Thursday, March 26, 2015

[jules' pics] Mountain Biking

Even I, who am not a great fan of running, admit it has certain advantages over mountain biking when the ground is wet and slippery. Round here the mud is mostly not too thick, but it is quite slimy and the limestone is slick. But we thought that it might not have been raining quite as hard recently, so last week we risked a bit of mountain biking: the Whernside Loop. Only sunk the front wheel of the tandem into mud once. Must have bounced off my handlebar as I still have a huge bruise on my thigh. Then the soles of my shoes fell off. But apart from that we had an excellent time.

Great Victorian enterprise: Ribble Viaduct, with James for scale.
Great Californian enterprise: the Ventana El Conquistador.

But now poor James has had to go and represent the team in Ringberg, Germany where they are discussing climate sensitivity (See #Ringberg15 on the twitter). What you don't hear about on the twitter is about all the official Germanic "fun", eating three very large meals a day, going up mountains, and even, um, singing. Unfortunately I was too busy to attend. My talk was on Wednesday morning which happened to be quite sunny.

Actually, it was't the busy-ness. I am testing a theory about meetings, and it is that it is better if just one of us attends so that we don't spend he whole time conspiring together but instead actually talk to some of the other people. Furthermore, as part time workers without a hoard of postdocs to do our work for us we could easily spend the whole time preparing for, going to and recovering from meetings. And then we'd get no work done at all. And it's slightly less harmful for the planet. Especially this time; James showed not just my slides and his slides but also those from Dan Lunt (Bristol) and Ayako Abe (Japan)!

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 3/26/2015 08:06:00 PM

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

[jules' pics] Fountains Abbey

It was dissoluted by Henry the Eighth so is no longer a proper church, but last Thursday we visited Fountains Abbey. Faced by about 15 members of the Cambridge Uni Society of North and West Yorkshire (plus me and James) the tour guide tried really hard to fill the hungry minds before her in the hour long tour. It was all extremely interesting, with the history of the foundation and growth including explanation of the historical differences between common all garden Benedictines and the back to basics Cistercians (Fountains Abbey was the latter), and there were many insights into the daily lives of the monks. Quite a lot has been deciphered by archaeologists analysing the features of the ruins. To me it all looked like piles of stones of many colours (see pretty pics at the bottom of this post), but they can see cupboards and notice boards,  can identify who the sculptures are of,  and even find plumbing. Yes medieval plumbing!

In Japan, quite a lot of religion occurs out of doors, which really is as it should be, but over the hour long tour I grew to appreciate why this is not very practical in Yorkshire. Fountains Abbey no longer has a roof (thanks to Henry, who also realised this was the best way of making the place uninhabitable), and even on  pleasant March day, it got very cold. By the end everyone was hoping that the warm and furry dog that someone had brought along would come to them to be petted.

Walk through the Abbey and you get to Studley Royal Water Gardens and the tea shop. Then walk through the deer park and you get to St Mary's, which, like our house is a Gothic Revival Church.  Unfortunately it is only open from Easter so we couldn't go inside. Some similarities in style between St Mary's and our house are apparent, but St Mary's is really very beautiful. It had a famous architect.

The water gardens may be a historical feat of engineering, but they are a bit dull being just grass and water and statues. There is also a stately home built mostly from stones taken from the Abbey after it was ruined, and a Mill which dates from when the Abbey was a big profit making enterprise. We had only the afternoon so no time to visit these two places. Together all of this is a World Heritage Site. It is a bit strange that Kamakura failed to obtain this status a couple of years ago. Just its water gardens are much better let alone the many temples. 

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 3/25/2015 06:13:00 PM

Monday, March 16, 2015 Ten years of GENIE

genie10-17British trains may be slow and prone to delay, but they are the main reason that British people are so ingenious. Harry Potter was famously dreamed up by JK Rowling on a train. And similarly, it was on a train that the idea of the earth system model we now called GENIE came into the  mind of JG Shepherd. JGS then (1998/1999) started to try to get people interested and gathered a group of apparently bright early career researchers (which means none of them had permanent jobs) from around the universities and NERC research laboratories. 

James and I were the two representatives from the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, and this was how we started the move into climate research. Proposals for funding were made, but none of the actual workers, with their unstable positions were eligible to be on the grant, and despite its list of many illustrious principal investigators, it wasn’t funded. The early career researchers dispersed around the world, to USA, Switzerland and us to Japan (a couple also stayed in the UK). Curiously, however, the work on the model (then called GOLDSTEIN) continued, and by the mid-noughties we were all churning out lots of papers based on it. After this, it got some funding through something called “e-science” which was all to do with computer science and internet wormholes and stuff. The money mostly seemed to fund computer scientists to do strange things that we didn’t understand to the code, while the rest of us just carried in working with the model without any extra funds. It was at this point that the model was rebranded as GENIE.

Also in the mid-noughties, it was through the GENIE emailing list that several of us decided it would be a good idea to start a journal devoted to descriptions of models. I suppose as new interlopers in the climate modelling world we were shocked by what we found, in a way that someone “nurtured” into the dark arts of modelling through their PhD probably wouldn’t be. We found that not only were models not described in journals in a way that would make them anything close to being able to be reproduced by someone else, but also that when we tried to publish the fruits of our hard labour of model development, the papers got rejected, or received severe instruction to cut the amount of model description and increase the results. As basic scientists, used to properly explaining our scientific methods in our papers, we were horrified! Thus was the revolution started that became the journal Geoscientific Model Development. I don’t know if it is universal, but certainly bosses these days are much less likely to encourage their modellers to sweep their work under the carpet (= shoddy internal documents). Instead they encourage them to write papers.

For reasons no one can fully comprehend, Andy Ridgwell recently decided to hold a GENIE party to celebrate the past present and future of GENIE. He said it was something to do with 10 years of GENIE, but it is many more years than that since JGS got us all together. The party meeting was held last week in a nice old building in Bristol University. Almost all the original ones were there (I think only James was missing) and all except me and James now have very important jobs (mostly full professors) at UK universities. I think James and I just got spoiled by having so much fun in Japan so long!  Although about half the people in the room were female I was surprised to notice that I was the only female one of the originals! So there are certainly more women in climate science these days. But I find it really concerning that there are still so few women at the higher levels.

The day included talks on the history of GOLDSTEIN and GENIE, and ongoing work in the biogeochemistry and physics fields. It was really interesting to me, as in around 2007 we gradually stopped using GENIE and started using the MIROC GCM and then the CMIP ensemble. There was also a very entertaining talk by Gethin Williams who is a computer scientist at Bristol Uni. He pointed out that GENIE was efficient neither in terms of vectorisation nor parallelisation and while apparent computer speed continues to increase at roughly Moores Law pace, GENIE still runs as slowly as it did in around 2005. (ROFL!!!) I was quite surprised, and really wondered what all the e-science funding had been for, as this kind of optimisation was really important at our old laboratory in Japan (due partly to the requirement to run models efficiently on the earth simulator). James loves making efficient algorithms, and even knows how parallelise code, so has offered his services, should anyone in the GENIE team ever be able to afford him.

I took quite a few pictures. I wanted to document the ravages of time upon the GENIE men. Unfortunately most of them are active sorts of people, and don’t really look much older! I ended up taking photos of all the people who gave talks as well as the oldies, and there’s a whole album on flickr: CLICK HERE  to view.

top: Andy Ridgwell
bottom: Neil Edwards and Bob Marsh)


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

[jules' pics] Cat update

Someone (Steve Bloom) asked after the the foster cat. I think Riley is now pretty much living the life of Riley. He's adjusting quite well to home life, and is now awake and playful in the mornings, becoming more peaceful in the afternoons. He's more settled. Only in the last few days did he get brave enough to snooze on rather than behind chairs. Now he like to position himself rather regally, centrally positioned on a chair or cushion. He still does not fully appreciate that toys are for chasing and hands are not, which is not fantastic when he gets very excited. But he's improving. And is actually now not all that bad at playing fetch, considering that he couldn't do it at all a week ago. Shockingly, he didn't seem to mind when I slipped a harness on him today.  Let me know if you'd like to adopt him! I reckon he needs an equally rambunctious cat friend as well as a new owner, but people tell me that cats often do not get on when newly introduced to each other as adults.

12 March, update: Good news! Riley has a new home! Someone visited yesterday and liked him tremendously. She's looking for an interactive cat to keep her and her husband entertained working from home, and also for her son. Apparently their last cat was barely touchable. They should enjoy Riley then! The other news, however, is that she can't take him until after Easter so we get to keep him for another month.  He will have been here 3 weeks tomorrow but he's still changing;  I write this with him sleeping on my lap, which is the first time he's done so...

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 3/04/2015 07:42:00 PM

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Climate change by numbers the title of an interesting TV programme that was on BBC 4 last night. It is quite amazing that they dared to show such a maths/stats/science-heavy program at prime time, albeit on a minor channel, so I will start by commending them for that (the inevitable grumbles follow later). The three numbers they featured were the 0.85C warming since 1880s, 95% confidence that anthropogenic influence had caused most of this, and the 1 trillion tonnes of carbon that would take us to about 2C warming. I think it was originally planned to be three 30 minute programmes, but they ran it all together as one long piece, which seemed to work well to me.

I think they told the stories in an engaging manner, there was also lots of interesting historical stuff about how our understanding of the climate system has developed, which was mostly very well done and would probably have been even more interesting had I not already known it! But of course I was hardly the target audience.

In fact one of the researchers making the program contacted me last year to talk about Bayesian vs frequentist approaches to detection and attribution, specifically the IPCC's statement attributing most of the warming of the last century to anthropogenic effects. Unfortunately I wasn't able to be very encouraging about the idea of explaining the differences between Bayesian vs frequentist approaches to the general public, after all most climate scientists struggle with this question as is demonstrated by the IPCC's misrepresentation of D&A results! I've written on this (really must update my web pages, that link won't last for ever...or will it?) but the argument has little traction even in the climate science community because most people are quite content to continue in their comfortably-erroneous way.

Anyway, the Bayesian thing didn't make it into the transmitted programme, which I was neither surprised nor disappointed about, as I really can't see how to present it in such a way that the general public would get anything out of it. And the traditional misrepresentation of the probability of observations more extreme than observed given the null, as the probability of the null given the observations, was heavily featured (that's basically where the 95% comes from). Sigh. But what I really want to grumble about most strongly was the garbled and nonsensical representation of Kalman filtering in the first section, which, contrary to the claims in the programme, is not a method to check observations against each other and has not been used for temperature data homogenisation. The Kalman filter is actually used for updating a model prediction with new observations, and this is how it was used for space navigation. That is, based on current estimates of velocity and position at time t1, the equations of motion are used to predict the new position and velocity at subsequent time t2, and then imperfect observations of the position at t2 are used to update the estimates of position and velocity, and so on ad infinitum.

Ok, pedants may observe that NCEP has pioneered the use of an ensemble Kalman filter for its 20th century reanalysis project, but this is somewhat tangential to climate change and their results, interesting as they are, have their own homogenisation problems and are are hardly central to the debate on global warming. Ironically, Doug McNeall (who was involved as a scientific consultant, I'm not blaming him for anything in particular though) tweeted a link to the wikipedia page on Kalman filtering, which is a much better resource for anyone interested in learning more about the topic. Anyway, I'm really baffled as to where this bit came from - maybe they just couldn't resist a link to “rocket science” :-) Or did someone think “filter” might be related to filtering out bad data? Well, it isn't.

The “pixel sticks” were very clever, but I don't really think a line graph is improved by drawing it on wobbly axes, expecially if a straight line trend is then drawn through the data! I wonder if Doug will feature that on his Better Figures blog :-) And as for the presenters spending most of their time walking away from the camera...I'm probably sounding like a grumpy old man so I'd better stop. As I said, I think it was pretty good overall, but if you want a mathematical/statistical program that really doesn't make any concessions to dumbing down, and that does cover climate change (and Bayesian statistics) on occasion, I strongly recommend “More or Less” on Radio 4.

Update: Oh, this is interesting. It's a blog post about the programme from the mathematician (Norman Fenton) who presented the 95% section. Turns out he is actually a Bayesian who clearly understands how that number is tarnished by prosecutor's fallacy, and he argues that the scientific debate would be improved by a greater use of Bayesian methods!

Friday, February 27, 2015 Blue skies at the UKMO Hadley Centre

I’ve just had a very enjoyable visit to the UKMO Hadley Centre, courtesy of Richard Betts. My talk was similar to the one I recently gave in Japan, which had been a bit clunky and unrehearsed in parts, so in the intervening weeks I revised it a bit which I think/hope made it a bit more coherent. Some of it was old stuff about single model vs multi-model ensembles (including work done ages ago in collaboration with UKMO people, in fact), and some was on model evaluation via paleoclimate simulations. I’ll not put the slides up online yet as this includes some unpublished work that I’m just a minor author on and which is under revision as I type. The last, still relatively unpolished, part of the talk concerned the thorny topic of model independence. I think I’ve now finally reached the point at which I’ve got enough material to write a paper on this. I’ve not usually worked this way round, but it seems that forcing oneself to put down thoughts sufficient to support a presentation can be a helpful way to kickstart the writing process. I had fun giving the talk, and judging from the questions after, many of the impressively large audience stayed awake.

The sun shone, so the UKMO building was particularly shiny and spectacular. I really like the design – easily the best science lab I’ve visited in that respect, though the open-plan interior arrangement is another matter. I didn’t dare take a picture – would probably have been carried away in an orange jump-suit if I had – so you’ll have to make do with this much better one off the web (borrowed from here).


We rounded things off with a lovely pub lunch with Richard, @dougmcneall and one other who despite our encouragement is still shying away from social media :-)

The Virgin Cross-country train (direct from Leeds) is not the most comfortable way to travel ("airline" seats seems a bit of poetic license), but it did get the job done. The grim north is not so remote after all! Now we’ve got a month at home to do some work, before the next set of trips kicks off.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

[jules' pics] The pitter patter of tiny feet

Well.. it's more like... things that go bump in the night

This is Riley, and he's up for adoption. We are fostering him for Bentham Pet Rescue. Apparently it is much better for homeless cats to stay in people's homes than at a cattery. He's been at the rescue since October and it is hard to imagine why he hasn't found a home as he is as big and furry a cat as you could hope for. He also plays games, demands to be stroked by head butting, and purrs whenever you go near him. He talks quite a lot and comes when called, and hasn't even broken any of our belongings yet. Having only been in the house only 24 hours, he still seems a little lost, wondering what is going to happen next. We are at home for quite a bit of the day, so we are hoping he will adjust to being a bit less nocturnal. 

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 2/21/2015 04:45:00 PM

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

One for the penguin lovers

I'm not sure if either of my readers is interested in spending a(nother!) season in a primitive hut with only penguins for company (slight exaggeration, reports indicate it's more Shinjuku station than Scott of the Antarctic), but if not you can always play “guess the relative” with the photos in the job advert instead :-)

Monday, February 16, 2015 From the sublime to the ridiculous…and back again

Just had two weeks in Japan, mostly visiting our friends and colleagues in AORI and NIES. These institutes are both some way outside Tokyo but on the same train line out of Tokyo, so we stayed in Asakusa, close by the famous Senso-ji temple
Japan-8and very convenient for seeing various other friends and enjoying all of Tokyo’s attractions.
Japan-22Not ignoring Hinode, which strange as it may seem, is also well within Tokyo’s boundaries!

AORI always seems a bit of strange and desolate place, part of a large research campus of Tokyo University, which was basically built in the middle of nowhere a decade ago but around which shops and services are gradually expanding. It still seems very empty though.
Japan-3The scientific content of the trip was mostly focussed around paleoclimate stuff, particularly how the strength and stability of the North Atlantic component of the overturning circulation might have changed in past glacial cycles. We were working on this previously with a postdoc who transferred to AORI (along with her funding) when we left. Hopefully there will be more to say on these topics in the future, as papers are written. The visit to NIES was more of an exchange of updates, I gave a seminar and then the group we had collaborated with all summarised their latest work. Rather like the old JUMP meetings we used to have, in fact (that website never really came to much, as we were pretty much on the way out when we set it up).
It was a bit of a culture shock, setting off from here where most of our neighbours are sheep and highland cattle in open fields, and arriving less than 24 later in central Tokyo where the sheeple are battery-farmed in a rather more intensive manner. However we are still probably more accustomed to life in Japan than the UK these days, so once we’d learnt the local train stations and lines (of which there are no fewer than four, most of which we hadn’t used much) it was plain sailing, and actually quite relaxing to be able to play the part of a short-term visitor rather than struggling to fit in as residents. We very much enjoyed the visit and hope to go back for more but didn’t think for a minute that we had made the wrong decision in leaving.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

That Marotzke/Forster vs Lewis thing

I dunno, spend a couple of weeks out of the country and a proper debate strikes up for a change. Marotzke and Forster published this paper basically arguing that the AR5 models don't generally either over- or underestimate temperature changes, based on various trends within the last century or so (up to now). My first thought on a superficial glance at the paper was that it wasn't really that useful an analysis, as we already know that the models provide a decent hindcast of 20th century temps, so it's hardly surprising that looking at shorter trends will show the models agreeing on average over shorter trends too (since the full time series is merely the sum of shorter pieces). That leaves unasked the important question of how much the models have been tuned to reproduce the 20th century trend, and whether the recent divergence is the early signs of a problem or not. (Note that on the question of tuning, this is not even something that all modellers would have to be aware of, so honestly saying "we didn't do that" does not answer the question. But I digress.)

One limitation of the MF study was that they do not know the forcing for each model, or the α and κ parameters, so had to estimate them by linear regression based on (among other things) their temperature time series. Along comes Nic Lewis, and says "aha - this is circular". Now I haven't had time to look into it in detail, but this argument clearly has some validity in principle. MF replied here, but I'm not really impressed by what they said. There is a certain amount of talking past each other - MF are saying that their method is physically reasonable (which it is) and, in previous work, gives good results, however they don't really address the main criticism. Lewis says their method is simply invalid, because the assumptions underlying the statistical theory are violated. In that respect, it is worth pointing out that probably just about all statistical analysis is simply invalid at some level, since the assumptions are rarely precisely correct. Exact linearity, independent errors, gaussian statistics? You've got to be joking. These are never more than approximations to the truth, but hopefully the approximations are good enough that the end result is useful.

Some of the commenters on the climate lab book thread seem to have got a good handle on it. Just to expand on it a bit, if MF got the "correct" values for forcing, α and κ then it wouldn't matter where these numbers came from. However, there will be some uncertainty/inaccuracy in the estimates they have derived, and these did come from the temperature time series, and will lead to some circularity. So the question is really whether these inacuracies are big enough to matter. I have an idea for investigating the magnitude of the problem (which a priori could either be negligible or could indeed invalidate the work). I'm not sure it's really worth the effort though.