Who came for the first time to help

I’m no historiana. Which self-deprecating preface I would preface further by saying, the list of things I’m not is far longer than the list of things that, tentatively, I would claim I am. That list, while longer, probably, than Descartes’ is still a short one. For the past 19 years, I was paid to do climate science. For most of that time, if you’d asked me whether I was a climate scientist, I would probably have said nob. No one ever asked me though, so I got away with it. I would also say, that not being a climate scientist was no bar to doing climate science. Being a climate scientist certainly would have helped, but it’s not necessary. My lack of credentials thus established, we can continue.

I’m no historian1… so the past constantly surprises mec. I was delightfully surprised to read this quote from the reading of Guy Callendar’s paper – The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and its Influence on Temperature – at the Royal Meteorological Society:

Sir GEORGE SIMPSON expressed his admiration of the amount of work which Mr. Callendar had put into this paper. It was excellent work. It was difficult to criticise it, but he would like to mention a few points which Mr. Callendar might wish to reconsider. In the first place he thought it was not sufficiently realised by non-meteorologists who came for the first time to help the Society in its study, that it was impossible to solve the problem of the temperature distribution in the atmosphere by working out the radiation.

Continue reading

Hyperactive kangaroos are like…

I’ve written about bad analogies before. One doesn’t get to see one every day, so they are to be cherished. There’s a doozy in an article about effective communication on climate extremes. Like all the best bad analogies, it involves something everyday and relatable. In this case it’s basketball, shoes* and slam dunks. It was cooked up to explain why it’s confusing to talk about the effect of climate change on extremes – heatwaves, more specifically – in the “standard way”. The standard way being to say things like “climate change made the recent record heat 10 times more likely”.

Continue reading

What is and was and might have been

Extreme event attribution is quantitative science fiction. It asks and often answers the question, what if things had been otherwise? What if we’d left all that oil and coal and gas in the ground, felled no trees, made no cement? What if we’d somehow found a route to the present world without all that and without causing any other major upsets to the planet’s radiative balance0. It then focuses on an “event” – a heatwave, downpour, drought, flood, whatever – and overlays these two different worlds – ours and that of our imagination – to see in which one the event was more likely.

Continue reading

An incomplete series of misunderstandings

I once watched someone lop a thick branch from a tree with a pair of branch cutters. They had one of the long handles in each hand and, to get the necessary leverage, they had their hands curled in like fists towards their ribs in the kind of pose a muscle man might adopt on stage. I could see the handles of the branch cutter bending under the exerted pressure as the blades bit slowly into the wood. I could also see what was coming: when the branch finally gave, the two handles and the two fists would attempt to meet somewhere around the spleen, via the temporarily resisting cage of the ribs.

I vividly remember thinking, “of course that won’t happen because, well… it’s so obvious that it will”. I understood very clearly the principles of leverage, stress, strain, reaction time and so on. I understood them in a physical, visceral way. Watching and waiting for the inevitable catastrophe to unfold, I could almost feel it.

Continue reading

Oscillating blobs and the climatological wiggle waggle

Werb, B. E., & Rudnick, D. L. (2023). Remarkable changes in the dominant modes of north Pacific sea surface temperature. Geophysical Research Letters, 50, e2022GL101078. https://doi.org/10.1029/2022GL101078

Climate science does love its indices. The SOI, ONI, PDO, NAO, IOD, DMI, TNI, PNA, NAM, SAM, EA, AO, AAO, EP, NP, WP, EATL, WRUS, SCAND, TNH, POLEUR, IPO, TAMG… the list goes on0. Some phenomena have multiple indices associated with them. ENSO – The El Niño Southern Oscillation – has the SOI and the ONI, a bunch of other SST indices (4, 3.4, 3, 1+2), as well as indices that distinguish between eastern Pacific, central Pacific (aka sometimes as El Niño Modoki) and coastal types of El Niño. These different types of ENSO are often referred to as flavours. Expert researchers have identified nine different flavours in data from 1950 to 2011, one flavour every seven years. I have heard tell of 13 different flavours, but after a few drinks, climate scientists will say anything.

Continue reading

How climbing made me a better scientist

Non-exhaustive list of (occasionally erroneous) reasons why climbing makes me science better (and explaining inter alia why I interview awfully). Prompted by this stupid tweet1:

Caption: Stupid tweet by august organ.

About this daft article.

Continue reading

Old baselines for Australia

Grose Michael R., Boschat Ghyslaine, Trewin Blair, Round Vanessa, Ashcroft Linden, King Andrew D., Narsey Sugata, Hawkins Edward (2023) Australian climate warming: observed change from 1850 and global temperature targets. Journal of Southern Hemisphere Earth Systems Science https://doi.org/10.1071/ES22018

A neat little paper that looks at estimating an 1850-1900 baseline for Australian average temperatures.

Continue reading

Excusable ignorance objection

Garcia-Portela, L. (2020) Moral Responsibility for Climate Change Loss and Damage: A response to the Excusable Ignorance Objection. Teorema. International Journal of Philosophy , 39 (1) :7-24

I don’t normally read this kind of paper, but I should because I really enjoyed it. It’s clearly written and nicely argued.

I’d come across the “excusable ignorance objection” before – the idea that “an agent should not be considered morally responsible for the harmful consequences of his actions if they could not have known or foreseen them at the time his action took place.” – in conjunction with event attribution, but not in those exact terms-1.

Continue reading

Spackling the gaps

A short and probably incomplete thread of datasets made by plugging holes in HadCRUT.

1. Cowtan and Way (2014). Kriging of various flavours including one using atmospheric temperatures


2. Ilyas et al. (2017). Multi resolution lattice kriging. 10,000 member ensemble


3. Benestad et al. (2019) reconstruction using EOFs


4. Kadow et al. (2020). Neural network infilling proof of concept based on methods used to reconstruct damaged photographs.


5. Morice et al. (2020) HadCRUT5. Kriging using full HadCRUT error model to generate an ensemble


6. Ilyas et al. (submitted) Multi-resolution lattice kriging including uncertainty in hyperparameter estimation.


7. Rohde and Hausfather (2020) not strictly HadCRUT, but it does fill the gaps in the sea part of HadCRUT using kriging


And… Vaccaro et al. (2021) using GraphEM which leverages Gaussian Markov random fields (aka Gaussian graphical models) to better estimate covariance relationships within a climate field


Originally tweeted by John Kennedy (@micefearboggis) on January 20, 2021.