After years of re-submissions and re-writes — always to accommodate a single hostile reviewer — our latest paper on feedbacks has finally been published by Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR).
Entitled “On the Diagnosis of Feedback in the Presence of Unknown Radiative Forcing“, this paper puts meat on the central claim of my most recent book: that climate researchers have mixed up cause and effect when observing cloud and temperature changes. As a result, the climate system has given the illusion of positive cloud feedback.
Positive cloud feedback amplifies global warming in all the climate models now used by the IPCC to forecast global warming. But if cloud feedback is sufficiently negative, then manmade global warming becomes a non-issue.
While the paper does not actually use the words “cause” or “effect”, this accurately describes the basic issue, and is how I talk about the issue in the book. I wrote the book because I found that non-specialists understood cause-versus-effect better than the climate experts did!
This paper supersedes our previous Journal of Climate paper, entitled “Potential Biases in Feedback Diagnosis from Observational Data: A Simple Model Demonstration“, which I now believe did not adequately demonstrate the existence of a problem in diagnosing feedbacks in the climate system.
The new article shows much more evidence to support the case: from satellite data, a simple climate model, and from the IPCC AR4 climate models themselves.
Back to the Basics
Interestingly, in order to convince the reviewers of what I was claiming, I had to go back to the very basics of forcing versus feedback to illustrate the mistakes researchers have perpetuated when trying to describe how one can supposedly measure feedbacks in observational data.
Researchers traditionally invoke the hypothetical case of an instantaneous doubling of the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere (2XCO2). That doubling then causes warming, and the warming then causes radiative feedback which acts to either reducing the warming (negative feedback) or amplify the warming (positive feedback). With this hypothetical, idealized 2XCO2 case you can compare the time histories of the resulting warming to the resulting changes in the Earth’s radiative budget, and you can indeed extract an accurate estimate of the feedback.
The trouble is that this hypothetical case has nothing to do with the real world, and can totally mislead us when trying to diagnose feedbacks in the real climate system. This is the first thing we demonstrate in the new paper. In the real world, there are always changes in cloud cover (albedo) occurring, which is a forcing. And that “internal radiative forcing” (our term) is what gives the illusion of positive feedback. In fact, feedback in response to internal radiative forcing cannot even be measured. It is drowned out by the forcing itself.
Feedback in the Real World
As we show in the new paper, the only clear signal of feedback we ever find in the global average satellite data is strongly negative, around 6 Watts per sq. meter per degree C. If this was the feedback operating on the long-term warming from increasing CO2, it would result in only 0.6 deg. C of warming from 2XCO2. (Since we have already experienced this level of warming, it raises the issue of whether some portion — maybe even a majority — of past warming is from natural, rather than anthropogenic, causes.)
Unfortunately, there is no way I have found to demonstrate that this strongly negative feedback is actually occurring on the long time scales involved in anthropogenic global warming. At this point, I think that belief in the high climate sensitivity (positive feedbacks) in the current crop of climate models is a matter of faith, not unbiased science. The models are infinitely adjustable, and modelers stop adjusting when they get model behavior that reinforces their pre-conceived notions.
They aren’t necessarily wrong — just not very thorough in terms of exploring alternative hypotheses. Or maybe they have explored those, and just don’t want to show the rest of the world the results.
Our next paper will do a direct apples-to-apples comparison between the satellite-based feedbacks and the IPCC model-diagnosed feedbacks from year-to-year climate variability. Preliminary indications are that the satellite results are outside the envelope of all the IPCC models.