Saturday, February 28, 2009

New Camera

By odd coincidence, we also bought a new camera last week. Must be the time of year. There wasn't really anything wrong with our small point-and-shoot digital (Ricoh Caplio) which is good enough for holiday snaps but it's a bit limited and anyway someone has to buy all the Japanese stuff now that the rest of the world can't afford it. So we are the proud new owners of a Canon SX1 IS, which seems pretty amazing, although with a total of 20 buttons, levers and dials there's a lot I haven't yet worked out. One of the things it comes with is a fun utility for stitching pictures together into panoramas.

Not sure if this will work on blogger, but here may be a Quicktime VR panorama of the front of a local temple:

If it works you should be able to scroll around with a mouse (click and drag), zoom is via shift and control keys. Update: seems not - does anyone know if it's possible to put one of these in blogger? Anyway here is the picture in jpeg form (click for 2.3MB version):

I haven't quite got the hang of levelling the individual pictures properly so it's a bit rubbish at the joins.

Our neighbour has a rather good ume and with the Canon's 560mm zoom I can even see the flowers!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Much ado about nothing

Steve Bloom and Hank Roberts pointed me towards this article in The Register, which has been splashed all over the septic end of the bogusphere (I think I'll adopt that typo). I'm relieved to find that it's all a fuss about nothing. The "report" is simply the collation of one of these popular-but-pointless sceptic-vs-scientist debates, and has no official status. The various documents surrounding it are here on the JSER front page (only in Japanese), just below the headline "Global warming: What is the scientific truth?". The pdf labelled 本文 is the main report. The articles immediately under that are various documents by two of the contributors, Kiminori Itoh (伊藤) and my colleague Seita Emori (江守), who was the only climate scientist involved in the event and who tried to present the scientific case but was obviously rather outnumbered. Those documents have some pictures in so may be partially readable, even to non-Japanese readers. You may notice a citation or two for yours truly.

Emori-san apart, the other 4 participants in the farce have no background in climate science, and instead a history of scepticism. Kusano, the one puffed by The Register as "Program Director" here (well, next door in the Earth Simulator Centre) has indeed been (over)promoted to that status but in scientific terms appears to be a bit of a nobody and will certainly not be known to many climate scientists. He is one of the prime movers behind the waste of money I referred to here. Akasofu certainly used to be prominent in his own field of solar science, but went emeritus some time ago, and Itoh and the other one are budding sceptics in the local scene, one a geologist and the other a chemist, again with no climate science connections though that didn't stop one of them writing a book with the title "Lies and Traps in the Global Warming Affairs” (Japanese).

So its hardly a shining advertisement for Japanese science, and a bit embarrassing for JAMSTEC to be associated with it, although TBH there are enough other reasons to be embarrassed about JAMSTEC that this hardly matters. Fundamentally it's just a bit of random non-scientific quackery from the local sceptics, who seem to have grown in prominence recently here. As usual, Japan is decades behind the rest of the world in socio-political development :-) The Register seems puzzled that it's been ignored, but this is surely the kindest fate. I hope they didn't waste too much money on the translation.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Decadal prediction cage fight

We have just had the traditional "Let's spend our spare money before the end of the financial year by inviting a few foreigners to visit" February workshop again. Last year I helped to organise the equivalent event, but this year I didn't have any spare money so it was up to others. As a result, it was rather boring :-) but there was an interesting session about decadal prediction, including contrasting presentations from Noel Keenlyside (of decadal cooling fame) and Nick Dunstone who is a recent addition to the Hadley Centre group. First, Keenlyside presented an extended version of the work underpinning his heavily-criticised Nature paper. He started off by claiming that there was significant internal variability in the global temperature signal which was responsible for perhaps as much as 30% of the recent (30y) warming. This was justified by a simple calculation in which he started with the global temperature series and subtracted a scaled and 11y-lagged CO2 forcing curve! I found this deeply unimpressive, as it is well known that there are other significant forcing factors which can explain a lot of the wiggles, leaving a much smaller amount of natural variability (and arguably the natural component could even have been a cooling):

(From Global Warming Art via Wikipedia)

To be fair he had other modelling results suggesting a link between variability in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and global temperature variability, but given how dodgy the first part (which I am more familiar with) was, I'm reluctant to take the rest of it on trust. He then finished with results from his model initialisation and prediction system, which as RC and others have already noted: (a) is physically dubious (b) has negative skill (compared to the unitialised model) (c) already gave two false alarms of cooling in their hindcasts over the past 50 years and (d) has clearly gone badly wrong at the end of the 20th century. I didn't press him too hard on the issue of the bet (offered by RC) that he has apparently refused, but he did concede that his future prediction was probably a bit on the cold side.

Nick Dunstone then presented a fairly comprehensive set of idealised identical twin tests to evaluate the importance of different observational (surface versus deep ocean) data sets for multi-year prediction ("decadal" seems optimistic really, as there isn't really much skill at 10y for any system). One of the tests they tried was the simple sea surface temperature nudging scheme that Keenlyside used, and they found this gave poor results including a very unrealistic AMOC. Their own scheme which uses deep ocean data gave clearly superior results. I wouldn't claim the HC work is the last word on the matter but it was far more convincing to me. Their latest updated prediction is much the same as the one in their Science paper, just starting off marginally cooler due to the 2007 La Nina, but still expecting to see new record warm years popping up pretty soon. Good news for my bet, although I think they would put the odds a little lower than Hansen :-)

The Japanese group still seem to be developing about 3 or 4 different data assimilation schemes for their decadal predictions. In the closing discussion the leader of this project openly admitted - indeed, it almost sounded like a boast - that he had no idea if the predictions would be of any real value to anyone even if they do show some skill, he was just doing it because it was scientifically interesting. I wonder if he puts it quite that plainly when speaking to funding agencies :-)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Quiz answers

Sorry for the delay.

With no further ado, the answers to the questions I posed here:

In comparison to 2003, the excess mortality in the heatwave of 1976 was (e) 200% or more (4000+). And as the climate of the UK has warmed rapidly over the past few decades and the population has aged, excess mortality due to heat has simultaneously (b) declined a little, or maybe a lot, depending on how you view things - the decrease in the actual number of deaths is not considered "statistically significant" outside of Scotland, but given the increase in both temperatures and vulnerable population, it is not in doubt that the general tolerance to heat has improved.

Supporting data is in the two Dept of Health reports, available here and here. The evidence is readily available and should be well-known to everyone working in this field. Bear that in mind next time you hear someone hyping the dire threat posed by the probability that we will have warmer summers in the UK!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lost in punctuation

A speech given at a party after the first day of a workshop, somewhere in Japan:

"We've had lots of presentations today. I hope we have more interesting presentations tomorrow."

It's the way he tells them...

Have the sceptics taken over the asylum?

I'm planning to attend the EGU General Assembly in April. Each year they award medals (named after eminent scientists) in various fields. Imagine my surprise to see on browsing the list of the 2009 medal winner lectures that the Petrus Peregrinus medal is being awarded to Eigil Friis-Christensen (PP was a pioneer of magnetism).

The citation reads that the award to F-C is made "for his fundamental contributions to our knowledge of the Earth's magnetic field from space and his innovative leadership in geomagnetism". I believe that most climate scientists will know him primarily for his fundamentally dodgy work on correlations between solar cycles and global temperature (debunked by Damon and Laut, with further work by Lockwood and Frohlich, see posts on RC for more on this), which has only contributed to the public misunderstanding of science.

It's a difficult problem when genuinely talented and productive scientists go emeritus and end up saying silly things - often, not always, outside their area of expertise (such as Akasofu - in fact F-C and A have co-authored several papers). I doubt that many climate scientists people would complain were Lovelock to be awarded some prize, despite his silly "last few breeding pairs" book. And I'm sure that Friis-Christensen has done lots of worthy work in his own field. But I bet that at a minimum this medal will cause some discomfort in the climate division of the EGU.

Talking of which, it seem that the Exxon association that I blogged about previously is going ahead the form of a two-day course for students. I'm not sure that the Exxon approach to science is really to be recommended to students. Perhaps the climate division should produce some slick advertisements highlighting Exxon's sceptical activities with the slogan: They call it statistics, we call it lies.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pot, meet kettle

Stoat got there first (he's probably not got any ume to photograph), but being a muesli-munching lefty I also saw this interesting rant by Vicky Pope in the Grauniad:

Climate change scientists must rein in misleading extreme weather claims

It seems like she's mostly having a go at sea ice predictions and/or Hansen in the hyperlinked article. I don't really find much to criticise in her article (although I try to cut him some slack due to his history and importance in climate science, I have to agree that Hansen over-hypes thing a bit), but I don't see how the Hadley Centre can avoid it's share of the blame, and being backed up by Peter Stott is particularly strange, as he bears a large part of the responsibility for the absurd hype over the "devastating" 2003 heatwave.

Here's a quick quiz for my readers. We all know that the heatwave in 2003 was associated with about 2000 excess deaths in the UK (ie, the mortality was that much higher than the background rate either side of the hottest weather). Some of us may also remember there was a heatwave in 1976. In comparison to 2003, the excess mortality that year was (a) 25% or less (500 deaths) (b) 50% (1000) (c) 100% (2000) (d) 150% (3000) (e) 200% or more (4000). And the follow-up: as the climate of the UK has warmed rapidly over the past few decades and the population has aged, excess mortality due to heat has simultaneously (a) declined rapidly (b) declined a little (c) increased a little (d) increased rapidly, ie in line with the empirical temperature/mortality relationships that are widely used for predicting future impacts of climate change.

Answers in the comments please (and don't cheat by looking it up first!).

Spring has sprung

It was amazingly hot and sunny yesterday - our thermometer registered 20C in our cold garden up a hill on the edge of town, it was palpably hotter in the middle of town and plenty of records were set across Japan. Must be that scary global warming :-)

Here are a few ume (plum) blossom pics taken over the last week. First, Hachimangu last Sunday:

Engakuji on Wednesday (National Foundation Day holiday):

and finally, Zuisenji this morning:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Out of court settlement in Pinder v Fox?

I don't know anything more than what is written here:

Pinder v Fox: Blogging exclusive!

but it certainly seems consistent with the lack of verdict (which would have been due ages ago in the absence of such a settlement, I think). I hope Russ considers the outcome satisfactory, and wish him well for the future. Obviously I would have liked a clear verdict for the sake of other victims but I can't blame Russ for taking an offer.

My understanding (which may be wrong, but seems to be backed up here) is that if an offer is made and rejected and the court's final award is lower, then costs will not usually be awarded even if the plaintiff wins a substantial sum. Thus the plaintiff will usually be well advised to accept a reasonable settlement unless they are very confident, not just of "winning", but of being awarded more than the offer.

(Previous post with further links here.)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Hansen's El Nino forecast reprised

I have no idea why Roger Pielke chose to bring up James Hansen's old 2006 El Nino forecast again just recently, but since he did, and it generated some hot air in the blogosphere, I might as well add my view.

1. Hansen originally said in a draft paper:
We suggest that an El Nino is likely to originate in 2006 and that there is a good chance it will be a “super El Nino”, rivaling the 1983 and 1997-1998 El Ninos, which were successively labeled the “El Nino of the century” as they were of unprecedented strength in the previous 100 years.
[quote taken from Prometheus, I don't have Hansen's draft myself]. The meaning of "likely" is usually interpreted in the range of 66-90% probability, so clearly the "good chance" of a super El Nino, which is conditional on there being an El Nino at all, is lower than this. Given the historical context of what a "super El Nino" is (there have been 2 in the past 30 years by Hansen's definition) a "good chance" cannot reasonably be interpreted at above 50% probability, and may have been meant as something substantially lower (albeit higher than climatology). Incidentally, I am not inclined, as some are, to give Hansen a free pass on that "super El Nino" prediction on the basis that it did not make it to further versions of the paper - it was clearly his original opinion, despite the fact that he withdrew it in the face of opposing views. I have also been known to have reviewers and editors prevent me from presenting my views fully in the peer reviewed literature, this does not always mean they have convinced me I am wrong! But anyway, it was hardly a confident prediction in the first place.

2. At the time, more established seasonal forecasters were not predicting El Nino. From Roger's previous post, attributed to NOAA/NCEP/CPC:
Most of the statistical and coupled model forecasts indicate ENSO-neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific through the end of 2006 (Fig. 6). The spread of the most recent statistical and coupled model forecasts (weak La Niña to weak El Niño) indicates uncertainty in the outlooks for the last half of the year. However, current conditions (stronger-than-average easterly winds over the central equatorial Pacific and below-average upper-ocean heat content) support those forecasts indicating that La Nina conditions will continue for the next 1-3 months.

3. An El Nino actually occurred, but it was a weak one.

So, what can we conclude from this?

Well, Hansen clearly went out a little on a limb, at a time when established forecasters were more circumspect. He got it right, with events turning out absolutely in line with his prediction. I'm not sure how Roger justifies his "something for everyone" which is clearly intended as a jibe at Hansen for over-egging things, as the prediction of a super El Nino was only ever presented as a reasonable possibility, not a high probability event. As I've said before, I do believe that scientists bear responsibility when their words and research are predictably misunderstood as a result of them presenting their results in a misleading manner. I don't think this is one of those occasions. His words were admirably clear (admittedly not numerically quantitative).

As Roger himself said at the time of the forecast:
If he is proven right with this forecast, contrary to all of the models and statistics, then his credibility will rise far beyond its already stratospheric levels.
(To avoid the appearance of piling onto Roger for the sake of it, I will mention that although I don't claim great expertise in the area, I actually agree with him here, a point which I may blog about in more detail later.)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Ahead of the game (for once)

Although perhaps we didn't quite choose the right destination, at least according to this "investment guru" who thinks we should have gone to China.

Not that he's at all biased, having just taken large bets against the pound. Anyway, although we have taken the emigration route, we are betting against him in the longer term and taking advantage of the extraordinary exchange rate to shift a lot of our spare ¥ back to £ (it's not like there is any sensible place to invest our spare cash here, and there are only so many Apple products to buy). It is amusing to convert our earnings and realise that we will quite possibly never earn even half as much as our current salaries if and when we return to the UK. In it for the gold? We couldn't possibly comment :-)

I also can't help but be bemused by all the media references to the Japanese economic disaster that we have apparently lived through over most of the last decade. It's been a very comfortable existence here, and although I realise we may have been somewhat insulated from the hardships of the less fortunate, the town centres have nowhere near as many abandoned premises and closing down sales as we saw on our recent visit to the UK. The prospects aren't great with exports falling off a cliff, but that is hardly Japan's doing.