The Misrepresentation Of Climate Science

The Boulder Daily Camera had an article on April 20 2012 that illustrates the convoluted ways individuals seek to fit real world observations into the IPCC worldview. The article is By Breanna Draxler

On Niwot Ridge west of Boulder, contrasting climates 5 miles apart Scientists find warming at 10,000 feet, cooling at 12,700 feet

It reads [with highlighting and my comments]:

Scientists doing climate research on Niwot Ridge in the mountain’s west of Boulder found a surprising trend: At 10,000 feet of elevation, conditions have become warmer and drier over the past few decades, but at 12,700 feet, conditions are actually cooler and wetter.

“We know the western U.S. has been warming. It’s concentrated in the spring at the forest site. But we see just the opposite at the high elevation site above the tree line,” said Mark Williams, the study’s principal investigator.

My Comment:   The high elevation data actually shows a cooling and the forest site is only warming in the spring. This should be a red flag that there is more going on than a western U.S. warming, or even if this warming is actually occurring at higher elevation sites. Indeed, even lower elevation sites are suspect; e.g. see

Uncertainty in Utah Hydrologic Data: Part 1 On The Snow Data Set by Randall P. Julander

Uncertainty in Utah Hydrologic Data: Part 2 On Streamflow Data by Randall P. Julander

Uncertainty in Utah: Part 3 on The Hydrologic Model Data Set by Randall P. Julander

Williams said snowfall at the higher station has doubled in the last 60 years — the period for which scientists have been collecting precipitation and temperature data at Niwot Ridge. Temperatures, too, have dropped significantly during the winter months, from November through March.

The scientists attribute the cooling to a small-scale climatic balancing act. The warmer temperatures at lower elevations cause snow to evaporate. This moisture in the air is then drawn upward and to the west. When it reaches the continental divide, the moisture falls as snow.

My Comment:  First, the amount of water vapor from lower elevation evaporation in the wintertime would be a very small contribution to the precipitation at higher elevation. This snowfall occurs at Niwot Ridge, and elsewhere in the Rockies, as Pacific moisture is advected eastward over the western U.S. Indeed, higher snowfall indicates a storm track that has resulted in a higher frequency of winter storms.  This also would explain the lower temperatures from November to March. In the 2011-2012 season, snowfall was  quite a bit less since the storm track was far to the north. In the 2010-2011 season the storm track was persistently further south and large amounts of snow fell.

The additional snowfall boosts the albedo effect, which reflects sunlight back into the atmosphere and causes the localized cooling. The higher station is above treeline, so the white snow reflects more sunlight than the tree-covered location of the lower station.

My Comment: There is snow on the ground at Niwot in the winter! Moreover, the albedo effect is a trivial effect at Niwot Ridge in comparison to the advection of cold air at this level of the atmosphere. Indeed, Niwot Ridge is an excellent location to obtain regionally representative long-term temperature trend measurements, as the frequent strong airflow permits a sampling of the larger scale atmosphere.

The findings are particularly surprising since the two research stations are only five miles apart, said Williams, who is a fellow at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and a geography professor at the University of Colorado.

The localized cooling happens amidst a larger warming trend in the West.

My Comment: A scientifically robust approach would be to also look at whether the warming the forested site is due to local effects. In addition, the lower tropospheric temperature anomalies for the same time period and geographic location should be compared to these surface sites.

Bill Bowman is director of mountain research station, which runs the climate program. He has been working on Niwot Ridge for decades and said the warming picked up steam in the 1990s due to human-emitted greenhouse gases.

“Across the western U.S. there is a very clear trend in warming, and in earlier snowmelt, and in greater loss of water due to evaporation at the surface,” Bowman said. “The trend will continue almost certainly because humans are continuing to emit greenhouse gases unabated.”

As a result of these emissions, Williams suspects that the cool temperatures and increased snowfall are only temporary.

“My guess is we put enough energy in the atmosphere, the warming trend will move up above the treeline,” Williams said.

Niwot Ridge is the highest of the 26 long-term ecological research sites around the world. The site 25 miles west of Boulder is thousands of acres in size and includes a range of ecosystems, such as subalpine forest, tundra, talus slopes, glacial lakes and wetlands. Continued warming could wreak havoc on these natural systems and the local communities by increasing the risk of wildfires, reducing municipal water supplies, or triggering another mountain pine beetle outbreak.

“Climate is changing and we end up with climate weirding — unpredictable climate extremes,” Williams said.

My Comment: Here is the pervasive assumption that changes in climate statistics are due to the emissions of greenhouse gases. This is the  IPCC viewpoint that is being repeated (along with the new catch phrase “climate weirding“).  Williams’s statement that he is guessing places the confidence in the statements in the article in their proper place.

He used two recent examples to demonstrate the volatility of current climatic conditions and the unpredictability of future conditions. Last year was the latest recorded date for snowmelt at the research site, and this year was the earliest on record, he said. The difference between the two was 3.5 months.

“You normally don’t see that big of a difference on back-to-back years,” Williams said.

Likewise, on a shorter time-scale, this February was the snowiest on record, while March was the driest.

My Comment:  These large excursions in climate are actually quite typical. Indeed, rather than cherry picking that cooling is local and warming is global, such studies should recognize the overwhelming dominance of regional atmospheric/ocean circulations in causing these anomalies.

“It’s beyond what we can predict in terms of climate change at this point,” Williams said.

The study was published in one of a series of six articles in the April issue of BioScience.

My CommentThis first sentence is finally a correct statement. However, Williams and Bowman should have recognized this also applies to the claims that attribution of these anomalies is also not well understood.

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