US Climate Change Science Program Workshop

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program Workshop was the first such workshop that I’d been to. Sometimes the anthropology is as interesting as anything else.

One of the really nice things about this workshop is that it outlined the institutional structure of U.S. climate change research in a way that is difficult to appreciate otherwise. The Climate Change Science Program is a formal initiative that crosscuts agencies. It has a budget of about $2 billion per annum, with the major players being NSF, NOAA and NASA. All conference participants received a 200 page glossy report entitled “Our Changing Planet: The U.S. Climate Change Science Program for Fiscal Year 2006à, which included well-laid out financial tables showing expenditures across agency and other cross-classifications. No one can accuse the U.S. of not doing its share for climate research.

Day One
The conference began in a “plenary session” for the first morning with a number of presentations by senior politicians and the top program officials relating to the topic “Climate Information Needs for Decision Making”. The first afternoon had 3 “breakout sessions” covering Climate Forcing Processes; Climate Variability and Change; and Climate Sensitivity and Adaptive Management. I attended Climate Variability and Change. There was an evening poster session at which dinner was provided. I presented at the evening poster session. The workshop was staged at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, which was $270/night. I was on my own nickel so I stayed off-campus at a much cheaper hotel. Someone counted the institutions of the presenters: there were something like 43 federal; 25 academic; 12 NGO and 8 private/public service, whatever the latter combination means. There were over 700 registrants.

I wasn’t very interested in the presentations by the politicians and didn’t take notes.

Ciccerone of National Academy of Sciences made a concise summary of recent papers which are being relied on: GISS temperature data, Levitus et al on ocean warming showing that the results are about as expected from modeling; Barnett et al. showing that simulations cannot account for warming without AGW; Mears and Wentz on satellite data; Froehlich showing no solar increases; Emanual showing increases in hurricane intensity. So if you’re wondering what’s taken over from the hockey stick as the leading arguments, these would seem to be what’s in front.

The two top officers of CCSP, James Mahoney and Richard Moss, made good overview presentations of the program. They mentioned that an Advisory Committee to the CCSP is provided by the National Research Council.

I had not realized the extend of activity on the preparation of “national assessments” being carried out under the 1990 Global Change Research Act (s 106) instituting the CCSP. Moss outlined prior history including participation in IPCC and the first National Assessment Synthesis Report, as well as the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment and Millennium Ecosystem. Currently, there are 21 “synthesis and assessment programs” (SAPs) on various aspects of climate research, all of which are at different stages between prospectus in the climate science sense and report. (I have to be a little careful with my use of the word “prospectus” in this culture as it means something somewhat different to me than to climate scientists: I think of a “prospectus” as being something which is disseminated to the public i.e. equivalent in that respect to the final report, whereas climate scientists use “prospectus” to describe a scooping document used to raise money from the funding agency.) A relatively advanced SAP is one on Temperature Trends in the Troposphere. The people doing the national assessments all seems to be the same people (e.g. Tom Karl, who was not as old as I expected) as doing IPCC assessments, so there must be a little assessment fatigue within the community. However, I presume that they can’t really bite the hand that feeds them, so they have to cooperate with the national assessments.

The breakout session on Climate Variability and Change was mainly devoted to reporting on the progress of several SAPs in this area. Margaret Leinin, a senior official of NSF, chaired the session. Tom Karl reported on two different SAPs, including Tropospheric Temperatures; Meehl reported on the SAP on climate models, noting the following US models: GFDL (NOAA), GISS (NASA), NCAR-CCSM (NSF-DOPE) and the intercomparison programs CMEP and PCMDI (Livermore).
Susan Solomon, the Chair of IPCC WG1, reported on IPCC 4AR, mentioning that 75% of the authors in 4AR were not authors of TAR and 25% were within 10 years of their PhD. She said that the process had begun with 2 scoping meetings in Nov 2003 resulting in an outline. They had decided to add a new chapter on the history — how had understanding advanced? and break out discussions of radiative forcing and paleoclimate into separate chapters. She mentioned a July 2004 meeting in Paris — I can’t imagine how much that cost. She said that they were trying to move past simply discussing temperature to precipitation and that the forecast was that there would be both more precipitation and more drought: the “wet get wetter, the dry get drier” [I think that this was a phrase she used].

There was an opportunity to ask questions after the presentations. I asked Susan Solomon why IPCC did not require authors to archive data and methods. (I have had previous correspondence with her on this topic, which I’ll discuss some time, as it’s rather amusing.) She said that that would be interfering with journals, as “I well knew”. Later, I asked Margaret Leinen of NSF the same question. Leinen said that NSF did require authors to publish in peer-reviewed journals. I pointed out that this was not responsive to my question. She said that I should pay attention to the NSF website as there might be forthcoming changes.

I presented my poster on the Jones hockey stick, but spent as much time talking about the Mann hockey stick. I was busy talking for about 3 hours. You could get beer from a nearby bar so the time passes a little faster than usual. I was set up beside David Karoly, who was quite pleasant and mentioned that he’d read our articles; I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to him. A number of people mentioned reading the blog. I felt like I should give them a discount coupon. One person came over and argued that now that Mann had disclosed his data, I should have no further beefs. Richard Moss, the #2 guy from CCSP came over and spent some time with me trying to understand where I was coming from. He was very polished as one would expect from someone who had risen to a senior government job; he listened politely and then recognized me the next day when we bumped into each other outside a session. A staffer from the House Energy & Commerce Committee came and said hello.

Day Two

The day started with a “plenary session” in which rapporteurs carried back summaries of workshops to the “plenary session”. My questions about data made it back to the plenary session in the following form: ” the question was raised about the availability of data — how much should be required?” It’s ridiculous that this should be an issue at all. The answer is obvious: all of it. If they have to think about it, the Barton Committee is long overdue.

One impression of the plenary session (and many other sessions) was the tremendous amount of business-school jargon on display. There was lots of discussion of “integration”, “stakeholders”, flowcharts – that type of thing. Far more than I’ve ever seen at an actual business convention.

Then there were more breakout sessions. I went to one on changing sea levels. Here there was actually one speaker who presented a discussion of science. Dr Liu of LSU presented a very interesting account on “paleotempestology” –he’s been studying proxy evidence of hurricanes for 15 years. So his topic has sure come into fashion. Big hurricanes overtop sandbars and leave sand sediment layers in coastal lagoons. This has been established with observations in recent large hurricanes. Liu has drilled many such lagoons and counted big hurricanes for the past 5000 years. His conclusions are really quite startling and deserve much wider attention: he said that the last 1000 years has been an especially quiet period on the US Gulf Coast and that major hurricane activity in the prior 3000 years was at least 4 times greater. He said that hurricane landfalls in Massachusetts in the last 1000 years have been anomalously high. . He connected the landfall positions of hurricanes to movements of the Bermuda High, with a more southwest location steering hurricanes to the Gulf Coast. So regardless of one’s views of the connection of hurricanes to global warming, there are alternative reasons for prudence relative to future hurricanes in the Gulf Coast.

Another interesting aspect was the concern about freshwater. One speaker discussing tropical islands pointed out that changes in freshwater supply would precede changes in sealevel. I don’t entirely understand the theory why, under warmer climates, it is believed that the wet get wetter and the dry get drier. Intuitively the green Sahara in the warm Holocene Optimum would seem to contradict this, but I haven’t examined the topic and don’t know why they make this claim.

I decided to leave on an earlier plane and changed my flight out from 8 pm to 5.30 pm. Unfortunately, the plane scheduled for 5.30 had mechanical troubles and was delayed. It turned out that the 8 pm plane left before the 5.30 plane which eventually left at 9.10 pm. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to switch back. So I spent 6 fascinating hours at the Washington airport. I’ve done enough traveling in my life that I don’t sweat the small stuff — I express this merely as an instance of irony.

All in all — these national assessment reports are an interesting project the scope of which I was previously unaware of. It’s too bad that the assessments are so closely allied with the originators. It would be particularly nice if the assessment of climate models were truly an independent assessment by competent and disinterested outsiders. This might even be something that would interest the program operators and I might suggest it to them.


  1. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Nov 19, 2005 at 11:14 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for the summary of the conference. I found one typo interesting:

    climate scientists use “prospectus” to describe a scooping document used to raise money from the funding agency.

    I assume it’s a typo since you have “scope” several other places. OTOH maybe you were either consciously or unconsciously trying to indicate

    a) The scientists were scooping up money;

    b) They were scooping their fellow scientists in the journalistic sense and marking their turf; or
    c) They were using shovels to live up to the standard mock acronymization of PhD.

  2. The Knowing One
    Posted Nov 19, 2005 at 2:43 PM | Permalink

    Thanks very much for this. Not to seem too greedy, but elsewhere you mentioned that you’d had lunch at the House of Lords before going to Washington–would you tell about that too?

  3. Hans Erren
    Posted Nov 20, 2005 at 3:25 PM | Permalink

    I just learned that UNFCCC COP-11 is 28 November to 9 December 2005 in Montreal, which is not that far from Toronto.

  4. TCO
    Posted Nov 20, 2005 at 4:19 PM | Permalink

    1. Ever read Chris Buckley’s THANK YOU FOR SMOKING? Similar description of a muckety muck federal funded conference.

    2. I’m in DC frequently. If you want, I will buy you a drink some time. I’m more pleasant in person than on the net…

  5. Michael Jankowski
    Posted Nov 21, 2005 at 2:59 PM | Permalink

    ***He connected the landfall positions of hurricanes to movements of the Bermuda High, with a more southwest location steering hurricanes to the Gulf Coast. So regardless of one’s views of the connection of hurricanes to global warming, there are alternative reasons for prudence relative to future hurricanes in the Gulf Coast.***

    If his research holds up and hits the mainstream, then how many years will it be before someone “links” FUTURE “movement of the Bermuda High” to AGW, resulting in the prediction of more Gulf Coast landfalls?

    ***I don’t entirely understand the theory why, under warmer climates, it is believed that the wet get wetter and the dry get drier.***

    It’s not always so. Sometimes, you have to tell the wet people they will get dry. You don’t want to tell the dry people their land will become wet and fertile, so you have to instead say they’ll get massive flooding.

    There was that disastrous (nat’l assessment?) paper on the US a few years ago where the Hadley and Canadian models both predicted large doses of GW for the US in the next 50-100 years but were often in complete disagreement with the resulting precipitation and soil moisture content. I had a hard time finding it the last time I looked for it, but I had found it in the past 6 months. So much for the simplicity of “wet get wetter, dry get drier” if you put your faith in some of the world’s “best” climate models.

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  1. By Cassandra è tornata | Climate Monitor on Sep 28, 2010 at 5:33 AM

    […] più pioggia e più siccità  (la frase, come riportato da chi vi ha assistito è stata: “wet get wetter, the dry get drier“. Questa la chiamerei comunicazione scientifica di alto […]

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