The Important Difference between Climatology and Climate Science
Written by Dr. Tim Ball, Climatologist
Recent events underscore problems with understanding climate and how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) achieved their deception. Comments about my recent article appreciated it was a synopsis. The problems were central in my presentation to the First Heartland Climate Conference in New York relating to climatology as a generalist discipline in a world that glorifies specialization. The dictum in academia and beyond is specialization is the mark of genius, generalization the mark of a fool. In the real world each specialized piece must fit the larger general picture and most people live and function in a generalized world. The phrase “it is purely academic” means it is irrelevant to the real world.
A secret meeting occurred between Lord Lawson of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) and members of the British Royal Society. Why the secrecy? It is likely because this collective of specialists is scrambling to recover reputations after being misled.
Claiming they were deliberately deceived in the propaganda campaign orchestrated through the British Royal Society is no excuse. The supposed prestige of that Society was used to persuade other national Science Societies that human caused global warming was a serious and proven fact. The only Society that refused to go along was the Russian. It was a deliberately orchestrated campaign that allowed media to use the consensus argument with focus. I was frequently challenged with the interrogative in the form of a consensus argument that you must be wrong because science Societies all agree.
Climate science is the work of specialists working on one small part of climatology. It’s a classic example of not seeing the forest for the trees, amplified when computer modellers are involved. They are specialists trying to be generalists but omit major segments, and often don’t know interrelationships, interactions and feedbacks in the general picture.
Society has deified specialized academics, especially scientists. Consider the phrase “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist” used to indicate intellectual superiority. Substitute a different occupation and prejudices emerge. “You don’t have to be a farmer”. Now consider the range of specialized areas required for success on a modern farm. Then count the specializations included in Figure 1, a very simple systems diagram of weather. (Note that three “boxes” include the word “flux” but the 2007 IPCC Science report says,“Unfortunately, the total surface heat and water fluxes are not well observed.)
Ian Plimer said, studies of the Earth’s atmosphere tell us nothing about future climate.
An understanding of climate requires an amalgamation of astronomy, solar physics, geology, geochronology, geochemistry, sedimentology, tectonics, palaeontology, paleoecology, glaciology, climatology, meteorology, oceanography, ecology, archaeology and history.
Figure 1: Source: After; Climate Stabilization: For Better or for Worse? William W. Kellogg and Stephen H. Schneider, Science, Volume 186, December 27, 1974
It’s an interesting observation that underscores the dilemma. Climatology is listed as a subset, but must include all the disciplines and more. You cannot study or understand the pattern of climate over time or in a region without including them all.
A frequent charge is I have no credibility because I only have “a geography degree”. It’s, ignorant on many levels, and usually used as a sign of superiority by specialists in the “hard sciences”. My PhD was through the Geography department at Queen Mary College because climatology was traditionally part of geography. The actual degree was granted in the Faculty of Science.
Climatology, like geography is a generalist discipline studying patterns and relationships. Geography is the original integrative discipline traditionally called Chorology. In the late 1960s when I looked for a school of climatology there were effectively only two, Hubert Lamb’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia and Reid Bryson’s program in Madison Wisconsin. Neither was a viable option, although I was privileged to consult with Professor Lamb about my thesis.
Unlike most students, instead of going through the sausage-maker machine of education I pursued my studies later and with deliberation. Environmentalism was a new paradigm changing the focus from the Darwinian view of humans as a passive to an active agent in the environment. An undergraduate course on Soils taught me the formula for soil-forming factors included parent material (rock), weather, and the letter “O” for Organic. I wondered why this included everything except humans.
Early German geography recognized the impact distinguishing Landschaft, the natural landscape, from Kulturschaft, the human landscape. Others were considering the differences. George Perkins Marsh’s work, Man and Nature (1864) and William L. Thomas’ 1956 publication Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth influenced me and provided a central theme – the impact of climate on the human condition.
All three theses were deliberately designed. An Honours thesis titled, Some Philosophical Considerations of Humans as a Source of Change, considered the historical and philosophical context. The Masters thesis titled, The Significance of Grain Size and Heavy Minerals Volume Percentage as Indicators of Environmental Character, Grand Beach, Manitoba provided scientific method especially related to energy inputs in an environment. The doctorate addressed two problems in climatology. Lack of long-term weather records, which Lamb identified, and the challenge of linking historical records with instrumental records. My doctoral thesis title, Climatic Change in Central Canada: A Preliminary Analysis of Weather Information from Hudson’s Bay Company Forts at York Factory and Churchill Factory, 1714-1850 involved creating a long term record from daily journals of the Hudson Bay Company. It blended daily weather observations with instrumental records through a numerical coding for each weather variable. Once the data was digitized, statistical and scientific analysis was possible.
Lack of a “science” degree was a focus early. Immediately after a presentation to Forestry graduates at the University of Alberta a professor in the front row asked, “Is it true you were denied funding by the major agencies in Canada?” This referred to two government agencies, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Sciences and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. (SSHRC). I was not denied, I just didn’t qualify, my category of historical climatology was considered Social Science by NSERC and Science by SSHRC. Fortunately, the National Science Museum of Canada, particularly Dick Harington head of the Paleobiology division, understood the problem and provided funding.
I knew as a climatologist I needed to consult with specialists. I obeyed Wegman’s warning in his Report on the Hockey Stick fiasco.
As statisticians, we were struck by the isolation of communities such as the paleoclimate community that rely heavily on statistical methods, yet do not seem to be interacting with the mainstream statistical community. The public policy implications of this debate are financially staggering and yet apparently no independent statistical expertise was sought or used.
Consultation is essential. The challenge is to know enough to ask the right questions and understand the answers. As a climatologist I try to place each piece in the puzzle. If it doesn’t fit I consult specialists for answers.
The claim that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) didn’t exist is a classic example of a piece that didn’t fit. Many knew it existed and Soon and Baliunas provided evidence in their article Proxy climatic and environmental changes of the past 1000 years; it’s why they were so viciously attacked. Statistician Steve McIntyre showed how the infamous “hockey stick” graph was created. The Wegman Report confirmed his findings and exposed a major misuse of statistics and dendroclimatology. The misuse of tree rings was further confirmed by a forestry expert. Few areas of IPCC climate science bear examination by specialists.
The claim that CO2 is greenhouse gas does not fit. I itemized the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deliberate diversions to demonize CO2 for a political agenda. Years ago at a conference in Calgary I heard a skeptic challenged by a knowledgeable audience member about the claim of CO2 as a greenhouse gas (GHG). The reply was troubling. We (skeptics) would lose all credibility if we suggest CO2 is not a GHG. It is better to say it is, but the effect, especially of the human portion, is minuscule and of no consequence.
I pursued my policy asking physicists about the role of CO2 as a GHG. I thought they would agree. They didn’t. It’s partly reflected in estimates of climate sensitivity. They range from the IPCC high through those who believe it is zero to some who believe it is a negative quantity with CO2 as a cooling agent. The conflict appears to be disagreement in how temperature is modified by the physical processes involved in energy transfer. If the physics was known and agreed presumably weather and climate forecasts would work, but they don’t.
Traditional climatology included a mechanism called continentalism. It measured the modifying influence on temperature range of the distance from the ocean. Here are ranges for three Canadian cities at approximately the same latitude.
Station Maximum Minimum Range
Gander, Nfld 35.6°C -28.8°C 64.2°C
Winnipeg 40.6°C -45°C 85.6°C
Vancouver 33.3°C -17.8°C 51°C
Both Vancouver (west coast) and Gander (east coast) are close to the ocean but they are in the zone of the prevailing Westerlies. Gander experiences continental air more frequently than Vancouver. The different specific heat capacities of land and water explain the difference. Water acts to modify temperature range.
The greatest daily land temperature ranges occur in regions with very low atmospheric moisture (hot and cold deserts). Water vapour acts like the oceans to modify temperature range, as a result desert biomes record the greatest daily temperature ranges. It has nothing to do with CO2. Similarly, lowest daily temperature ranges occur in tropical rain forests where water vapour levels are highest. Total modification of global temperature range is achieved by water in all its phases.
Climatology is a generalist discipline that requires incorporating all specialist disciplines. The modern glorification of specialization allowed climate scientists to dominate by claiming their piece of a vast puzzle was critical. IPCC climate scientists misused specialized areas, especially in climate models, to achieve a predetermined result. It is only exposed when specialists examine what was done or climatologists find a piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit.