Saturday, March 24, 2007

TAG, the GRC and CMU

For the last few weeks, work has been really hectic. Firstly, with a week spent at the Gordon’s Research Conference (GRC) on Biogenic Hydrocarbons and the Atmosphere, though really with a name like Gordon’s you might have expected it to be about Gin! Though there was a fair amount of drinking during the poster sessions (photo 1). The conference was in Ventura, a coastal town between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Interestingly, for all you film buffs, the hotel (photo 2) where it was based appears at the end of the movie “Little Miss Sunshine”. It was a real multidisciplinary affair with talks ranging from genetics and genetic engineering to ecology and air quality and with any conference some of the talks were engaging and inspiring and a few left you struggling to stay awake!

For the last three weeks I have been at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania installing a version of our Thermal desorption Aerosol GC-MS/FID (TAG) instrument (photo 3), that Aerosol Dynamics Inc. sold them and training one of their graduate students. It was a challenged period with at least a years worth of ‘unforseen’ technical problems. However, even in the face of such adversity we kept our sense of humours through it (photo 5). The graduate student had the look of “what have I got myself into?” on his face for many of the days! Eventually however, after a string of very long days and plenty of elbow grease and hard work we finally began to make some head away.

CMU was formed in 1967 from the merging of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (founded in 1900 by Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie) and the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research (founded in 1913 by Andrew Mellon and his brother Richard). Andrew Carnegie was the founder of the Carnegie Steel Company which later became U.S. Steel. He is known for having built one of the most powerful and influential corporations in United States history, and, later in his life, giving away most of his riches to fund the establishment of many libraries, schools, and universities in Scotland, America, and worldwide. Carnegie, a poor boy with fierce ambition, a pleasant personality, and devoted to both hard work and self improvement, started as a telegrapher. By the 1860s he had investments in railroads, railroad sleeping cars, as well as bridges and oil derricks, and built a fortune as a bond salesman raising money in Europe for American enterprises. Steel was where he found his fortune. In the 1870s he founded the Carnegie Steel Company, a step which cemented his name as one of the “Captains of Industry”. By the 1890s it was the largest and most profitable industrial enterprise in the world. He sold it to J.P. Morgan's US Steel in 1901 and devoted the remainder of his life to large scale philanthropy, with special emphasis on local libraries, world peace, and scientific research. Recently, the university spent 1 million dollars of student tuition fees installing this biazaar sculpture (photo 4) entitled ‘walking to the sky’ – I wonder what Carnegie and the 'pair of Mellons' would have made of it?

The weather on the flight over and during the first week and the final few days was the closest I have come to real winter since leaving the UK. The weather in the mid-west is a far cry from the delights of the California. There has been plenty of snow in Pittsburgh while Berkeley was enjoying highs of 80F and during the layover in Chicago on the flight over, the plane became covered in snow and ice (photos 6 and 7), so much so that it was necessary to sprayed down the plane with anti-freeze before we could take off into a snow blizzard! During my time in Pittsburgh we experience all four seasons in about 8 days; the weather started cold and then warmed up to give one day of glorious sunshine, three of rain and cloud before the snow and freezing temperatures returned. The cold made California all the more welcoming when I finally returned yesterday.



PS. Check out my new work webpage at

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Climate Skeptics: Read on....

Since Channel 4 aired a show called "the great global warming swindle" this week, I have received numerous emails asking me to clarify the link between anthropogenic (that is man-made) activities and global warming. Fortunately, a response highlighting the flaws in the arguments put forward by the show has been posted on the RealClimate website, which I have posted below. Hopefully, this should erase any doubts you may have about human induced climate change and convince you that the only swindling going on is by the makers of this show!

On Thursday the 8th, the UK TV Channel 4 aired a programme titled "The Great Global Warming Swindle". We were hoping for important revelations and final proof that we have all been hornswoggled by the climate Illuminati, but it just repeated the usual specious claims we hear all the time. We feel swindled. Indeed we are not the only ones: Carl Wunsch (who was a surprise addition to the cast) was apparently misled into thinking this was going to be a balanced look at the issues (the producers have a history of doing this), but who found himself put into a very different context indeed.

So what did they have to say for themselves?

CO2 doesn't match the temperature record over the 20th C. True but not relevant, because it isn't supposed to. The programme spent a long time agonising over what they presented as a sharp temperature fall for 4 decades from 1940 to 1980 (incidentally their graph looks rather odd and may have been carefully selected; on a more usual (and sourced!) plot the "4 decades of cooling" is rather less evident). They presented this as a major flaw in the theory, which is deeply deceptive, because as they and their interviewees must know, the 40-70 cooling type period is readily explained, in that the GCMs are quite happy to reproduce it, as largely caused by sulphate aerosols. See this for a wiki-pic, for example; or (all together now) the IPCC TAR SPM fig 4; or more up-to-date AR4 fig 4. So... they are lying to us by omission.

The troposphere should warm faster than the sfc, say the models and basic theory. As indeed it does - unless you're wedded to the multiply-corrected Spencer+Christy version of the MSU series. Christy (naturally enough) features in this section, though he seems to have forgotten the US CCSP report, and the executive summary which he authored says Previously reported discrepancies between the amount of warming near the surface and higher in the atmosphere have been used to challenge the reliability of climate models and the reality of human induced global warming. Specifically, surface data showed substantial global-average warming, while early versions of satellite and radiosonde data showed little or no warming above the surface. This significant discrepancy no longer exists because errors in the satellite and radiosonde data have been identified and corrected. New data sets have also been developed that do not show such discrepancies. See-also previous RC posts.

Temperature leads CO2 by 800 years in the ice cores. Not quite as true as they said, but basically correct; however they misinterpret it. The way they said this you would have thought that T and CO2 are anti-correlated; but if you overlay the full 400/800 kyr of ice core record, you can't even see the lag because its so small. The correct interpretation of this is well known: that there is a T-CO2 feedback: see RC again for more.

All the previous parts of the programme were leading up to "so if it isn't CO2, what is it?" to which their answer is "solar". The section was curiously weak, and largely lead by pictures of people on beaches. It was somewhat surprising that they didn't feature Svensmark at all; other stuff we've commented on before. Note that the graph they used as "proof" of the excellent solar-T connection turns out to have some problems: see figure 1c of Damon and Laut.

Along the way the programme ticked off most of the other obligatory skeptic talking points: even down to Medieval English vineyards and that old favourite, volcanoes emitting more CO2 than humans.

It ended with politics, with a segment blaming the lack of African development on the environmental movement. We don't want to get into the politics, but should point out what the programme didn't: that Kyoto exempts developing nations.

[Also: other discussion at InTheGreen, Stoat and The Guardian.]