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Climate Hustle

The Climate Show Episode 8: Kevin Trenberth

Posted on 6 March 2011 by John Cook

The Climate Show have released Episode 8 featuring an interview with one of the most prominent climate scientists in the world, Kevin Trenberth. The guys were so excited about the interview, they even tweeted a short teaser audio file before publishing the full podcast. I talk about the most common misconceptions to do with "hide the decline" and also plug the http://sks.to short URLs.

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Comments 1 to 31:

  1. I watched the entire show, it is very good, and it was a pleasure to see and hear some of the people I have been reading about lately.

    John Cook's explanation of the misuse of the term "hide the decline" was concise and clear, and I wonder if stevee (Post #1, possibly already deleted) even bothered to watch it before posting his reaction to seeing the name "Trenberth" in the tile.

    My thanks to the people who provide this site, and also to the many contributors who take on the thankless task of responding to the endless stream of willful deniers. I understand questioning the science, in order to deepen understanding, but I am tired of the stream of people who treat it like a rhetorical game, in which debating points can be scored by clever misinterpretation and a degree of facility with scientific terminology.
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  2. I am very much looking forward to listening to this episode.
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  3. Gareth messed up the information on carbon balance when discussing the carbon that will be released from melting permafrost. We don't have to "suck carbon out of the atmosphere" to reduce carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. The various carbon sinks, the oceans, soils, and vegetation, are currently taking over half of the carbon from fossil fuels and deforestation...

    If we reduce fossil fuel emissions 60-80%, then carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere will begin to drop. We do NOT have to begin removing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere using a human installed process to get declines in CO2 concentrations. We do not have to get to below zero fossil fuel carbon emissions, as he stated later in this Climate Show.
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    Moderator Response: [Daniel Bailey] Tom Wigley covered that very topic over at Brave New Climate, here. Note that in Tom's study, global zero CO2 emissions are not achieved until 2050, but then held there indefinitely once achieved. Also, AR4 assumptions are used for Ice Sheet melt (and thus are obsolete). And finally note that, even holding global emissions to zero, it will then take over 100 years for concentration levels to drop below 350 (considered the "safe" maximum limit).
  4. I've really gotta set aside the time to watch these... Although 70 spare minutes is hard to come by with a 5-month-old in the house!
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    Response: I'm learning to find little pockets of time to listen to the long TCS episodes - while exercising, driving, doing household chores, the mowing, etc. There's just so much info packed in an hour or so, it's worth the trouble to find a way to shoehorn it into the schedule.
  5. zinfan94 - I understand the majority of that CO2 absorption is going into the oceans. As warming continues, that particular sink will decline, and possibly reverse, so we may not be able to rely on natural processes to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere.

    Although the required scale of industrial plants capable of sequestering billions of tons of CO2 each year is pretty concerning... are there industrial processes capable of cracking that CO2 back into C + O2? It'd be a lot easier to sequester solid briquettes of C (plenty of open cut mines to backfill, or even dump them on the seabed) rather than liquid or gaseous CO2...
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  6. @Bern: the scale of the proposed carbon capture plants is indeed immense - each plant is about 30-50% of the size of the source coal (or gas) fired power plants. Then there is the volume of recovered CO2 to consider - think of burying one Lake Michigan every year !

    Forget about capturing CO2 directly from the atmosphere: capturing CO2 from flue gas (10-15% by volume) is hard enough - capturing it from the atmosphere at 0.0390 % is completely uneconomic, taking more energy than you get from burning the fossil fuels in the first place. Entropy is against you.

    Also forget about converting pure CO2 back into C + O2. Also takes more energy than you get from burning it in the first place (again, Entropy, but slightly different).
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  7. Chemware - yes, I'm well aware of the energy costs - I would expect the capturing & cracking to be powered by nuclear or solar means (I seem to recall watching a video of a concentrator dish that was used in experiments to crack CO2).

    I completely agree that the carbon capture & storage (CCS) is a fool's errand that will consume enormous resources (both in money and engineering resources) that would be better spent on developing alternative energy supplies.

    After all, a reduction of, say, 10% emissions now (due to CCS) might cost as much as developing alternate energy sources that can cut emissions by 90% in the near future. It seems that, given limited funds, we should take the longer-term view - especially as, after spending the money on CCS, we'd then need to spend it *again* on the alternate sources anyway...
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  8. I forgot to add - I'm not talking about plants to capture CO2 from fossil fuel burning - I'm talking about plants to capture CO2 from the atmosphere to reduce concentrations to a "safe" level.
    Perhaps enormous factory ships, sitting in the relatively calm & sunny equatorial waters? Capture the CO2, crack it in solar furnaces, compress to briquettes of carbon, and dump overboard to the deep ocean...
    How long would it stay there, though? Would, say, briquettes of graphite be gobbled up by some bottom-dwelling bacterium, and turned back into methane or CO2? And if it was, how long would it take that gas to make it back to the surface from the abyssal waters?
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  9. Bern: “I'm talking about plants to capture CO2 from the atmosphere to reduce concentrations to a "safe" level.”

    Bern, of course, is talking about industrial plants. Living biological plants do this all the time; it’s where the fossil fuels came from originally. Might we someday genetically engineer some super microbe to accomplish the desired task? Hopefully it won’t entail covering our oceans in a green slime.
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  10. The problem with 'super microbes' is that they're very hard to turn off when you've reached your target CO2 concentration, whereas industrial plants you just flick the switch...

    Well, I stayed up well past my bedtime to watch/listen to the show, and it was well worth it, thanks.

    I did note with interest, however, the discussion of the new process for capturing atmospheric CO2 using a solid amine structure, with low temperature release. This sounds ideal for a solar-powered carbon capture factory (in fact the New Scientist article quotes a figure of perhaps a million tons per day from a commercial plant - that's almost enough to capture the entire CO2 emissions from Australia, from just one plant!)
    The other part of the equation would then be doing something with that CO2. There are solar thermal methods to combine it with H2O to form CO + H2 + O2, to give a hydrogen feed, and the CO can be further fed into other processes to produce hydrocarbon fuels.
    But if the aim is to sequester the carbon, you'll still need to find something to do with the CO or subsequent hydrocarbons. It would be somewhat ironic if we ended up synthesising heavy oils, only to pump them deep underground into deplete oil reservoirs...
    Expensive? Sure. But what adaptation measure isn't?
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  11. Has it been determined, scientifically, if the ClimateGate (Hide the Decline) emails were hacked, or leaked ?
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    Moderator Response: [muoncounter] There are a variety of existing ClimateGate threads. Try the Search function.
  12. Stevee: Has it been determined, scientifically, if the ClimateGate (Hide the Decline) emails were hacked, or leaked ?

    I doubt they were leaked but it has been scientifically determined that they were deliberately misrepresented.
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  13. stevee - what has your comment got to do with the topic? This is a site to discuss the science of global warming - plenty of other places for raves about it. Since you are obviously skeptical, why dont you pick the argument against (one per post), that you find most convincing, look at up in the "Arguments" list, and then tell us why you think the debunk is wrong.
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  14. It sounds like the science is "Mixed" on hacking or leaking....so are those that insist on hacking then "deniers" ?

    If they were leaked then that would be a team member who for whatever reason didn't like what was going on. The topic is HidetheDecline, thus the source is part of the topic.
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    Moderator Response: [muoncounter] Perhaps you should listen to the show; there are many topics. The flap over "ClimateGate" has a number of existing threads.
  15. This is polemic not science.

    How about actually asking Trenberth what he meant by the 'Travesty'?

    How about asking him why there is so much difference from Trenberth 97 to Trenberth 2009 energy budget?

    How about asking him about certainty of AGW when the measurements of solar, albedo, and output LW are all greater than CO2 forcing?

    These are science questions but not asked here.

    And "Turn around the null hypothesis?"

    Great advancement for science.
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  16. ClimateWatcher... Trenberth meant that it's a travesty that we can't adequately track the heat energy in the climate system. We need better systems for understanding and tracking where the heat energy moves around the planet. That's very clear if you actually read his emails and his research. The "travesty" is clearly spelled out in his papers.

    Difference between 1997 and 2009? How about 12 additional years of intensive research. Science advances to create better understanding.

    In this interview he clearly says the IPCC states that the anthropogenic nature of warming is "unequivocal." He is obviously in agreement with this statement.

    Do you understand what he's saying about "turning around the null hypothesis?" He means it is clearly shown by the research that we are warming the planet. The evidence is overwhelming. It is up to the skeptics now to prove otherwise.
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  17. stevee @ 11... Do you understand how small the CRU is?
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  18. ClimateWatcher #15 said

    How about asking him about certainty of AGW when the measurements of solar, albedo, and output LW are all greater than CO2 forcing?

    Excuse me?

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  19. @14. What's your point stevee? I don't think it ultimately matters if they were hacked or leaked, though hacking seems far more probable as it is known that they were downloaded from a backup server - hardly the way your average "leaker" would obtain them.

    In any case, none of it changes the fact that the explanation for the "hide the decline" email has not even a whiff of conspiracy about it (other than to the woefully misinformed). Nor that the "decline" is not, and never has been, a scientific secret to anyone.
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  20. #18 Alexandre, the errors of measurement ( as reflected by the range of published values ) of outgoing longwave and alebdo are each greater than the ~3W/m^2 modeled for CO2 doubling. The uncertainty of one quarter of Solar radiance is less but still large 1 W/m^2.

    Trenberth knows this - it is the travesty and it is borne out by his '97 and '09 papers which vary greatly, much more greatly than the 0.9 W/m^2 imbalance proclaimed by the '09 paper.

    CO2 should be causing a forcing, but we don't know this from observation because the measurements lack both the precision and accuracy.

    At its core, AGW theory is that outgoing IR will be reduced until the earth heats up and again balances output with input.

    But our measurements don't even reflect this. The outgoing longwave actually shows an increasing trend:


    Undoubtedly there are problems with the measurements ( all the NOAA satellite data series strung together with orbital issues, etc. ) But that's what the measurements indicate.

    Greater problems exist with albedo. Particularly since albedo has directional components and variation. Ranges of about 8W/m^2 exist in published estimations of what albedo is today and no one knows how albedo may have varied over the past.

    CO2 should cause warming, but we do not know this from observation of the energy balance.
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  21. #16. Trenberth meant that it's a travesty that we can't adequately track the heat energy in the climate system.

    Right. That means we cannot ascribe the observed warming to anything because the current budget cannot account for where the energy is going.

    Difference between 1997 and 2009? How about 12 additional years of intensive research. Science advances to create better understanding.

    Unfortunately, the numbers from '09 are significantly different from numbers in IPCC scenarios and a host of other published papers.

    Do you understand what he's saying about "turning around the null hypothesis?" He means it is clearly shown by the research that we are warming the planet. The evidence is overwhelming.

    No.

    AGW theory postulates that output will decline until surface warming boosts output back to match input.

    We don't know the input.
    We don't know the output.
    Therefore, we don't know if the theory is correct.
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  22. ClimateWatcher #21

    You implied something diferent in your question:

    the measurements of solar, albedo, and output LW are all greater than CO2 forcing

    Now you say that it's the uncertainty ranges that still leave room for doubt.

    Please provide the references for those uncertainties (I'm not saying they're not true, I just want to discuss it based on facts).

    But picking the far end of ranges to construct some doubt is very different from "measurements of solar, albedo and OLR being greater than CO2 forcing".
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  23. ClimateWatcher said... "Right. That means we cannot ascribe the observed warming to anything because the current budget cannot account for where the energy is going."

    Where do you get that? Have you read Trenberth's papers on this issue?
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  24. #22

    I posted some graphics of the the numbers I was looking at here:

    http://climatewatcher.blogspot.com/

    Click on the images for a better view.

    Notice for the Solar output numbers vary from 1361 W/m^2 from the latest SORCE measurements to 1367W/m^2 used in the NASA GISS models. It's really only one quarter of this value times albedo that matters so the uncertainty is not so bad for Solar output.

    But next notice the Albedo values. The range is from ~29% (from the numbers in the Trenberth papers) to more than 33% from the NASA model. Multiply those values by an average Solar load and by one fourth and you get a range of forcing in excess of 8W/m^2. Then reflect that the forcing of CO2 doubling is a little more than 3W/m^2 and you can see that the unknown exceeds the signal we are looking for. And that's just for a current estimate. There is no good way to even begin to estimate what albedo was a hundred years ago and how it may have changed.

    Lastly notice the outgoing infrared (longwave) radiation. The GISS model indicates a decreasing trend while the NOAA satellite data actually indicate an increasing trend. The values range from about 231 to 239 W/m^2, again about 8W/m^2.

    Only one of these data sets or values used may be right but it may be that all of them are wrong.

    The numbers come from:

    www.cgd.ucar.edu/cas/Trenberth/trenberth.papers/TFK_bams09.pdf
    http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/cas/Trenberth/trenberth.papers/10.1175_2008BAMS2634.1.pdf
    http://www.giss.nasa.gov/tools/modelE/
    http://lasp.colorado.edu/sorce/index.htm
    http://climexp.knmi.nl/selectfield_obs.cgi?someone@somewhere
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  25. ClimateWatcher #24

    Have you noticed the references to Trenberth's recent work discuss the differences to his earlier '97 paper?

    About TSI differences: the absolute amount of solar irradiance may have a larger uncertainty due to differences from sattellite to sattellite. But the TSI variation have a much narrower uncertainty, and that already allows us to rule out the "warming caused by the sun" hypothesis with a lot of certainty.

    I don't know much about albedo changes, and I would not pull the D-K card here. Please don't do that yourself either.
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  26. Alexadre,

    No one knows what the albedo is much less was.

    The entire signal of a CO2 doubling can submerge within the fuzzy noise of the albedo uncertainty or within the uncertainty of outgoing radiation.

    That does not mean CO2 forcing doesn't exist, just that we cannot measure it.
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  27. ClimateWatcher

    Again there's the stretching of "known uncertainties" into "we don't know anything".

    I'm no expert, but I'm willing to go on with the debate - I can learn in the process, too. But I don't think it makes sense to continue it here. Now it's more a "it's the albedo" argument than anything about Trenberth's interview.
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  28. That does not mean CO2 forcing doesn't exist, just that we cannot measure it. Pardon? For a CO2 forcing, you certainly can - but you have to look at the spectral data.
    See the papers at There's no empirical evidence. As to average OLR - that's interesting enough to ask the modellers, but as Huang and Ramanswamy show, there is not a straightforward relationship expected by the models.

    As to albedo - come on. We know albedo within limits of uncertainty and how variation in albedo operates in W/m2 as forcing is covered in IPCC report.

    These argument sound like excuses for no action rather a response to the science.
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  29. I asked about the OLR "trend" in NOOA data.

    Gavin Schmidt's response:
    "it's almost certainly from the NCEP reanalysis. The trends are corrupted by changes in the observing network and uncorrected biases in obs make these trends not robust and untrustworthy. If you look at the ERA interim, I'm sure it would look very different."

    Note exactly the first time there has been issues with NCEP reanalysis trends that arent.

    While I note papers using the OLR from ERA-interim (eg Claudio Belotti, Richard Bantges and John Harries), I cant actually find the data so maybe not released yet. Anyone know better?
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  30. There is no way to compare what would happen without Anthrogenic green house gases to with as all the significant data gathering happened well after the start. So no baseline possible.
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  31. cloa513... You clearly do not understand what a baseline is. A baseline is merely a base point to measure an anomaly from. It's really quite irrelevant.
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