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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

CCSP Report (Climate Change Science Program)- Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences"

Sometimes (not often) I really feel sorry for government scientists. The report above is the first in a series of 21, well, let them explain it in their own words:

"This document, the first of the Synthesis and Assessment Products described in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) Strategic Plan, was prepared in accordance with Section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (Public Law 106-554) and the information quality act guidelines issued by the Department of Commerce and NOAA pursuant to Section 515 ). The CCSP Interagency Committee relies on Department of Commerce and NOAA certifications regarding compliance with Section 515 and Department guidelines as the basis for determining that this product conforms with Section 515. For purposes of compliance with Section 515, this CCSP Synthesis and Assessment Product is an “interpreted product” as that term is used in NOAA guidelines and is classified as “highly influential”. This document does not express any regulatory policies of the United States or any of its agencies, or provide recommendations for regulatory action."

Everybody clear on this now? Here is the version for Congress :

"Members of Congress:
We are pleased to transmit to you this report, Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences, the first of a series of Synthesis and Assessment Products produced by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). This series of 21 reports is aimed at providing current evaluations of climate change science to inform public debate, policy, and operational decisions. These reports are also intended to help inform CCSP’s consideration of future program priorities. CCSP’s guiding vision is to empower the Nation and the global community with the science-based knowledge to manage the risks and opportunities of change in the climate and related environmental systems." etc.

So, this first report is an attempt to reconcile discrepancies between climate model results and observed data, of which there are many. It actually doesn't get very far, though it does make some recommendations for future work, like all reports designed to seek assurance of future funding. I'll get into the details of the actual results tomorrow. For now, I will elaborate on why I feel sympathy for the plight of the scientists involved (aside from the govspeak they are required to write)

Before this report was officially released, it was submitted to some sort of peer review. I'm not sure whether the participants were chosen or volunteered, but their comments could be predicted from their affiliations. Earth Defense was all bent out of shape because the report didn't stress the "overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is affecting the climate system". Ditto for the Climate Institute. From the other side, Roger Pielke doggedly tried to nail them down on what he felt were deliberate evasions about the ability of the climate models to accurately reproduce the known state of the atmosphere for the past 20 years and also what he viewed as a tendency to blame the data instead of the models for the observed differences.

Being an apostate from the Church of the Holy Model for some years, I have more of an affinity for the second view, but I am certainly not going to rule out data problems. I know there are great difficulties in obtaining good data sets, correcting for changes in instrumentation over the years, diurnal solar effects, the scarcity of global radiosonde data, etc. One of the conclusions of this report is that these things should be dealt with in a timely and accurate fashion, as well they should. BUT shouldn't the models themselves be subjected to tougher scrutiny as well? One of the stated purposes of this series of reports is to "inform public debate, policy, and operational decisions" (see above), and also to "address .......questions that are obviously of great importance to policy makers with state of the art climate models and with our current best estimates of historical changes in external climate forcing." (emphasis theirs, p. 148 of the comments) If the best estimates are all derived from the current models, then........ well, let's pick it up tomorrow with a discussion of "skill" in the climate forecasting biz.

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