Monday, October 1, 2018

1/7 Map v Territory Problem, Statistical Certainty vs Geophysical Realities

Here I share the key excerpts from two previous articles that look at a couple climate science communication pitfalls that are important and need much more open discussion.  At least if we're concerned with translating science speak into regular people speak.  The "Map v Territory Problem' and 'Statistical Certainty vs Geophysical Realities.'

Exploring the Map v Territory Problem - via the Brown Ocean Effect and Dr. Trenberth

Colorado Floods - statistical certainty vs geophysical realities - 2013

Exploring the Map v Territory Problem - via the Brown Ocean Effect and Dr. Trenberth

On November 9th, 2017 Dr. Trenberth visited our local Fort Lewis College and was the featured speaker at an afternoon climate change symposium.  

A Distinguished Senior Scientist (in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research), he is a cartographer if you will.  His entire being is about getting the science, the models, the map, as close to representing reality as resources and ability allow.  This dedication has made him among the best in his field of climate studies.  

As a self-taught Earth and climate science enthusiast I’ve been familiar with his work for decades and have learned a great deal from his articles and in past years talks on YouTube and I was glad to finally have the chance to see and hear him in person. …

What struck me was that Trenberth didn’t mention the “Brown Ocean Effect” which is a fairly new, but fascinating and important observation based realization.  Also, it’s another sure indicator of a warming world.  

During the Q&A I had a chance to ask Dr.Trenberth, (58:00 video 3/3) 

“I’d like to bring it back to Hurricane Harvey, can you explain what the Brown Ocean Effect is and how it impacts landfall hurricanes such as Harvey?”

Dr. Trenberth responded,  “What, what is this?” and stopped.  He caught me by surprise, after a couple beats I collected my thoughts and responded, 

“The ‘Brown Ocean Effect is about land surface areas getting so saturated with hot water that when a hurricane comes over the land it starts sucking up the heat and moisture.” 

I was startled at Dr. Trenberth’s halting response.  Rather than reviewing what’s been written in the literature, he went back to the a,b,c’s of hurricanes.  Thing is, none of that was being questioned.  It was this ominous new environmental factor that I wanted to learn more about, but that Dr. Trenberth seemed to not want to talk about.  

His 450 word two part response thankfully ended with: 
“So that's presumably the brown ocean effect that if you've dumped a whole lot of water on the land there is a capability for some moisture to reevaporate back into the atmosphere to help refuel the storm if you like.”

I believe his reluctance can be understood by considering his ending sentence to part one: 

“You know having a big dumping of water over land didn't hurt but I don't know just how much it helped either.  That's the sort of thing that we can sort out a bit more with experiments with models at some later point.”   

The true cartographer, until he can map it with his models and empirically define its details, nothing is more than a suggestion.  Is this something to complain about?  NO!  

That’s his job, he is the scientist, the rigid conservative for whom every detail is of critical importance and assumptions are treated as poison.  He could never have accomplished the extraordinary science that is his legacy without that fastidious rigidity.

Scientists can not and will not get in the trenches with agenda driven dogmatists, their time is too precious.  But damit, someone needs to before Republicans totally destroy serious science and our democratic government Of The people, By The People, For The People based on rational liberal principles.


We live in the Territory and simply because scientists dedicated to the data and nothing but, have a hard time acknowledging connections doesn’t mean those connections aren’t there! 

Our living breathing physical Earth is not a mental construct.  Our changing biosphere doesn’t care about how much of the details we understand or not.  

It is our obligation to understand our life sustaining Earth and part of that is filling in the missing pieces with honest rational conclusions based on our excellent grasp of this planet’s fundamental geophysics along with honest good-faith logic.  

Instead, what we find is people in the audience using every flimsy childish excuse to downplay the reality of the situation we’ve created for ourselves.  Or folks who are plain confused at all the words and shut it out.

These days articles are being written about the importance of story telling in conveying big ideas to people.  The narrative needs to have a visceral connection with its audience.  What could be more grand and potentially visceral that the grand pageant of evolution and the wonders of our global heat and moisture engine and how it impacts everything we have and do?  


Colorado Floods - statistical certainty vs geophysical realities - 2013

Colorado Floods - statistical certainty vs geophysical realities

Colorado experienced its most extreme weather event in memory between September 9th to the 15th. Golden, Boulder and Larimer counties received the worst of it with rain accumulations of sixteen/seventeen inches and more, some areas receiving nine inches on Thursday alone, resulting in massive flooding compounded by destructive run-off from mountainsides of burned-out forests that could no longer hold water.

Predictably folks are asking: Is this related to manmade Global Warming? It's an easy and tough question to answer.

Consider please, our climate system is a global heat distribution engine and our land, atmosphere, and the oceans have indisputably warmed, not only that, our atmosphere's moisture content has been measurably increasing. Given such geophysical realities, it is self-evident that all extreme weather events contain elements of this newly energized climate system.  And that much more of the same must be expected.

On the other hand,
it's an exceedingly difficult question to answer if the demand is to know precisely every attribution down to fine detail. Fortunately for interested citizens, scientists have been trying harder to convey their knowledge of those details.

For example, less than two weeks after the flooding, the Western Water Assessment (WWA) together with Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) released a preliminary report during an hour and a half long videoed web news conference
(For more see:

The CIRES/WWA event was a collaborative effort of many people and interconnected agencies, including NOAA's ESRL (Earth System Research Laboratory) Physical Science Division, and the Colorado State University's Climate Center. It was a good example of scientists stepping forward and personally sharing their data and discussing the state of their science.

Watching the September 25th presentation I was reminded what straight-forward conservative lot scientists are. They will say what they know for "sure" and stop. Then they will back-track and share every doubt they have in order to prove that they do indeed understand weaknesses and further questions regarding their area of study.

The report, "Severe Flooding on the Front Range" (Sept. 2013),

… All this information was explained in wonderful detail. 

And then, disturbingly, when a reporter asked pointedly about the Jet Stream global warming connection, these geophysical facts suddenly became "speculation" subject to further study.

Using a freak, but similar, Colorado event back in September 1938 as justification, Dr. Hoerling rejected making any firm connection to global warming. We need further study. As I understood him, he also felt we needed a more accurate understanding of past extreme weather events.

I was left wondering, what good is a time consuming perfect understanding of past events, when that atmosphere's composition was radically different from today's? It's nice to know, but it is background information and not that relevant to our contemporary climate which has been and continues to be supercharged.

Beyond that I found it odd Dr. Hoerling used one 1938 freak event to warn against making premature assertions.  While not acknowledging the recent drum beat of "Jet Stream blocking pattern" driven extreme events such as the record shattering European killer heat waves of 2003, 2006, 2011 and the Russian heat wave of 2010, and the floods in Russia and Pakistan in 2010, and the recent Calgary floods and the extreme winters on the East Coast three and four years ago. ...

In fact, I did write Professor Hoerling and asked …

No comments:

Post a Comment