Written by Professor Vincent Gray*
The world is a very confusing unpredictable place. Humans have, from the very beginning tried to create some sort of order and means of reducing its uncertainty.
They began by trying to find ways of ensuring the continuation of the regularities of the daily appearance of the sun, and of the annual cycle of the seasons. The responsible Gods had to be propitiated by sacrifice and ritual. The beginnings of this process are described in “The Golden Bough”1 .
The rituals that developed are still in existence in the form of daily prayers and annual holidays for Easter and Christmas, absorbed by more recent religions.
By the time of the Middle Ages it was believed that the world was basically static and unchanging, apart from any deviation which could be blamed on the Gods and solved by prayer or sacrifice.
The beginnings of modern science came with Kepler, Galileo and Newton who found that the behaviour of solid bodies could be predicted successfully by a fairly simple mathematical model. In order to do this Newton had to invent friction and gravity. It became possible to predict the movements of the planets as well as solid objects on the earth. The principle of mathematical models took hold to the extent that it was believed that the entire universe resembled a huge clock operated by mathematical formulae.
The complacency was disturbed by Einstein’s theory of relativity and by Planck’s quantum theory, but the idea has survived even the discovery of evolution, and the structure of atoms, ..
Science depends on measurement and all measurement inevitably involves inaccuracy. It was only in early 20th century that inaccuracy itself became subject to mathematical models. It is unfortunate that so many people who make use of them do not take care that their measurements comply with the assumptions of the model used.
The scientific study of the climate began, as with other disciplines, by the measurement of its properties. The science of meteorology is today amongst the most successful of all scientific institutions in its ability to measure and forecast local climate anywhere on the globe.
By comparison with other scientific disciplines it is faced with serious handicaps. Science demands that an experimental determination cannot be accepted unless it can be repeated, to an agreed level of accuracy, by an independent observer. Climate observations cannot be verified in this way. In addition, instruments, procedures, supervision, location are not standardised and the qualifications or the identity of the observer is often unknown. Recently the observer may just be automatic.
The climate is dominated, not by solid objects, but by the behaviour of fluids, by the atmosphere, and the oceans. Over the years many efforts have been made to try and develop a mathematical theory for the behaviour of fluids which can be used to assist weather and climate forecasting. The best that has been achieved involve the use of non linear equations with second order differential quantities. In order for this treatment to be successful it is necessary to define precisely the boundary conditions for the treatment to begin.
It was only with the work of Edward Lorenz2 that it was realized that the use of this type of model for the climate had serious limitations. He found that a very slight error in the setting up of the boundary conditions (for example, the movement of a butterfly’s wing) would be escalated by the equations to a very large extent if the equations are used to forecast long term future behaviour and thus make such a forecast impossible.
He concluded that for the climate “the prediction of the sufficiently distant future is impossible by any method”.
I have been reading “Chaos: Making a New Science” by James Gleick3. This book is claimed to be “The National Best Seller” in the USA in 1987. This is surprising as it is entirely concerned with the subject of what is now called “Chaos”, behaviour which is currently incapable of compliance with a mathematical formula. Unlike most books on mathematics there are no mathematical equations or symbols. There is mich information about the people who have developed the discipline, plus a layman’s account of what they have discovered. There are parts of it which can give predictable results, notably the beautiful “Fractals” and pictures of snowflakes and plant forms in some of the illustrations.
The applications are very widespread. They include the difficulty of deciding the length of the perimeter of a coastline, the behaviour of drops of water from a tap, and irregularities in heartbeats.
He remarks that climate scientists welcomed the arrival of better computers, believing that it would improve the accuracy and range of weather forecasts, but they have been disappointed. Despite the increased capacity of the computers, current weather forecasts are very little better in forecasting future weather than they were 50 years ago.
The book points out that chaotic observations are often referred to as “noise” and therefore neglected. The term accurately describes most current measurements of the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. The existence of more than 90,000 accurate measurements in peer reviewed Journals that goes back to 18124 is never mentioned by the IPCC because they show that the atmospheric concentration varies with time of day, wind direction and strength and proximity to sources and sinks. It is chaotic. Simlarly no measurements over land surfaces today are published. Efforts to reduce “emissions “ of carbon dioxide, are therefore never checked as to whether they are effective in the localities where they are made.
In New Zealand a facility for the measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide was set up in Makara, just over the hill from this house, in the 1980s. Because most of its measurements were “noise” it was moved to the coast at Baring Head where only “baseline events” are allowed to be revealed, defined as follows
“A baseline event is normally defined as one in which the local wind direction is from the South and the standard deviation of minute-by-minute CO2 concentrations is <0.1ppm for 6 or more hours”5
The other measurements are discarded as “noise”.
The IPCC claims that its “projections” have successfully “managed “chaos in the following quote from “Frequently asked Questions No 1.
“The chaotic nature of the weather makes it unpredictable beyond a few days. Projecting changes in climate (i.e long-term average weather) due to changes in atmospheric composition or other factors is a very different and much more manageable issue”
Note that they do not claim “prediction” only “projection” .
They go on to mention the work of Lorenz but fail to mention that he was concerned with the movement of fluids which he, and all genuine meteorologists, know is the main influence on the climate.
Illustrations of IPCC models almost always ignore the movement of fluids altogether, and claim that all energy exchanges are due to radiation, the only procedure that is not subject to chaos but can only be calculated if you know the highly varying temperature of the emitter
But they cannot escape chaos. The formation and movement of clouds, periods of overcast behaviour and precipitation are chaotic and they decide how much of the sun’s radiation actually reaches the earth. The ocean oscillations which have an important effect on the climate are also chaotic and all efforts to predict them have failed.
The behaviour of the sun, volcanic eruptions, and even earthquakes, are chaotic. The solar wind, which influences cloud formation, is also chaotic6
To summarise: there are many phenomena whose future behaviour is not currently capable of being forecast successfully by a mathematical model. One of them is the climate.
Admittedly the IPCC do not claim that they can do it. All they can do is provide “projections” .
It is regrettable that so many people do not realise this
1.Frazer J, G 1960 “The Golden Bough”
2. Lorenz. E. 1963 “Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow” J. Atmospheric Sciences 20, 130-141.
3. Gleick, J, 1987 “Chaos: Making a New Science”
4. Beck, E.G 2007 “180 Years of Atmospheric CO2 Gas Analysis by Chemical Methods” Energy and Environment, 18, 258-282
5. Manning.M.R., A.J.. Gomez, K.P. Pohl 2013. http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/co2/baring.htm
*From NZ CLIMATE TRUTH NEWSLETTER NO 306, MARCH 10TH 2013)