in how that response is distributed in space).

My Comment:  You avoided properly answering the first question. To rephrase, how do you define “climate forcings” and what are the first order human climate forcings that matter to society and the environment?

To provide a framework for you to respond, please let me know where you disagree with the fundings in our article

Pielke Sr., R., K. Beven, G. Brasseur, J. Calvert, M. Chahine, R. Dickerson, D. Entekhabi, E. Foufoula-Georgiou, H. Gupta, V. Gupta, W. Krajewski, E. Philip Krider, W. K.M. Lau, J. McDonnell,  W. Rossow,  J. Schaake, J. Smith, S. Sorooshian,  and E. Wood, 2009: Climate change: The need to consider human forcings besides greenhouse gases. Eos, Vol. 90, No. 45, 10 November 2009, 413. Copyright (2009) American Geophysical Union. http://pielkeclimatesci.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/r-354.pdf

Chris continues:

I appreciate that you have a number of minority views on the relative importance of forcings, or the useful diagnostics we should pursue to gauge the response, but you have not convinced me that they are correct (or at least not being looked at by a number of other groups).

My Comment:  Please show me where the IPCC discusses these other forcings in their 2007 Statement for Policymakers.

Chris continues:

On the second question, I do not have expertise concerning how models have evolved over time and how up-to-date CMIP5 generation models represent, quantitatively, the degree of internal variability observed in the climate system, or how that skill varies across the models.  My impression is that the question itself is rather broad; I appreciate most blogs talk about “models” as if the whole discipline were one giant monolith, and they could all be categorized as “useful” or “not useful” independent of the timescale, variable, and statistic of interest,. However, the fact is it would take a report to delve into the question you pose with any justice.  Similarly, it would take a while to convincingly caveat the relevance of this to, say, attribution or climate sensitivity issues that I suspect most non-specialists are interested in.  For instance, it is well recognized that ENSO projections on multi-decadal timescales in a higher CO2 world are all over the place, which is problematic, but unclear to me how that would relate to the subject of attribution or sensitivity.

My Comment:  The second question I asked

2.  What evidence exists that the multi-decadal global climate models can skillfully predict i) the real-world observed behaviour of    large-scale atmospheric-ocean circulation features such as ENSO, the    NAO, the PDO, ect. and ii) CHANGES in the statistics (patterning and    in time) of these circulation features?

is fundamental to almost everything the IPCC models must do if they want to provide forecasts to the impacts community that have skill. I am surprised that you have not delved into this issue. If I am correct, the money being spent on the multi-decadal IPCC-type forecasts for the impact community is not only a waste, but is misleading policymakers. If you are just blindly accepting their impact (regional/local) results as robust, than I see a major source of our disagreement.

I welcome articles from you that show the IPCC models have skill on the multi-decadal time periods. Until you (or others) do, all the IPCC-type models can tell us is that the climate system is sensitive to the addition of CO2, other greenhouse gases, aerosols and land use/land cover change. We do not need a multi-hundred million dollar modeling program to provide regional and local impact scenarios when the models have shown no skill at doing this on multi-decadal time scales (even when run in a hindcast mode).

I look forward to your responses.

Chris Replied

Roger (you may post this correspondence if you wish),

1) Whether there is or is not work refuting Sun is irrelevant.  My point is that you have over-reached and have overextended the conclusions of the Sun study, well beyond what is justified.  The conclusions in the blog post by Eschenbach (and earlier studies by Ramanthan and Collins for example) make a specific claim of a maximum SST independent of solar or greenhouse forcing.  The feedbacks to ENSO have no clear relation to this whatsoever. Third party readers can judge this for themselves.

My Comment:  Sun’s research is not claiming that SSTs are independent of solar or greenhouse forcing. What he does show is that when the SSTs warm or cool, there is a negative feedback due to clouds and precipitation which results in a movement back to the original SSTs.  This is a self regulation mechanism, and would be applicable to any change in the tropical ocean SSTs, at least in the Pacific.

2) I do not believe you understand the difference between a ‘radiative forcing’ and the modeled ‘radiative imbalance’ of Hansen.  These numbers are not directly comparable .

My Comment:  The radiative imbalance = the radiative forcing + the radiative feedback.  If the radiative imbalance is less than the radiative forcing, the radiative feedbacks must be negative.

3) I fully agree that models need improvement on regional-scale hydrologic variables.  Your pointing this out is just moving the goal posts to the other side of the field; please remember I e-mailed you about my response to the original Eschenbach blog post.

My Comment:  You failed to adequately answer the question. The multi-decadal climate model predictions fail to skillfully predict changes in regional climate statistics in hindcasts.  This is a necessary condition for them to have any credibility to skillfully predict regional impacts in coming decades due to the combined effect of natural and human climate forcings and feedbacks.  The goalposts have not been moved. The regional climate predictions have not even made the cut to properly play the game.

4) My version of a “climate forcing” is the same as the “radiative forcing” definition widely used in the literature, though I recognize (as does IPCC) that non-radiative influences exist with respect to land cover changes (i.e., changes in evapo-transpiration or roughness, which are typically of opposite sign as the albedo response, and have very small impact on global mean temperature, but large regional changes).  I would consider the “first order” climate forcings over the 20th century to be LLGHG’s (primarily CO2 and methane) as well as aerosols, in the sense that the time-evolution of global mean temperature in the last 50 years or so can be roughly accounted for by the evolution of these two components.  Regionally, this may not be true.

My Comment:  Your narrow view of climate forcing is untenable as we show in our article

Pielke Sr., R., K.  Beven, G. Brasseur, J. Calvert, M. Chahine, R. Dickerson, D.  Entekhabi, E. Foufoula-Georgiou, H. Gupta, V. Gupta, W. Krajewski, E.  Philip Krider, W. K.M. Lau, J. McDonnell,  W. Rossow,  J. Schaake, J.  Smith, S. Sorooshian,  and E. Wood, 2009: Climate change: The need to consider human forcings besides greenhouse gases.   Eos, Vol. 90, No. 45, 10 November 2009, 413. Copyright (2009) American   Geophysical Union.

As we show in that article, the focus on just CO2 and methane as the causes of climate change is a rejected hypothesis.  Indeed, if it was this simple, it would make the prediction of changes in the frequency of such societally important events such as droughts, floods and tropical cyclones much easier.

5) Once again, I defer you to a modeling expert on the precise details of how models capture various variables and statistics, over what timeframes they do better or worse, and how that usefulness varies across models.  I have only delved into this in a shallow manner, but your questions to me are rather broad, nor do I get a sense that the modeling community has sold their results as more certain than is warranted.

My Comment:   I urge you to explore this issue. If you are going to state that “the time-evolution of global mean temperature in the last 50 years or so can be roughly accounted for by the evolution of these two components”, you should  i) provide an explanation for the muted increase in global average temperatures over the past decade or so, and ii) how does this translate to the ability to skillfully predict changes in the frequency of extreme events?

Finally, thank you for constructively interacting on these issues. I hope you can challenge your thinking on this subject.

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