Two new things on the Divergence Problem. The IPCC First and Second Drafts did not contain a whisper of a mention of the divergence between ring widths and density in the second half of the 20th century, although this is rather an important issue. It came up at the NAS Panel and was completely unresolved in the hearings discussed here, where D’Arrigo was only able to refer to Briffa’s cargo cult explanation of the phenomenon.
In the absence of a substantiated explanation for the decline, we make the assumption that it is likely to be a response to some kind of recent anthropogenic forcing. On the basis of this assumption, the pre-twentieth century part of the reconstructions can be considered to be free from similar events and thus accurately represent past temperature variability.
In their report, the Panel adopted the view of Cook et al on the matter, which I’ve analyzed previously, in which bristlecones and foxtails seduce the Team once more. The final version of IPCC contains a lengthy paragraph on the Divergence Problem excerpted in full below. D’Arrigo, Wilson also have a new article, which I’ve not seen yet, but which is discussed at Pielke Sr here .
It appears that Cook et al 2004 is relied upon in this article. I discussed this article previously as More Cargo Cult. It will be interesting to see whether D’Arrigo, Wilson et al considered the issues raised in this post (not because they are obligated to deal with issues raised at this blog, but because they are obligated to deal with germane issues) .
The IPCC paragraph is as follows. (A question in passing: given that this paragraph was not presented in the Second Draft, what are the “peer review” procedures involved in vetting this? Or is Briffa’s say-so good enough?
All of the large-scale temperature reconstructions discussed in this section, with the exception of the borehole and glacier interpretations, include tree ring data among their predictors so it is pertinent to note several issues associated with them. The construction of ring width and ring density chronologies involves statistical processing designed to remove non-climate trends that could obscure the evidence of climate that they contain. In certain situations, this process may restrict the extent to which a chronology portrays the evidence of long time scale changes in the underlying variability of climate that affected the growth of the trees; in effect providing a high-pass filtered version of past climate. However, this is generally not the case for chronologies used in the reconstructions illustrated in Figure 6.10. Virtually all of these used chronologies or tree ring climate reconstructions produced using methods that preserve multi-decadal and centennial time scale variability. As with all biological proxies, the calibration of tree ring records using linear regression against some specific climate variable represents a simplification of what is inevitably a more complex and possibly time-varying relationship between climate and tree growth. That this is a defensible simplification, however, is shown by the general strength of many such calibrated relationships, and their significant verification using independent instrumental data. There is always a possibility that non-climate factors, such as changing atmospheric CO2 or soil chemistry, might compromise the assumption of uniformity implicit in the interpretation of regression-based climate reconstructions, but there remains no evidence that this is true for any of the reconstructions referred to in this assessment. A group of high-elevation ring width chronologies from the western USA that show a marked growth increase during the last 100 years, attributed by LaMarche et al. (1984) to the fertilizing effect of increasing atmospheric CO2, were included among the proxy data used by Mann et al. (1998, 1999). However, their tree ring data from the western USA were adjusted specifically in an attempt to mitigate this effect. Several analyses of ring width and ring density chronologies, with otherwise wellestablished sensitivity to temperature, have shown that they do not emulate the general warming trend evident in instrumental temperature records over recent decades, although they do track the warming that occurred during the early part of the 20th century and they continue to maintain a good correlation with observed temperatures over the full instrumental period at the interannual time scale (Briffa et al., 2004; D’Arrigo, 2006). This “divergence” is apparently restricted to some northern, highlatitude regions, but it is certainly not ubiquitous even there. In their large-scale reconstructions based on tree ring density data, Briffa et al. (2001) specifically excluded the post-1960 data in their calibration against instrumental records, to avoid biasing the estimation of the earlier reconstructions (hence they are not shown in Figure 6.10), implicitly assuming that the “divergence” was a uniquely recent phenomenon, as has also been argued by Cook et al. (2004a). Others, however, argue for a breakdown in the assumed linear tree growth response to continued warming, invoking a possible threshold exceedance beyond which moisture stress now limits further growth (D’Arrigo et al., 2004). If true, this would imply a similar limit on the potential to reconstruct possible warm periods in earlier times at such sites. At this time there is no consensus on these issues (for further references see NRC, 2006) and the possibility of investigating them further is restricted by the lack of recent tree ring data at most of the sites from which tree ring data discussed in this chapter were acquired.