There is an interesting news item in Nature about how an attempt to do short-term climate modelling has been largely unsuccessful. The article says
In preparation for the IPCC report, the first part of which is due out in September, some 16 teams ran an intensive series of decadal forecasting experiments with climate models. Over the past two years, a number of papers based on these exercises have been published, and they generally predict less warming than standard models over the near term.
Unsurprisingly, Watts Up With That (WUWT) has a post called Quote of the week – Nature on the failure of climate models in which they make a big deal of this Nature news item.
One issue, though, is that the “failure” of these models is no big surprise. Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard’s Institute for Space Studies – who declined to participate in this study – is quoted as saying
Although I have nothing against this endeavour as a research opportunity, the papers so far have mostly served as a ‘disproof of concept’.
So, from the article, it’s clear that there is a reasonable amount of disagreement about the merits of such a study. This is perfectly natural part of science. Would be rather dull if everyone agreed. Also, noone quoted in the article seems to think that the “failure” of these models has any real significance with respect to global warming.
There is, however, clearly some confusion as to why surface temperatures have not risen as fast as models predicted and it was the discussion of this that I thought – at times – was quite poor in the article. The author of one of the teams is quoted as saying
“It’s fair to say that the real world warmed even less than our forecast suggested,” Smith says. “We don’t really understand at the moment why that is.”
In addition to the quote I included at the beginning of this post, the article also says
Yet with the stalled warming now approaching its 15th year, researchers are seeking some deeper explanation.
The problem I have is that, overall, there is evidence that the warming hasn’t stalled. The ocean heat content has continued to rise. The volume of arctic ice is decreasing rapidly. Strictly speaking, the world hasn’t really warmed more slowly than expected. What has happened is that global surface temperatures have risen more slowly than expected. In some parts of the article they do make this very clear and if one reads the article carefully, it’s quite clear what is being discussed.
The problem is that many who are skeptical of global warming/climate change regularly claim that the slowdown in the rise of global surface temperatures proves that global warming has stopped, or that global warming theory has failed. When you try to point out that global warming is about increasing energy in the climate system and that surface temperatures are only associated with a few percent of this excess energy, they point to articles like this and cherry pick comments that associate the slowdown in the rise of surface temperatures with a slowdown in warming. In context, it’s fine, but we’re dealing with people who, by and large, don’t want to understand the context.
In an ideal world, the Nature news article would be perfectly fine. It’s fairly clear what the article is about and anyone who is confused could simply ask for clarification. However, we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where people want the slower than expected rise in surface temperatures to be proof that global warming has stopped. Given this, it seems that we should be very clear about how we describe the relationship between surface temperatures and global warming and should, in my opinion, try not to associate the slowdown in the rise in surface temperatures with a slowdown in global warming (unless that is what the science is telling us).
In truth, I’m not really all that critical of the author of the article or the people quoted. The real problem is those who don’t wish to understand the science of global warming. Given the existence of such people though does make it important that those who discuss global warming do their best to do so in a manner that cannot then be used to ultimately contradict what they were trying to say in the first place. Of course, I can’t claim to not have made some mistakes like this myself.