The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Knorr Soup

Uh-oh. It looks like severely misinterpreting what the Knorr result is about is going to spread. People now have a misleading headline to point to, which fits in with some random crackpottery that has been around for some time claiming that atmospheric CO2 isn't rising at all for some magical mystical reason. (Gavin at RC is also covering this story.)

Compare the headline with the lede:


For those of you new to the story, what Knorr actually investigates is whether the ratio of carbon buildup rate in the atmosphere to carbon emissions rate has changed over time. The idea that the buildup rate is actually zero is easy to glean from the headline, but the cited research shows nothing of the sort.

Here is how Science Daily wants you to reference it:
Note the very large change in meaning between the two titles, a change that might not be obvious to the general public.

My delicious.com "climate" feed has this about twenty times this morning. I hope Knorr will respond to this quickly, but the early indications are that he'll just stay in the ivory tower, a strategy of which apparently RP Jr. heartily approves.

It's very interesting in the light of Ken Green's comment yesterday that:
Or, if you think the recent study showing that the CO2 fraction in the atmosphere hasn't changed since 1850 might be correct, that's all you need [to support inaction on carbon accumulation].
The date of the Science Daily report was also yesterday; the matching misleading summaries might just possibly show Dr Green on top of the pop literature faster than the rest of the whole internet, but might also indicate a common source.

Knappenberger's first response is salutary:
Not sure how this ammunition for "deniers"--CO2 from anthropogenic activities is still building up in the atmosphere at an increasing rate. Although certainly Knorr's results should give "alarmists" pause.
So will Morano spread the confusion? Or will he manage to be as responsible as Knappenberger? Taking bets now; it's not up on his site yet to my knowledge.



Update: This from November 10 has expired from "www.originalbristol.com" but is still available in a Google cache. For posterity:
A Bristol University scientist claims he knows why climate change is not happening as quickly as some predictions.

Dr Wolfgang Knorr has found that natural 'sinks' like oceans and forests have absorbed the same percentage of CO2, despite man-made emissions shooting up to 35bn tonnes a year.

His research suggests the earth may be able to absorb more carbon than previously thought, and may explain why climate change is happening more slowly than in some predictions.

He says his research is "good news" for the current Copenhagen climate talks, but warns they must still produce an agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

And Dr Knorr denies his research backs up people who deny the reality of climate change. He told Original 106.5: "That would be a very superficial interpretation of these results. Half of the CO2 we emit stays in the atmosphere and that's enough to cause global warming.

"Also, this research is only based on the past. We are pushing the system to its limits and it might break at some stage, as the model suggests. But it hasn't happened yet. I would not experiment with the climate system."

However, he does believe his findings offer hope for the current Copenhagen climate talks, in which world nations are seekign an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

He said: "It's good news because some suggestions that these things have already declined may have been false alarms. It is not as dire as we think.

"That makes it slightly easier to stabilise the CO2 and the climate, so that's good news for the negotiations because it's tough enough to impose the necessary limits on CO2 emissions."

But he is adamant the talks must agree to a cap on carbon, and believes climate change sceptics will find little use for his research.

He said: "We have had a lot of research that could be interpreted that way [as supporting climate change denial]. I believe science has to be open and fair and we should not hide any of the results.

"Climate critics will always find something, no matter what the results are.It's not an indication not to do anything and you can always misinterpret results. But I think that kind of misinformation dies out quickly, I don't see a problem."

While the cache is available there is a Flash-based audio widget there which still links to the original radio interview, but the above summarizes the audio well enough.


Update: Science Daily is off the hook for the terrible headline! Anna Haynes (thanks!) traces it back to (are you sitting down) an AGU press release!

Emphasis added below, by the way. Nothing supporting the emphasized text appears in the original abstract or article. Is there any justification at all for the assertion highlighted in the text?
14. No rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide fraction in past 160 years

Most of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activity does not remain in the atmosphere, but is instead absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems. In fact, only about 45 percent of emitted carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere. However, some studies have suggested that the ability of oceans and plants to absorb carbon dioxide recently may have begun to decline and that the airborne fraction of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions is therefore beginning to increase. Many climate models also assume that the airborne fraction will increase. Because understanding of the airborne fraction of carbon dioxide is important for predicting future climate change, it is essential to have accurate knowledge of whether that fraction is changing or will change as emissions increase. To assess whether the airborne fraction is indeed increasing, Knorr reanalyzes available atmospheric carbon dioxide and emissions data since 1850 and considers the uncertainties in the data. In contradiction to some recent studies, he finds that the airborne fraction of carbon dioxide has not increased either during the past 150 years or during the most recent five decades.

Title: Is the airborne fraction of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions increasing?

Authors: Wolfgang Knorr: Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

Source: Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) paper 10.1029/2009GL040613, 2009
http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2009GL040613
Is it too much to expect AGU to do a competent job of promoting its own results?



Update 1/3: Science Daily has fixed the headline. Echoing Gavin, "good for them!"


13 comments:

Tom said...

Michael, I would like to give a plain language explanation to my readers to help them deal with their hangovers. However, I don't want to get it wrong. If I tell them that the thrust of the paper is to show that the rate at which anthropogenic CO2 is increasing in the atmosphere has not changed when expressed as a fraction of all atmospheric CO2, is that basically, entirely, partially correct or am I just as hungover as my readers?

Thanks

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, thank you immensely for your question. Unfortunately your summary is not quite right.

I would put it like this. The rate at which anthropogenic CO2 is increasing in the atmosphere has not changed in proportion to the emissions rate.

Since the emissions rate (leaving aside the current recession) has been increasing, so too has the accumulation of CO2.

Knorr claims, contrary to others, that the proportion is fixed. I had an article a few months back about some folks making the contrary claim.

The first graph accompanying that article is one of the basic figures in the field. I strongly encourage anyone writing about climate to understand it well enough to explain why the shapes on either side of the horizontal axis are the same.

The disagreement between Canadell et al 07 and Knorr 09 boils down to the contribution of land surface use to the carbon trajectory.

Michael Tobis said...

Regarding the similarity of Ken Green's comment yesterday and today's misleading Science Daily headline, there are four possibilities that I can see:

1) Weird coincidence
2) common origins of the meme between Dr Green and the headline writer
3) Green had already seen the Science Daily page
4) (this one scares me a bit) Science Daily was reading this blog, saw Green's confusion, and decided to confuse lots of other people the same way

I do think 2 or 3 are most likely but prospect 4 is daunting. It would mean that despite my best efforts I had made matters considerably worse. Fortunately, I think there wasn't enough time for such a scheme to hatch.

dhogaza said...

Watts covered Knorr's paper a month ago. That's probably where Green heard about it.

gravityloss said...

The paper topic is crystal clear already, I don't understand why the *CENSORED* everybody gets it so wrong?

Airbourne FRACTION. Geez, people. That says it already.

Thanks to the internet, a lie makes it around the world about 3 million times before the truth gets out of bed.

On the other hand, this is a good intelligence test. If someone can't comprehend it, one can drop talking physics and logic with them as a total waste of time. That "the greenhouse effect violates the laws of thermodynamics" "paper" was another one.

Anna Haynes said...

1. The Knorr piece - IMO timing thereof will be a red herring, since it was sent out as a press release (Public release date: 30-Dec-2009), and appeared on Eurekalert, within "AGU journal highlights -- Dec. 31, 2009"; the contact people (one or both of whom presumably wrote it) are Maria-José Viñas and Peter Weiss of AGU.

2. The Science Daily press release on Denning. I'm looking into it, here's a status report-

The SD page has a note saying story & video were originally produced (for the American Institute of Physics series Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science) by Ivanhoe Broadcast News -

...which likely got snookered -

"Everything we do at Ivanhoe reflects 100% accuracy and absolute integrity."

"We are the country's largest news-gathering organization covering medical breakthroughs, family health and issues important to women."

and they have "a network of 70 freelance producers, photographers and crew members around the United States who cover stories once they are assigned from headquarters...stories are edited, approved and finalized in Orlando."

I've sent an email to Ivanhoe's head, cc Denning, explaining the problem & its importance & asking for info on how it came into being in the form that it did.

Anna Haynes said...

> Science Daily is also prominently featuring a terrible muddle of a story called "Can Carbon Dioxide Be A Good Thing?"

...which, now that I look at the date, turns out to be from June 2007.

EliRabett said...

There is a very simple way to put it:

We know the amount of CO2 emitted by us per year (pretty well) Call it X.

We know the amount of this CO2 that stays in the atmosphere (the rest goes into the oceans and the biological bits of the land. That is, for reasonable purposes X/2 or 50%.

That means that 50% of that we emitted each year remains in the atmosphere.

The question is if the fraction is changing, maybe only 48% is absorbed and 52% remains in the atmosphere.

Knorr says the fraction is not changing Candaell says the fraction remaining in the atmosphere is increasing.

Candaell is really serious trouble. Knorr is only serious trouble.

Dano said...

Like dhogaza, I'd seen this used ~a month ago. Someone parroted it from somewhere, as a dutiful Message Force Multiplier, and confidently asserted that 'warmists are religious' or some nonsense. It took about 45 seconds to see the issue, and ~2-3 mins to type and hit 'reply', whereby the confident anti-warmist religionist scuttled away.

But this is all a part of the issue around the 'Google hits' thing and where they come from. Surely there is an origin for the talking points and their manipulation of the willful Message Force Multipliers. That is why Dano started in the first place and why he got virus attacks when he got too close - this was way before the sophistication of today.

There is a concerted effort to flood the zone with nonsense, which degrades what little democracy we have left. Is the flooding started at the dead-grass roots level or is it top-down...or what combination of both in a mutualistic partnership?

Best,

D

Kenneth P. Green said...

And the answer to Michael's list is..."3) Green had already seen the Science Daily page." Give the man an emissions-free ceegar!

Anna Haynes said...

re Dano's "concerted effort to flood the zone with nonsense...Is the flooding started at the dead-grass roots level or is it top-down...or what combination of both in a mutualistic partnership?" -

If you haven't seen the John Adams Associates memo ("Cruise Line International Association [CLIA] Proposal For Reputation Management And Outreach Program, June 26, 2008") it's enlightening, re tactics.

(FYI, JAA was in on the 1998 "Global Climate Science Team" disinfo planning laid out in the Joe Walker memo; and the say they "pioneered many of the grassroots organizational and communications techniques that are today regarded as essential to any winning campaign.")

Anna Haynes said...

p.s. a clarification in JAA's defense, re my "the John Adams Associates memo...1998 'Global Climate Science Team' disinfo planning" above -

When I called them a year or so back, they said they weren't doing any PR on climate issues; with the above comment I just meant that it's parsimonious to expect that these same tactics are likely being used by other PR firms.

EliRabett said...

Ken, RTFR before you strap the megaphone on is always good policy. The press release raises issues, that's all.