Thursday, November 30, 2017

Implicit priors and the energy balance of the earth system

So, this old chestnut seems to keep on coming back....

Back in 2002, Gregory et al proposed that we could generate “An observationally based estimate of the climate sensitivity” via the energy balance equation S = F2x dT/Q where S is the equilibrium sensitivity to 2xCO2, F2x = 3.7 is the (known constant) forcing of 2xCO2, dT is the observed surface air temperature change and Q is the net radiative imbalance at the surface which takes account of both radiative forcing and the deep ocean heat uptake. (Their notation is marginally different, I'm simplifying a bit.)

Observational values for both dT and Q can be calculated/observed, albeit with uncertainties (reasonably taken to be Gaussian). Repeatedly sampling from these observationally-derived distributions and taking the ratio generates an ensemble of values for S which can be used as a probability distribution. Or can it? Is there a valid Bayesian interpretation of this, and if so, what was the prior for S? Because we know that it is not possible to generate a Bayesian posterior pdf from observations alone. And yet, it seems that one was generated.

This method may date back to before Gregory et al, and is still used quite regularly. For example, Thorsten Mauritsen (who we were visiting in Hamburg recently) and Robert Pincus did it in their recent “Committed warming” paper. Using historical observations, they generated a rather tight estimate for S as 1.1-4.4C, though this wasn't really the main focus of their paper. It seems a bit optimistic compared to much of the literature (which indicates the 20th century to provide a rather weaker constraint than that) so what's the explanation for this?

The key is in the use of the observationally-derived distributions for the quantities dT and Q. It seems quite common among scientists to interpret a measurement xo of an unknown x, with some known (or perhaps assumed) uncertainty σ, as implying the probability distribution N(xo,σ) for x. However, this is not justifiable in general. In Bayesian terms, it may be considered equivalent to starting with a uniform prior for x and updating with the likelihood arising from the observation. In many cases, this may be a reasonable enough thing to do, but it's not automatically correct. For instance, if x is known to be positive definite, then the posterior distribution must be truncated at 0, making it no longer Gaussian (even if only to a negligible degree). (Note however that it is perfectly permissible to do things like use (x- 2σ, x+ 2σ) as a 95% frequentist confidence interval for x, even when it is not a reasonable 95% Bayesian credible interval. Most scientists don't really understand the distinction between confidence intervals and credible intervals, which may help to explain why the error is so prevalent.)

So by using the observational estimates for dT and Q in this way, the researcher is implicitly making the assumption of independent uniform priors for these quantities. This implies, via the energy balance equation, that their prior on S is the quotient of two uniform priors. Which has a funny shape in general, with a flat region near 0 and then a quadratically-decaying tail. Moreover, this prior on S is not independent of the prior for either dT or Q. Although it looks like there are three unknown quantities, the energy balance equation tying them together means there are only two degrees of freedom here.

At the time of the IPCC AR4, this rather unconventional implicit prior for S was noticed by Nic Lewis who engaged in some correspondence with IPCC authors about the description and presentation of the Gregory et al results in that IPCC report. His interpretation and analysis is very sightly different to mine, in that he took the uncertainty in dT to be so (relatively) small that one could ignore it and consider the uniform prior on Q alone, which implies an inverse quadratic prior on S. However the principle of his analysis is similar enough.

In my opinion, a much more straightforward and natural way to approach the problem is instead to define the priors over Q and S directly. These can be whatever we want and are prepared to defend publicly. I've previously advocated a Cauchy prior for S which avoids the unreasonableness and arbitrariness of a uniform prior for this constant. In contrast, a uniform prior over Q (independent of S) is probably fairly harmless in this instance, and this does allow for directly using the observational estimate of Q as a pdf. Sampling from these priors to generate an ensemble of (S,Q) pairs allows us to calculate the resulting dT and weight the ensemble members according to how well the simulated values match the observed temperature rise. This is standard Monte Carlo integration using Bayes Theorem to update a prior with a likelihood. Applying this approach to Thorsten's data set (and using my preferred Cauchy prior), we obtain a slightly higher range for S of 1.2 - 4.8C. Here's a picture of the results (oops, ECS = S there, an inconsistent labelling that I can't be bothered fixing).

The median and 5-95% ranges for prior and posterior are also given. As you can see, the Cauchy prior doesn't really cut off the high tail that aggressively. In fact it's a lot higher than a U[0,10] or even U[0,20] prior would imply.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Watt's up with Pat Frank?

And now for your scheduled return to the climate blogosphere wars. I haven't missed it at all. Pat Frank has posted a rather tedious pile of blether on WTFUWT which mentions me, albeit tangentially. Well, maybe a bit more than tangentially. The story, such as it is, is that he submitted a paper (which apparently has been rejected 6 times already by different journals) to GMD where I'm an editor. I took on responsibility for dealing with it, which was a fairly simple task as the glaring error in the manuscript is not really that well hidden. A bit of googling confirmed that several others had already seen this and dealt with it appropriately, so rather than waste the time, effort and good-will of hard-pressed reviewers I summarily rejected it. There followed the inevitable appeal which was sent to Jules (dealing with appeals happens to be one of her specific roles as an Exec Ed) who passed it on to fellow Exec Ed Didier Roche due to the obvious conflict of interest. He has upheld the appeal but not before several more rambling screeds appeared, and the blog post, and several hundred comments.

I'd suggest the comment thread for general entertainment purposes, but I defy anyone to wade though it all (never was it more true that comment threads on blogs are a write-only medium). A couple of sane voices did their best to uphold my honour but the vast majority is just boring vacuous idiocy. Sigh. Are there not any interesting sceptics around these days?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We have corporate sponsorship

I've been waiting a long time to use this clip!

Finally signed our first contract for some work which is due to start shortly. It's not a huge project but should be interesting and generate some worthwhile results. We didn't really have to punch ourselves in the face or threaten to reveal the dirty secrets of climate modelling (jules already has a journal dedicated to that cause).

If anyone else wants to jump on the bandwagon and pay jules or me to do something interesting, leave a comment :-)

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Stockholm art

Stockholm has a modern art museum and we all know how important it is to open one's mind to surrealist thoughts before a science conference...

We've never had a cargo disaster like this bicycle case, despite shipping 3 tandems across the oceans to Japan and back!

I soon discovered one of the escaped bicycle wheels spinning in a corner:

Wonder what beautiful piccies will be added to these frames, presently labelled "Plingeling" and "Pling":

Perhaps I should have looked behind this sheet to see the exhibit behind, but I was too shy:

But there was also some good stuff:

Can't beat Klein bloooooo! The handy information board informed me that he spent time in Japan learning Zen. That must partly explain why it is just so good. Ahhhh...

And then there was the extensive MODEL GRID SECTION of which this is a small part!!!!! 
Woo Hooo! 
If GMD had any money it could sponsor this!

[jules' pics] Stockholm

#PMIP2017 was held in Stockholm. Maybe it was the unusual warmth and sunshine, but Stockholm seemed like a very happy kind of place.


Nowhere else have I seen children swinging joyfully from the street signs.

Construction is always good sign of prosperity...?

Then there is the river

Private yachts.

Public life saving.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 10/01/2017 02:17:00 PM

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Running hot...or not?

The question has been asked (repeatedly): are the CMIP models “running hot”? By which it is not meant, are the models too warm - they have a wide range of temperature biases which are normally subtracted off by the use of anomalies (which is a separate debate) - but whether they are warming up too much relative to observations.

But I don't care about that, because I've been running too! It's been a bit warm in Hamburg and humid too, so I was a bit apprehensive about this morning's half marathon up and down a bit of river bank at the north edge of the city. 

However I didn't need to worry about that, it was grey and chilly this morning. What I should have been more concerned about is the lack of recent training and surfeit of pastries (not to mention currywurst).

It's a funny affair with another identical half marathon going off 20 mins ahead of us, that being the “Cup” event (part of a series of three races). (Fortunately I didn't find that web page until just now or I might have had to enter all of them.) But the cup runners are not all that quick, so I spent most of the race overtaking them. This wasn't really a problem as the small field of 500 runners was fairly well strung out by the time I caught them. The course was a riverside path, just hard-trodden earth which was mostly dry but a little slippery in parts.

It wasn't all as flat and smooth as this!

Plenty of sharp turns and short rises too. Despite being about 500m too short, it was still a personal worst, slower even than my very first half marathon when I'd never run that far before! 9th finisher in my race in 1:29:14, 2nd MV45 and also well beaten by one woman who was 2nd overall.

Saturday, September 23, 2017


I had curry for lunch on Thursday.

It was the wurst!

(Actually it was rather good, however we forgot to take a pic so you'll have to make do with this less appealing version from wikipedia.)

By massive coincidence I saw this tweet from Gavin on the same day:

which quotes from this NY Times article.

Google tells me Curry's been all over this "fundamentally dumb" idea like a rash. It must have seemed like a good wheeze to earmark some funding and publicity for those who can't raise it on the merits of their research. But now she's obvioulsy been tapped up for membership of the “team”, it's finally dawned on her that she'd have to work with a bunch of crazies and losers who have no idea what the hell they are talking about.

What hasn't dawned on her yet, is that that's where she belongs.

Seriously, who is she trying to kid? This is the very same Judith Curry who infamously puffed some brain-meltingly abysmal drivel by Murray Salby, doesn't know what the word “most” means, and wrapped herself in flags of convenience but couldn't explain what they meant. To name just three episodes early in her blogging career before I gave up even bothering to check what she was saying.

Apropos of not very much, she sent me her CV a couple of days ago.

Wonder why she thought I might be interested in it?

This “red team” stuff is hardly new. Who can forget the “Not the IPCC” report that never saw the light of day? Or the various attempts to set up sceptical journals or scientific societies that are invariably still-born (or more often, never-born). You think they'd work it out eventually. Same shit, different day, as they say in Georgia.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Beyond equilibrium climate sensitivity

New(ish, but I'm just getting round to writing about it) review article by Knutti et al on climate sensitivity. The detailed review of published estimates is impressive, a lot of work must have gone into that. It has been spotted that the Callendar estimate is wrong: the value in the paper is about 1.8C for a doubling of CO2, which is rather lower than the value plotted in the figure. (This calculation ignores changes in clouds, so it's impressively close to what we would estimate today for the same processes).

Probably the most important aspect of the update, however, is summarised in the figure of how radiative imbalance changes with temperature as a model warms up (after an abrupt quadrupling of CO2). Simple linear first-order modelling of the energy balance would suggest that the points should lie on a straight line, with the intercepts on the y and x axes being the initial forcing  and the equilibrium temperature change respectively (and these values can be halved to get those pertaining to a doubling of CO2). A handy consequence of this is that the equilibrium response could be estimated in a climate model, without the need to run the model to equilibrium. Based on this idea (often referred to as the “Gregory method ”), the equilibrium sensitivities of the CMIP models are typically estimated on the basis of a 150 year simulation following a quadrupling of CO2.

However models - and quite probably, the real world - doesn't behave like that. Instead, the points appear to cluster around a curve which implies the true equilibrium change is greater than that which would be estimated from analysis of an initial segment of the run.

I can't help wonder how rapidly and widely this method would have been accepted if it had been proposed by someone less eminent. I suspect there would be more of a “nice idea, but it doesn't really work that well”. Incidentally, the behaviour is nothing to do with quadrupling per se, you get similar results for greater and lesser forcing changes. I believe quadrupling was just chosen (rather than the more conventional doubling) to get a greater signal/noise ratio in the changes.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Make our Planet Great Again

Our kind host has pointed us towards the German call for applications for 4-year fellowships under the joint France-Germany “Make our Planet Great Again” program. This was originally Macron's brainchild, which attracted a certain amount of media attention possibly disproportionate to its scientific importance. Now the Germans have jumped on board with an essentially parallel (albeit smaller) scheme which offers awards of up to €1.5m over 4 years to attract overseas scientists to set up groups in Germany, again focussing on climate and sustainable energy sciences. It may not be a huge initiative but it will surely be very attractive to a lot of people, including perhaps those in the UK who are uncertain what Brexit will bring. If we were remotely interested in going abroad and setting up a new research group we'd probably be applying. But we aren't.

Monday, September 18, 2017

More D&A and FvB.

By chance I happened to notice another paper with an interesting title appearing in Climatic Change on the very same day as the recent Mann et al paper: Is the choice of statistical paradigm critical in extreme event attribution studies? While my noticing it was fortuitous, the publication date was no coincidence, as it was clearly intended as a "comment on" in all but name. I am not particularly impressed by such shenanigans. I know that Nature often publishes a simultaneous commentary along with the article itself, but these are generally along the lines of a sycophantic laudation extolling the virtues of the new work. The climatic change version seems to be designed to invite a critical comment which does not provide the authors under attack any right to reply. Jules and I were previously supposed to be a victim of this behaviour when we published this paper. However the commentary never got written, so in the end we suffered nothing more than a lengthy delay to final publication.

Anyway, back to the commentary. Is the choice of statistical paradigm critical? I can't really be bothered discussing it in any detail. The arguments have been hashed out before (including on this blog, e.g. here). The authors provide a rather waffly defence of frequentist approaches without really providing any credible support IMO, based on little more than some rather silly straw men. Of course a badly-chosen prior can give poor results, but so can an error in your computer program or a typo in your manuscript, and no-one argues that it's better to just take a guess instead of doing a calculation and writing down the answer. Well, almost no-one.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 Winton betting market

There could be something paywalled in the FT about this, the global warming policy foundation forum farce have copied a bit and managed to post a quote from somewhere saying
"A leading global warming expert believes that the latest UN warning on man-made climate change is a "big gamble" as temperatures have not increased since 1997"
Not really much of an expert then.

I heard about the Winton thing at the AGU, where Mark Roulston had a poster in the betting and finance session. Good to heard it’s progressing.

Thanks to Victor Venema I've seen the full article which seems entirely reasonable and doesn't contain the GWPF quote anywhere, so I guess they just randomly stuck it on to make themselves look ridiculous.

Edit: the actual site seems to be here though not functional as yet. Blue Skies Research Ltd!

After thinking about it for a few years we have finally bitten the bullet and incorporated Blue Skies Research Ltd as a private company. Since there are two of us, we couldn’t very well set up as a sole trader and a partnership didn’t seem particularly attractive either. For our situation, the tax situation seems fairly similar in all cases: income tax and NI contributions on the one hand, versus corporation and dividend taxes on the other.

What precipitated the action is still under discussion, but will probably (hopefully!) be blogged about in the future some time. The overarching aim is to enable us to collaborate officially in research and funding applications with other partners: if anyone out there has a bit of spare end-of-project budget burning a hole in their pocket, or is considering a funding application that could benefit from our expertise, then we would certainly be interesting in hearing about it but we aren’t really planning a huge push for funding and world domination. Well not quite yet anyway 🙂

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Encyclopedia of Geosciences

As per title. A work in progress (well, hardly started) so I wouldn't want to be too critical. A prize for the first person to find out where “climate change” is located.

That's all for now :-)

Thursday, September 07, 2017

More on Bayesian approaches to detection and attribution

Timely given events all over the place, this new paper by Mann et al has just appeared.  It's a well-aimed jab at the detection and attribution industry which could perhaps be held substantially responsible for the sterile “debate” over the extent to which AGW has influenced extreme events (and/or will do so in the future). I've argued against D&A several times in the past (such as here, here, here and here) and don't intend to rehash the same arguments over and over again. Suffice to say that it doesn't usefully address the questions that matter, and cannot do so by design.

Mann et al argue that the standard frequentist approach to D&A is inappropriate both from a simple example which shows it to generate poor results, and from the ethical argument that “do no harm” is a better starting point than “assume harmless”. The precautionary versus proactionary principles can be argued indefinitely, and neither really works when reduced ad absurdum, so I'm not really convinced that the latter is a strong argument. A clearer demonstration could perhaps have been provided by a rational cost-benefit analysis in which costs of action versus inaction (and the payoffs) could have been explicitly calculated. This would have still supported their argument of course, as the frequentist approach is not a rational basis for decisions. I suppose that's where I tend to part company with the philosophers (check the co-author list) in preferring a more quantitative approach. I'm not saying they are wrong, it's perhaps a matter of taste.

[I find to my surprise I have not written about the precautionary vs proactionary principle before]

Other points that could have been made (and had I been a reviewer, I'd probably have encouraged the authors to include them) are that when data are limited and the statistical power of the analysis is weak, it is not only inevitable that any frequentist-based estimate that achieves statistical significance will be a large overestimate of the true magnitude of the effect, but there's even a substantial chance it will have the wrong sign! A Bayesian prior solves (or at least greatly ameliorates) these problems. Another benefit of the Bayesian approach is the ability to integrate different sources of information. My favourite example of the weakness of traditional D&A here is the way that we can (at least this was the case a few years ago) barely “attribute” any warming of the world's oceans under this methodology. The reason for this is that the internal variability of the oceans is large (and uncertain) enough that we cannot be entirely confident that an unforced ocean would not have warmed up by itself. On the other hand, it is absurd to believe the null hypothesis that we haven't warmed it, as it has been in contact with the atmosphere that we have certainly warmed, and the energy imbalance due to GHGs is significant, and we've even observed a warming very closely in line with what our models predict should have happened. But D&A can't assimilate this information. In the context of Mann et al, we might consider information about warming sea surface temperatures as relevant to diagnosing and predicting hurricanes, for example, rather than relying entirely on storm counts.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Well-tossed word salad with French dressing

Bjorn put on a little conference last week in honour of our visit (or if you prefer alternative facts, we made sure our dates included the meeting). Mostly, it consisted of an up-to-date compendium of what people are currently doing in climate model development which was very interesting to us now we aren't based in a lab. Of course this work tends to be fairly incremental stuff so having a bit of a hiatus doesn't matter too much for those of us not actually working at the cutting edge of this stuff!

Interspersed between the science sessions were occasional “Cross-cutting invited presentations on the history, philosophy and sociology of Earth system science”. A fair chunk of this served only to reinforce my jaundiced view of the social sciences, but some was genuinely interesting and thought-provoking. In that respect, Wendy Parker presented an interesting discussion of the role of models and how we use them, arguing that rather than considering a model as a hypothesis to test (and which is inevitably false when examined in detail, as all models contain simplifications and approximations) we should instead form hypotheses about the adequacy of the model for a specific task, and aim to test these. I don't think this is revolutionary - surely many modellers already do think in these terms to some extent - but seeing it laid out explicitly in some detail was useful, I think.

There was some stuff about “consensus” and the role of the IPCC in contributing to the public understanding of science. I don't think this discussion really achieved a great deal. Thomas Stocker (who was present) gave a robust defence of the IPCC process but whatever your viewpoint, this is all largely irrelevant to the process of scientific research that most attendees focus on in their day jobs. I do think the IPCC is a bit of a dead weight sometimes, as an outsider it sometimes appears  that the authors consider their main role when responding to comments is to defend their first (public) draft against all criticism, and of course there's no independent editorial control over this (as there would be in most peer-reviewed publication). But on the other hand, even this supertanker can be observed to have slowly changed its direction over a period of time when we look back over a decade or so. Persistence, when combined with being right, generally wins out in the end. Thomas Stocker also presented some results from this analysis of the IPCC text from a readability point of view.  He was a bit apologetic about the fairly low scores achieved of 10-30 for the IPCC SPMs, though he did point out that not only was WG1 at the high end of this, but also the summary headline statements were generally significant easier reading than the texts. For calibration, scientific papers are around 40, quality papers 40 and tabloids 50 on the Flesch Reading Ease score that was used. 

The slide that motivated the blog title was a dense screed of text from one of the social scientists which, when I analysed the final sentence with the Flesch Reading Ease formula, achieved the notable score of -21.5. I think this probably means that it can be understood by no-one, even the author. However she did partially redeem herself by referring to the silly 1.5C limit stuff as fake science, relying as it does on fantasy technology that doesn't yet exist (at any meaningful scale). I'm still rather disappointed by the alacrity with which the IPCC has jumped at the opportunity to write a report on this, despite the utter futility of the exercise.

I see I haven't really commented on the science. Um, science was being done, by lots of people, in a number of different directions. A decade, in the context of “decadal prediction”, still means 2-5 years, this being about the limit of any sort of measurable (let alone useful) prediction skill. My decadal prediction is that they'll stop calling it decadal prediction in about another decade :-) There is lots of carbon cycle modelling which I have never really got that excited by. I know it's important for determining how the climate will change (as a function of emissions) but it still seems a bit ad-hoc and empirical to me. Paleoclimate research is increasingly valuable for testing models, though I'm not sure how it will all fit into the new IPCC chapter structure that is on the verge of being approved. But as above, that's not about the science per se but merely about how it's summarised. Should I say something more? Well, if anyone has a specific interest piqued by the program, ask away. I think presentations may also appear on the website at some time. By the way, having made a rather late decision to come, Jules and I were merely attendees with no presentations of our own.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Practice and philosophy of climate model tuning across six US modeling centers

Paper with the above title just appeared in GMD. Despite being a European English-language journal we welcome Americans and even Americanisms, so I'll quote the title as written rather than as it should be :-) In this paper, Gavin has nicely summarised (or perhaps I may say, summarized) how approaches to model tuning vary throughout the US climate science community.

It's a slightly unusual manuscript type for GMD in that it doesn't present any technical advances (such as parameter estimation techniques, examples of which have been published in GMD previously) but instead describes the rather more ad-hoc hand tuning that model developers currently do. As such it generated some behind-the-scenes discussion as to how best to handle the manuscript within the GMD framework. We at GMD have always seen our role as enabling rather than constraining the publication of modelling science, and were already considering the concept of “review” paper types which survey a field rather than notably advancing it, so this was an opportunity rather than problem for us. The reviewers also made constructive comments which my job as editor fairly straightforward.

A major point of interest in the paper (and in model tuning generally) is to what extent the models have or have not been tuned to represent the 20th century warming. This has significant implications for how we would interpret their performance and potentially use the observational data to preferentially distinguish between models. Gavin has always been quite insistent that he doesn't use these data:

and I certainly have no reason to doubt his claim. On the other hand, this Isaac Held post on tuning is also worth reading. In that post, Isaac Held argues that the warming is probably baked-in to some extent in the way that the models are built and evaluated during their construction. On balance I think I prefer Isaac's way of putting it to Gavin's, but it's a nuanced point. Certainly there is no question that modellers do not repeatedly re-run 20C simulations, tweaking parameter values each time until they get a good fit to the observed record. So if this is what people are envisaging when they discuss the topic of “model tuning” then Gavin is certainly correct, this simply doesn't happen. And I'm happy to believe that some modelling teams don't run the 20C simulation at all until the very end of the model development phase, and simply send their very first set of simulation results to the CMIP database. But I've seen for myself that some groups have sometimes done these simulations at an earlier stage, and on seeing a poor result, have gone back and redesigned some aspects of the model to fix the problems that have arisen (these are likely to be more specific than just “the wrong trend”). And even beyond this, it's a bit of an open question to what extent the tuning that is done to individual model components is truly independent of our knowledge about the recent warming which constrains our estimates of various aspects of model behaviour. But given the limited nature of any such tuning, (and indeed the limited agreement between models and data!) perhaps it's a close enough approximation to the truth to just call them untuned.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Hamburg revisited

Yes we're in Hamburg again, which at least partially explains the ferry. We are back at the Max-Plank Institut für Meteorologie for another visit courtesy of Bjorn Stevens and Thorsten Mauritsen. Who is not Mauritian despite the attempts of my spellchecker to make him so! Going by ferry enabled us to bring bicycles (in the new stealth camper van) 

and rent an apartment a little way out of the centre without bothering too much with public transport (which is of course actually very good, but never as good as a bike), and also tied in with a brief visit to jules' brother and family who are conveniently located along the way in the Netherlands.

(Token photo of Dutch family cycling)

Wrong side driving in a right hand drive van with limited visibility wasn't anywhere near as fraught as I'd feared it might be and we got to Hamburg in one piece thanks in no small part to Google's navigation on our phones. Damn the evil interfering EU and their abolition of roaming charges! Pavement cycling on all the crazy lanes in Hamburg is considerably more challenging, I have adopted the habit of tucking in behind someone who seems to know what they are doing and just following their lead. Fortunately the hamburgers seem much more tolerant of each other than the british would be in similar circumstances.

So we are back in science mode and more blogging on random topics should be forthcoming. Hooray, I hear you shout. Well actually I didn't. But I'll do it anyway.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

[jules' pics] ships - Harwich to Hook of Holland





So much more civilised than flying... especially when transporting a tandem.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 8/26/2017 08:43:00 PM

Friday, July 07, 2017

Bishop's Castle Tandem Triathlon

We were aware of this annual event many years ago before we went to Japan. However, back then I didn't run and jules was not that regular a swimmer, so we never got round to entering it. The last couple of years since returning from Japan it has clashed with our local club triathlon so it was only this year that we finally got round to doing it for the first time. It's a very informal event and the format is slightly non-standard in that the pool swim (1km), tandem ride (32km), run (10kmish) is followed by a final 5km tandem ride back to the event centre as the (trail) run is situated in a hilly forest some way out of town.

We drove down to Bishop's Castle the day before, not having worked out that this meant “enjoying” Friday evening rush hour on the M6...though it didn't turn out too bad as it happened. My Airbnb arrangement was a comedy of errors due to various communication problems and minor misunderstandings but it all turned out very well in the end and we found a decent pub dinner for pre-event calorie-loading - the traditional high-fat high-beer version as pioneered by yours truly for previous marathons (e.g. 1, 2). The airbnb had a little kitchen so we made quite a success of breakfast too. Theresa May take note!

Our start time was 10:52 which gave plenty of time to digest the bacon, black pudding, potato scone, egg, tomato, beans, mushroom, cereal, croissant, banana, yoghurt (albeit not all on the same plate). Oh, and we also managed a good look at the chaos taking place in the pool before jules had to jump in and join it. There were 4 lanes each with about 3 swimmers splashing up and down who had been theoretically laned according to their predicted swim times, but it seems they were mostly lying or, perhaps we may charitably say, mistaken as to their prowess. Jules ended up overtaking her breaststroking lanees multiple times but if anything this seemed to spur her on to a sub-19 min time, comfortably ahead of expectations. Then she made a quick switch of googles for specs and on the with the shoes and helmet and off we were on the bike.

The bike leg was great, it was fun to go properly fast again on a fairly flat course on A and B roads. There were plenty of tandems ahead of us to chase down around the course and one quite steep hill that we had to do twice (the route being a lap and a bit). Up the hill for the second time and I had to jump off and head into the forest for a moderately hilly run. That was really hard under what was by then a very hot mid-day sun. Even trees don't provide much shade when the sun is vertically overhead! There were times that I seriously considered stopping/walking/lying down in a ditch but fortunately water bottles handed out on course stopped me from expiring. I didn't even get a rest while changing shoes as due to the double transition I'd decided to just ride in running shoes and old-fashioned toe clips (which worked out fine, it didn't really handicap us on the bike). Back on the bike and downhill to the finish was a bit of a blur and then we forced down some food and drink before watching the later teams come in.


Perhaps "lying down in the sun while people ride past" would be more precise!

(top two pics from Sandy Plenty, bottom one by jules)

Chip timing and a live-updated web page (apparently for the first time this year) meant we could immediately see how well we had done and who of the remaining competitors was likely to be close...initially we were the first mixed team and 2nd overall....and then one more male team came in ahead...but all the mixed teams were a bit slower! Making us the national mixed tandem triathlon champions for 2017. Possibly world mixed tandem triathlon champions too, as this may be the only event of its type in the world. And we were first vet (over 40) team of any gender too. Jules has been basking in her multiple QOMs on strava, even though I somehow still managed to complete the first lap some 8 seconds faster than she did :-)

To be fair, all the fastest women are on tandems, this is clearly a route that only tandemmers race round (it's not an official RTTC course). So we don't feel too guilty about the ranking. We're hoping to return to defend our title...

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Verdict

I'm probably supposed to be doing some climate science, but that's not been top priority recently (might be different if someone was paying me to do it). Actually there is some slow progress and there will probably be something to report eventually. But it's all gone a bit boring in advance of the next CMIP experiments and IPCC report.

So, this is more politics. After the arbitration, the verdict. Not mine, but the country's. Don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger. I greatly enjoyed Thursday night, starting with the exit poll that no-one really believed until the results came in more or less confirming it. The local constituency went as expected, though at least the Green candidate saved his deposit with one of the best results they obtained around the country. The adjacent LibDem fared little better. The surprises were elsewhere.

To be fair, May did warn us that if she didn't get a majority we'd face a coalition of chaos propped up with terrorist sympathisers. The only point she forgot to mention was that she'd be leading it. It seems pretty much an ideal situation, a humiliated and ineffectual Tory govt limping on for a few months until the inevitable failure of the brexit process finally puts them out of their misery. Their eagerness to jump into bed with stone age bigots really does tell us (anyone who was still wondering) what sort of people they are, and is especially poignant after having been dealt such a spanking by an increased progressive vote from the 18-24 age group. That's one way to not learn a lesson.

Most people on the mainland are pretty uninterested in NI politics, myself included, but when they start to realise quite how unpleasant the DUP are, there may be significant opposition to any alliance. It's not just a matter of being effectively the political wing of the UDA and UVF. They are also reactionary creationist homophobic climate change deniers. In fact they are so toxic that the Scottish Tories have already threatened to break away if the DUP are allowed to influence Govt policy. And if they are not, then what exactly is the nature of their alliance? It will hardly reduce tensions in NI either, where the power-sharing structures are currently struggling to survive due to an ongoing scandal that the DUP are up to their necks in. If the UK govt so blatantly allies itself to one side and re-imposes direct rule there's likely to be unrest to put it mildly. May is of course completely tone deaf to any and all concerns, as her “carry on regardless” approach shows, though she won't be able to escape from reality indefinitely. We've already seen that she can't even reshuffle her ministers.

I'm not sure that a Labour govt would have been preferable really, since then they'd have had to carry the can for brexit and the Tories would then have been able to argue that they would have made more of a success of things. Of course they cannot, the unspoken truth which has poisoned the whole political process over the last couple of years is that brexit cannot possibly succeed. It is the Kobayashi Maru of modern politics: a test that has no positive outcome, the only way to win is not to play:

“The objective of the test is not for the cadet to outfight or outplan the opponent but rather to force the cadet into a no-win situation and simply observe how he or she reacts.”

The Leave campaign was allowed to get away with saying different (and contradictory) things to different people but as soon as anyone tries to put together a coherent strategy, it is obvious that there's no good outcome. The DUP has a particularly brilliant strategy of simultaneously demanding both no special deal for NI and no hard border with the Republic. Easy to say in a manifesto, not so easy to work out what it actually means in concrete terms. So far, no-one has exactly covered themselves in glory over brexit plans - perhaps the LibDems and Greens are the closest to having a rational response - but we must remember it was the Tories, and those who voted for brexit, who created this situation. They broke it, they own it.

The desperate scramble to put together this Maydup Coalition in time for the brexit negotiations is the icing on the cake: the timing of the election is entirely the responsibility of the Tories who forced through the invocation of Article 50 immediately before calling it. They can't even replace May, there's no way they can afford the time for a leadership election now and any new leader would face the inevitable (and accurate) criticism that they had no mandate for their views. With their election campaign having been so focussed on May as the “strong and stable” leader, they seem to be stuck with her for the time being at least. Though it's obvious enough that the plots are well underway, it is only a matter of choosing the first available moment to plunge the knife.

In another installation of “what has the EU done for us” (and returning briefly to science again), they are pushing hard for all research outputs to be open access by 2020. Hooray, we (supposedly) won't be EU members by then so can hide our research behind paywalls. 

Monday, June 05, 2017


My reader is probably waiting with bated breath for my views on the forthcoming election. In the blue corner, Teresa “strong and stable” May (or should that be “u-turn when you want to”). In the red, Jeremy “don't mention the brother” Corbyn. In the ignored corner, Nutter and Failing and a few others.

Of course, it's all about brexit, so there hasn't been any sort of meaningful debate about this. Both tories and labour are rushing headlong for the most catastrophic outcome they can possibly engineer, and there isn't a fag-paper of difference between them on anything substantive. Corbyn promises better employment protection and May less red tape but these are not really issues of how and why we leave the EU, rather what we do afterwards. The Labour vision may be marginally more attractive but that's basically a question of what colour deck-chairs you prefer on the “Titanic Success”.

It's important to realise, there is no such thing as  a “good brexit”. The only reasonable brexit would be something functionally indistinguishable from the status quo, which both sides have ruled out. The choice is between a bad brexit, a worse brexit and a catastrophic brexit, with all the smart money on the latter. All competent experts have repeatedly pointed out the huge problems that brexit will bring, including but not limited to our European flights (there's no agreement for anything post 2019 and timetables will have to be designed well in advance of that), the operation of our nuclear industry (including such details as medical isotopes), the huge customs problem at Dover/Calais for which the infrastructure does not exist and simply cannot be built in time, the Northern Irish border which will likely spark off unification violence, the harm to our financial industry, the fact that we aren't even normal WTO members in our own right and negotiating that will take agreement from the other 162, the 759 separate agreements with 168 countries that need to be renegotiated in the remaining 661 days etc. The whole thing is idiotic nonsense and the failure of most of our politicians to say as much in plain terms is a gross dereliction of their duty.

In my opinion, the most likely outcome by some way remains a year or so of increasingly acrimonious negotiations or rather arguments, followed by a collapse of the process and long period of recrimination. This national humiliation will come at great cost of course, not just economically but also politically, culturally and socially, as we are already starting to see. Lots of people are starting to bleat about the entirely predictable consequences. I'm intensely relaxed about the poor farmers, since just about every field round here had a “Vote Leave” placard this time last year. They of all people should realise that they will reap what they have sown!

And all for what? Even though it was all about “taking back control”, no-one is prepared to make any promises about immigration anyway. For while the EU was always the convenient excuse for the large-scale immigration that govts of all stripes have encouraged over recent years, it was never actually anything more than that. They could have reduced immigration substantially had they wanted to, but they saw the obvious economic benefits of it and rather than arguing honestly in favour, passed the buck on to the EU. That is no longer possible, so we get vague ambitions which are quite clearly meant as nothing more than a dog-whistle to UKIP voters who are presumably thought to be too stupid to realise that there isn't a plan to actually do anything.

I've been enjoying the way the Tory campaign has been falling apart. “Strong and stable” has been laughed out of existence, it doesn't seem such a clever idea now to base the campaign on May's personality when it is obviously so brittle and unpleasant. Amusingly, the local election leaflet which eventually plopped through the letter box just a couple of days ago features May more centrally than the candidate himself, which should lose him some votes but I'm sure won't affect the result. As for the central conceit of May being the only person capable of negotiating brexit, if anyone seriously thinks she'll actually be PM on the day we leave the EU, I feel a wager coming on.

The only mainstream party with anything approaching a sane policy on brexit is the LibDems, so I'll be supporting them. Or rather, I would be, but they have agreed a local pact with the Greens in a neighbouring constituency (Harrogate and Knaresborough) that they won't stand here and the greens won't stand there. Think they've got the better of that bargain as H&K is at least a possible LibDem seat though not one of their top targets. So I'll be voting Green instead, the candidate seems to have made a very good impression locally (though we missed the local hustings, being in Hamburg at the time). The Greens have a very similar policy to the LibDems anyway and it wouldn't matter who stood here, the local “pig in a blue rosette” is guaranteed to be re-elected even though he was a staunch remainer this time last year.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

[jules' pics] Pond

Hornby Castle belongs to someone who I was at primary school with for a few years before he went to Eeeeton. I probably only remember this because his grandmother joked about having to take out a second mortgage on the castle in order to afford the uniform. Oliver won't remember me, of course, especially as he is a few years younger, but he sometimes opens his castle gardens up to visitors. Luckily, there was time to walk round most of the garden before the rain started, and just as it got going, his aunt gave a talk about the history of the castle, which was quite an achievement as she started in the 11th century and used no notes.

Hornby Castle

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 5/21/2017 05:45:00 PM

Friday, May 19, 2017

Peak performance

A few weeks ago, I took part in the annual Three Peaks Race (spring version). In contrast to the autumn version that jules and I helped to marshall, participants in the spring event do not have to carry a bicycle but may walk or jog unencumbered bar a waterproof layer and bar of chocolate. Not too much walking though, as the time cut-offs are fairly severe. A 4 week gap from Manchester Marathon was plenty of recovery time, at least that was the theory. As the date approached I realised I wasn't really that motivated to aim for an optimal performance, and just set myself the target of getting round without too much of a struggle.

The race, as you might have guessed, takes in the famous three peaks in the Yorkshire Dales, which are conveniently located just a few miles up the road from us. So I had no excuse for not knowing what I had let myself in for, and had done a couple of "2 peaks" training runs, though never yet covered the full race distance. Recent weather had been dry making for very fast and easy conditions, with few of the usual bogs. But it's still 38km and 1600m of climb and descent. 

There were several other club members entered, including one who was probably going to be a bit quicker than me. I set off steadily and as expected he gradually pulled away over the first hill, eventually disappearing out of sight. Very much to my surprise, I caught him up around half way, he had a bad day and finished rather slowly.

Jules came to support and hand me my water bottle at the pit-stops where the course crosses roads, for which I was grateful on an unusually hot day for April.  She also took a couple of photos of course:

Runners heading towards Ingleborough

What do you mean "that's not much of a peak"?

I had a reasonably successful day, finishing comfortably under 4 hours though really I think most people would hope to take less than an hour more than their marathon time, especially with such good conditions. The women's record was well broken by Victoria Wilkinson, the men's record was not after the leader managed to head off the wrong way down Pen-y-Ghent. I think one or two veteran records went too.

In honour of the event, I have composed a haiku:

Ah Pen-y-Ghent ah
Ah ah ah Whernside ah ah
Ah Ingleboraaargh...

With apologies to Basho, although interestingly it seem that one of his most famous poems was not actually written by him.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017 Ich bin ein Hamburger

We are currently at MPI Hamburg courtesy of Thorsten Mauritsen. Just here for the week but planning a longer visit later in the year. I haven’t been here before, and jules has not particularly great memories of a brief meeting elsewhere in Hamburg 20 years ago, so the city has been a pleasant surprise so far. Got here yesterday just in time for a jog to the lake and back in the Sunday afternoon sun, followed by a somewhat disappointing hamburger,  so hopefully we’ll have a chance to put that right later this week.

2017-05-07 17.04.45.jpg

First thing this morning we gave short seminars which was great timing as it now means everyone else knows who we are and what we’ve been doing. That’s something we failed to manage so well at NCAR last year. Most of the joint interest concerns the use of paleoclimate simulations to test and validate different versions of their new/forthcoming climate model.

The building is interesting though jules can’t help but wonder if disillusioned modellers are ever tempted to take the short-cut down from the 4th floor…

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Energy budget constraints on climate sensitivity in light of inconstant climate feedbacks

The recent NCC paper of that name prompted a comment. Plausible? Yes, certainly. This idea has been doing the rounds for some time, the basic idea being that the response to radiative forcing is not precisely as would be predicted from a simple energy balance model with a fixed sensitivity in which the radiative feedback depends solely on the global mean temperature anomaly, but rather one in which the pattern of warming also affects the radiative feedback. And in particular, during a warming scenario, the feedback is a bit higher (and therefore effective sensitive is a bit lower) during the transient phase than it is at the ultimate warmer equilibrium. This happens in most (almost all) climate models, it's certainly plausible that it applies to the real climate system too. It is the major weakness of the regression-based "Gregory method" for estimating the equilibrium sensitivity of models, in which extrapolation of a warming segment tends to lead to an underestimate of the equilibrium result. Here's a typical example of that from a paper by Maria Rutgenstein:

The regression line based on the first 150 years predicts an equilibrium response of 5.4C (for 4xCO2) but the warming actually continues past 6.2C (and who knows how much further it may continue). There are numerous pics of this sort of thing floating around with multiple models showing qualitatively similar results under a range of scenarios, so this is not just an artefact of the specific experiment shown here.

Kyle Armour has also done a fair amount of research looking at the way regional effects and warming patterns combine with regional feedbacks to generate this sort of behaviour (eg here). This new work tries to quantify this effect in order to more precisely interpret the observed 20th century temperature changes in terms of the equilibrium response. For some reason I can't get through the paywall right now to check the details but in principle it seems entirely reasonable.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

[jules' pics] The morning after the night before

If you let them keep your contact details then, as well as sending you news on their latest fundraising scheme, your Oxbridge college will invite you back for din dins every decade or so. These days it isn't entirely free, but still a good deal considering the liver damage they try to cause you. Maybe the college is hoping the experience will make us all feel more mortal and rush home and make generous legacies in our wills. Although I matriculated at two Oxbridge colleges, I've managed to miss all these college din dins, due to being in foreign, and so last night's was my first. I only really went because I hadn't been to one before, but it exceeded expectation. Twenty five years on and it was very interesting to find out about the paths people had taken. Everyone I spoke to seems to be making good use of their talents, although ... how can a country need that many corporate lawyers? 

The dinner was dark and drunk so no decent pics, and we start this morning after the night before with breakfast at Corpus. The real sign that quarter of a century has passed is that several of the dead people on the walls are people we knew in life!

Then off for a little walk to try and sober up some more.
On the first corner is Corpus's special toy, Clocky McClock Face
King's Parade is just next door to Corpus.

Here's King's Chapel

Then to the river where the early punter catches the tourists

Later in the day, people were lazing in the warmth 

And the blossom were in full bloom

But back home, James was left holding the baby...

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 4/09/2017 09:27:00 PM

Monday, April 03, 2017


Marathon time has come round again. Jules and I decided against a trip to the EGU this year, having just recently gone to the AGU instead. So instead of Vienna Marathon, it was back to Manchester, who had kindly offered an extra discount to make up for the disasters of last year (which didn't actually affect us much as it happened). Due to a clash with some men kicking a pig's bladder around a muddy field, all hotels were getting booked up and expensive quite early on, but I still found a room for a tolerable price, this time at the Horrible Inn Media City, which actually failed to live up to its name by being rather comfortable and coping well with an influx of runners (surely not their usual clientele).

We suddenly realised as the event approached that it didn't really make much sense for jules to waste a weekend and come too, we'd already done The Lowry and it's not that exciting to stand around for 3 hours watching hordes of unknown joggers in Manchester suburbs for the second time. So when I realised that William was also doing it I suggested sharing the room with him, which actually worked out very well as we had a good chat over dinner about the dismal state of climate science while setting up the highly scientific pasta v meat experiment (meat proved to be the winner):

We had a relaxed approach to race day: a decent lie-in, getting up for a leisurely breakfast before strolling the mile down the quayside to the start just in time to hop into the runners' pens. Bumped into Settle Harriers club-mate Fraser who was aiming to cruise round in a comfortable sub-3 (he's much faster than me overall, but wasn't trying too hard for his first road marathon) but otherwise didn't know anyone near the front.

The bag drop (finish area) was actually a fair bit further away, so we just left our stuff at the hotel to return to later. I sacrificed an old unloved t-shirt to the start line gods, don't think WMC even bothered with that as it wasn't cold. As it turned out the organisation was very good this year, with none of the problems of previous events.

I didn't have that much to go on speed-wise: a pitiful 1 sec PB at 10k (39:21) on Boxing Day, a tolerable 1:23:01 half marathon at Blackpool in Feb (though that's not really much better than last year's 1:25:40 at hilly Haweswater). But training seemed to be going ok with no illnesses or setbacks so I thought I should aim a bit higher than last year and plucked 2:50 out of thin air as a possible albeit optimistic target, at least as a starting pace.

Didn't have any arranged running company this time but got chatting to someone on the start line also aiming for 2:50. "Last year I did 2:51, went off far too fast and did the first half in 1:21 then collapsed, won't do that again". Sure enough the second we got over the start line he shot off into the distance. I went past him again at about 18 miles :-) At that point I was still going pretty well and was perfectly on course for my target, but then the 21st mile marker took a long time to arrive and my legs started to hurt and there's still quite a long way to go from there. So I lowered my sights to just getting round the rest as comfortably as possible, and didn't worry too much about the seconds that were slipping away, at first a trickle, but a flood by the end. Can't be too disappointed with the final result of 2:51:46 which is a three minute improvement on last year, though actually a random sampling of strava results suggests that part of this is due to a shorter (but still legal) course. In a way it's a relief that I'm not close enough to 2:45 for this (which would gain entry to the Championship at the London Marathon) to be a serious target, at least for the time being. There are things I could have done a little better for sure (like a few slightly longer runs), but I don't really see where 7 mins improvement could come from.

Food-wise, I had a chunk of home-made Kendal mint cake and a couple of jelly babies every 2nd water station, at least until near the end at which point I couldn't really face any more. Took the water each time, as much to to splash on my hat as to sip. It was a touch warmer than most of my training, but otherwise perfect conditions. Alcohol-free beer at the end was very gratefully received though it took a little while to sip. Hung around in the finish area long enough to pick up a second pint for the stroll/hobble back to hotel. Club-mate came in at 2:56 looking very relaxed. Don't think I'll beat him again!