Comments On The Dessler 2011 GRL Paper “Cloud Variations And The Earth’s Energy Budget”

A response to

Spencer, R.W.; Braswell, W.D. On the Misdiagnosis of Surface Temperature Feedbacks from Variations in Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance. Remote Sens. 2011, 3, 1603-1613.

has appeared today in Geophysical Research Letters, as we were told would occur in

Opinion: The damaging impact of Roy Spencer’s science

The new paper is

Dessler, A. E. (2011), Cloud variations and the Earth’s energy budget, Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2011GL049236, in press.

The abstract reads

“The question of whether clouds are the cause of surface temperature changes, rather than acting as a feedback in response to those temperature changes, is explored using data obtained between 2000 and 2010. An energy budget calculation shows that the energy trapped by clouds accounts for little of the observed climate variations. And observations of the lagged response of top-of-atmosphere (TOA) energy fluxes to surface temperature variations are not evidence that clouds are causing climate change.”

I assume Roy Spencer will respond to the science in the Dessler article, but I want to present here several comments on the publication process.

First, the paper was received 11 August 2011 and  accepted 29 August 2011. This is some type of record in my experiences as editor, and indicates that the paper was fast tracked.  This is certainly unusual.  I would note that as with Remote Sensing,  Dessler could (and, in fact is required to)  recommend referees. If the Editor did not include Roy Spencer as one of the referees, they were derilict in their responsibilities. I encourage Roy to let us know if he was one of the referees.

Second, the paper should have been submitted to Remote Sensing as a Comment. Then Roy Spencer would submit a Reply. By publishing in GRL, Spencer would need to submit a Comment and Dessler would respond in a Reply [which permits the original author of an article to have the “last word” in a Comment/Reply exchange]. Since the Spencer paper was the motivation for the Dessler article, Spencer should be the person giving the Reply. [Note added: I have found out that GRL no longer permits Comments/Replys. That is an loss to constructive scientific debate. However, Spencer and Braswell can submit an article in response to the Dessler article and request the same expeditious turn-around].

In my view, the key point of scientific discussion should be on Figure 3 in the Spencer and Braswell paper.  Spencer and Braswell need to respond to Dessler’s analysis with respect to this figure.  This is the type of exchange that should have gone on in a Comment/Reply exchange.

 When I was Chief Editor of the Monthly Weather Review and Co-Chief Editor of the Journal of Atmospheric Science, that is how I would have dealt with this scientific debate. There is no question that the Spencer and Braswell Remote Sensing article should have been published. If Dessler can convincingly refute their analysis, the science has been advanced. Alternatively, if Spencer and Braswell can refute the findings and conclusions of the Dessler paper, our knowledge of climate science would have similarly been advanced. Without such interaction, the scientfic community would be burying a much needed debate on the issue of the robustness of the climate models to simulate real world climate.

 There is no valid justification for the claims that Spencer and Dessler should not have been published, despite the bizarre behavior of  Wolfgang Wagner and a set of critical weblog posts (e.g. see Real Climate) and opinion articles in the media (e.g. see ABC Online).

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