View Full Version : Der Spiegel: 8 part document on the state of climate change today

04-04-10, 06:51 PM

Some excerpts:

The big one:

But this is scientific nonsense. "Two degrees is not a magical limit -- it's clearly a political goal," says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

Plagued by reports of sloppy work, falsifications and exaggerations, climate research is facing a crisis of confidence. How reliable are the predictions about global warming and its consequences? And would it really be the end of the world if temperatures rose by more than the much-quoted limit of two degrees Celsius?


Jones is finished: emotionally, physically and professionally. He has contemplated suicide several times recently, and he says that one of the only things that have kept him from doing it is the desire to watch his five-year-old granddaughter grow up.

'100 Percent Confident'

One of the conclusions of his famous statistical analysis of the world's climate is that the average temperature on Earth rose by 0.166 degrees Celsius per decade between 1975 and 1998. This, according to Jones, was the clear result of his research and that of many other scientists.
"I am 100 percent confident that the climate has warmed," Jones says imploringly. "I did not manipulate or fabricate any data."

His problem is that the public doesn't trust him anymore. Since unknown hackers secretly copied 1,073 private emails between members of his research team and published them on the Internet, his credibility has been destroyed -- and so has that of an entire profession that had based much of its work on his research until now.


Since then, the IPCC has experienced a dramatic fall from grace. Less than three years after this triumph, more and more mistakes, evidence of sloppy work and exaggerations in the current IPCC report are appearing. They include Jones' disputed temperature curve, the prediction that all Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 -- which was the result of a simple transposition of numbers -- and the supposed increase in natural disasters, for which no source was given.


On balance, the entire profession has been seriously harmed by the scandal. "We are currently suffering a massive erosion of trust," concludes German climatologist Hans von Storch. "Climate research has been corrupted by politicization, just as nuclear physics was in the pre-Chernobyl days, when we were led to believe that nuclear power plants were completely safe."


No other branch of science is as politically charged. A religious war is raging between alarmists and skeptics, and it threatens to consume levelheaded climatologists. But it is a critical conflict, because it revolves around something as massive as the total restructuring of industrial society, a venture that will cost trillions of euros. Powerful economic interests and unshakeable fundamental beliefs come into play.


Meanwhile, there are growing concerns in Berlin that German citizens could become less willing to pay for costly efforts to protect the climate. A poll conducted on behalf of SPIEGEL already signals a dramatic shift in public opinion and suggests that Germans are losing their fear of climate change. The strong majority of 58 percent who said they feared global warming about three years ago has declined to a minority of 42 percent.


There are also growing concerns at Germany's Ministry of Education and Research, which is spending €250 million ($338 million) to support climate science this year. Research Minister Annette Schavan has already summoned German IPCC scientists to attend a "meeting to clarify the situation and improve quality assurance." Officials at the ministry are horrified over how unprofessionally the IPCC is organized. "The IPCC's results must be above suspicion, because their impact can cost trillions and have serious political consequences," says Wilfried Kraus, a senior ministry official.


Reinhard Hüttl, head of the German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam near Berlin and the president of the German Academy of Science and Engineering, believes that basic values are now under threat. "Scientists should never be as wedded to their theories that they are no longer capable of refuting them in the light of new findings," he says. Scientific research, Hüttl adds, is all about results, not beliefs. Unfortunately, he says, there are more and more scientists who want to be politicians.


Despite the controversy, most climatologists agree that in the end the general view of climate change will not have changed significantly. Almost all share the basic conviction that we are headed for warmer times.
Open Questions
Scientists fear that without an open, honest process, they will no longer find a sympathetic ear. This process could mean that much of what has long been considered established knowledge will come under review once again, specifically, five elementary questions on the future of the climate:

By how many degrees has the Earth's temperature already increased, and how much further will temperatures rise?
How high will sea levels rise in a greenhouse climate?
Can we expect to see storms of unprecedented strength in the future?
Which parts of the world will experience more droughts, and where will there be more flooding?
Will the situation on the planet truly spin out of control if the average global temperature increases by more than two degrees Celsius?

Anyone who speaks with leading climatologists today will discover how many questions remain open. The media, politicians and even scientists often talk about changes to the weather with a certainty that does not in fact exist.


Did Jones proceed correctly while homogenizing the data? Most climatologists still believe Jones' contention that he did not intentionally manipulate the data. However, that belief will have to remain rooted in good faith. Under the pressure of McIntyre's attacks, Jones had to admit something incredible: He had deleted his notes on how he performed the homogenization. This means that it is not possible to reconstruct how the raw data turned into his temperature curve.

'One of the Biggest Sins'

For Peter Webster, a meteorologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, this course of events is "one of the biggest sins" a scientist can commit. "It's as if a chef was no longer able to cook his dishes because he lost the recipes."

While amateur climatologist McIntyre spent years begging in vain for the raw data, Webster eventually managed to convince Jones to send them to him. He is the only scientist to date who has been given access to the data. "To be honest, I'm shocked by the sloppy documentation," Webster told SPIEGEL.

Unnoticed by the public, Webster has spent several months searching for inconsistencies in the Jones curve. For example, it has been known for some time that there are noticeable jumps in ocean temperature readings.

The reason for the inconsistencies is that, beginning in the 1940s, water temperature was no longer measured in buckets filled with seawater, but at the intake valves for the water used to cool ship engines.

But when he analyzed Jones's data, Webster discovered suspiciously similar jumps in temperature -- but on land. "Water buckets can't explain this," says Webster.

Curious Inconsistencies

The Jones team attributes another sudden jump in temperature readings to the decline in air pollution since the 1970s as a result of stricter emissions laws. Particles suspended in the air block solar radiation, so that temperatures rise when the air becomes cleaner. Air pollution in the south has always been much lower than in the north, because, as Webster explains, "there is less land and therefore less industry in the Southern Hemisphere."

Oddly enough, however, the temperature increase in the south is just as strong as it is in the north. "That isn't really possible," says Webster.
Webster doesn't believe that inconsistencies like these will invalidate the Jones curve altogether. "But we would like to know, of course, what's behind all of these phenomena." If a natural mechanism were at least partly to blame for the rise in temperatures, it would decrease the share of human influence in current global warming.


No one talks about such nightmare scenarios today. None of the current simulations involves the complete melting of the Antarctic ice sheet. On the other hand, hardly any glaciologists doubt that sea levels will be significantly higher along coastlines by the end of the century. But how much higher, exactly? Estimates range from 18 centimeters (7 inches) to 1.90 meters (6' 3").

Hard to Calculate

"Of course, this isn't a satisfactory statement for coastal planners and politicians," admits Peter Lemke, chief climatologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the northern German port city of Bremerhaven. "But we can't sell something as certainty if we don't know exactly what it will be."

The current IPCC report mentions a relatively conservative range of 18 to 59 centimeters. "Most experts consider this estimate to be too small," says Lemke.

Two factors influence the sea level. The first one affects it directly: When water heats, it expands. This warming effect, which can be calculated with relative precision, is expected to cause the sea level to rise by about 22 centimeters by 2100.

Another effect that is not as easy to calculate is the melting of mountain glaciers and inland ice in Greenland and Antarctica. Most of the melting today is happening in mountain glaciers, from the Andes to the Himalayas. According to IPCC calculations, this melting activity contributes 0.8 millimeters a year to the rise in sea level. Greenland and Antarctica each contribute another 0.2 millimeters.

Quicker Melting

Meanwhile, satellite observations indicate that the rate at which the ice is melting has increased. Glaciologists speculate that parts of the Western Antarctic and, to a greater extent, Greenland, are melting more quickly than initially assumed.

But many scientists are reluctant to make new predictions, because the inner processes in the gigantic ice caps remain insufficiently understood. Reliable data on the behavior of calving glaciers has only existed for about 10 years. Greenland's glaciers are currently spitting a particularly large amount of ice into the ocean. After such a phase, however, many ice flows become dormant again for a longer period of time.


Hurricane Katrina had hardly devastated the southern US city of New Orleans five years ago before a "hurricane war" broke out among US scientists. The alarmists, using the rhetoric of fiery sermons, warned that Katrina was only the beginning, and that we would soon see the advent of superstorms of unprecedented fury. Members of the more levelheaded camp were vehemently opposed to such predictions and insisted that there was no justification for such fears.

The dispute escalated when Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist and a lead author of the IPCC report, announced at a press conference at Harvard University that there was a clear relationship between global warming and the increased intensity of hurricane activity. Chris Landsea, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami, was so furious over this unfounded prediction that he withdrew from his participation in the IPCC.

Now the two rivals have reached a surprising truce, and Landsea has largely prevailed with his reassuring assessment.

Last month Landsea, together with top US hurricane researchers, published a study that finally disproves the supposed link between hurricanes and global warming. The study concludes with the assessment that "tropical cyclone frequency is likely to either decrease or remain essentially the same." Top wind speeds could increase somewhat, says Landsea, but the changes would "not be truly substantial."

Setback for the IPCC

The all-clear signal on the hurricane front is another setback for the IPCC. In keeping with lead author Kevin Trenberth's predictions, the IPCC report warned that there would be more hurricanes in a greenhouse climate. One of the graphs in the IPCC report is particularly mysterious. Without specifying a source, the graph suggestively illustrates how damage caused by extreme weather increases with rising average temperatures.


At first, the fear of monster storms seemed easily justified. Scientists conjectured that as the oceans became warmer, hurricanes would accumulate more energy. But, as is so often the case, the truth is more complicated. A specific set of conditions must be present in the atmosphere to allow a hurricane to develop and survive. "Wind shear can destroy a hurricane in an early stage," says Landsea, who flies into storm cells in research aircraft every year. Wind shear, however, is likely to increase in a warmer climate. For this reason, many computer models now even point to a decline in hurricane activity.


But current long-term forecasts offer no evidence of such a trend, especially not in the temperate latitudes. "All computer models show that nothing will change at all outside the tropics," says Jochem Marotzke, director of the Hamburg Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M). "In the future, we will see neither more nor stronger storms gathering over our heads."


Rarely has a scientific idea had such a strong impact on world politics. Most countries have now recognized the two-degree target. If the two-degree limit were exceeded, German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen announced ahead of the failed Copenhagen summit, "life on our planet, as we know it today, would no longer be possible."

But this is scientific nonsense. "Two degrees is not a magical limit -- it's clearly a political goal," says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). "The world will not come to an end right away in the event of stronger warming, nor are we definitely saved if warming is not as significant. The reality, of course, is much more complicated."

Schellnhuber ought to know. He is the father of the two-degree target.

"Yes, I plead guilty," he says, smiling. The idea didn't hurt his career. In fact, it made him Germany's most influential climatologist. Schellnhuber, a theoretical physicist, became Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief scientific adviser -- a position any researcher would envy.

04-04-10, 09:42 PM
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