Will Alexander has provided us with another excellent guest post which is presented below. WJR (Will) Alexander is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Civil Engineering of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and Honorary Fellow of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering. See also his previous posts
Will Alexander alexwjr[at]iafrica.com
Monday 17 January 2011 while on holiday with our family in Adelaide, Australia.
Global floods – why were they not predicted?
Do you recall the following quote in my semi-final Memo 15/10 of 2 August 2010?
Scientific predictability also raises the question of the scientist’s ethical responsibilities. His conclusions must be guided by respect for truth and an honest acknowledgment of both the accuracy and the inevitable limitations of the scientific method. Certainly this means avoiding needlessly alarming predictions when these are not supported by sufficient data or exceed science’s actual ability to predict. But it also means avoiding the opposite, namely a silence, born of fear, in the face of genuine problems.
–Pope Benedict XVI, 6 November 2006
My subsequent Memo 16/10 dated 2 August last year was titled Final Summary. It was intended to be my time to say goodbye. The last six months of 2010 were particularly stressful both personally and professionally. Our son died of cancer and I had problems with our Water Research Commission.
In June 2008 my general interest article “Likelihood of a global drought in 2009 to 2016″ was published in Civil Engineering. Droughts followed within months along the southern Cape coast and the adjacent interior as well as elsewhere in South Africa, Australia and other regions. Seawater desalination plants had to be constructed at Sedgefield and Plettenburg Bay as well as in Australia.
Those who took the trouble to study my 2008 article would have noticed the abundantly clear, sudden alternating sequences of high and low values in the hydrometeorological time series. Floods follow droughts as night follows day. This photograph of the flood in the Orange River at Aughrabies Falls in South Africa was taken on the same day as severely damaging floods entered Brisbane in Australia. It was also simultaneous with the loss of life by severe floods in Sri Lanka and Brazil. They were not the worst on record.
Flood in the Orange River at Aughrabies Falls in South Africa on 12 January 2011.
I now have a simple question. Were these global extremes the consequence of weather or climatic phenomena? Nobody seems to know. In either case the answer is irrelevant. The claimed consensus views of hundreds of climate change scientists are fundamentally erroneous. Hundreds of peer reviewed papers published in the hydrological literature during the past 50 years demonstrated that climate is NOT a steady state phenomenon. Also, together with my colleagues, research assistants and students we demonstrated that variations in regional climate are the consequence of variations in the receipt and poleward redistribution of solar energy via the global oceanic and atmospheric processes. We could not find any evidence to support the views that these variations are the consequence of human activities. Unfortunately we encountered the same indifference that David Livingstone encountered during his missionary expeditions in Central Africa.
UK Met Office in deep water
The following comments are based on information from the Internet. It appears that routine studies by the UK Met Office last October indicated the possibility of severe winter conditions in the months ahead. The Met Office warned the authorities but not the public. This is a routine procedure where there is a measure of uncertainty about the forecast. The authorities then issue standby alerts to the organisations that will be involved should the events occur.
The problem arose when the Met Office also issued its own forecasts that deliberately withheld this information from the public in view of the level of uncertainty. Confusion arose when the authorities failed to issue the standby alerts and subsequent warnings to the public.
Normally this would be a domestic matter for the UK authorities to resolve. However, it is now very clear that this was a global climatic disturbance. So we must now ask a fundamentally important question. Why was it not predicted by all those international agencies with their sophisticated and costly global climate computer models?
Their self-made problem is that they have become so involved in the climate change issue that they dare not predict extreme events without blaming global warming. In this case we have the near simultaneous extreme cold weather and damaging snowfalls in the UK, Europe and parts of the USA, followed almost immediately by damaging floods in Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Brazil that caused loss of life in all these countries. If these events were the worst on record, climate change scientists would have been home and dry. They could claim that they were obviously the consequence of global warming, but this was not so.
Controlled flood discharge from Vaal Dam in 1974
[ I was directly responsible for the operation of Vaal Dam during this period.]
Why did the GCMs fail to predict these extreme global events?
I continue this memo with a very serious challenge. The last time that floods of this magnitude occurred concurrently in South Africa and Australia was in 1974, approaching 40 years ago. There were three other global climatic events at that time. What were they? One had to do with global temperatures (conveniently overlooked by climate change scientists). The second was a well documented global climatic disturbance. The third had to do with the Southern Oscillation Index and possibly other climatic indices. Why have climate change scientists not investigated and reported the obvious causal linkage between these four concurrent global climatic events? This is a fundamentally important question.
I also have a more general question that climate change scientists have yet to address. What causes the El Niño/La Nina phenomena? How often have we been told that climate science is settled when they cannot even answer this obvious question?
It gets worse!
In April 2008 I was granted an urgent interview with the Council of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering. The following are short extracts from my submission titled Urgent submission to the SAICE Council on the likelihood of severe water resource droughts.
Civil engineers and climate change scientists are on a collision course. The outcome could have very serious, nationally important consequences. These differences should be resolved as a matter of urgency.
In this submission it is demonstrated with a very high degree of assurance that southern Africa, and possibly the rest of the world as well, is about to enter a period of severe droughts commencing within the next twelve months. There is an estimated 20% likelihood that they will be as serious as the Great Depression Drought of the early 1930s. These drought sequences could have disastrous consequences for South Africa if the authorities are caught unawares.
This prediction is based on the well researched multi-year periodic behaviour of the hydro-meteorological processes. It is shown that this periodicity is in turn causally related to synchronous variations in solar activity. This linkage is well documented, and has been studied in South Africa for more than a hundred years.
However, climate change scientists vigorously deny both the predictable, multi-year periodicity in the hydro-meteorological processes, as well as the solar linkage.
The diagram below is our river flow prediction model prepared by my co-author Alwyn vd Merwe. We are presently in period year 13 (2007-08).
Note the very clear, well above average recorded river flows for the present hydrological year (13). Even more importantly, note the succession of below average river flows in the period years that lie ahead (14 to 20). Analyses of other long hydrological data series show similar characteristics.
Climate change scientists use complex global climate computer models to predict a whole range of undesirable consequences. These include increases in the magnitude and frequency of damaging floods, droughts and threats to water supplies. They go further, and specifically maintain that there is no linkage between variations in solar activity and climatic responses. They are forced to do this, as an admission would diminish their claims of exclusive human causality of the postulated consequences of global warming.
I emphasise the word ‘postulated’, because the claims are based on unverified (and unverifiable) computer models. This is the essence of my problem. There is simply no evidence in the hydrological data to support these claims. For example, during the 20 years since the establishment of the IPCC in 1988, there have been no floods or droughts that have exceeded the historical maxima. Nor are there any observable trends in the rainfall and river flow data.
My own position and responsibilities are very clear. Since 1993 I have devoted considerable time and effort in a search for evidence that would support these claims. Had I found this evidence, I would not have hesitated for one moment to report it and include it in my teaching, publications, articles and our Hydro course notes.
I therefore have an equal if unpleasant responsibility. It is to report that there is no observable substance to claims related to the effects of climate change on river flow and South Africa’s water resources.
I appreciate that the contents of this document are likely to be hotly contested as lucrative research funding is at stake. This debate should be encouraged, provided it is conducted in an appropriate forum where both sides are given the opportunity to present their views. In this connection I must place on record that my several attempts to have round table discussions on this subject were either refused or ignored.
My concern was and still is the occurrence of droughts rather than floods. Fifty lives were lost in South Africa during the recent floods, but droughts of equal severity affect the lives of tens of thousands of people.
These were not the only consequences of the recent climatic disturbances that I predicted in 2008. The following information is from a report by the well-known reinsurers Swiss Re. The year 2010 was the year of natural disasters. The last time that so many lives were lost in natural disasters was in 1983 mainly caused by famine in Ethiopia (my emphases).
Putting all the information in this memo together, it is very clear that there have been no systematic increases in natural disasters that can be attributed to human caused global warming during the period of continuous records. Equally, it demonstrates the validity of our studies that demonstrate the causal solar linkage and the predictability of subcontinental scale alternating above and below average hydrometeorological conditions. These conclusions have long been rejected in the IPCC literature.
This whole climate change issue has become chaotic. When chaos prevails the consequences become unpredictable – and dangerous. It will be very interesting to see how this situation is handled in the months ahead as climate change scientists sink deeper and deeper into a quagmire of their own making.
April 2000. Flood risk reduction measures. 560 pp
2011. Analytical methods for water resource development and management. 500+ pp.