Friday, August 29, 2008

2014/ 2015

Mark S. Lawson
Posted Friday, 29 August 2008
Who has noticed that the period 2014-2015 keeps on turning up in the debate on greenhouse science?
For that is when greenhouse proponents say the long-delayed global warming apocalypse will start
happening. In addition, that general date has turned up in forecasts made by an arch sceptic, and two
researchers in the US have forecast that sunspot activity will cease entirely by 2014.
As the two sides do not agree on anything else at all this is odd - odd enough to be worth exploring.
One group to point at the 2015 date is led by Noel Keenlyside of the Leibnitz Institute of Marine Science in
the German city of Kiel. As reported in the journal Nature (letters, May 1) Keenlyside and colleagues
added the affect of climate cycles to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models to forecast
that global temperatures will remain stable or perhaps even dip down for the next few years, before
heading up. The paper does not give a date for the expected kick up in temperatures but in a subsequent
interview with the Daily Telegraph in the UK Keenlyside stated that the earth will start to warm again in
Keenlyside was forecasting from his research into the powerful Atlantic meridional overturning circulation
(AMO) climate cycle which, he says, has a global effect and will weaken to its long term mean. He also
emphasises that his work in no way contradicts that of the IPCC - he is merely adding climate cycles on
top of the panel’s predictions - but his work seem to have horrified the hardliners. There have been
internet reports that prominent scientists have tried to challenge the Keenlyside team to bets on
temperature trends. However, other climate cycles seem to be following the AMO lead. In April, NASA
announced that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation has shifted from its warm mode to its cool mode - a switch
that will not be discussed here but may also result in significant cooling.
More recently, another group observing the sun has also come up with the date 2014 but for quite
different reasons. As has been noted a few times in the media, the sun has gone quiet - too quiet - with
the next solar cycle so far not putting in an appearance. Scientists have known for a very long time that
the earth has a distinct 11-year cycle. At its height, indicated by lots of sunspots, the sun is very active
giving off lots of flares and solar storms which affect satellites. At the bottom of the cycle there are few or
no spots, and a marked lack of activity.
The last cycle was officially declared over by NASA in March 2006 with one group at the space agency
putting out a release confidently forecasting that the next cycle would be 20 to 50 per cent stronger than
the old.
The sun responded to this piece of scientific hubris by going quiet. A few spots from the new cycle have
been sighted, as well as a few spots from the old - scientists can tell which spots the cycle belongs to by
their magnetic polarity - but very little has happened.
At the time of writing the sun is still spot free. NASA solar physicist David Hathaway points out, quite
rightly, that the sun’s behaviour is within major statistical limits - just. The average solar cycle lasts 131
months plus or minus 14 months and the current cycle - the quiet period counts as part of the old cycle -
has lasted nearly 143 months. The solar cycle went quiet for years at the beginning of last century before
restarting, Hathaway notes, so nothing out of the ordinary has happened - at least, not yet.
Another group at the US National Solar Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, William Livingston and Matthew
Penn, believe that there may be a deeper process at work. Sunspots are highly magnetic regions that are
somewhat cooler than the rest of the sun’s surface (they appear dark compared to the rest of the sun, but
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if seen separately would appear very bright) and the two researchers have been tracking both the
temperature and magnetic strength of the spots. They found that the spots have been warming up and
becoming less magnetic. An average of the trend is a straight line going down which hits the bottom of the
graph at 2014. They have concluded that, although sun spots may appear briefly from time to time in the
next few years, they will disappear by 2014.
This conclusion is in a paper submitted to the journal Science three years ago but rejected in peer review.
With the sun now so quiet the paper has been resurrected from a filing cabinet in the observatory and
circulated informally. Dr Livingston told me (by phone from his office in Tucson) that the paper had been
rejected on the grounds that it was a purely statistical argument so it would be better to wait and see what
happened, and he considered that a fair point. They are now waiting “for the right moment” to resubmit.
But what happens after 2014? Dr Livingston says that as they are using a purely statistical argument,
without any theory to back it, they do not know. All they know is that the trend reaches zero in 2014.
Conventional theory on the sun’s inner workings never forecast anything like this - in fact, forecast the
exact opposite - but has been revised to say that the sun will restart some time next year.
With the sun being quiet for a surprisingly long time, plenty of commentators are pointing to the possibility
of a Maunder Minimum - a period from 1645 to 1715 with very few sunspots which is associated with a
series of bitter winters known as the Little Ice Age. Although it is widely acknowledged that there must be
some link between the sun’s activity and climate, the nature of the link and its effectiveness is hotly
debated. The IPCC models, the ruling orthodoxy, gives star billing to the effect of industrial gases in the
atmosphere and places solar variations in the also ran category. However, as we shall see those models
have proved largely useless for forecasting - in the short term, at least - and there are no rival climate
theories. The sceptics largely decline to forecast, pointing out, with some justification as it turns out, that
there is as yet no means of forecasting what the sun will do.
One sceptic who is prepared to make a forecast, and who also points to the date of 2015, is professional
UK weather forecaster Piers Corbyn. The bulk of scientists have little time for Corbyn, who is a strong
advocate of the link between solar activity and climate. Greenhouse proponents, in particular, detest him.
For as well as stridently denouncing the IPCC whenever he can, he also appeared on the documentary
The Great Global Warming Swindle. However, he does have a track record as a weather forecaster and,
for whatever reason, is saying the same things as the Keenlyside team, at least for the next few years. He
forecasts that global temperatures will decline until 2015, and then kick up briefly, before declining again.
Whatever you may make of all this forecasting, a major problem remains working out what is happening
right now, for the centres that track global climate say different things. There are five sites that I know of.
Anyone who can think of others can message me on Of those five, three are
instrument centres - relying on networks of ground stations and ships for temperature readings - and two
are centres that use satellites to track temperatures. They are listed below, along with links to the data
used in the graphs at the end of the article.
Hadley - Generally regarded as the most authoritative of the instrument centres. The Australian Bureau of
Meteorology site links to the temperature tracks on the Hadley site. It is a part of the University of East
Anglica in the UK and associated with the UK Meteorological Office, which are both IPCC bastions. The
graphs use HADCrutv3.
GISS - Goddard Institute of Space Studies. A part of NASA. The director of this instrument centre is arch
greenhouse spruiker Professor James Hansen. Greenhouse proponents always quote this centre’s
temperatures for the annual results from this site are mysteriously higher than the others. Data for the
graphs is here.
NOAA - National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Owned by the US Department of
Commerce it is an instrument centre. Link for data here.
UAH - University of Alabama in Huntsville. A satellite centre run through the Earth System Science
Centre. Director Dr John Christie is sometimes cited as a greenhouse agnostic, although he has
contributed to several IPCC reports. The centre has shown temperatures trending down for years. Link
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contributed to several IPCC reports. The centre has shown temperatures trending down for years. Link
RSS - Remote Satellite Services. The site for this centre makes little sense to the laymen but from the
graphs presented by scientists who have dealt with it, RSS surface temperature results are broadly similar
to that of the UAH. I could not find any public access data for surface temperatures.
There are two graphs, produced using Excel. One is for temperature readings from four of the sites from
January 2007 up to August and the other is for Hadley, as the mostly widely accepted, from 2001. As the
IPCC third report was released in 2001 and the fourth report was released in February 2007, this should
give us some idea of the forecasting success of the models. An interesting point in all of this is that NOAA
and Hadley more or less agree (the difference is probably a difference in the base line the two sites use)
but GISS shows a somewhat warmer world and the satellite results are markedly cooler than the others.
However, none of the centres can point to anything but failure for the IPCC. There is still time for actual
temperatures to bounce back to somewhere within the model forecasts but in the short term, at least, and
on the only test that really matters for computer models - forecasting what was not known at the time of
the report - the models have generally failed.
Given the track record of the existing models, and instead of generally rejecting the proposal that
temperatures will remain subdued until 2015, greenhouse proponents should embrace the forecast - it is
likely to be more accurate than any of the others made to date, particularly given the lack of solar activity.
And we should all hurry towards 2014-2015 as fast as we can, to find out what happens.

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