A little domain knowledge can go a long way

A rather bizarre paper has been published in Scientific Reports (yes, that Scientific Reports) claiming that [an] earth system model shows self-sustained melting of permafrost even if all man-made GHG emissions stop in 2020. One immediate problem is that the name of the earth system model, which I won’t repeat, is a racial slur.

The paper claims that whatever we do, we’re now past a point of no return for global warming. It received quite a lot of media coverage, which I won’t link to, but there was a good response in the Independent – by Daisy Dunne – which includes a quote from Richard Betts:

Having talked to various colleagues, we don’t think there’s any credibility in the model.

What’s very odd is that you just need to look at the figures in the paper to see numerous problems. The paper considers two scenarios; an immediate cessation of emissions, and one where they reduce to zero by 2100. In both cases, the model suggests that atmospheric CO2 concentrations will reduce to 300ppm by 2200. This well below what is now regarded as likely; even if we stopped emitting now, atmospheric CO2 would probably not drop below 350ppm for many generations. The latter scenario also shows atmospheric CO2 starting to drop before emissions get to zero, which is also not consistent with our current understanding.

The paper also suggests that warming continues even though atmospheric CO2 concentrations are dropping. This is supposedly due to surface albedo changes, increasing atmospheric water vapour, and emission of carbon for melting permafrost. The surface albedo change is apparently much larger than other estimates, water vapour is a feedback, not a forcing, and cumulative carbon release from permafrost is (according to their paper) 175 GtC by 2500. This is roughly equivalent to what we’re likely to emit over the next 15-20 years, but over the next ~500 years. Not negligible, but not really enough to lead to the level of warming their model suggests.

For some reason, their model also suggests that the CO2 forcing will continue to increase, even if atmospheric CO2 drops back down to ~300ppm, which makes little sense.

My main point, which I’ve taken a while to get to, is that there are a number of obvious issues with what is presented in this paper that anyone who is working in this field should notice. It’s hard to see how anyone who has developed an earth system model wouldn’t notice these obvious problems, and it’s particularly difficult to understand how any competent reviewer could let these pass. They’re not exactly subtle points. Scientific Reports doesn’t exactly have a great reputation, but this is pretty egregious.

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24 Responses to A little domain knowledge can go a long way

  1. Not-in-my-name says:

    [But ABC. – W]

  2. Not-in-my-name,
    I imagine that your error has been explained on numerous occasions, so I won’t bother doing it again.

  3. Greg Robie says:

    This study published by Nature.com (& I first ran across it in a USAToday article) seems well considered to me. Before Noble Nordhaus’ bogus 2° C stuff was embraced by the international economic body, the G8, and in 2006, it is likely ‘simple’ models, such as the one used in the study which indicated as far back as the late ‘80s that a mean global temperatures above 1° C was a bridge too far.

    Once governments established this bridge-to-nowhere as both policy and a thing-to-be-studied/funded. This effected an academic wormhole from which there appears to be no return.

    We are at that 1° C mark … and it’s related energy imbalance. I see no way, short of the study’s mentioned immediate drawndown of atmospheric CO2, for there to be anything to be confused about. (And Dave G has walked us through what the scale of the challenges are to accomplish just the drilling that geological sequestration involves.

    Michael Mann tweeted yesterday about this study needing to be read with a full shaker of salt. I say, until the trusted models can effect the observed collapse of the Arctic cryosphere, the opposite is likely closer to being a scientific assertion.

    The ONLY reason that I can imagine for finding the continued warming ‘strange’ is that once the latent heat of ice of the cryosphere is gone, the caveat regarding the argument about “no continued warming” is gone too.

    (And I wont repeat in this comment anything about the matter of the unmodeled seasonal increased Arctic refraction which skilled Arctic observes have [anecdotally] shared with academia.)

    😉

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself

    https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCeDkezgoyyZAlN7nW1tlfeA

    life is for learning so all my failures must mean that I’m wicked smart

    >

  4. Stephan says:

    Interesting, and I agree with your assessment of the issues in the paper. More broadly ,however, there are papers that suggest that Arctic processes will be changed significantly whatever emissions scenario is followed and I’m not sure we should be sanguine about the rate of warming and its impacts.

    Lastly, I’m not sure the name of the model is a ‘racial slur’. AFAICT it’s a commonly used name for the Inuit and Yupiit peoples (from Wikipedia). It’s certainly not pejorative as I understand it.

  5. wmconnolley says:

    My favourite example of the use of domain knowledge is beekeeping, where a very small amount of knowledge (and a veil…) transforms an irritating / dangerous swarm of bees into a valuable resource.

  6. gwws says:

    The point of the paper is that over a long period of 500 years slow feed backs which are not visible in a hundred years may determine the dynamics. According to this paper these feed backs are NH4, a decrease of surface albedo by 10% over 500 years and an increase in water vapour. The simplicity of the model makes it possible to do the necessary simulations over a period of 500 years. Dynamical systems may evolve in unexpected ways. There is no reason why the results should change towards a more mankind-friendly scenario in more complex models.

  7. Willard says:

    > And I wont repeat in this comment

    Drive-by done, Greg.

  8. Stephan,

    Lastly, I’m not sure the name of the model is a ‘racial slur’. AFAICT it’s a commonly used name for the Inuit and Yupiit peoples (from Wikipedia). It’s certainly not pejorative as I understand it.

    My understanding is that it is now regarded as unacceptable.

  9. Willard says:

    See also:

    People in many parts of the Arctic consider Eskimo a derogatory term because it was widely used by racist, non-native colonizers. Many people also thought it meant eater of raw meat, which connoted barbarism and violence. Although the word’s exact etymology is unclear, mid-century anthropologists suggested that the word came from the Latin word excommunicati, meaning the excommunicated ones, because the native people of the Canadian Arctic were not Christian.

    But now there’s a new theory. According to the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, linguists believe the word Eskimo actually came from the French word esquimaux, meaning one who nets snowshoes. Netting snowshoes is the highly-precise way that Arctic peoples built winter footwear by tightly weaving, or netting, sinew from caribou or other animals across a wooden frame.

    https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/04/24/475129558/why-you-probably-shouldnt-say-eskimo

    Who’d have thunk that the word came from those who colonized the North.

  10. Vidar says:

    Jørgen Randers is a Norwegian academic, economist, professor emeritus of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School, and practitioner in the field of future studies. His professional field encompasses model-based futures studies, scenario analysis, system dynamics, sustainability, climate, energy and ecological economics.

    His paper has been more or less debunked by climate scientist, who calls it “Doomsday nonsense” and “hopelessly inadequate model”.

    Economist Randers says that the only way we can save the planet is to suck massive amount of CO2 out from the air. The guy first say that the earth is doomed, then add “unless we suck massive amaunt of CO2 out of the air”.
    My questions is; to what cost, and who few people will this CCS benefit economically?
    What agenda does Randers really have?
    I am very sceptic.

  11. Vidar,
    I must admit that I hadn’t assumed any kind of alterior motive. My default assumption in these cases is that it’s someone who thinks they’re so clever that they don’t need to spend much time talking with domain experts before making some kind of strong claim, because they think they can work it out all by themselves.

  12. Everett F Sargent says:

    Steven Mosher,

    Yes. I would, IF they had done a run of PI conditions through to say 2500. In other words, is this trash heap of a model stable under natural PI conditions? I don’t see where they ran their model to equilibrium conditions using PI forcings (not shown in their 2016 paper either). Run their model for most of the Holocene even. Demonstrate that this so-called model does not run away by itself or run to some equilibrium that is significantly different from existing historical conditions.

    Until that has been demonstrated, this so-called model is ESHITGIGO. :/

  13. Everett F Sargent says:

    ESHITGIGO = Earth System Heuristic Integrated Tautological GIGO 😉

  14. Everett F Sargent says:

    NH4? Try CH4.

    “The simplicity of the model makes it possible to do the necessary simulations over a period of 500 years.”

    You can run this model of low complexity over the next 500 years. But maybe, just maybe, one should run this model of low complexity over the past 500 years 1st and show that work. Principally the carbon budget.

    “Dynamical systems may evolve in unexpected ways.”

    Exactly! That is why one would want to compare these low complexity model results with higher complexity models 1st. Out to 2500 even, after all EMIC’s (Earth systems models of intermediate complexity) are just dumbed down models of ESM’s/AOGCM’s, dumb them down some more and you get these EMLC’s, dumb them down even more and you get EMZC’s, dumb those down even more and you get deniers.

    “There is no reason why the results should change towards a more humankind-friendly scenario in more complex models.”

    What results? Any results. No reason? Every reason. More humankind-friendly? Less humankind-friendly. More complex? Less complex.

    Gibberish and/or Tautological. :/

  15. Kudkesakshi says:

    please check my blog on human30artist.wordpress.com

  16. Can you really make sensible reliable predictions over such a long term periods?

  17. Ben McMillan says:

    I’m wondering if (intentional) geoengineering will start losing its stigma:

    https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.690

    e.g., in a world that is sitting in a 2C pathway, and has got emissions to near zero, in ~2050, bulk carbon capture/negative emissions technologies may turn out to be very expensive or unfeasible. Using these to drop even 0.25C looks very hard.

    I could see the world turning to other means if it became apparent that even 1.5C was too high, and geoengineering (like solar radiation management) is probably the only way to drop temperatures rapidly.

    That, for me, is the dominant long-term uncertainty. Assuming we develop the tools/resources to indulge in geoengineering, at some point this century, what do we do with them? Is it better to get the world back to a near-preindustrial state quickly via brutal methods, or take the hit while we slowly rebury our waste?

    Of course, these would be nice problems to have: in the next couple of decades, getting to near-zero as quickly as possible is still the name of the game.

  18. David B Benson says:

    Raymond Horseman — Consider
    https://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/thread/561/back-future
    as long range predictions for an assumed future of carbon dioxide concentrations.

  19. This paper was produced by a TEDx lecturer at a Norwegian Business School that teaches economic modeling but lacks an organized physical science faculty.

    I suspect its acronym will arouse more indignation among modeling intercomparison mandarins than the Inupiat , Inuit, and other boreal snowshoe-stringers and wearers some French provincials misspelled as esquimaux three centuries ago

  20. Dave_Geologist says:

    My main point, which I’ve taken a while to get to, is that there are a number of obvious issues with what is presented in this paper that anyone who is working in this field should notice.

    Like the authors? I think the clue lies in their affiliation: BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway.

  21. Dave_Geologist says:

    Raymond, models have been run that successfully predicted (post-dicted) million of years of glacials and interglacials. So yes. Although that’s not to say there aren’t garbage models, and good models when run for a century that are garbage when run for thousands of years because they don’t include long-term feedbacks.

    People with more than a little knowledge know which to run, when.

  22. Willard says:
    November 14, 2020 at 9:44 pm
    mid-century anthropologists suggested that the word came from the Latin word excommunicati, meaning the excommunicated ones, because the native people of
    the Canadian Arctic were not Christian.

    That would raise the bar on Cancel Culture: it takes a miraculously ambitious inquisitor to excomminicate the unconverted.

  23. Chubbs says:

    At least they didn’t proclaim the simple model superior to the complex because it used observations.

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