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Andrew Dessler: clouds don't reflect light

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The consensus scientists and Greenpeace members who believe that the judgement day is approaching were not pleased by the publication of a paper by Spencer and Braswell (see a TRF discussion on forcings and feedbacks). In fact, they forced the editor of the journal to resign.

By the way, Mr Alexander Ač of Czech Globe, an ex-student of beetle copulation in the meadows, told us in the fast comments that he has just sent his new paper to the very same journal, Remote Sensing. Good luck! I am sure that his chances to get through are much higher than the chances of any denier. :-)

According to the climate deniers, clouds are white.

The concerned scientists have agreed that Spencer's and Braswell's paper was heretical and inconvenient, and therefore completely wrong and unimportant. But they asked each other: how can we prove to the scientific public (and the broader public) that the paper is wrong and unimportant?

Well, it's easy. The 2,500 best climate scientists in the IPCC, James Hansen, John Holdren, Rajendra Pachauri, and Al Gore gathered at an undisclosed exotic location and they negotiated about the optimum way to show that the paper by Spencer and Braswell was unimportant and not even a mosquito would wake up because of this unimportant paper.

Finally, they found the answer: they decided to publish their own paper, one that rejects the basic assumptions of Spencer and Braswell. And they agreed (and announced in the world's most important news outlet, The Daily Climate) that the paper should be published much more quickly than any other paper – they should circumvent the usual multi-month delays – because it was totally urgent and critical for the survival of life on Earth to show that Spencer's and Braswell's paper was totally unimportant. :-)

What is the basic assumption that has to be denied? Braswell's and Spencer's paper may be a somewhat boring, technical continuation of their previous work and the work of others. But it surely assumes that the low-lying clouds reflect the solar radiation which cools the surface beneath the clouds; and the reflection of clouds in different contexts may cause other changes of the energy flows. So the only thing that the IPCC needs to do in order to debunk the heretical paper is to publish a paper claiming that the clouds don't reflect any sunlight! It's so easy. If you publish it, you get 2,500 best scientists who will agree that it's been added to the Holy Scripture and the deniers are screwed.

And indeed, within a few weeks, which is the shortest period in the history of science (see Anthony Watts' comments on the speed and the article itself), a competing paper by Andrew Dessler was written, approved, and published in Geophysical Research Letters:
Cloud variations and the Earth's energy budget (abstract)

Full paper on Dessler's server (Andrew Dessler offers the pre-press PDF file to the whole world for free)

Hollywood version of the paper shot by Dessler himself ;-)

Press release that Dessler made published through his university

NSF grant AGS-1012665, $150,000 for 2 years (plus his ordinary $118,000 annual salary!), acknowledged in the paper: "The work has broader impacts due to the importance of cloud feedbacks as a source of uncertainty in climate model projections of the extent to which the Earth's temperature will increase due to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations." Dear U.S. taxpayer, if you're so slow while watching your wallet, don't complain when you get robbed by a cheap trick! ;-)
To make sure that the appropriate part of the audience, as defined by its IQ, understands what the paper wants to say, the journal offers an abstract of the abstract, the so-called "key points":
Key Points:

Clouds are not causing climate change
Observations are not in disagreement with models on this point
Previous work on this is flawed
The last two points say "the catastrophic models are holy, amen" and "Spencer and Braswell are heretics". What about the first point? You see, Dessler says that clouds are not causing climate change. They can't possibly change the temperature on Earth, we're told.

Those children who feel that it becomes colder when the sky gets cloudy are climate deniers. No doubt, the parents of such children must be consuming fossil fuels and maybe some of them even directly breath CO2 out.

If you have any doubts that Andrew Dessler is denying the very statement that clouds reflect some solar radiation, look at the second sentence of his longer abstract:
An energy budget calculation shows that the energy trapped by clouds accounts for little of the observed climate variations.
So in Dessler's opinion, if the clouds were relevant for the observed climate variations, they would have to trap (absorb and store) the energy. The idea that clouds could also influence the flows of energy by reflecting the sunlight is a complete blasphemy from his viewpoint.

If you read the whole paper (on Dessler's server), you will indeed fail to find any comment on the reflection of sunlight (fruitlessly try to search for "reflect" or "albedo" in the PDF file!) which is how the clouds guarantee that a part of the heat actually doesn't get trapped in the ocean or elsewhere. Instead, much of the paper is filled with obnoxiously arrogantly formulated crackpot opinions that such an influence of clouds on the heat content would "contradict the energy conservation"! I kid you not. Reflection conserves energy beautifully, thank you for asking. A photon of energy E comes in and a photon of energy E comes out.

Dessler is writing another paper arguing that you can only see yourself in the mirror if you first clone your body and thus double your family's CO2 emissions. Reflection is a myth promoted by the deniers, he assures us.

The third and last sentence of Dessler's longer abstract is also utterly stupid:
And observations of the lagged response of top-of-atmosphere (TOA) energy fluxes to surface temperature variations are not evidence that clouds are causing climate change.
Note that it doesn't even try to suggest how Braswell's and Spencer's test could possibly "fail to be" evidence against the models. Dessler doesn't offer any argument because there aren't any. The only thing that the alarmists consider relevant is to get a preposterous proposition like this published.

Spencer and Braswell have calculated the slope of the linear regression relating surface warming (of the oceans) and energy fluxes at the top-of-atmosphere as a function of the lag (separation in time). Those things may be calculated from a model or a theory; and those things may also be measured. If these graphs show a big disagreement, and they do (many quantities are incorrectly predicted by a factor of 3 or more and the shapes just don't match), it simply falsifies the theory or the model. When a "model" is at stake, warmist bigots consider such a conclusion unacceptable.

In fact, tests such as those made by Spencer and Braswell – and by Lindzen and Choi – are almost certainly enough to exclude pretty much all models that deny that the cloud cover is an independent degree of freedom that may influence the temperatures on Earth.

The only thing that Dessler has managed to do in his paper – aside from idiotic proclamations that reflection violates the energy conservation – was to reproduce the main claim by Spencer and Braswell that models are incompatible with the observations. Here is the final figure, Dessler's Figure 2, which confirms that models heavily disagree with the observations:

Figure 2 from Dessler's paper. A flux-vs-temperature slope as a function of the lag. The black lines are the individual models, the blue lines are SB11, the red lines are Dessler's slopes obtained by replacing HadCRUT3 (the gold standard preferred by the IPCC's consensus) by GISTEMP (not-so-gold-standard) as the source of the temperature data (he uses the same flux data) and by mixing these temperature data with some MERRA, ERA-Interim sources in some unreadable ways (obviously designed to reduce the discrepancy, at least a little bit). You see that the models still vastly underestimate the slopes (even the red ones) i.e. they overestimate the sensitivity. Dessler makes a big deal out of the reduced discrepancy between the observation and some models which is "only" 50% in one or two cases. Well, they're almost certainly the models that predict a sensitivity/warming below 2° C and are ignored as being "outliers". What's important is that the "bulk of the models" – which is what the IPCC predictions are building upon – has been falsified by Spencer and Braswell and Dessler has just confirmed the falsification. He didn't find any defensible mistake in the SB11 paper, reproduced the results, and then wrote that what he sees on his own pictures doesn't exist. One of the extra things Dessler says is that the disagreement doesn't matter because it's "only" El Niño and La Niña that the models failed to reproduce. Even if this statement were right (and he hasn't offered any tangible evidence), it's still completely irrelevant. The climate models obviously have to get the ENSO dynamics roughly right, much like everything else, because ENSO does help to decide about the changes to the global mean temperature, too. So how could ENSO failures (even if one could show that the defect of the models is ENSO-related) be possibly "ignored"? ENSO-like processes are important among the H2O-related effects that determine whether the feedbacks are large, small, or negative, so your models surely can't model ENSO totally incorrectly.

I am not going to glorify or worship Spencer's and Braswell's paper too much: it is a good paper with genuine results but it is just another incremental step in their research, the kind of business-as-usual as it should look like in the climate science. It cannot be separated from the literature because the inconsistency of the models with similar observations has been kind of known for some time and Spencer+Braswell stand on the shoulder of other researchers, including themselves. But the reaction to their paper is just stunning and the replies are amazingly stupid.

The critics like to deny that the basic strategy used by Braswell and Spencer is legitimate. They deny that it is allowed to test various predictions of the theories and models. To do so and to construct and promote their alternative descriptions, they also have to deny that clouds cool the surface because they reflect the sunlight.

Andrew Dessler tells you: forget about the blasphemous picture at the top. Clouds are black and they can only change the temperature by trapping heat. Much like everyone else, they can only influence the climate by making things worse (i.e. by improving the weather) and they can only act in this way if they're allowed to do so by carbon dioxide, and when they get the permission, they may only influence the climate by trapping heat. No carbon indulgences means no temperature change caused by clouds. Whoever disagrees with Dessler is a heretic, amen. It's published and the leading alarmists will surely agree with that which makes any disagreement illegitimate – in fact, it is dangerous.

Well, I am really amazed that people who have self-evidently no idea about physics – and about basic reality such as the impact of clouds on temperature – could have been accepted to the college: Dessler was allowed to study at Rice University. It's just utterly incredible how hollow skulls like his might have been accepted to a university.

Let me summarize the basic errors in Dessler's crackpot rants:
  • he incorrectly assumes that clouds have to "trap" heat if they want to influence the temperature; in reality, it's important that they reflect sunlight while their own heat capacity is small
  • he incorrectly assumes that the cloud cover at a given place isn't an independent degree of freedom; instead, it is a function of the carbon dioxide emissions; in reality, carbon dioxide is almost exactly irrelevant for the cloud cover at any place of the globe as well as the global average
  • he incorrectly assumes that clouds may only be influenced by other things, but can't influence other things themselves; in reality, the influences obviously go in both/all directions and influences in both directions are comparably important (similarly to coupled harmonic oscillators)
  • he incorrectly assumes that it is illegitimate to test the predicted correlations of various physical models by comparing the simulations with the observations; instead, he thinks that it is legitimate to hide his head into the sand and claim that there is nothing to be seen here
  • more generally, he seems to incorrectly assume that one may be a complete imbecile and zealot such as himself to write relevant papers about the energy flows in the atmosphere.
John Ray has picked a nice comment by "DN" at WUWT:
This is all part of the same pattern that has characterized the warmists’ approach to climate “science” since the last century. They come up with models and use these to produce predictions which are then baptized as sovereign truth. In real science, they would have been required to demonstrate the predictive validity of their models before their predictions would be granted any confidence – and when observations contradicted predictions, they would have been expected to revise their models instead of beating the data until it fit the model outputs. Instead, thanks to Algore, Hansen, left-wing politicians looking for regulatory and legislative mechanisms to control the polity and extract more tax dollars, and a compliant left-leaning media hungry for “imminent disaster” headlines, the burden of proof has been shifted to those who challenge the modellers instead of being left where it belongs: with the modellers who still have not demonstrated the validity of their models. I simply cannot believe we are still discussing a theory that, 20 years after it went mainstream, has yet to produce a single scrap of confirmatory empirical evidence.

The extent to which the AGW true believers have warped the scientific method to serve their pecuniary and political ends is simply breathtaking. Climate science represents the greatest perversion of the scientific method since the Enlightenment. It is phlogiston, phrenology, and Lysenkoism all rolled up into one big, fat, corrupt boil desperately in need of lancing.
I am afraid that if the resignation of Wolfgang Wagner, the editor of Remote Sensing, was a natural consequence of Spencer's and Braswell's paper, then the publication of Dessler's paper should lead to the resignation of the editor of Geophysical Research Letters, the president of the American Geophysical Union, impeachment of President Obama, and abolishing of the United Nations. And Dessler's governor Rick Perry should be allowed to hire 7 hot and young new female assistants for Dessler's salary and grants.

Bonus: the leader has read about the role of clouds, too, and he is a bit anxious about it

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snail feedback (3) :

reader AlCibiedes said...

I thought Dressler's Figure 2 was an escapee from Mumbai - it looks quite like a Higgs exclusion plot.

You don't seem to have read Dressler's paper very closely. If you had you would know that the "Abstract" you quoted from was not the one in the paper but (presumably) something concocted by the Remote Sensing staff.

You would also have noticed that (in HEP terms) Dressler actually found a 2-sigma level of agreement between the models he was examining and the observations in the point of interest (the magnitude and sign of the feedback loop involving the cloud cover). I don't see anything in the paper to suggest that Dressler is violating energy conservation. That seems to be all your deduction from the non-abstract.

As well-brought up physicists, we wouldn't be impressed by the climate modelling. So what's new?

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Alcibiedes,

people like you are known as trolls and it is really annoying if the only thing that similar people can do on the Internet is to spread lies, noise, and insults.

Every single sentence of your comment proves that you don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about. First, concerning the careful reading, you didn't even manage to figure out what's the name of the author of the paper we discuss here. I've carefully read the whole paper, despite your mean accusations. You haven't even read the name of the author.

So first, his name is Dessler, not Dressler, as you repeat a whopping four times in your comment. Are you illiterate?

Second, no one claimed that Dessler violated energy conservation in his equations. He didn't present any new equations whatsoever, so he couldn't violate any conservation laws. Instead, it was Dessler himself who claimed that Spencer and Braswell had violated the energy conservation. Just read the final paper before you go to spam the Internet with rubbish.

At the beginning of the paper, Dessler incredibly writes:

"This leads to the contradictory situation where heating of their climate system by the ocean (∆F (C(dT socean > 0) causes an increase of energy in the ocean /dt) > 0), apparently violating energy conservation. While it may be possible to define the terms so that Eq. 1 conserves energy, LC11 and SB11 do not provide
enough information to show that they have actually done so. However, to comprehensively evaluate the arguments of LC11 and SB11, I simply note this potential problem and assume in the rest of the paper that Eq. 1 is correct."

Needless to say, this is a complete nonsense. If the ocean dynamics leads to a higher cloud cover, it increases the albedo and more solar radiation is simply reflected. There's no loss of energy during reflection because the energy is simply redirected to outer space.

Also, it is preposterous for you to suggest that Dessler's figures show a "2 sigma agreement". By looking at his figures, one instantly sees a 4-6 sigma disagreement. Even the Real Climate faithful have been able to do this homework exercise, see e.g. comments 32, 35 on Real Climate.

I will ban you after you try to post another comment of a comparably lousy quality and integrity as your comment above.


reader Louis Hissink said...


I've always concluded that many of the climate scientists base their AGW idea on CO2 absorbing IR, like a kitchen sponge absorbs water, hence it "traps" heat as a sponge, liquid.

As climate science is a extension of geography (and which, human or physical), it comes as no surprise that they believe CO2 behaves like a sponge - since hardly no one in geography studies physics at an undergraduate level.