Climate Change Modeling Meets Limits of Science
The Wall Street Journal reports Climate Scientists Encounter Limits of Computer Models, Bedeviling Policy.
That is a non-paywalled, free-to-read link courtesy of the WSJ.
It's lengthy but an excellent read. I encourage everyone to take a look.
The dire predictions went out the window, seemingly unanimously. But there is plenty in the article for the fearmongers and the sceptics to both say "I told you so".
Italic emphasis in the snips below is mine.
For almost five years, an international consortium of scientists was chasing clouds, determined to solve a problem that bedeviled climate-change forecasts for a generation: How do these wisps of water vapor affect global warming?
They reworked 2.1 million lines of supercomputer code used to explore the future of climate change, adding more-intricate equations for clouds and hundreds of other improvements. They tested the equations, debugged them and tested again.
The scientists would find that even the best tools at hand can’t model climates with the sureness the world needs as rising temperatures impact almost every region.
Dire Forecasts Wrong
When they ran the updated simulation in 2018, the conclusion jolted them: Earth’s atmosphere was much more sensitive to greenhouse gases than decades of previous models had predicted, and future temperatures could be much higher than feared—perhaps even beyond hope of practical remedy.
“We thought this was really strange,” said Gokhan Danabasoglu, chief scientist for the climate-model project at the Mesa Laboratory in Boulder at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR. “If that number was correct, that was really bad news.”
The scientists soon concluded their new calculations had been thrown off kilter by the physics of clouds in a warming world, which may amplify or damp climate change. “The old way is just wrong, we know that,” said Andrew Gettelman, a physicist at NCAR who specializes in clouds and helped develop the CESM2 model. “I think our higher sensitivity is wrong too. It’s probably a consequence of other things we did by making clouds better and more realistic. You solve one problem and create another.”
UN Plays Down Extreme Forecasts
“We have a situation where the models are behaving strangely,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Sciences, a leading center for climate modeling. “We have a conundrum.”
In November 2021, as leaders met in Glasgow to negotiate limits on greenhouse gases under the auspices of the 2015 Paris Accords, there were more than 100 major global climate-change models produced by 49 different research groups, reflecting an influx of people into the field.
In its guidance to governments last year, the U.N. climate-change panel for the first time played down the most extreme forecasts.
Before making new climate predictions for policy makers, an independent group of scientists used a technique called “hind-casting,” testing how well the models reproduced changes that occurred during the 20th century and earlier. Only models that re-created past climate behavior accurately were deemed acceptable.
Because clouds can both reflect solar radiation into space and trap heat from Earth’s surface, they are among the biggest challenges for scientists honing climate models.
At any given time, clouds cover more than two-thirds of the planet. Their impact on climate depends on how reflective they are, how high they rise and whether it is day or night. They can accelerate warming or cool it down. They operate at a scale as broad as the ocean, as small as a hair’s width. Their behavior can be affected, studies show, by factors ranging from cosmic rays to ocean microbes, which emit sulfur particles that become the nuclei of water droplets or ice crystals.
“If you don’t get clouds right, everything is out of whack.” said Tapio Schneider, an atmospheric scientist at the California Institute of Technology and the Climate Modeling Alliance, which is developing an experimental model. “Clouds are crucially important for regulating Earth’s energy balance.”
In an independent assessment of 39 global-climate models last year, scientists found that 13 of the new models produced significantly higher estimates of the global temperatures caused by rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide than the older computer models—scientists called them the “wolf pack.” Weighed against historical evidence of temperature changes, those estimates were deemed unrealistic.
Dr. Gettelman, who helped develop CESM2, and his colleagues in their initial upgrade added better ways to model polar ice caps and how carbon and nitrogen cycle through the environment. To make the ocean more realistic, they added wind-driven waves. They fine-tuned the physics in its algorithms and made its vintage Fortran code more efficient.
Even the simplest diagnostic test is challenging. The model divides Earth into a virtual grid of 64,800 cubes, each 100 kilometers on a side, stacked in 72 layers. For each projection, the computer must calculate 4.6 million data points every 30 minutes. To test an upgrade or correction, researchers typically let the model run for 300 years of simulated computer time.
In their initial analysis, scientists discovered a flaw in how CESM2 modeled the way moisture interacts with soot, dust or sea-spray particles that allow water vapor to condense into cloud droplets. It took a team of 10 climate experts almost 5 months to track it down to a flaw in their data and correct it, the scientists said.
The NCAR scientists in Boulder would like to delve more deeply into the behavior of clouds, ice sheets and aerosols, but they already are straining their five-year-old Cheyenne supercomputer, according to NCAR officials. A climate model able to capture the subtle effects of individual cloud systems, storms, regional wildfires and ocean currents at a more detailed scale would require a thousand times more computer power, they said.
Climate models need to link rising temperatures on a global scale to changing conditions in a local forest, watershed, grassland or agricultural zone, says NCAR forest ecologist Jacquelyn Shuman and NCAR scientist Gerald Meehl.
“Computer models that contain both large-scale and small-scale models allow you to really do experiments that you can’t do in the real world,” she said. “You can really ramp up the temperature, dial down the precipitation or completely change the amount of fire or lightning strikes that an area is seeing, so you can really diagnose how it all works together. That’s the next step. It would be very computationally expensive.”
“I think the climate models are the best tool we have to understand the future, even though they are far from perfect,” said Dr. Gettelman. “I’m not worried that the new models might be wrong. What scares me is that they might be right.”
Both Sides Now
Models Will Get Better
Scientists need to keep doing what they are doing. The models surely will get better.
Despite the models being wrong, they appear to be better than I expected.
Yet, had we listened to the dire forecasts from Al Gore, globetrotting Gretta, President Biden, and media darling AOC, where would we be?
Al Gore wanted to spend $90 trillion to fight climate change.
AOC "New Green Deal" Stunningly Absurd: Far More Ridiculous Than Expected
Recall my February 7, 2019 post AOC "New Green Deal" Stunningly Absurd: Far More Ridiculous Than Expected
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) released her bill for a "Green New Deal". It's stunningly absurd.
AOC's Green New Deal Pricetag of $51 to $93 Trillion
On February 25, 2019 I noted I compared AOC's Green New Deal Pricetag of $51 to $93 Trillion vs. Cost of Doing Nothing
William Nordhaus, a co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in economics, compared AOC's Green New Deal with the cost of doing nothing and various alternatives.
Nordhaus’s model—at least as of its 2007 calibration—estimated that such a policy goal would make humanity $14 trillion poorer compared to doing nothing at all about climate change.
2007 is admittedly way out of date, yet the models then were on the dire side.
AOC Says World Will End in 12 Years
On January 22, 2019 I noted Ocasio-Cortez Says World Will End in 12 Years: Here's What to Do About It
AOC now says her comment was out of context, but play the video and you will see that her comments clearly weren't.
Perhaps it was hyperbole, but extreme fearmongering of this kind will do nothing but raise eyebrows.
Clean Energy Now Demands
We have had an endless parade of fearmongers including Al Gore, Gretta,, AOC, Senator Elizabeth Warren, President Biden, the UN, and countless others demanding "clean energy now".
None of them have factored in the amount of copper, lithium, rare earth materials, etc., needed for their demands.
Their demands also depend on unreliable wind and battery storage techniques that do not even exist yet.
Solar energy is surprising cheap provided there is enough cheap land, there are no clouds, there is no nighttime, and the energy needs are in the desert, not New York City.
Alternatively, solar needs storage technology that does not yet exist, but even if it did, we still have issues regarding need for more lithium, rare earth metals, etc., for the storage.
We will get there over time, but that time is not now. Fearmongering does not help.
Per Capita CO2 Emissions
The US, EU, and UK have made huge strides in emissions. China, India, and many emerging markets are headed in the opposite direction.
The political reality of the matter is that actions by the US and EU will not do much unless China and India do much more, much faster.
Global Net Zero Climate Change Targets are 'Pie in the Sky'
Please recall my April 5, 2021 , post Global Net Zero Climate Change Targets are 'Pie in the Sky'.
India lambasted the richer world's carbon cutting plans, calling long term net zero targets, "pie in the sky."
In a pre-summit climate change meeting of 197 countries, China did not show up. India blasted the targets as "Pie in the Sky".
"2060 sounds good, but it is just that, it sounds good," Raj Kumar Singh, India's minister for power, told a meeting organized by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Scientists discarded 13 of 39 models, those with the most dire predictions and those that could not explain the ice age. Guess which ones the media, the politicians, and the fearmongers most quoted.
Now the scientists struggle with clouds.
One of my readers repeatedly challenges me to a debate on climate change.
I am sure he understands the models way better than I do. But those models were wrong on the dire side. Yet, I admit the models seem better than I expected.
However, my main objection to all of this has been vindicated.
Anyone expecting government fearmongers to do anything sensible about climate change were, and still are wrong.
Science is advancing rapidly. Clean energy, especially solar, will make a dent. But along the way, we dropped nuclear from the equation to appease the Greens.
Dropping nuclear energy was a huge mistake, especially in Europe where Germany is now using more coal and is increasingly dependent on Russia for natural gas.
That is the irony of Green demands. The Greens perpetually demand more from science than science permits, at prices the Greens don't even bother to calculate.
Finally, the Greens ignore the huge political reality regarding China and India. India is talking 2060 and China 2050 on net zero.
There is no way to force countries to go along with US and EU mandates. The cost of attempting to do so via tariffs would be massive, undoubtedly resulting in a global recession, if not depression.
"I've looked at clouds from both sides now
"From up and down and still somehow
"It's cloud's illusions I recall
"I really don't know clouds at all"
This post originated at MishTalk.Com.
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