Settled Until It Isn’t

A study from the European Center for Nuclear Rearch may render the findings of climate science a whole lot less settled than they’ve been advertised:

CERN’s 8,000 scientists may not be able to find the hypothetical Higgs boson, but they have made an important contribution to climate physics, prompting climate models to be revised.

The first results from the lab’s CLOUD (“Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets”) experiment published in Nature today confirm that cosmic rays spur the formation of clouds through ion-induced nucleation. Current thinking posits that half of the Earth’s clouds are formed through nucleation. The paper is entitled Role of sulphuric acid, ammonia and galactic cosmic rays in atmospheric aerosol nucleation.

This has significant implications for climate science because water vapour and clouds play a large role in determining global temperatures. Tiny changes in overall cloud cover can result in relatively large temperature changes.

A little farther down in the article is the really important observation:

Kirkby is quoted in the accompanying CERN press release:

“We’ve found that cosmic rays significantly enhance the formation of aerosol particles in the mid troposphere and above. These aerosols can eventually grow into the seeds for clouds. However, we’ve found that the vapours previously thought to account for all aerosol formation in the lower atmosphere can only account for a small fraction of the observations – even with the enhancement of cosmic rays.”

For more see here, here, and here.

I’ve posted on this subject in the past and it’s gratifying to see more empirical support emerging. I wonder how much attention it will receive?

I’ve got to say that the term “settled science” has always nettled me. Science is never settled or, more accurately, it’s settled until it isn’t. Science is just the collection of the things we know. There will always be plenty of things we don’t know just waiting in the wings to throw the things we know into a cocked hat.

Let’s hope that this finding helps to put more light than heat into the discussion of climate change. While a more limited role for anthropogenic climate change might suggest that the more draconian proposals for dealing with climate change are not warranted, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take commonsense steps in managing the part that we play. Why are we subsidizing oil consumption? Inefficient modes of transportation? I’d also like to hope that we might reconsider off-shoring so much of our manufacturing to China. Take a look at a heat map of the northern Pacific along with a map of prevailng winds and currents some time.

15 comments… add one
  • steve

    I don’t think I have ever seen or heard a scientist refer to settled science, though I could have missed it. I think this is a strawman for those who oppose climate change science. What you actually hear scientists talk about is a current consensus. That their exists a majority working opinion. In medicine, distantly related to science, we have the same issue. Few things are settled, but you have paralysis if you do not have working theories and some kind of consensus on various therapies, diagnostics and theories of illness.

    Steve

  • I don’t think I have ever seen or heard a scientist refer to settled science, though I could have missed it.

    The usual claim is that there is a scientific consensus, as if science is a popularity contest. I find it rather unpersuasive in and of itself. If that consensus is the result of data, then make the data available, but that has been problematic (and to be fair that problem isn’t just climate science nor does it mean that climate change is Bravo Sierra).

  • Richard Sommerville of Scripps, March 2007:

    The world’s going to warm, it’s going to warm substantially and what will that mean in terms of San Diego’s coastline or California’s water supply. That’s where the research frontiers (are). I don’t think, even among the respectable contrarian or skeptic, whatever term you use, but the few scientists out there, that you’re going to find any significant dispute on the basic science. I think that really is settled science.

    Same individual, March 2006:

    As a climate scientist, I am often asked, “Do you believe in global warming?” Climate change, however, is not a matter of personal belief.

    Instead, among experts, it’s just settled science that people are changing the climate

    Former Vice President Al Gore routinely uses the phrase in his speeches and presentations on global warming. Strawman?

  • Drew

    “I’ve posted on this subject in the past and it’s gratifying to see more empirical support emerging. I wonder how much attention it will receive?”

    Actually, for those of us who follow this, it got quite alot a play a couple weeks ago, but not, ahem, in the MSM. Shocking.

    One basic fault in the climate models bandied about for years has been capturing radiative heat transfer. All you have to do to understand it intutively is go to Florida on a hot August night………….and wait until 10 PM for it to finally cool off. Lotso water in the air. Now jump on an airplane and go to Scottsdale, AZ. By 7 pm you are looking for a sweater. Radiative heat transfer is a HUGE factor and has been criticized as not adequately decribed in climate models for years.

    Another problem in the models of course is ocean currents, sometimes driven by differences in salinity. The models are nowhere on this.

    Lastly, at the risk of the usual lightweight “correlation is not causation” chants……all you have to do is look at the PDO and AMO charts vs temperature…..and the CO2, and you know the CO2 correlation is nowhere compared to decadals. This has left the AGW crowd left with “well, you know, PDO and AMO simply ‘mask and attenuate’ the effect of CO2.” Laughable. This is like sitting on the beach watching the tides going in and out and saying, “yeah, I know the moon is up there, but that just masks the effect of the REAL cause of tides – those fornicating college students on the beach.” Voodoo.

    If you want the real smoking gun in all this, look at the overweighted use of CO2 as a forcing factor in the models vis-a-vis the long term temp rise – independant of CO2 – from the so called Little Ice Age on.

    And lastly, as I’ve always said, you better hope I’m right people. Our very own Energy Administration attributes only 2% of our CO2 emission reduction to efficiencies. 98% is conversion to a mix of more service vs manufacturing based economy. Translation: acting on this hoax is is tantamount to self immolation for the US manufacturing base, and our religious-like misguidance will be gladly offset and overwhealmed by the BRICS……………chucking in various Brazilaian, Chinese and Indian dialects……..’stupid Americans.’

  • Our very own Energy Administration attributes only 2% of our CO2 emission reduction to efficiencies. 98% is conversion to a mix of more service vs manufacturing based economy.

    That’s why I mentioned the significance of off-shoring manufacturing to China in the body of the post. Note that the studies of what the Europeans have accomplished by their efforts have had similar findings: most of the results are from off-shoring manufacturing to China.

    That’s why I think it’s high time we reverse the trend. Once we’ve sent polluting industries to China the problem doesn’t go away it just becomes intractable.

  • PD Shaw

    The other problem with claims that it is settled science or a matter of scientific consensus is that there is single definition of what “it” is. Are you talking about merely the fact of warming, human contribution to it, or more specific theories of causation or trajectories?

  • The science is young. The system is large. Much modeling under those conditions seems premature except for individual fascination.

    We’re only touching part of the elephant.

  • steve

    “Strawman?”

    Did you read what he wrote? First, he is speaking for himself, not as a speaker for the IPCC. Second, he is saying that the basic science about the effects of the hothouse gases has long been accepted. The reason why the earth is warm and the moon is cold. That our atmosphere is responsible to holding in heat. Are you now disputing that?

    Steve

  • jan

    Drew

    Your’s was one of the better postings written on climate changes.

    For the most part there have been so many discrepancies in the data collected, fraudulent distortions made via the infamous hockey stick, as well as advocacy groups’ publications used as factual science, while other opposing scientist’s data were ignored. In essence the debate has been one-sided and factually tainted.

    However, there are those who are stuck on AGW, as it fits their ideological agenda whereas fossil fuels and the many industries surrounding their use, can be manipulated and/or downsized at the impunity and/or discretion of a progressively-run government such as what we are experiencing under Obama.

    Consequently, AGW has been one of the biggest world-wide scams, primarily promoted, IMO, to initially enhance grants and monies given over to a cooperating warmist scientific community. But, it was ultimately designed to line the pockets of new age green enterprises, surprisingly which are the investments of progressive socialists like George Soros and conveniently brainless and self-serving Al Gore.

  • steve

    “Consequently, AGW has been one of the biggest world-wide scams, primarily promoted, IMO, to initially enhance grants and monies given over to a cooperating warmist scientific community.”

    IOW, a conspiracy maintained over 30 years by thousands of scientists across dozens of countries. Wouldnt the same then apply to anti-warming writers? One could say they write so that their pockets will be lined by the pockets of big oil (much deeper pockets BTW) which coincide with the investments of the Kochs and self-serving pols like Bush and Cheney (oilmen). Personally I dont find this tact very rewarding and would much rather look at the science, but go ahead.

    Steve

  • jan

    Steve,

    I agree that science and data should be looked at from all sides of the spectrum, and examined with an open mind. However, the warmists have excluded or denigrated much of what skeptics of green house gases have inserted into this discussion. It has been, IMO, a very lopsided assessment of warming trends, as to whether they are cyclical or caused by something man is injecting into the environment.

    And, as this debate has been far from settled, why are we having to deal with all the restrictive EPA regulations, broadened by the Obama administration to include green house gases, that are economically putting so many businesses in distress — regulations that are basing their perimeters on assertions that AGW has been proven without a doubt?

  • steve

    “And, as this debate has been far from settled, why are we having to deal with all the restrictive EPA regulations, broadened by the Obama administration to include green house gases, that are economically putting so many businesses in distress — regulations that are basing their perimeters on assertions that AGW has been proven without a doubt?”

    Very few things are proved beyond a doubt. Virtually none of what I do in medicine is proved beyond a doubt, we simply work based upon our current best knowledge. If you had followed the history of climate change science, you would realize that it was met with a lot of skepticism 30 years ago. There were a lot of difficulties collecting good data. As time has progressed, the very large bulk of evidence has supported the conclusions that we have warming and that man has influenced that warming. The last report still used words like very likely and pointed out questions that still needed to be answered. (What Dave cited above was a guy referring to the idea that the gases in our atmosphere, including CO2, help to keep our planet warm.)

    What is mostly in doubt, is the correct response. Unilateral actions taken by the US are not likely to accomplish much. I am unsure of which specific regs you are citing, as the EPA has. AFAIK, not finalized anything.

    Steve

  • sam

    “I agree that science and data should be looked at from all sides of the spectrum, and examined with an open mind. However, the warmists have excluded or denigrated much of what skeptics of green house gases have inserted into this discussion. ”

    There are really two distinct questions that, alas, get run together in the debate to our detriment, I think. One question is, Is the planet warming? The other is, If the planet is warming, is there an anthropogenic element to the warming?

    Unfortunately in the politicized debate as it exists now, some folks think that by denying any anthropogenic element, this also shows that the planet is not warming.

    This is extremely shortsighted, and potentially quite dangerous. The consensus is that the planet is warming. We should be focusing our attention on what that entails right now for us and for our economy. How will the warming affect our coastal cities; how will the warming affect our agriculture: how will the warming affect the fire-flood cycle in the West and Southwest? And so on. More importantly, what can we do to address the effects the warming will have?

    Much of the argument today reminds me of the story of the man who was shot with poisoned arrow. He refused medical treatment until someone would tell him who shot him, what the arrow was made of, where the feathers came from, what was the composition of the poison and so on. Unsurprisingly, he died before he had his answers.

  • sam, I think that the poles of the ideological positions on the subject of climate change are, on the one hand, people who are opposed to growth and, on the other, people who want to preserve the status quo.

    My own view is that we should stop subsidizing the consumption of fossil fuels (which underpins much of U. S. economic and foreign policy), impose a Pigouvian tax on gasoline, and avoid making investments that have a 40 year payoff period.

    I also think that inducing manufacturing to be off-shored to China is idiotic.

    Change is inevitable. Whether we are causing the change or not is, in the final analysis, irrelevant. That we lose a quarter mile of littoral to anthropogenic warming or warming induced by cosmic rays or volcanoes doesn’t make a great deal of difference to the person who lives there. It may influence the strategies we use to address the issue, however. We need to be able to deal with change and that’s primarily a political problem.

  • Zachriel

    CERN: “it is premature to conclude that cosmic rays have a significant influence on climate until the additional nucleating vapours have been identified, their ion enhancement measured, and the ultimate effects on clouds have been confirmed.”

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