Erroneous Climate Science Statement By Tom Karl, Director Of The National Climate Data Center And President Of The American Meteorological Society

There is an erroneous statement by Tom Karl, Director of the National Data Climate Center [NCDC] with respect to the role of land use/land cover change on climate.  It is so easy to refute his claim, so I am puzzled why he wants to show this lack of knowledge.

The excellent news article where the erroneous information from Karl appeared is

In e-mails, science of warming is hot debate – Stolen files of ‘Climate-gate’ suggest some viewpoints on change are disregarded by David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, December 5, 2009.

The relevant text with Tom Karl’s quote [which I have highlighted in bold font] is

These include the familiar kind of climate skeptics, those who think that the climate isn’t changing or that it isn’t a crisis. But they also include a handful of researchers who think climate change is happening, but — for various reasons — are skeptical that mainstream science fully understands the phenomenon.

“To me, it’s unambiguous . . . humans are altering the climate system,” said Roger Pielke Sr., a research scientist at the University of Colorado. “It’s just that, it’s much more than CO2.”

Pielke said his research shows that, in addition to carbon dioxide and other factors, Earth’s warming [R. Pielke Sr note: to be accurate this should read “The climate”] is affected by how people alter the land. When a forest becomes a farm, or a farm becomes a suburb, that changes the amount of heat and moisture coming off the ground, he said.

But Pielke said he has seen some papers rejected and has felt so marginalized that he quit a U.S. panel summing up climate change a few years ago. One of the stolen e-mails seems to confirm the idea that he was being excluded: In 2005, Jones wrote to colleagues about some of Pielke’s complaints, “Maybe you’ll be able to ignore them?”

“These individuals, who are very sincere in their beliefs, have presumed that that gives them permission to exclude viewpoints that are different from their own,” Pielke said.

Mainstream climate scientists say they have kept an open mind but have rejected papers that lack proper evidence. In Pielke’s case, “the literature doesn’t show” his ideas about the importance of land use are correct, said Tom Karl, head of the NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.”

This can easily be refuted in national and international assessments; e.g.

National Research Council, 2005: Radiative forcing of climate change: Expanding the concept and addressing uncertainties. Committee on Radiative Forcing Effects on Climate Change, Climate Research Committee, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 208 pp

where one excerpt reads

“Several types of forcings—most notably aerosols, land-use and land-cover change, and modifications to biogeochemistry—impact the climate system in nonradiative ways, in particular by modifying the hydrological cycle and vegetation dynamics. …….Other nonradiative forcings modify the biological components of the climate system by changing the fluxes of trace gases and heat between vegetation, soils, and the atmosphere and by modifying the amount and types of vegetation. …… Nonradiative forcings have eventual radiative impacts, so one option would be to quantify these radiative impacts. However, this approach may not convey appropriately the impacts of nonradiative forcings on societally relevant climate variables such as precipitation or ecosystem function.”

Recent individual research papers also document that land use/land cover changes are important; e.g.

Stone, B. Jr., 2009: Land Use as Climate Change Mitigation. Environmental Science & Technology.(in press)

Fall, S., D. Niyogi, A. Gluhovsky, R. A. Pielke Sr., E. Kalnay, and G. Rochon, 2009: Impacts of land use land cover on temperature trends over the continental United States: Assessment using the North American Regional Reanalysis. Int. J. Climatol., DOI: 10.1002/joc.1996.

Mahmood, R., R.A. Pielke Sr., K.G. Hubbard, D. Niyogi, G. Bonan, P. Lawrence, B. Baker, R. McNider, C. McAlpine, A. Etter, S. Gameda, B. Qian, A. Carleton, A. Beltran-Przekurat, T. Chase, A.I. Quintanar, J.O. Adegoke, S. Vezhapparambu, G. Conner, S. Asefi, E. Sertel, D.R. Legates, Y. Wu, R. Hale, O.W. Frauenfeld, A. Watts, M. Shepherd, C. Mitra, V.G. Anantharaj, S. Fall,R. Lund, A. Nordfelt, P. Blanken, J. Du, H.-I. Chang, R. Leeper, U.S. Nair, S. Dobler, R. Deo, and J. Syktus, 2009: Impacts of land use land cover change on climate and future research priorities. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., in press.

We have also shown that land use/land cover change has not been properly assessed in Tom Karl’s NCDC assessment of global average surface temperature changes [nor in the CRU and GISS analyses] ; e.g.  see

Pielke Sr., R.A., C. Davey, D. Niyogi, S. Fall, J. Steinweg-Woods, K. Hubbard, X. Lin, M. Cai, Y.-K. Lim, H. Li, J. Nielsen-Gammon, K. Gallo, R. Hale, R. Mahmood, S. Foster, R.T. McNider, and P. Blanken, 2007: Unresolved issues with the assessment of multi-decadal global land surface temperature trends. J. Geophys. Res., 112, D24S08, doi:10.1029/2006JD008229.

This documented  lack of competence by Tom Karl on his understanding of the role of landscape processes in the climate system, as illustrated by his casual dismissal of this issue in the news quote, further supports the theme expressed in the text in the title of the Washington Post news article that “some viewpoints on change are disregarded”. The biased actions of Tom Karl in his leadership position, which I have already documented (e.g. see) is further illustrated by his interview for this news article.


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