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2012 SkS Weekly Digest #14

Posted on 9 April 2012 by John Hartz

SkS Highlights

Dana's Yes Happer and Spencer, Global Warming Continues started the week by rebutting another anti-science letter published in the Wall Street Jounal. Alex C posted Part I of Why David Archibald is wrong about solar cycles driving sea levels and Dana posted Part II of Monckton Misleads California Lawmakers - Now It's Personal .

Toon of the Week


H/T to Joe Romm's Climate Progress

Quote of the week

"It follows from this that the radiation from the earth into space does not go on directly from the ground, but on the average from a layer of the atmosphere having a considerable height above sea-level. The height of that layer depends on the thermal quality of the atmosphere, and will vary with that quality. The greater is the absorbing powerof the air for heat rays emitted from the ground, the higher will that layer be. But the higher the layer, the lower is its temperature relatively to that of the ground; and as radiation from the layer into space is the less the lower its temperature is, it follows that the ground will be hotter the higher the radiating layer is."

From a paper presented to the Royal Meteorological Society at its Jubilee on April 3, 1900, by Nils Ekholm. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, vol. XXVII, No. 117, pp. 1-61, 1901.

H/T to Riccardo.

Issue of the Week

How optimistic are you that the human race will get its act together in time to stave off catastrophic climate change?

The Week in Review

A complete listing of the articles posted on SkS during the past week.

Coming Soon

A list of articles that are in the SkS pipeline. Most of these articles, but not necessarily all, will be posted during the week.

  • Shakun et al. Clarify the CO2-Temperature Lag (Dana)
  • New research from last week 14/2012 (Ari Jokimäki)
  • DeConto et al: Thawing permafrost drove the PETM extreme heat event (Andy S)
  • Data Contradicts Connection Between Earth's Tilt and the Seasons (ptbrown31)
  • Global Surface Warming Since 1995 (Dana)
  • Global Warming in a Nutshell (Larry M)
  • Why David Archibald is wrong about solar cycles driving sea level (Part 1B) (Alex C)
  • Linking Weird Weather to Rapid Warming of the Arctic (Daniel Bailey)
  • Global Warming - A Health Warning (Agnostic)
  • Advancing Climate Science, One Skeptic Talking Point at a Time (rustneversleeps)
  • Methane - Part 1 (Agnostic)

SkS in the News

Dana's Monckton Misleads California Lawmakers - Now It's Personal was re-posted on Citizen's Challenge, and Yes Happer and Spencer, Global Warming Continues was re-posted on Climate Progress.

Simple Myth Debunking of the Week

The #12 most popular climate myth - that CO2 lags temperature, and therefore CO2 doesn't cause global warming - has been debunked in greater detail by Shakun et al. (2012).  Although the initial global warming during glacial-interglacial transitions was triggered by orbital cycles, over 90% of the glacial-interglacial warming occurred after the CO2 increase.  We will explore this finding in greater detail in Shakun et al. Clarify the CO2-Temperature Lag.

SkS Spotlights: CCAFS

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is a 10-year research initiative launched by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP).

CCAFS seeks to overcome the threats to agriculture and food security in a changing climate, exploring new ways of helping vulnerable rural communities adjust to global changes in climate.


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Comments 1 to 31:

  1. (This is a modified version of a post I put up in the "unforced variations" thread). Off and on, I had been experimenting with some "simple minded" processing methods applied to the GHCN raw temperature station data. I have found it surprisingly easy to replicate the published NASA/GISS "meteorological stations" index with some pretty simple data-crunching procedures applied to *raw* station data. The global temperature record is really amazingly robust -- the global-warming signal just "jumps out of the data" even with the crudest processing approaches. I’ve been trying to put together a simple, easy to understand visual demonstration of the reliability/robustness of the global temperature record, in an easy-to-digest “eye candy” format -- i.e. something that won’t make non-technical folks’ eyes glaze over. The goal is to have an easy to comprehend "visual refutation" of the most popular "skeptical" claims about the global temperature record. With that in mind, I put together 3 images. 1) A plot of what I call the “Sparse Rural Stations Index", which is just a set of global-average temperatures computed from a very small number of scattered rural stations, displayed along with the official NASA/GISS “Meteorological Stations” temperature index. The procedure used to generate the "Sparse Stations Index" is really quite simple: Divide up the globe into 20 degrees x 20 degrees grid-elements (at the Equator; longitude dimensions adjusted as you go N/S to keep grid-element areas approximately constant). Search each grid-element for the rural station with the longest temperature record. Use one and only one station for each grid element. About 85 stations were selected via this procedure. Because of varying station record lengths, data-gaps, etc., significantly fewer stations reported data for any given month/year. Over the 1880-2011 time-period, an average of about 50 of the selected stations reported data for any given month/year. Compute the year/month temperature anomalies (relative to the standard NASA 1951-1980 baseline) for the selected stations, and just straight average the anomalies all together for each year. 2) A Google-Earth visualization of stations used to compute the NASA/GISS “Meteorological Stations” index. (If you have a bit of programming experience, getting the station lat/long metadata into Google-Earth readable format is pretty easy.) 3) A Google Earth visualization of stations used to compute the “Sparse Rural Stations Index”. The results pretty convincingly demonstrate the following: 1) UHI is a non-issue (I used only rural stations). 2) Data "homogenization" is a complete non-issue (I used only raw temperature data). 3) The global temperature record is incredibly redundant and robust -- you can really throw away ~98 percent of the temperature stations and *still* confirm the NASA/GISS global temperature estimates.
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  2. How optimistic are you that the human race will get its act together in time to stave off catastrophic climate change? This is quite a subjective question, so forgive me for an answer that may appear quite subjective on a scientific site such as SkS. I am actually optimistic about the future, but not about humanity fixing this climate issue. Extraordinary problems require extraordinary solutions, so I am not looking to science, technology, markets, policies or regulations to fix this. According to my belief in the Bible, outside intervention will arrive before humanity succeeds in destroying the planet and ourselves. My optimism, however, is not placed in some inherent capacity of nature to always come up trumps against the onslaught of human activities, or in human ingenuity to always result in progress and improvement. The Bible paints a different picture. According to the Bible humanity can succeed and achieve improved life, but only a minority of humanity will find such success.
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  3. Caerbannog @1, I, for one, find your results very interesting if not entirely unexpected. Indeed, I think the work that you and other amateur climate scientists have done of the surface record should be given much more prominence. To that end I suggest that you contact John Cook so that your results can be published as a blog post here on SkS, rather than simply being lost in the comments. With regard to the actual results, I noticed that some stations in the sparse network are very close together. There appear to be two from Alaska, for example. There are also two from northern Scandinavia, and one each from east Texas and Louisiana (I think). These stations might be seized on as distorting the result, although I strongly suspect they do not. Perhaps you could modify your program to select boundary locations to maximize the average distance between stations (or perhaps to maximize the cube root of the distances between proximal stations to give greater weight to avoiding close pairings) so as to avoid this criticism. Alternatively you could just drop out the shortest of any two records from the analysis where they are closer than some minimal distance. (I am sure you can think of other ways to avoid the issue as well.) Further, as an antipodean, I would appreciate maps of station sites that show the entire globe, and not just the North Atlantic and surrounding lands.
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  4. How optimistic are you that the human race will get its act together in time to stave off catastrophic climate change? Not at all. I think there will be catastrophic impacts, and that it will be these catastrophic impacts that finally trigger global action to stop CO2 emissions. I also think some of these might occur much sooner than later. But, as always, it's a question of degree. With sufficient resources thrown at the problem, atmospheric CO2 could be sequestered technologically at a similar rate to emissions, so we might get 'back to normal' within only a century or so after tackling the problem. On the other hand, so many resources are going to be taken up with mitigation and adaptation to the early impacts, that, combined with the economic impacts of those climate impacts, there might not be enough spare to work on techno-sequestration. On the gripping hand - someone might invent a solar-powered gizmo that sucks CO2 from the atmosphere, converts it into solid carbon + O2, and just keeps powering on. In which case, we've at least got a running chance...
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  5. Bern wrote: "someone might invent a solar-powered gizmo that sucks CO2 from the atmosphere, converts it into solid carbon + O2, and just keeps powering on." Aren't such machines called "plants"?
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  6. "How optimistic are you that the human race will get its act together in time to stave off catastrophic climate change?" Depends on how we are defining "catastrophic". That could range anywhere from an increased incidence of natural disasters (which we have already seen and thus cannot possibly stave off) to a mass extinction or sudden sharp decline in human population. Many other activities of humans are also contributing to mass extinction and it thus isn't clear whether we'll be able to avoid that even if we get climate change under control. Ditto human population. It now seems clear that solar power technology will drop well below fossil fuel costs (even ignoring the imbalance in externalities and subsidies) over the next few decades. However, a switchover to solar power would also require improvements to power distribution (which will require political will) or storage (which will require technological breakthroughs). I see very little evidence of political will. Thus, to me it all comes down to 'batteries'. If we develop ways to store energy roughly four times as quickly and compactly in the next decade or so then there will be a 'sea change' away from fossil fuel power to solar. If not we'll continue on as we have been for another thirty years or more and things will eventually get very bad indeed. Obviously Bern's 'global CO2 scrubbers' or some other technological breakthrough could also change the game, but solar and batteries are the current front-runners in my mind.
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  7. caerbannog - Very clear work. As Tom Curtis said, not surprising if you understand the data, but very clear for those who don't. Regarding high latitude stations appearing closer, you might want to look at the very simple boxing procedure used by Hansen and Lebedeff 1987 (Fig. 2), where they used larger longitude ranges at higher latitudes to keep the enclosed areas similar - 16 longitude boxes at the equator, 4 near the poles, for 80 different regions.
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  8. Sapient Fridge - Plants as CO2 absorbers? Unfortunately, plants tend to grow then decay, releasing CO2 back into the atmosphere. This is seen in the annual CO2 cycle. If we had plants that created coal as an output, or in some other fashion sequestered the CO2 for the long term, that would be great. But barring some serious genetic work, I cannot see that happening...
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  9. About the Issue of the Week: Not optimistic at all. Actually, I would be really surprised if there were any effective international mitigation agreement in the next few years. Anthropogenic PETM, here we come!
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  10. Speaking of plants… “Which plants will survive droughts, climate change?,” UCLA Newsroom, April 5, 2012 To access this news release, click here
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  11. Everything is a lesson. Lessons not learned will be repeated.
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  12. SkS should be looking at the science, rather than doing science by cartoon. Re: the cartoon with the caption "Evidence is that increased extreme weather is due to climate change" --- it's a cute cartoon, but the message is incorrect. It's not clear who is supposed to be inside the "anti-science bunker". Perhaps it is Joe Romm or the IPCC since the latest IPCC SREX report says in section Attribution of Impacts to Climate Change:Observations and Limitations, "There is medium evidence and high agreement that long-term trends in normalized losses have not been attributed to natural or nthropogenic climate change" And then goes on to say "The statement about the absence of trends in impacts attributable to natural or anthropogenic climate change holds for tropical and extratropical storms and tornados" and "The absence of an attributable climate change signal in losses also holds for flood losses" ------ There is a difference between peer reviewed studies of extreme weather and sensational newspaper reports. IPCC SREX looked at the actual scientific literature.
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    Moderator Response: [JH] My God man, lighten up!
  13. "How optimistic are you that the human race will get its act together in time to stave off catastrophic climate change?" It is difficult to argue that the scientific case, apart from crossing a few ‘t’s and dotting a few ‘i’s, is as good as settled. That means that we as a species know that climate change is going to be a major issue for coming generations with the high probability that a great many are going to die from its effects. Yet even intelligent people with children and grandchildren who will likely suffer badly prefer the 'business as usual' scenario to facing the facts staring them in the face. The less intelligent will just agree what these opinion formers say and support such action or inaction they recommend. With the above in mind, I have absolutely no confidence whatsoever that we stand any chance of combating climate change, other than what will result from the efforts that will be made when it becomes impossible to ignore. Unfortunately by then positive feedbacks will have kicked in - if they have not done so already - and so it will be far too late. "Told you so!" will be very small compensation. I am also only too aware that if Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan makes an appearance, it very likely will screw up things completely anyway. In truth, the only reason I keep on fighting is that I want to see all the people that have used (abused?) their positions of influence to put the human species, and with it my children and grandchildren, in this perilous circumstance face a court of law, preferably in The Hague, and be given long custodial sentences ('throwing away the key' length). While I probably may not live to see it, I sincerely hope that they do.
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  14. "How optimistic are you that the human race will get its act together in time to stave off catastrophic climate change?" At some stage China is going to understand the importance of doing something serious about carbon emissions. When that happens it will use its economic and diplomatic clout to push its trading partners and neighbors to shoulder their fair share of the burden (or China's perception of their fair share). How far down the track we will be before that happens I don't know.
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  15. #12 - interesting that in the same paragraph of the report we have:
    There is high confidence, based on high agreement and medium evidence, that economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters have increased (Cutter and Emrich, 2005; Peduzzi et al., 2009, 2011; UNISDR, 2009; Mechler and Kundzewicz, 2010; Swiss Re 2010; Munich Re, 2011).
    There is then a significant discussion of the confounding factors as well as increased exposure to losses which prevents a discernible climate signal in normalised losses. That you chose normalised losses is the problem here. You have selected the most challenging metric (for attainment of statistical significance) with which to criticise the cartoon, and as we'll see below, missed the mark anyway. The cartoon comment is about actual increased extreme weather and not normalised losses, so the cartoon is fairly accurate. Chapter 3 of the IPCC SREX report is the one you need to look at if you wish to criticise the cartoon. Here, we have:
    In many (but not all) regions with sufficient data there is medium confidence that the number of warm spells or heat waves has increased since the middle of the 20th century (Table 3-2).
    and a more extensive quote from 3.3.1:
    The AR4 (Hegerl et al., 2007) concluded that surface temperature extremes have likely been affected by anthropogenic forcing. This assessment was based on multiple lines of evidence of temperature extremes at the global scale including the reported increase in the number of warm extremes and decrease in the number of cold extremes at that scale (Alexander et al., 2006). Hegerl et al. (2007) also state that anthropogenic forcing may have substantially increased the risk of extreme temperatures (Christidis et al., 2005) and of the 2003 European heat wave (Stott et al., 2004).
    On precipitation (3.3.2):
    Based on evidence from new studies and those used in the AR4, there is medium confidence that anthropogenic influence has contributed to intensification of extreme precipitation at the global scale.
    Readers are left to decide for themselves if they still think the IPCC should be inside or outside the bunker in the cartoon...
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  16. How optimistic are you that the human race will get its act together in time to stave off catastrophic climate change?
    Those readers who have followed my comments here and elsewhere for the last few years will know that I have been growing ever more pessimistic. Over the last few weeks I have reached the conclusion that humanity will not solve the carbon emissions problem, and that barring global pandemic and/or major global warfare, we will eventually burn as much of the fossil carbon accessible to us as we are able. Nuclear technology will not help, nor will other imagined technological fixes. The laws of thermodynamics preclude what is essentially a magical skipping over both the amount of energy that we have access to, and the pushing against entropy that would be required for high technologies to operate. Just go to the IPCC's worst case scenarios, and one will see what the most likely future is for the planet. Barring a political miracle, all the rest is arrant optimistic fluff.
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  17. Further, as an antipodean, I would appreciate maps of station sites that show the entire globe, and not just the North Atlantic and surrounding lands.
    OK, I don't want anyone to accuse me of being a dogmatic Northern Hemisphericist.... ;) So for all the good folks down under, here ya go: For what it's worth, feel free to pass the material that I've posted here around to friends/relatives/co-workers/etc... -- I hit one of my "fence sitting" relatives with it a couple of days ago, and it seemed to make a real impression on her. The fancy Google Earth "eye candy" does seem to help drive home the message.
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  18. @#15 Skywatcher -- I agree that there is indeed an upward trend in weather and climate related losses. This is to be expected as the population and economy expand. Normalization of the losses is an attempt to extract the underlying trend, if any, in climate. Of course looking directly at weather and climate statistics is a more reliable way to determine trends in climate. There is no trend in tornadoes (which is the extreme weather depicted in the cartoon), except for the increase in observed weaker tornadoes. This is to be expected as the observation network has changed dramatically with the installation of a doppler radar system across the USA. There is no trend in the stonger (EF3 and above) tornadoes, for which there is a more reliable record. Similarly, there is no trend in hurricanes, once the change in observation systems is taken into account (early records are land based and occasional ship reports. Then airplanes were used to observe known systems, and then finally satellite monitoring started.) A recent paper gives more details, with the conclusion of "Our analysis does not indicate significant long-period global or individual basin trends in the frequency or intensity of landfalling TCs of minor or major hurricane strength. This evidence provides strong support for the conclusion that increasing damage around the world during the past several decades can be explained entirely by increasing wealth in locations prone to TC landfalls, which adds confidence to the fidelity of economic normalization analyses." Historical global tropical cyclone landfalls, Journal of Climate. And yes, there has been observed trends in temperature extremes, although not nearly as strong as many claim, because daily temperature distributions are significantly non-normal. Trends in extreme precipitation events, are currently a subject of investigation and debate.
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    Moderator Response: [JH} With all due respect, I believe that you are taking the cartoon way too literally. There is nothing to indicate that Tooles meant the cartoon to reflect today's conditions. When I looked at it for the first time, I projected the scene to be occurring in 2050.
  19. "If we had plants that created coal as an output, or in some other fashion sequestered the CO2 for the long term, that would be great..." We have those plants. They are called trees. The output is wood. Why not grow more trees and sequester more carbon in wooden structures? When wooden structures reach the end of their lives, why not recycle the wood, perhaps as a biofuel?
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  20. #18, you're trying to distract from the fact that your original comment and snide dig at SkS, IPCC and Joe Romm is incorrect. The cartoon does not mention losses, normalised or otherwise, it mentions "increased extreme weather". The best evidence we have, summarised by IPCC, also in numerous posts here, such as this one on Hansen et al 2011 is that actual extremes are increasing, both of temperature and precipitation. I don't suppose you'll be honourable enough to retract your snide comment at #12? Discussion of hurricanes and tornadoes here is an off-topic distraction, also these events are less important to the majority of world population that does not live in the path of these particular flavours of extreme weather - floods and droughts are much more globally relevant.
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  21. How optimistic are you that the human race will get its act together in time to stave off catastrophic climate change?
    Nothing will be done until the momentum of public opinion is sufficient to overcome the inertia of vested interests, both political and commercial. The inherent difficulty in developing a velocity in public opinion through education (by definition, half the population has below average capability of understanding the problem) means that it will likely be a long time before the (velocity * mass) of public opinion reaches the critical momentum. The only hope for a swift change in public opinion lies in the occurrence of a crisis so great that everyone can see and interpret the evidence. Failing such a crisis, I have no expectation that opinion leaders will allow public perception to be led in a direction that would mandate prudent and timely action. Without such action, climate change is likely to adversely impact the ability of humanity to maintain its current level of societal sophistication. Whether this would be classed as a catastrophe is subjective. If a large fraction of our species was to die off and a large fraction of our current technology was to become unsupportable, I would class this as a catastrophe. YMMV.
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  22. Please, can Caerbannog's posts here be reposted as a separate and distinct thread? The elegance deserves it's own platform here.
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  23. Alces - "We have those plants. They are called trees. The output is wood. Why not grow more trees and sequester more carbon in wooden structures? When wooden structures reach the end of their lives, why not recycle the wood, perhaps as a biofuel?" Because when they get used as biofuel, or the trees otherwise decay, the carbon goes right back into the atmosphere. True sequestration will require keeping that carbon locked away (as coal, oil, and natural gas did) for tens of thousands of years while the carbon cycle and silicate weathering absorb the pulse of carbon we have released. That sequestration requires an increase of long term carbon mass kept from the atmosphere - at this point we simply don't have enough land area (even if, say, we stopped growing lower carbon density food) for high density forests sufficient to pull our current CO2 overburden out of the atmosphere.
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  24. Alces, Please reference my napkin calculations here, where I conclude that:
    we would need to plant, today, redwood forests on at least 75% of all arable/agricultural land, and to allow them to grow for 100 years, before they successfully drew enough carbon (337 Gt) from the system to lower atmospheric CO2 levels back to the pre-industrial age... ...with only 25% of the agricultural land available after starting the "great carbon absorption" forests, we'll only be able to feed 25% of the 7 billion people currently alive.
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  25. Charlie A: I'm sure you've been constantly pushing that same stark choice over at websites such as WattsUpWithTthat and Bishop Hill when they engage in the same, right? Right? In any event, why you can't be bothered, in your criticism of this cartoon, to acknowledge the multitudes of other articles here on SkepticalScience which thoroughly discuss the scientific literature? I trust the false dichotomy you present is just an error. Right?
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  26. Charlie A: "Toons of the Week" are chosen for their ability to make people laugh and/or cry as the case may be. They should not be, an indeed cannot be, equated to a an article based upon peer-reviewed science. You have made your point about this particlur cartoon so let's move on.
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  27. Charlie A: For the record, I accorded a "Hat Tip" to Joe Romm for this particular cartoon because he had posted it first. My H/T does not have anythiong to do with the Romm article that you have found fault with. If you want to critque Romm's article, you can do so directly on his website.
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  28. KR and Sphaerica - Carbon sequestration in wood products obviously isn't the final solution, but it can be a significant factor in mitigation efforts. Arguing that sequestration for the lifetime of wood frame houses is useless because it is shorter than thousands of years seems akin to saying that Canada may as well not make any effort because of China's emissions. An important point is the avoidance of fossil fuels in production of steel or concrete buildings, as pointed out by the IPCC.
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  29. Just for fun, I thought that I'd "take it to the next level" with respect to computing global-average temps from the minimum number of rural temperature stations. Set up a couple of processing runs with just 8 and then just 4 rural stations -- corresponding to 90deg(lat)x90deg(long) and 90deg(lat)x180deg(long) global grid sizes, respectively. As you can see, the global-warming signal begins to emerge from the noise with data from as few as 4 to 8 stations. In statistical detection theory, the proper technical term for this level of signal detection performance is "Slam-Dunk". And yes, skeptics, before you ask -- I used raw data.
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  30. caerbannog, while your 'Sparse Stations Index' presents a solid case I doubt it will sway most skeptics. The relative who seemed impressed presumably trusts you to be honestly representing the data... the majority of 'skeptics' don't have that personal connection and have long since adopted a stance of holding that all data disproving their views must be 'faked'. Further, I suspect that a similar, though actually biased, approach could be taken by 'skeptics' to show a very different result. Your 'longest record' methodology would effectively result in the trend for each station being randomly selected. What would happen if someone instead took the station with the lowest trend in each of the four regions and averaged those together? It would probably show slight cooling over the period, and certainly wouldn't line up with the GISS results at all. That said, there should be some fraction of the total data set where even taking only the stations with the lowest trends would match GISS fairly well... as the few outliers would be averaged out by the vast majority of stations roughly in line with the global trend. Your approach is a solid refutation that any reasonable person would accept... but if 'skeptics' were reasonable they'd have accepted the countless previous analyses showing irrefutable warming.
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  31. caerbannog, while your 'Sparse Stations Index' presents a solid case I doubt it will sway most skeptics. The relative who seemed impressed presumably trusts you to be honestly representing the data...
    My goal isn't so much to convince die-hard skeptics as it is to undermine them. What I'm trying to do is put together easy-to-understand, easy-to-visualize arguments that show "reachable" people how completely unreasonable and untrustworthy AGW-skeptic claims are. So to that end, I've been trying to "pass out the ammo". Don't know how effective this approach really is, but I figure that it can't hurt.
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