Old study - same error: The Mail is still wrong about Asian glaciers

  • 12 Jul 2012, 10:45
  • Verity Payne

Guilhem Vellut

A new piece has been published on the Mail Online suggesting global warming isn't happening because researchers have found some glaciers in the Karakoram mountain range are gaining some ice. If it looks suspiciously familiar, that's because the Mail already covered the research when it came out in April.

Although the new piece reports the research pretty straight it's had some heavy-handed editorial treatment, with a subhead claiming the finding "flies in the face of predictions of climate activitsts". Here's our original rebuttal of the article - and yes, the fact that the glaciers are gaining some ice still doesn't mean glaciers aren't losing ice overall.

The study, released in April, measured glacier mass in the Karakoram mountain range. The findings suggest the region's glaciers are growing slightly, and contribute to sea-level rise less than previously thought at nearly 0.05 mm per year. 

The research,  published in the journal Nature Geoscience, used satellite data to assess the state of glaciers in the central Karakoram mountains between 1999 and 2008, and found that the glaciers gained ice slightly over that period. The finding confirms  evidence from the late 1990s of growing glaciers in the Karakorum, but suggests that previous estimates of how much the Karakoram glaciers contribute to sea level rise have probably been too high.

The finding also echoes  research published earlier this year, in the journal Nature, concluding that high Asian glaciers in the Himalayas and surrounding areas don't appear to be losing much ice as previously thought, and are contributing a negligible amount to sea level rise. Media coverage of that study caused a bit of confusion at the time, as we noted.

The Mail Online, continuing its growing tendency to add inflammatory headlines disputing man-made climate change to quite innocuous articles, reported this as a " New question mark over global warming" as "Scientists discover glaciers in Asian mountain range are actually getting BIGGER".

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Wind farms can affect local temperature - how the papers reported it

  • 30 Apr 2012, 09:09
  • Christian Hunt

Wind turbines might be affecting local weather and temperature, according to a new study in the Journal Nature Climate Change. But despite researchers' assurances that these are localised effects, some UK outlets have been suggesting this means wind farms are causing climate change.

Although getting detailed measurements of wind speed is usually high on the list of priorities around wind farms, taking the temperature around the turbines might seem more unusual. But measuring the effects of wind farms on local temperatures may have thrown up some interesting results.

Scientists examining temperature readings for an area in Texas that contains a large wind farm have found a "warming trend of up to 0.72◦ C per decade, particularly at night-time, over wind farms relative to nearby non-wind-farm regions". According to the researchers, the warming patterns they've observed closely match the distribution of wind farms.

This appears to be the first time anyone has used satellite data to measure the impacts of large wind farms on surface temperature. The researchers compared temperatures in the two years before 2,358 turbines were constructed with a two-year period after they had all been built. They noticed that after correcting for other causes of warming, the temperature around the site had increased.

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Open access publishing and how science gets into the media

  • 27 Apr 2012, 13:00
  • Robin Webster

Creative Commons: Riccardo Cambiassi

Even at some of Britain's largest research universities, academics can struggle to access the scientific research they need because of the costs imposed by scientific journals, according to speakers at the European Geosciences Union (EGU)'s biggest conference of the year.

It's a live topic. Giant academic publisher Elsevier is currently the subject of a rebellion, with more than 10,000 academics so far signing a pledge to boycott it as a result of high fees to access academic literature. Astrophysicist Peter Coles last week called Elsevier one of the "worst offenders", but blames the entire "academic journal racket" for high access prices. And just a few days ago, Harvard University announced it's started encouraging its faculty members to make their research freely available, labelling the "scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive" in a memo.

On Wednesday, a packed session at the annual general meeting of the EGU discussed " Open science and the future of publishing" (video recording here). A new generation of open access academic publishers make papers freely available afgter publication - and the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, Copernicus.organd PloS One were all on the panel, as well as major publishers including Oxford University Press and Elsevier.

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David Cameron’s energy ‘remarks’ leave media to create their own narrative

  • 26 Apr 2012, 14:15
  • Ros Donald and Christian Hunt

When is a speech not a speech?

With the Clean Energy Ministerial hosted in London for the rest of the week, the occasion of a David Cameron keynote speech to open the conference had been billed by government as the beginning of a Conservative "  great green fightback", planned since January. Damian Carrington for the Guardian said energy and climate minister Greg Barker had told him Cameron would take the opportunity for a "  major policy intervention by the prime minister" on the green economy.

But, over the course of the week, number 10 has apparently been trying desperately to downplay expectations, and Cameron's eventual brief remarks don't seem to have contained anything particularly substantive. With expectations duly managed and without much to go on, the media Interpret-o-thon 3000 went into overdrive, casting about for meaning in the runes. So it's no big surprise that the range of takes on the content in the media was quite wide - here's a roundup.

The news that the speech would be dramatically curtailed had already met with disapproval earlier this week.  Geoffrey Lean for the Telegraph said yesterday the "abrupt downgrading of the occasion … just adds to the impression of a government in disarray", adding with displeasure that despite privately giving high-level assurances in recent months, the government is now pretending there was never going to be a whole speech from the PM in the first place.


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By the Mail's reasoning, temperatures have "barely risen" - by 9 degrees

  • 25 Apr 2012, 12:32
  • Christian Hunt

An article that implies global warming is "just hot air" and that global temperatures have "barely risen" over the last thirty years should probably try and get the basics of how global temperature rise is measured right.

So it's unfortunate that today's  Daily Mail confidently argues that "world temperatures have barely risen in the last two decades" in an article which hangs on a fairly basic error in interpreting global temperature data.

The piece begins:

"World temperatures have barely risen in the last two decades, figures reveal."

"Temperatures across the globe rose by around a third of a degree last year from the average of 14 degrees Celsius recorded between 1961 and 1990."

"In some years, temperatures rose by just 0.29 degrees C while in others they rose by .53 degrees."

Given that temperatures have risen in total by around 0.8 degrees celsius since the early twentieth century, the Mail's suggestion that temperatures rose by half a degree in a single year might already be ringing alarm bells.

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Climate change: Lovelock changes his mind but the planet's still warming

  • 24 Apr 2012, 13:30
  • Verity Payne

Climate and environment commentator James Lovelock dialled back his previously pessimistic predictions about the world's future climate in an MSNBC article yesterday. Why? Because, he says, "[  t]he world has not warmed up very much since the millennium". As a result, he says he views his earlier work as "alarmist".

Well, there's no disagreement here that some of Lovelock's earlier predictions -  for example, that "[t]he climate war could kill nearly all of us and leave the few survivors living a Stone Age existence" - have never been representative of mainstream scientific thinking.

But based on the MSNBC interview, he now seems to argue that the world has currently stopped warming, and that as a result - we "don't know what the climate is doing". Unfortunately he's still not doing a great job of representing scientific understanding of climate change.

Scientists are clear that the world hasn't stopped warming - although if you spend time reading climate skeptic websites it's a  familiar argument, which relies on measurements of temperature at the surface of the Earth over short periods of time.

Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution at the Met Office, sums up this apparent confusion neatly. According to the MSNBC article, he "[...] agreed with Lovelock that the rate of warming in recent years had been less than expected by the climate models."

Stott told us this was a

"gross simplification of what I was trying to explain - namely that the short term warming has been a bit less than the long term warming trend predicted by models - but this is entirely to be expected given that there will be variability of short term warming around the longer term trends (several decades) with some 10 or 15 year trends being larger and some smaller."

And these surface temperatures are only a small part of the climate system - other measurements show us that most of the heat trapped in the climate system goes into the oceans, and that oceans have been warming pretty steadily during the last 55 years - giving us a valuable indicator of climate change.


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Republican meteorologist on why climate change has “nothing to do with Al Gore”

  • 20 Apr 2012, 13:00
  • Ros Donald

A Minnesota-based meteorologist has called for an end to party political polarisation over climate change, saying climate change has become a "bizarre litmus test for conservatism".

Writing for Bloomberg, Paul Douglas, a Penn State meteorologist who has founded several forecasting-related companies, identifies himself as "a moderate Republican - a fan of small government, light regulation and market solutions". He says:

"If you know anything about American politics these days, and follow the climate war at all, you might anticipate with some confidence that I agree global warming is a hoax. That's a shame, and I hope it changes soon."

 Douglas explains he became interested in how climate and weather might be linked in the 1980s:

 "In the 1980s I was skeptical that an upward blip in global temperatures was the result of manmade gases. Then the blips persisted. By the mid-90s I began to see them as unsettling changes. The weather was becoming erratic and even more unpredictable than usual. Storms were more frequent and intense. Curious, I began including climate statistics in daily TV weather segments, like annual trends in flash-flooding, hail, summer humidity, fewer subzero nights and decreased snowfall."

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1,000 trillion cubic feet of offshore shale gas? “Don’t believe the figures,” says geologist

  • 19 Apr 2012, 17:00
  • Ros Donald

Reports emerged yesterday that the UK might have around 1,000 trillion cubic feet of offshore shale gas, a figure  the  Times and  Wall Street Journal  are attributing to the British Geological Survey (BGS). But when we asked BGS, it told us it doesn't recognise the estimate, or think that much gas will be recoverable. So what's going on? 

The Times wrote: 

"Yesterday, the British Geological Survey released estimates of Britain's offshore shale gas reserves, which could  exceed one trillion cubic feet, more than five times the estimated onshore deposits, it said. This would catapult the UK into the top ranks of worldwide producers of shale gas."

In 2011, BGS estimated the total onshore shale gas resource in the UK at 144 billion cubic metres. It is currently in the process of coming up with a new estimation for onshore resource, but we didn't know anything about a new offshore estimate. So it seemed a bit out of character for the BGS to start announcing offshore reserves of 1,000 trillion cubic feet off UK shores.

On investigation, it appears this figure stems from a Reuters report yesterday: Exclusive: UK has vast shale gas reserves, geologists say. Reuters quotes a BGS geologist, Nigel Smith, saying: 

"'There will be a lot more offshore shale gas and oil resources than onshore,' [...] UK offshore reserves could be five to 10 times as high as onshore[...]."

 Smith first made this statement to the  UK's energy and climate change committee in May 2011 during an investigation into shale gas.

 But when we asked him whether he'd ever said the UK's offshore reserves equalled 1,000 trillion cubic feet, Smith told us: 

"Don't believe the figures!"

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Puzzled by 'global weirding'? Watch these videos

  • 19 Apr 2012, 13:21
  • Verity Payne

It has been  widely  reported that the US and UK have both experienced some unusual weather over the last couple of years. This has included a couple of remarkably  cold and snowy winters, last year's deadly spate of record-breaking US tornados, and both the  USand UK experiencing record-breaking March temperatures. It's worth noting however that globally, last year was the 16th warmest on record, which is nothing special in the context of the last decade.

It's perhaps no wonder that over two-thirds of Americans reckon global warming made recent extreme weather events worse, and most say they have experienced an extreme weather event in the last year, according to a new  poll.

But while the public seem relatively convinced that this 'global weirding' (as it has become known in some circles) is related to global warming, the scientists researching the subject take a  decidedly more nuanced  stance.  As the  IPCC's special report into extreme weather puts it, "[a]ttribution of single extreme events to anthropogenic climate change is challenging."  Incidentally, the warm US spring has already been labelled ' more freak occurrence than global warming' by climatologist Marty Hoerling.

With this discussion going on, it seems like a good time to post these two informative videos from Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media and Peter Sinclair of Climate Crocks.

The first video discusses how climate change might impact tornados. In short, as we have discussed in  this blog, tornado experts are just not yet sure whether tornados are likely to increase as the world warms. The second video focuses on the cold US and UK winters, and how that might be related to warming in the Arctic and the shifting jet stream, as we have discussed  here.

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Extreme weather leads to extremely different headlines

  • 18 Apr 2012, 15:23
  • Verity Payne

The majority of Americans believe that climate change is making extreme weather events worse, according to a new  poll released today by Yale University and George Mason University. But do the scientists working in the field of climate attribution agree?

It's hard to tell from reading media reports about extreme weather, as there seems to be some confusion in the media about its link to man-made climate change. For example, headlines about the recent release of the IPCC's Special Report into Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) ranged from  Climate change 'behind extreme weather conditions', to  UN climate panel ties some weather extremes to global warming, and  New U.N. report blows cold on human causes for weather extremes.

Most of the articles about SREX don't really capture the nuances of the report's findings, and it would be easy to blame the media for this. But is it all down to the media, or does this wide ranging media coverage reflect the diverse range of opinions held by scientists working in the field?

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