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back to article Climate models need revising: Droughts, heat waves not such a big deal

So, the world's climate is changing - that's one thing most scientists are indeed agreed on. But what does that actually mean for the future? Could hotter summer temperatures kill off growing plants, leading to runaway atmospheric carbon increases and turning the Earth into a lifeless baking hell? Not so much, according to US …

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So...

...plants are quite resilient, a fact that could equally well be demonstrated by the continued survival of (almost) all my houseplants.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So...

If only humans were so resilient ;)

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Re: Re: So...

We don't need to be resilient - only adaptable.

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Re: Re: So... (Non-resilient Humans)

The Earth has, several times, survived disasters much larger than anything we puny Humans could ever inflict on it (e.g. the K-T Event).

The absolute worst we could do is wipe out a sizeable chunk of the current plant and animal species, along with ourselves.

A couple of million years later (a mere eye-blink in geological time), the Earth will have recovered and will then proceed to get along quite nicely without us.

In the grand scheme of things we are all pointless and irrelevant. It is only our sheer arrogance that makes us believe we could ever have any long-lasting effect on the Earth.

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Re: Re: Re: So...

We've given up a lot of our adaptability for civilisation and the days when we could just decamp en mass to the next valley are gone. Mass migration now causes civil unrest or even war. If the climate does change severely then I've no doubt we'll survive as a species - just at a much reduced headcount. Which is good news for the planet, not such good news for the billions who might starve to death.

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Ru
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Facepalm

"The absolute worst we could do is wipe out... ourselves"

Well, uh, that sounds like cause for alarm there, Mr. Cowherd. And it would be a bit of a shame if we inflicted significant damage to our rather unusual ecosystem on our way out.

There's precious little arrogance involved here, apart from that exhibited by the more foaming-at-the-mouth avengers-of-gaia type.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Re: Re: Re: So...

@boltar

You really have bought into all the 'Venusian hell hole/we're all going to die' bullshit being shovelled by the more unscrupulous side of the environmentalist/climate change lobby, haven't you?

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Re: "The absolute worst we could do is wipe out... ourselves"

I'm not a "foaming-at-the-mouth avengers-of-gaia type". I am simply aware if my insignificance in the grand scheme of time and space. You, I and, indeed, the whole Human race, exist, and will only ever exist, as an infinitely small mote with respect to the vastness of all that has been, and all there is.

The Earth has, in the past, recovered from a number of massive ecological disasters. Disasters far bigger than anything we Humans could ever inflict on it . It will certainly suffer from them in the future, whether that be from the actions of Humans (or whatever species follows us, or we evolve into), or from massive volcanism or asteroid strike (as has happened in the past).

Whatever we Humans do here and now will have little bearing on the state of the Earth's ecosystem in 4 or 5 million years time.

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Re: Re: Re: So... (Non-resilient Humans)

A couple of million years later (a mere eye-blink in geological time), the Earth will have recovered and will then proceed to get along quite nicely without us.

Is it only quite nicely or is it much better?

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WTF?

@Norfolk 'n' Goode

"You really have bought into all the 'Venusian hell hole/we're all going to die' bullshit being shovelled by the more unscrupulous side of the environmentalist/climate change lobby, haven't you?"

Have I? Which bit of my post led you to believe that? However if desertification of a large part of india, africa, the USA and china (where its already happening) really takes hold then food production will drop, water will become scarce - especially as aquifers continue to be depleted - and people will start to migrate or die. Or does your crystal ball tell you that will never happen Mr Business As Usual? I suspect the former inhabitants of the sahara thought that too.

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FAIL

Re: So...

NO.

THIS PARTICULAR GRASS is resilient. The resilience of other plants/animals was not tested at all by this study.

The key phrase here is : "If these patterns are general across ecosystems..."

Note the "IF". This study has shown that one particular ecosystem can withstand heat waves and drought at specific times. THAT IS ALL.

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Ru
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Meh

Re: Re: "The absolute worst we could do is wipe out... ourselves"

Hmm? When did I accuse anyone in particular of being foaming at the mouth, least of all you? Easy on the paranoia there, chief.

No-one cares what is going to happen in 5 million years time. No-one. The fact people *talk* about "destroying the planet" and similar things is pretty much irrelevant... the topic of conversation is ultimately 'we're going to inflict significant damage to our ecosystem and maybe even jeopardise our place in it', through the lens of someone a little ignorant and hysterical.

Their sloppy terminology may be irritating, but perhaps you could try thinking about what other people *mean* rather than filtering everything through your own "oh you humans are so arrogant" lens which is frankly rather tedious and definitely unhelpful.

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Re: So... subset of all plants

it was about a small subset of plants, those found in prairie grasslands and not "plants" in general.

And whats also strange about these "boffins" leap to conclusion is that it was about heat waves in a single month, August.

Now I don't know about prairie grass but another plant in the grass family is bamboo and it goes through cycles of root growth, nutritional accumulation and greenery growth. So one would hope that these boffins would know what growth cycle their grasses are in and how prolonged hot weather for that month would effect that cycle.

And off the top of the head guess is it would have little effect since August is already a dry hot month so getting hotter isn't going to mess with the plant growth cycle much if any. Now throw in things like early recovery from dormancy because of consistently mild winters and early spring and you might start seeing changes in the grasslands. Possibly a change in which varieties of plants are at what ratio.

It sure seems like quite a jump to go from 'wow, heat waves in August don't effect grasses and we thought they would.' to 'everyone should rethink climate change.'.

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Re: Re: So...

and guess what? those grasses are already used to hot dry August months so what we're really talking about is a bit more heat. Wow, big surprise their slow growth or no growth period isn't effected by a little more heat.

I almost LOL'ed when I saw that "if" statement.

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The report does NOT say "Droughts, heatwaves not such a big deal". What it does say is that the effect depends upon what time of year the droughts and heatwaves hit, and recommends that climate models are improved to show seasonal variations. This also implies having better localised climate models and merging with ecosystem models.

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"The absolute worst we could do is wipe out a sizeable chunk of the current plant and animal species, along with ourselves."

As worst-case scenarios go, that's actually pretty bad. Maybe I'm biased here, but I do have a fairly strong preference for NOT getting wiped out, with or without other species...

A falling population would probably be a good thing in several respects - not via genocide of course, but birthrates are already below replacement in bits of Europe, meaning the population would already be dropping there but for immigration from other regions. Dropping back to the one billion mark by 2100 would be nice.

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Happy

You *are* biased

and anyway, there are some very good arguments that sproadic cataclysms are drivers of evolution.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You *are* biased

Cataclysms don't drive evolution.

They leave niches as species diw out, that eventually get re-occupeid by new species..

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Paris Hilton

Re: Re: You *are* biased

And these new species come individually wrapped from the vending machine, or something?

I believe the term you're ignoring is adaptive radiation.

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Re: Re: You *are* biased

"They leave niches as species diw out, that eventually get re-occupeid by new species..".

Is this not a rather good description of evolution?

.

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Linux

Would be nice...

... If they were talking bout the effect on "cash crops", you know, the ones we need to survive and feed ourselves.

So we know that grazers like cattle won't run out of food if the climate changes but what about us?

Would a couple of years of the corn/maze harvest failing put a major dent in out food production...??

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Re: Would be nice...

er, we eat cows.

Unless you're a vegetablist, in which case your extinction is assured anyway. I realize this will come as a shock, but we all die eventually. Even if we jog and eat tofu.

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Re: Would be nice...

The most likely thing to put a major dent in our food production at the moment has already started happening. Farmers are finding that they get more money growing seed for biofuels then they ever did growing food for humans.

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Science - what it's about !

Science - We had a hypothesis and tested it - didn't work as we expected. Better change it and retest.

Dogma - we can't possibly have any effect so not worth worrying about it - oh,. and throw in some FUD, too.

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Re: Science - what it's about !

Unfortunately you missed a step:

Politics - we'll misconstrue something scientific (up to and including running our own "research" and shouting loudly about it around the globe) in order to focus people's minds on issues that nobody in the world has any reasonable control over anyway and where our billions of investment in alternatives has actually done bugger-all (and isn't likely to do much more), but since we started penalizing people, companies and countries for failing to make those things change we actually end up with more money for the country.

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Re: Re: Science - what it's about !

Another missed step:

Journalism - We'll take narrow studies with uncorroborated results, over-generalize the conclusions, and present them fact. This way, we can either a) generate panic in the general populace, or b) assuage people's conscience about the horrible things they do. Fortunately, history has shown that whichever we do, it makes them read/listen/watch us more, which means more money for us!

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Joke

Dogma

I think you got the definition of dogma wrong. It should be:

Dogma - writing a definition of the word "dogma" on a forum that is obviously biased by your own political viewpoint.

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Trollface

Something to make a note of ..

I was wondering where I could move to in the event that my own part of the world became a little toasty , or at least so far as my own ecology was concerned. Now I know , as does the rest of world, I can only hope we'll have a nice warm ( of a different kind ) welcome when we all turn up there.

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Facepalm

Right

That's why Texas has such nice cracked, brown, smoldering lawns. Better than before. Now who's smart, huh?

(This post brought to you by the Heartland Institute)

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Stop

Throughout, history societies always have pet worries. Take the British for example, there were times everyone worried or was paranoid about Spain, and France (probably still so), and Germany etc. Since WWII, the world's has had MAD--Mutually Assured Destruction from nuclear war, and the Cold War; and the US and Australia etc. had the Red Peril and the Domino Effect--hence the Vietnam War. Nowadays, it's climate change, fear of pedophiles, refugees, Islam, fear of chemicals and so on.

Fear in society is like a meme that fattens up as it spreads, thus exaggeration is rife even amongst professionals. Even without exaggerating any data or distorting facts, professionals also can over emphasise, thus they opt for society's status quo, sometimes without realizing it. Of course, the meme is self-feeding especially when the notion it conveys acquires politically correct status (as climate science has done).

What I find most irritating about the climate debate and climate science, is that it's now almost become a 'religion' especially so with environmentalists whether they be climate scientists or otherwise. Thus, inevitably, the debate has become extremely polarised.

I grew up in a time when the ethos of Dalton's Scientific Method was much stronger than it is today; then one took for granted that what a researchers wrote in scientific and engineering journals was the science as they saw it--whether the facts were right or wrong! Today, I read these journals with considerable suspicion wondering what the underlying agendas are or what commercial organisation is funding the research.

I genuinely miss those more naive times. Sure, not all was well then either, but the debates were a lot more genuine and much less cynical.

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Nice post

However I'm not sure the scientific method ever has been or ever will be applicable to these 'fear memes' indeed that maybe one of their defining characteristics.

I think it's clear to almost everyone that the science is almost totally seperate to the debate. Whether we want it to be or not.

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Boffin

@Gordon 10

"However I'm not sure the scientific method ever has been or ever will be applicable to these 'fear memes' indeed that maybe one of their defining characteristics"

Agree. I find there's something peculiarly 'spongy' about the climate debate. It's nothing to do with the outcomes (global warming, cooling, whatever)--that's another matter, rather it's how poorly the argument is conducted.

Whether they're right or wrong, today, we've climate scientists who are often excessively emotional who then present small-sample data that only shows statistical trends as an unarguable 'almost-certainty' (it's a double whammy weakening of argument in my pinion). Then there's the non-scientific profits of doom who latch onto shreds of often-irrelevant evidence then present them as gospel; then we've the 'confused middle' who're sick of the acrimonious debate, and of course a whole range of deniers from those with facts to outright BS artists. To me, it's boring noise rather than formal augment.

I was at high school in the first half of the '60s and EVEN in my first year, physics and chemistry teachers wouldn't have put up with such woolly thinking from us kids! It was always observation/theory-aim-method-experiment-results-conclusion stuff which also included statistical error (n, root-n, residuals), etc. It also included obligatory instrument calibration together with environment data, temperature, humidity, mains voltage etc. To us kids, the experimental procedure and documentation thereof became so automatic that it was eventually perfunctory (lab notebook records were a substantial part of the final marks). By university, scientific procedure had become an a priori concept.

Moreover, technical and even tech hobby magazines had a similar rigorous ethos. Also debates back then had subjects and predicates and apples were compared to apples and not oranges.

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I was just wondering...

...why they were surprised. ""predictions of ecosystem response to climate change will have to account not only for the magnitude of climate variability but also for its timing." Surely the scientists/modellers would have understood that activity within ecosystems tends to vary according to the time of year. Have they not heard of the word 'Season'?

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FAIL

Re: I was just wondering...

Obviously these scientists are abject retards who have no idea what seasons are. And obviously there are no multi-year climate cycles or anything. Great post, Cletus.

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@scarshapedstar

"Cletus"? Oh you mean the character in the Simpsons : happy, doesn't bad-mouth others, a loving father and has fuck-all in the way of a carbon footprint. I'll take it as a compliment, thanks.

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Scientists agree - at last

Although agreeing that the climate is going to change in the future doesn't sound particularly Earth shattering news to me. It hasn't ever managed to stay the same for long. I notice, for instance, the temperature has changed today compared to yesterday. I don't have a $2.4 billion budget either, just a window.

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FAIL

@Andy Fletcher

"notice, for instance, the temperature has changed today compared to yesterday. I don't have a $2.4 billion budget either, just a window."

You don't have much clue about the difference between climate and weather either it seems.

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Re: @Andy Fletcher

If a change fits my person bias for a change I was expecting it's climate.

if a change doesn't fit (or worse goes against) my personal bias for a change I was expecting... it's weather.

Any other definitions you'd care to ask for?

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The difference between "simple" and "simplistic" models

Simplistic models have few variables and *appear* to explain the facts. Places have seasons, if they have a drought and/or heatwave in the wrong season bad things happen.

Except they don't stand *scrutiny*.

In some ways the new model is still "simple" but of course it depends if this applies to the *same* 2 week periods in other parts of the world.

a nice object lesson in what happens when you trust "simple" models that turn out to be "simplistic" instead.

Is it just me or does the amount of *real* science involved in climate modelling appear to be rising?

Thumbs up for good science. Let's see a few more of the assumptions underlying climate models checked. It's better to *know* than to assume.

BTW I don't think climate models talk in terms of "seasons." It's just certain parameters (sunlight, rainfall, green coverage) vary in a systematic way at different times in the year.

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Anonymous Coward

CLOUD

Some real science http://cloud.web.cern.ch/cloud/

All climate models are provably wrong, because they explicitly exclude variables previously thought to be inconsequental/nonexistent, but which have now been proven to in fact exist and be, well, quite important.

This is what happens when real scientists test dodgy underlying assumptions in dodgy science.

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Re: CLOUD

Good set of web pages which explain the details in *direct* language without analogies.

Frankly given the lack of *actual* understanding about what species are involved (*lots*) in cloud formation and how effective they are (varies but some are very effective) this should have been done *decades* ago. None of the experimental hardware looks like it needed a major breakthrough (unlike say the near perfect glass gyroscopes of the Stamford relativity experiment).

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Anonymous Coward

@AC Re: CLOUD

Ok, so there are several points:

1) Do you think that this work isn't known about by climate scientists?

2) Do you think that aerosols aren't already factored into climate models?

3) Do you think that climate scientists aren't working with Cern to improve their models?

4) Do you think that as new information becomes available climate scientists ignore it or factor it into their models?

5) Do you think that you understand what has been reported on those pages and adequately understand the relative merits of including the results into climate models? Do you also understand what is a priority to include into climate models? (I'm guessing you don't have a PHd in any subject, BTW)

In short: Do some scientists you know very little about at Cern know more or less about Global Climate than some scientists you know very little about at other locations?

And, if so, what are your qualifications to make this decision?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Re: CLOUD

@John Smith 19: Cloud formation has been researched for decades in various sites all over the world.

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AC@09:34

I was aware of this and have been aware of this for some decades.

The questions were

a) How much of that work had been *incorporated* into the various global circulation models of climate.

b)How vigorously has modellers looked for gaps in their models and updated their models accordingly.

I recall a Byte article in the early 80's about the Forth computer language in which (IIRC) a chemist was saying how cloud models were poor and Forth let him experiment with the necessary parameters very quickly.

A *decade* later I saw reports of climate modellers saying their models still did not *quite* account for how the real world behaved.

This effects of sunspots (or large solar plasma emissions) have been dismissed for decades and it seems only in the *very* recent past that modellers have admitted that *maybe* there might be some effect. CLOUD could have been performed any time in the last 20 (if not 30) years.

Such a poor attitude to investigating any *systematic* flaws in their models does them no credit especially when their conclusions (CO2 is too high and you must reduce it now) will cost *billions* of dollars/euros/pounds/ to implement (and will be irrelevant if the US/China and India don't agree).

that's not "science" as I understand the term.

BTW was AC really necessary to remind me of this rather harmless factoid?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: AC@09:34

re a & b - As this research is done at PHd and post-Doc research level, I'd imagine that the research is pretty vigorous. It is being incorporated as quickly as possible, given funding restrictions and requirements for associated research to complete before more research can carry on - You can't include an experiment in your models before it's been finished and written up.

Byte isn't exactly a peer reviewed science journal.

As for models being poor in the 80s and now. What would you say if a meteorologist said that they had finished a model and that no further work was needed on it?

Few people (in the know) seem convinced that Sun spots have any significant effect on weather or climate, this tends to mean that if there is an effect it is small, therefore better to focus on areas where it is known that research is needed and can be of benefit. Not everything can be researched at the same time, it simply costs too much and there aren't enough people with the requisite skills.

You assertion that investigation into systemic flaws in models isn't carried out bears no merit as this happens all the time on an ongoing basis. There are many papers discussing flaws in models and how to put them right. Furthermore scientists are not the people saying that we need to reduce CO2, they are saying: Here is the problem, now politicians and society have to sort it out.

PS. I always post AC, John Smith may as well be AC it gives me no knowledge as to who you are.

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FAIL

Typical Register

The headline giveth, but the article taketh away. The paper isn't really about climate models, but about ecology.

The Register's obvious anti-science bias on this subject is bad enough, but I would have hoped the Reg's correspondents would have mastered basic reading and comprehension skills. Or is it really just about the page hits?

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"So, the world's climate is changing.."

Wow, that sounds like a bit of an admission from you Lewis. Did you get hit by a big plank over the weekend or something?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "So, the world's climate is changing.."

It's ok, Nigel Lawson was on The Today Program the other day saying that there has been no warming since 1995. He cited a report and everything.

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Facepalm

Re: Re: "So, the world's climate is changing.."

Sounds like the same old denier rubbish - if you cherrypick the data, you can show the climate has been cooling every decade over the last 40 years:

http://www.skepticalscience.com/going-down-the-up-escalator-part-1.html

However the overall trendline is clearly up. It's the exact same problem with people not understanding the difference between weather and climate.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Re: Re: "So, the world's climate is changing.."

@Wilco: I would have thought that I made that obvious by mentioning that an Economist was professing to know about Global Climate.

Not to mention that of all people Nigel Lawson should know about how figures can be used to present information that they don't convey.

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