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Another NASA Defection to the Skeptics’ Camp � Roy Spencer, Ph. D.
Another NASA Defection to the Skeptics’ Camp
January 29th, 2009 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.
Something about retirement apparently frees people up to say what they really believe. I retired early from NASA over seven years ago to have more freedom to speak my mind on global warming.
You might recall that after Dr. Joanne Simpson retired from NASA she (trmm.gsfc.nasa.gov/3rd_trmm_conf/simpson.doc) admitted to a long-held skepticism regarding the role of mankind in global warming.
And who can forget NASA’s Administrator, Michael Griffin, admitting that he was skeptical of the urgency of the global warming problem? After the outrage that ensued, I suspect he wishes he had never brought it up.
And now my old boss when I was at NASA (as well as James Hansen’s old boss), John Theon, has stated very clearly that he doesn’t believe global warming is manmade…and adding “climate models are useless” for good measure. Even I wouldn’t go quite that far, since I use simple ones in my published research.
I remember the old days at NASA, when even John Theon was singing the same tune as most people at NASA were. Manmade global warming was a potentially serious threat, and NASA wanted Congress to fund new satellites to study the problem. It was a team effort to get that accomplished.
Global warming research was a relatively new field back then. Was Theon always skeptical, and just being a team player at the time? I don’t know. It could be that Dr. Theon, after watching 15 years of climate research go by, decided that he was no longer convinced that mankind was at fault for warming.
After all, there is some precedence for scientists changing their minds. One of today’s leading global warming alarmists is Stephen Schneider, who did a major about-face from the 1970s when global cooling was all the rage. At least Theon didn’t write a book back then about how serious the global warming issue was, as Schneider did on global cooling.
And how many defections have we seen in the other direction — from the skeptics’ camp to the alarmists’ camp? Seems like it’s been a one-way street so far.
Theon now also supports what I have repeatedly said over the years. That NASA’s James Hansen routinely ignored NASA policy, and said whatever he wanted to the press and to Congress without getting approval first. The reason why everyone at NASA looked the other way was that we were trying to get congressional funding for satellite missions to study climate. I personally don’t think we needed Hansen’s extremist views to get that accomplished, but it probably helped to some extent.
I asked NASA managers at the time, how can Hansen get away with saying whatever he wanted to? The answer was, “well…he’s not supposed to”.
You might think it’s OK for the lone scientist to warn everyone of impending planetary doom. But I consider it much closer to someone who makes a habit of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. Forcing expensive energy on people will lead to death and suffering. These are very real threats, not theoretical like manmade global warming, and they exist today. I personally don’t care where our energy comes from — but I do care that a maximum number of people can afford it.
In truth, it wasn’t Hansen who was muzzled, but it was me in the Clinton-Gore years, who was asked to keep my mouth shut about my skeptical views. That was fine…if a little annoying. At least the flap Hansen caused has managed to force NASA to say that their scientists no longer have to march in lock-step on scientific issues. That’s a good thing.
I have to wonder…how many more scientists will be outing themselves as skeptics? While we may never constitute a majority, and many of us have differing views on the real causes of climate change, it only takes one of us to be right for the global warming house of cards to collapse.
Dr. Joanne Simpson's abstract:
Global Precipitation Measurement
TRMM Data Set Potential in Climate Controversies
By Joanne Simpson, private citizen
Since I am no longer affiliated with any organization nor receive any funding, I can speak quite frankly. For more than a decade now “global warming” and its impacts have become the primary interface between our science and society. A large group of earth scientists, voiced in an IPCC statement, have reached what they claim is a consensus that man-released greenhouse gases are causing increasing harm to our planet. They predict that most icepacks including those in the polar regions, also sea ice, will continue melting with disastrous ecological consequences including coastal flooding. There is no doubt that atmospheric greenhouse gases are rising rapidly and little doubt that some warming and bad ecological events are occurring. However, the main basis of the claim that man’s release of greenhouse gases is the cause of the warming is based almost entirely upon climate models. We all know the frailty of models concerning the air-surface system. We only need to watch the weather forecasts.
However, a vocal minority of scientists so mistrusts the models and the complex fragmentary data, that some claim that global warming is a hoax. They have made public statements accusing other scientists of deliberate fraud in aid of their research funding. Both sides are now hurling personal epithets at each other, a very bad development in Earth sciences.
The claim that hurricanes are being modified by the impacts of rising greenhouse gases is the most inflammatory frontline of this battle and the aspect that journalists enjoy the most. The situation is so bad that the front page of the Wall Street Journal printed an article in which one distinguished scientist said another distinguished scientist has a fossilized brain. He, in turn, refers to his critics as “the Gang of Five. Few of these people seem to have any skeptical self criticism left, although virtually all of the claims are derived from either flawed data sets or imperfect models or both.
The term “global warming” itself is very vague. Where and what scales of response are measurable? One distinguished scientist has shown that many aspects of climate change are regional, some of the most harmful caused by changes in human land use. No one seems to have properly factored in population growth and land use, particularly in tropical and coastal areas.
What should we as a nation do? Decisions have to be made on incomplete information. In this case, we must act on the recommendations of Gore and the IPCC because if we do not reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and the climate models are right, the planet as we know it will in this century become unsustainable. But as a scientist I remain skeptical.
I decided to keep quiet in this controversy until I had a positive contribution to make. That point is to be celebrated in the TRMM 10 year anniversary. With a 10-year record the TRMM, users of the data can begin to look for and test for trends. With the TRMM sampling limitations, other data sets, from geosynchronous and other sources are being used now in the group led by Bob Adler. Their products can detect trends in global tropical rain on several scales, including regional. These patterns can be compared over the past ten years with the patterns predicted ten years ago by the climate models.
While the TRMM data set provides no panacea on the volatile hurricane front, useful information for the several ocean basins relating the rainfall to claimed and observed storm structure can be made if dedicated work is committed. I would be most interested to find out how the distribution of hot towers relates to storm intensity and rain production.
The major lack for TRMM data use in testing climate theories is latitude limitation. Global warming impacts appear much more severe in polar latitudes than in tropical regions. The best news is that GPM is on schedule for a 2013 launch. In conclusion I can just pray that GPM scientists and engineers are as smart and as lucky as we TRMM participants have been.
The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission is one of the next generation of satellite-based Earth science missions that will study global precipitation (rain, snow, ice).
Why Measure Rainfall from Space?
The comprehensive measurement of precipitation is valuable for a wide range of research areas and related applications with practical benefits for society. However, precipitation is difficult to measure because precipitation systems tend to be somewhat random in character and also evolve very rapidly.
Within a single storm, it is not uncommon for precipitation amounts to vary widely over a very small area. Also, in any given area, the amount of precipitation can vary significantly over a short time span. In the summertime, for instance, a single thunderstorm lasting just 20 minutes will produce 2 inches of rain over a city, but leave the adjacent town just 10 miles away unscathed. During the winter, heavy snows downwind of the U.S. Great Lakes often accumulate to several feet, but along a narrow corridor only a few tens of miles wide.
All of these factors make precipitation difficult to quantify. Reliable ground-based precipitation measurements are difficult to obtain over regional and global scales because most of the world is covered by water and many countries are not equipped with precision rain measuring sensors (i.e., rain gauges and/or radars). It might be possible to study precipitation over a small area using ground-based data, but rarely beyond that. The only practical way to obtain useful regional and global scale precipitation measurements is from the vantage point of a space-based remote sensing instrument.
At least NASA is continuing to study the climate and not relying on the outdated IPCC climate models. Water vapour is the largest greenhouse gas, so it makes sense to study it further.