Archive for the ‘Blog Article’ Category

Pokemon Nerds View Chinese Spy Satellite Rocket Burning Up Over Western U.S.

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

Thousands of lucky onlookers got to see the upper stage of a Chinese rocket reenter the atmosphere and burn up over the western U.S. late last night. This nice video of the event was taken by Matt Holt over the Utah Valley, surrounded by excited “Pokemon nerds” (in Matt’s words).

The debris was the upper stage of Long March 4B rocket launched a month ago from the Gobi Desert, carrying an electronic surveillance spy satellite:

A Long March 4B rocket launched June 26, 2016 carrying China's second Shijian 16 electronic surveillance satellite. Credit: Xinhua

A Long March 4B rocket launched June 26, 2016 carrying China’s second Shijian 16 electronic surveillance satellite. Credit: Xinhua

The rocket upper stage reentered about 12 hrs earlier than expected from orbital debris predictions made by The Aerospace Corporation, which provided this morning’s updated calculation of the reentry path, and the ring of visibility (given clear skies):

Solar Impulse: Poster Child for the Impracticality of Solar Power

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

Solar energy has some legitimate uses in isolated cases, such as providing electricity where there is no other source available, and when you need it so badly you are willing to pay a premium, say, for use on your sailboat.

But the inherent physics limitation to solar energy is that it is so diffuse (so little solar energy falls on each square meter of ground), the efficiency of conversion to electricity is so low (typically 15% or so), and it is so expensive to convert it to electricity with photovoltaic cells (the manufacture of which is expensive and environmentally damaging), that it might never supply more than a small fraction of global energy needs.

Maybe in a few hundred years fossil fuels will become so scarce and expensive to extract that things will change — assuming no forms of nuclear power are ever embraced again. But for now, solar energy can only be kept alive through forcing the public to pay a large premium for it (subsidies). (Those who claim Big Oil is also subsidized need to look into the numbers…government taxes on petroleum far exceed oil company profits and subsidies, while solar powered electricity costs society about 30 times more than gas-fired electricity).

So, what could better illustrate the huge cost and inefficiency of solar energy than to pay a small army of people to build and fly a single-person solar-powered glider around the world in only 16 months?

Now that Solar Impulse has accomplished that $177 million task, renewable energy advocates are rejoicing. But even the people behind the project aren’t saying that we will ever have solar-powered air transport systems.

According to project initiator and Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, who also piloted Solar Impulse for the final leg of the flight,

“Solar Impulse was not built to carry passengers, but to carry messages. We want to demonstrate the importance of the pioneering spirit, to encourage people to question what they’ve always taken for granted. The world needs to find new ways of improving the quality of human life. Clean technologies and renewable forms of energy are part of the solution.”

Now, I’m not against people who have a lot extra money spending it on such adventurous projects. What bothers me is the large number of people who believe it somehow validates a goal of solar-powered transportation systems. I’d wager that much less money (and fossil-fueled support) went into the recent completion of a round-the-world balloon flight in only 11 days…not 16 months.

pig-flyingUntil someone repeals the laws of physics, solar energy will remain a minor player in meeting global energy demand.

While the Solar Impulse project is a remarkable achivement in human ingenuity, it has little more practical significance than building a flight system that will finally achieve the goal of making pigs fly.

Record Warm 2016? What a Difference One Month Makes

Friday, July 1st, 2016

With the rapid cooling now occurring in the global average tropospheric temperature, my previous prediction of a record warm year in the satellite data for 2016 looks…well…premature.

Here’s an update of what the average temperature trend would have to be in the next 6 months for 2016 to tie 1998 as record warmest year in the 38 year satellite record:


Basically, as long as the anomalies stay below the June value of 0.34 deg. C, 2016 won’t be a record warm year.

If only I had kept my mouth shut nine days ago….

UAH Global Temperature Update for June 2016: +0.34 deg. C

Friday, July 1st, 2016

Second largest 2-month drop in global average satellite temperatures.
Largest 2-month drop in tropical average satellite temperatures.

NOTE: This is the fifteenth monthly update with our new Version 6.0 dataset. Differences versus the old Version 5.6 dataset are discussed here. Note we are now at “beta5” for Version 6, and the paper describing the methodology is still in peer review.

The Version 6.0 global average lower tropospheric temperature (LT) anomaly for June, 2016 is +0.34 deg. C, down 0.21 deg. C from the May value of +0.55 deg. C (click for full size version):


This gives a 2-month temperature fall of -0.37 deg. C, which is the second largest in the 37+ year satellite record…the largest was -0.43 deg. C in Feb. 1988.

In the tropics, there was a record fast 2-month cooling of -0.56 deg. C, just edging out -0.55 deg. C in June 1998 (also an El Nino weakening year).

The global, hemispheric, and tropical LT anomalies from the 30-year (1981-2010) average for the last 18 months are:

2015 01 +0.30 +0.44 +0.15 +0.13
2015 02 +0.19 +0.34 +0.04 -0.07
2015 03 +0.18 +0.28 +0.07 +0.04
2015 04 +0.09 +0.19 -0.01 +0.08
2015 05 +0.27 +0.34 +0.20 +0.27
2015 06 +0.31 +0.38 +0.25 +0.46
2015 07 +0.16 +0.29 +0.03 +0.48
2015 08 +0.25 +0.20 +0.30 +0.53
2015 09 +0.23 +0.30 +0.16 +0.55
2015 10 +0.41 +0.63 +0.20 +0.53
2015 11 +0.33 +0.44 +0.22 +0.52
2015 12 +0.45 +0.53 +0.37 +0.61
2016 01 +0.54 +0.69 +0.39 +0.84
2016 02 +0.83 +1.17 +0.50 +0.99
2016 03 +0.73 +0.94 +0.52 +1.09
2016 04 +0.71 +0.85 +0.58 +0.94
2016 05 +0.55 +0.65 +0.44 +0.72
2016 06 +0.34 +0.51 +0.17 +0.38

The rapid cooling is from the weakening El Nino and approaching La Nina conditions by mid-summer or early fall.

As promised just over a week ago, here’s how we are now progressing toward a record warm year in the satellite data:
The June anomaly is well below the dashed red line which represents the average cooling rate required for the rest of 2016 to tie 1998 as the warmest year in the satellite record. So far my prediction that 2016 will end up being a new record warm year is not shaping up too well…the cooling we are seeing in the troposphere really is spectacular. Just remember, the temperature anomaly can also temporarily rebound for a month, as it did in late 1998.

The “official” UAH global image for June, 2016 should be available in the next several days here.

The new Version 6 files (use the ones labeled “beta5”) should be updated soon, and are located here:

Lower Troposphere:
Lower Stratosphere:

More on the Global Climate Emergency: Email from a “Fan”

Friday, July 1st, 2016

hate_mailI get some hate email from time to time. Actually, not very much. I guess I’m still cruising under the radar.

In response to my post yesterday criticizing Paul Beckwith’s post about the allegedly unprecedented crossing of the equator by jet stream winds (a post which, after much criticism, he has since modified), I received a heartfelt email (reproduced below) asking me to, ummm, back off on my criticism.

This email I received yesterday is rather disturbing because I fear it reveals the low caliber of scientific knowledge that exists out there. Too many people are too easily fooled by pseudo-scientific ramblings which can go viral and cross the globe in a matter of hours. This cuts both ways in the global warming debate, as frequent readers of my blog know I have banned people on my side of the argument for pushing too hard on what I consider to be bad science (e.g. the claim that there is no such thing as the “greenhouse effect”).

Even Jason Samenow from the Capital Weather Gang posted agreement with me that there is nothing unusual about winds at the jet stream level moving back and forth across the equator. Jason also quotes other PhD-level atmospheric scientists in that article.

So, I’m just going to leave this here…I was tempted to answer many of the points made below, but I think it will be more enjoyable for regulars here to take a shot at it.

What A way to treat a fellow scientist. Who the f**k cares if its man made or not! Paul is getting the word out there to people…what are you doing? I don’t see you doing anything except having a web site that no one even knows about…I’ve never heard of you. Paul Beckwith puts a lot of hard work and time into trying to raise the issue…You however are a disgrace to global scientists! Or do you not agree this is an emergency? This one video finally caught some attention and you have to f**k it up…Idiot! We NEED for this to be news so maybe, just maybe something will be done! This video has gone viral…let it be! You have made up lies about him and tried to discredit him…why would you do that??? Many people have moved to the southern hemisphere to get away from the radiation…because this was NOT supposed to happen. You need to take down what you said from your web site! What is happening is dangerous and people need to know…too many people already do not believe GW is real…they need to prepare! They need to know! Jesus Dude…What’s wrong with you? And let’s not throw stones about Donations…You have your own Donation button!!!! Fix it Please…


“Climate System Scientist” Claims Jet Stream Crossing the Equator is Unprecedented

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

Paul Beckwith has a masters degree in laser optics, which he has somehow parlayed into being a “Climate System Scientist” to spread alarmism about the climate system.

But his post “Unprecedented, Jet Stream Crosses Equator” suggests he knows little of meteorology, let alone climate.

A “jet stream” in the usual sense of the word is caused by the thermal wind, which cannot exist at the equator because there is no Coriolis force. To the extent that there is cross-equator flow at jet stream levels, it is usually from air flowing out of deep convective rain systems. That outflow often enters the subtropical jet stream, which is part of the average Hadley Cell circulation.


There is frequently cross-equatorial flow at jet stream altitudes, and that flow can connect up with a subtropical jet stream. But it has always happened, and always will happen, with or without the help of humans. Sometimes the flows connect up with each other and make it look like a larger flow structure is causing the jet stream to flow from one hemisphere to the other, but it’s in no way unprecedented.

We’ve really only known about jet streams since around WWII…one of my professors, Reid Bryson, was one of the first to advise the U.S. military that bombers flying to Japan might encounter strong head winds. The idea that something we have been observing for only several decades on a routine basis (upper tropospheric winds in the tropics) would exhibit “unprecedented” behavior is rather silly.

I especially like this portion of Paul’s post:

“We must declare a global climate emergency. Please consider a donation to support my work..”

Nice touch, Mr. Beckwith.

2016 Will Likely See Record Global Warmth in Satellite Data

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

…but the approaching La Nina might extend the global warming pause to 20 years.

Even though global average tropospheric temperatures are rapidly falling now as La Nina approaches, it is usually the second calendar year of an El Nino event that is the warmest, especially in the satellite record of tropospheric temperatures. This is because it takes a couple of months for all of the unusually warm Pacific surface water to transfer its extra heat to the atmosphere, pushing peak atmospheric temperatures into the second calendar year of an El Nino event.

While 2015 was only the 3rd warmest year in the satellite record (since 1979), 2016 might well beat out 1998 as the record warmest.

I computed just how fast average cooling must be for the remainder of this year for that to happen (or not happen), at least in our UAH dataset; the RSS satellite dataset would give somewhat different results. The following graph shows that if steady, linear cooling occurred from the May 2016 value of +0.55 deg. C to reach +0.20 deg C in December, then 2016 would edge out 1998 for a new record warm year (ignoring measurement uncertainty).


If linear cooling ended up resulting in +0.19 deg. C in December, then we would avoid a new record warm year.

How likely is it that cooling will progress at such a fast rate? Examination of previous El Nino-La Nina transitions suggest it would be unusual, but not out of the question. The latest La Nina forecast suggests fairly rapid onset of La Nina conditions, possibly by next month.

Nevertheless, if I had to make a prediction one way or the other, I would bet that 2016 will not experience that rapid of a rate of cooling, and will edge out 1998 for record warmth. I’d be happy to be wrong, though.

And, of course, if we go into prolonged La Nina conditions for the next 2-3 years, we might well be debating the meaning and significance of a 20-year pause in global warming in another year or two.

For the reminder of the year, I will try to include updates to this graph in my usual monthly global temperature updates. This will provide a visual guide to how we are progressing toward a possible new record warm year.

If Skeptics can be Prosecuted for Fraud, So can Alarmists

Friday, June 17th, 2016

I’m glad to see this news report today, and I’ve been saying the same thing ever since the whole Attorneys General flap started:

“If Democratic attorneys general can pursue climate change skeptics for fraud, then also at risk of prosecution are climate alarmists whose predictions of global doom have failed to materialize.

The cuts both ways argument was among those raised by 13 Republican attorneys general in a letter urging their Democratic counterparts to stop using their law enforcement power against fossil fuel companies and others that challenge the climate change catastrophe narrative.

Consider carefully the legal precedent and threat to free speech, said the state prosecutors in their letter this week, headed by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.

If it is possible to minimize the risks of climate change, then the same goes for exaggeration, said the letter. If minimization is fraud, exaggeration is fraud.

The popular comparison of legitimate skepticism and uncertainty over the causes of climate change with hiding the risks of tobacco use is just so silly. No one can be demonstrated to have been harmed by manmade climate change, partly because there is no way to establish causation, there has been no demonstrable increase in severe weather events, etc.

Besides, can any investor in Exxon Mobil really claim they never heard of the possible risks of anthropogenic climate change? That’s all we’ve been hearing in the news for the last 30 years.

But Dr. Spencer! It can be demonstrated that flash floods have killed more and more people in their cars over the last 150 years!” Sheesh. If you really think this is a valid argument, I can’t help you.

In fact, to the extent that recent climate change has been partly caused by humans (which I do believe…even though I cannot prove it), the positive externalities have likely outweighed the negative externalities (cold weather still kills more people than hot, crop productivity goes up with increasing CO2).

That is in addition to the fact that we have no large-scale replacements for fossil fuels yet, and to the extent we force expensive renewables on people, we make poverty worse. And poverty does kill.

Environmental groups that have pressured decision makers into bed with them on the issue should be held accountable for their deceit.

No, Spencer’s Research Wasn’t Funded by Peabody

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

My vacation this week was interrupted this morning by some hate e-mail…apparently, the recent Peabody Coal bankruptcy produced paperwork that listed everyone that was ever paid by Peabody for anything.

As far as I can recall, I am quite sure that Peabody has paid me for two things. Neither was payment for climate research, but just for presentation of information and opinions.

First was a presentation I gave to their board of directors, maybe 2-3 years ago, for which I charged my usual speaking fee plus travel expenses to Washington D.C. As I recall, my talk was back-to-back with one by a representative from Natural Resources Defense Council.

The second instance was hearing testimony I was asked to write related to a legal case I’ve already blogged about, here. That took quite a bit of time, requiring rebuttal and surrebuttal testimonies, then travel to St. Paul, MN to testify in front of a judge. I don’t do such things for free, and I always make sure I do it on vacation time from my day job so I can’t be accused of double-dipping.

If people are that concerned about not having any financial relationships with fossil fuel interests, I suggest they stop using electricity and most of our modern conveniences. I would have accepted payment from Satanists for Sane Energy Policy for my opinions if it would help prevent energy poverty and the resulting preventable deaths.

Another Potential Reason Why Climate Sensitivity is Over-Estimated

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

No, not that kind of feedback...

No, not that kind of feedback…


It’s been quite a while since I’ve discussed why the diagnosis of feedbacks in the climate system (and thus climate sensitivity) from observations is biased toward high climate sensitivity. It’s a controversial topic, one which we have a few published papers on, yet one I am more firmly convinced about than any other climate research I have ever published.

I’m pretty convinced that most of our detractors on the subject don’t even know what we are talking about. The refutations against our work have been a mixture of strawman arguments, red herrings, silliness, and deception.

To put it simply, if temperature change causes a change in the top-of-atmosphere radiative balance, then you can (with some assumptions regarding time lags) diagnose feedbacks by simply regressing the radiative variations against the temperature variations. BUT if it is instead a time-varying radiative imbalance causing a surface temperature change (causation reversed), then you cannot diagnose feedbacks.

If you try, then you will usually diagnose positive feedback, even if strongly negative feedback exists. Our most complete analysis of the effect was described here.

In general, both directions of causation are operating in the climate system. People like Andy Dessler will claim that ALL radiation changes are ultimately caused by temperature change, maybe at some earlier time, and so he thinks you can diagnose feedback.

But I totally reject that…there are many reasons why (for example) clouds (and thus albedo) can change that are not caused by temperature.

And if Dr. Dessler really believes it, why does he not include a time lag in his feedback diagnoses? (It usually take time — sometimes months — for the atmospheric response to a surface temperature change to fully develop). When you do that, the diagnosed feedback parameter almost always shifts in the direction of low climate sensitivity (Dick Lindzen has also published work on this issue).


For years, I’ve been mulling another reason (other than the radiation-causing-temperature change one) for diagnosed feedbacks to be biased positive. It would occur if different sources of climate variation have different feedbacks.

When feedbacks are strongly negative, then temperature changes will be minimized, because that’s what negative feedback does — it damps temperature change.

But when feedbacks are positive, the temperature changes are allowed to grow.

So, the BIG temperature changes and their associated radiation changes during positive feedback events will dominate our observations of the climate system, while the small temperature changes during negative feedback events will be less noticeable.

The net result will be an average diagnosed feedback that is biased positive, that is, toward high climate sensitivity, because we are really only analyzing the big climate events that were allowed to grow due to positive feedbacks.


One can test this idea quantitatively with a simple 1D forcing-feedback energy balance model (like the one we have use in our papers, but here assuming a simple 1-layer swamp ocean 25 m deep, and a 30 day time step). If I force the ocean surface temperatures departures from an average state with a random number generator that is smoothed in time, then assume a sinusoidally varying feedback parameter between 0 and 6.4 W m-2 K-1 over a period of 28 months as the radiative response to those temperature variations, I get behavior like this:


The net feedback parameter diagnosis is then usually just the regression slope between the radiative flux variations and the temperature variations, which from the model output looks like this:


We see that the regression diagnosis of the feedback parameter is biased low. Instead of an average of 3.2 W m-2 K-1 as specified (which would be 1.2 deg. C equilibrium climate sensitivity), the diagnosis is 2.07 W m-2 K-1 (about 1.8 deg. C climate sensitivity).

If I add in some time-varying radiative forcing like we have addressed in our recent papers (e.g. this one), the bias toward high climate sensitivity is even greater (not shown here).

The above discussion is nowhere near exhaustive; I’m just trying to stimulate thought and discussion on an issue I feel very strongly about, that is: climate feedbacks diagnosed from observational data are very error-prone, with the errors most likely leading to overestimates of climate sensitivity.