22 January 2015

Amateurs on climate

Amateurs are the people who do something for the love of it, without getting paid for it.  I get paid for doing what I love, so don't get to be called an amateur*.  One of my favorite amateurs on climate is Jan Schloerer.  He was active in the Usenet group Sci.environment in the 1990s, and wrote a number of articles on climate for nonprofessionals.  A number of excellent articles.  He ok'd my posting them to my personal web site (I used to be on radix.net) and I'm now, finally, moving my personal site to www.grumbinescience.org.

Two of the great things about Jan as an amateur writer on climate was that he wrote for other people who also were not professionals, and that he paid a lot of attention to what was in the scientific literature, citing thoroughly where data and conclusions came from.  Therefore, even though it's 15-20 years since he wrote the articles, they remain relevant and correct as far as they go.  Good job Jan!

On a different side, Jan is (was?  nobody I know has heard from him in years) a very caring person.  When the US government shut down in the 1990s, he knew that I was working for it, so not being paid.  He offered to help me out financially if needed.  Fortunately it wasn't.  But he is/was the kind of person who speedily thought about the possibility that I could be in some difficulty, and offered help immediately if it might be needed.

Jan's articles (I'm not sure I have the most recent versions, so any errors are mine, not his, and the formatting is all my fault -- to be fixed Real Soon Now; updates will be coming):
Climate Basics
How we know humans are the source of the CO2 increase
Readings on climate change
CLIMAP -- the climate mapping project (1970s-early 1980s)

* Well, on my oceanography/glaciology/... work.  On other things I am indeed an amateur.  I hope in my amateur activities to approach Jan's level. 

19 January 2015

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

I share the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream.  Among other things, for people to be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.  It is an ideal.  Since that dream has still not been achieved more than 50 years after he gave the speech, it's apparently a challenging ideal.  Given events of the last few years, I'm not confident that we're closer to it than we were 20 years ago.  Maybe I was just that naive 20 years ago, maybe I just hear about more than I used to.  And maybe we as a nation have ceased the effort towards that ideal.  In many respects, though, it doesn't matter.  Something is only an ideal if you are approaching it ever more closely through time.  And that's not where we are.  It's only an ideal if, indeed, people actually agree that it is an ideal to strive for.

I also encourage all to read his letter from a Birmingham jail.  Not only is it a fine piece of writing, it mentions many specifics of our (USA) failure to live to our ideals as expressed in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.  The preamble to the constitution reads:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
  It is not justice for the law to be applied differently based on the color of someone's skin, rather than the content of their character.  It does not ensure domestic Tranquility to make police forces comparable to occupying military forces.  Nor can the Blessings of Liberty be secured by treating part of your citizenry like 'other' -- not truly citizens, not really deserving of the Blessings of Liberty, or Justice.

I've seen some bizarre interpretations of the Constitution.  For some, since the constitution was written by slaveowners, slaves and their descendants are not included as part of 'We the People'.  Other absurdities on par with that abound.  But, if one wants to tread that route, be sure that all of your ancestors signed the Declaration.  None of mine did, so I incline to the interpretation that it is a) people and b) of the United States -- all citizens -- who should be (ideals again) included.  Even though for more than four score and seven years we treated part of our population as property.  The step forward in ideals is to include all our people.

About a century before letter from a Birmingham jail was Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau.  He was in jail, on grounds of his protest of his taxes going to support slavery.  For both men, there was this consistency, often lost by current people: They knew full well that in breaking unjust laws, they would likely go to jail for it.  That is part of engaging in civil disobedience.  When a friend visited Thoreau in jail, the friend asked "How can you be here?" (in jail).  Thoreau answered "How can you not be?"  A couple years ago, I testified in favor of giving civil protections to a class of people who were being discriminated against, not for reasons of their character.  I was astonished by one of the people testifying against the nondiscrimination law.  Not, sadly, because she was opposed, but because of her panic reaction to a later person noting that our names would be recorded and history would judge us.  If you argue that public law should be one way or the other, you should certainly be willing to be known for it!  Not even a threat of jail time.  Ideals mean little if you are not even willing to be known to hold them.

I don't have answers, but this year I'll be doing more towards achieving those, and below, ideals.

07 January 2015

Edging towards a climatology

I say edging towards climatology because the process of going from here, a state of not really knowing what the climatology is, to there, a state of having pretty solid knowledge, isn't one I like to take in a single jump.  Even if scientists in professional journals present their work as if we did it in one jump, we seldom do it this way.  Plus, for our purposes here, it's more meaningful to proceed in successive approximations

For data, I'm going to use the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (v2).  I'll also be using the high resolution, in time and space, versions of the data.  This leads to some pretty big files (unpacked, it is about 2 Gb per month, and remember there'll be 360 months for a 30 year climatology).  So you might want to go with the lower resolution for your own initial exploration.

To start with, let's look at the 2 meter air temperature, where I've converted temperatures to Celsius (from Kelvin).  30 C = 86 F, 0 C = 32 F.  The total planetary range is a bit over 70 C from the very coldest areas (Antarctic Plateau -- below -40 C) to the warmest (pretty much the whole tropics).

02 January 2015

Happy Perihelion 2015!

I was late to with you a happy New Year for 2015, so hope the perihelion (our closest approach to the sun each year, typically January 3rd) passes well for everyone and kicks off a year of good events and health.

Year turnovers are good opportunities to look back at what I did the previous year (some good, some not so good, and not much blogging) and ponder what to do in the coming year (more good, less not so good, and more blogging).  In the blogging side of the coming year, I plan to be more regular in posting.  Part of that will be that I'll be less restrictive about scaring people with math.  I'll at least hide the scarier stuff at the bottom and give fair warning :-)

Two strains of posts will be new this year.  One will be, let's call it "Journal of Spectral Climatology".  Obviously not a peer-reviewed journal, but I'll be taking a whack at looking at climate not so much in terms of 'today's expected high temperature is ...' as 'in this part of the world, you expect summer to be this much warmer than winter'.  Or ditto for day versus night.  And then ... we'll see. For data source, I'm going to pound on the NCEP Climate Forecast System Reanalysis.  (that's where to get the data, for description of the sources, see Saha, Suranjana, and Coauthors, 2010: The NCEP Climate Forecast System Reanalysis. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 91, 1015.1057. doi: 10.1175/2010BAMS3001.1)

The second, call it "Journal of Hypothetical Climatology".  Two sides to this.  One is, I at least used to read a lot of science fiction, and there are many candidate places to ponder what climate would be like.  Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement is one I particularly like.  Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clark is another good candidate.  The other side is, getting an exact solution for the real earth's climate is impossible.  But there may be some hypothetical earths for which we can get exact answers.

02 December 2014

Girls on Ice 2015 Expeditions

A chance to go climb and sleep on glaciers in either Alaska or Washington State, plus learn and do science.

Supported in part by the NSF and Alaska Climate Science Center.
Application window opens 10 December 2014, closes 31 January 2015.

From Girls on Ice Web Site:

Girls on Ice is a unique, FREE, wilderness science education program for high school girls. Each year two teams of 9 teenage girls and 3 instructors spend 12 days exploring and learning about mountain glaciers and the alpine landscape through scientific field studies with professional glaciologists, ecologists, artists, and mountaineers. One team explores Mount Baker, an ice-covered volcano in the North Cascades of Washington State. The other team sleeps under the midnight sun exploring an Alaskan glacier.

“Girls on Ice is not a reward for past good grades or academic achievement, it is an inspiration for future success.”

The application period for the 2015 Girls on Ice Teams will begin December 10, 2014 and end on January 31, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. Alaska time.

Alaska program: June 19 – 30, 2015

North Cascades program: July 13 – 24, 2015

To be eligible, girls must be at least 16 years old by June 19, and no older than 18 on July 24.

01 December 2014

High School Educational Program on Greenland

For US High School Students -- a chance to work in Greenland doing science.  Application deadline 9 January 2015

More information, including the application, is available at:

(From the web site:)

In this successful summer science and culture opportunity, students and teachers from the United States, Denmark, and Greenland come together to learn about the research conducted in Greenland and the logistics involved in supporting the research. They conduct experiments first-hand and participate in inquiry-based educational activities.
The JSEP format has evolved over the years into its current state, which consists of two field-based subprograms on-site in Greenland: the Greenland-led Kangerlussuaq Science Field School and the U.S.-led Science Education Week.
Program Dates and Descriptions
Kangerlussuaq Field School (2 weeks) and Science Education Week (1 week): Tentative dates for JSEP 2015 are June 29th through July 20th.
Kangerlussuaq Science Field School: Students learn about and participate in polar science alongside researchers and teachers at field stations around Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. This area is a rural region with limited amenities. Participants live in dormitory style housing and share in cooking and cleaning responsibilities. This part of the JSEP Program is supported by the government of Greenland.

29 November 2014

Still living

Still living, just been away from the blogosphere on other things.  Some of them will find their way back here as posts. 

In the mean time, Kevin O'Neill, who has introduced an interesting idea in one of his comments at Multiple Working Hypotheses, has encountered one of the annoying things about to do science.  Namely, a data set he has been using was discontinued.  I sympathize.  At work, a satellite I was about to make use of in our operations died the week before our implementation.  A resource for looking in to climate (at least as long as you don't need to go before 1979) is the The NCEP Climate Forecast System Reanalysis.  The numerical results of which do include the outgoing longwave radiation.  There are slightly differing (in resolution and time spans) archives at NCDC and NCAR.  The NCDC archive mentions that it is 500 Terabytes.  That sounds about right.  It'll take a while to download.  Or you can use the NOMADS subsetting capabilities to extract just the fields and regions that you're interested in.

I'll also be getting back to my sea ice guesses for ARCUS, and evaluating them.  This time around, as I prepare at work to do some more substantial sea ice things, I'll do a general survey of how they all performed, in all years.  Then to focus on the remaining method.  A point related to the method of multiple working hypotheses is that you have to be active in weeding them down.  You'll generate more and better ones to take their place.  But you have to make room first.

Kicking around in the 'almost done' bin is a post on how long it takes to detect an acceleration in global mean temperature.  Acceleration being a change in the trend.  This was prompted by some todo at the Washington Post Capital Weather Gang, when someone claimed that he'd found a negative acceleration (i.e., a decrease in trend, which would, if continued, turn to a cooling trend).  I'll give away the answer here -- it takes about 40 years (at least 40 years) to define the acceleration. 

Another 'nearly done' is to revisit Does CO2 correlate with Temperature?.  It's almost 6 years since the original, and for all 6 years, there's been talk of 'hiatus', 'pause', and 'climate hasn't changed in N years'.  N varies a lot by who is talking.  Perhaps the additional data will break the correlation, since CO2 has certainly been rising.

I'm also going, at some point, to play on the blog with Bayesian statistics.  Readers who like Bayes, please do correct me as I (inevitably) make mistakes.

Plus in January, when I'm done with the meetings, holidays, and other things, of December, I'll hang back out the question place shingle.  Probably some minor notes before then.

29 September 2014

Multiple Working Hypotheses

In exploring Arctic ice minima I was not so much trying to reach conclusions as to find hypotheses for further testing and exploration.  Let's pick up the hypotheses side now, as I think it gets much too little attention in science education and science student practice.  In saying that, I'm projecting my bias, of course.

Part of that bias comes from having read and agreed with T. C. Chamberlin's Method of Multiple Hypotheses (1890).  Or at least liked my take on it.  It also has some correspondence to John Stuart Mill's ideas in On Liberty about a marketplace of ideas (1859), which I also liked.  The crux is, if we consider only one idea/hypothesis we are liable to be overly protective of it, or overly hostile to it.  Either way, we do not arrive at the best hypothesis for continued work.  Chances of us having started by selecting the best of all possible hypotheses, out of the infinity which could be generated, are essentially zero.

So, instead of starting with:
  • Observe
  • Make a hypothesis about those observations
  • Make a prediction from that hypothesis
  • Run an experiment to test the hypothesis
We try something more like:
  • Observe
  • Make multiple hypotheses that explain the observations
  • Examine the hypotheses for how/where/when they lead to different predictions
  • Run an experiment to distinguish between stronger and weaker hypotheses
A different take, or at least a different discussion, of the method of multiple working hypotheses is by L. Bruce Railsback