Warmest in a Millll-yun #2

I’ve had a chance to examine Hansen’s argument a little more closely. Structurally it’s a typical splicing argument that we’re familiar with – proxies up to a certain point and then instrumental temperature. In the case of MBH, they use proxies up to 1980 and then compare that to instrumental records. We’re all familiar with that sort of argument. Hansen takes splicing to an entirely new level. He takes a proxy record whose most recent reading is approximately 4320 BP (and there’s hair on that age estimate) and compares that to instrumental records in the 20th century, using the 1870-1900 period (for which he has values for neither series) as a benchmark. I guess you have to be a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences to be able to do this. It sounds impossible so let’s go through this step by step.

Hansen’s Figure 5 summarizes his argument. On the left is the proxy-calculated temperature at a location in the Western Equatorial Pacific (0.5N; 159E); on the right is the GISS gridcell instrumental temperature. Hansen comments:

Fig. 5 shows that recent warming of the WEP has brought its temperature within ~1°C of its maximum in the past million years. There is strong evidence that the WEP SST during the penultimate interglacial period, marine isotope stage (MIS) 5e, exceeded the WEP SST in the Holocene by 1–2°C (30, 31). This evidence is consistent with data in Figs. 4 and 5 and with our conclusion that the Earth is now within ~1°C of its maximum temperature in the past million years, because recent warming has lifted the current temperature out of the prior Holocene range.

Fig. 5. Modern sea surface temperatures (5, 6) in the WEP compared with paleoclimate proxy data (28). Modern data are the 5-year running mean, while the paleoclimate data has a resolution of the order of 1,000 years.

Hansen’s Figure 4A has the same information as his Figure 5, except that the left scale is truncated a bit.

Fig. 4. Comparison of modern surface temperature measurements with paleoclimate proxy data in the WEP (28) (A), EEP (3, 30, 31) (B), Indian Ocean (40) (C), and Vostok Antarctica (41) (D).Hansen’s comments were as follows:

Hansen comments about this figure:

Modern SST measurements (5, 6) are compared with proxy paleoclimate temperature (28) in the WEP (Ocean Drilling Program Hole 806B, 0°19 N, 159°22 E; site circled in Fig. 3A) in Fig. 4A …The paleoclimate SST, based on Mg content of foraminifera shells, provides accuracy to~1°C (29). Accepting paleo and modern temperatures at face value implies a WEP 1870 SST in the middle of its Holocene range. Shifting the scale to align the 1870 SST with the lowest Holocene value raises the paleo curve by ~0.5°C. Even in that case, the 2001–2005 WEP SST is at least as great as any Holocene proxy temperature at that location. Coarse temporal resolution of the Holocene data, ~1,000 years, may mask brief warmer excursions, but cores with higher resolution (29) suggest that peak Holocene WEP SSTs were not more than ~1°C warmer than in the late Holocene, before modern warming.

The Indian Ocean, due to rapid warming in the past 3–4 decades, is now warmer than at any time in the Holocene, independent of any plausible shift of the modern temperature scale relative to the paleoclimate data (Fig. 4C). In contrast, the EEP (Fig. 4B) and perhaps Central Antarctica (Vostok, Fig. 4D) warmed less in the past century and are probably cooler than their Holocene peak values. However, as shown in Figs. 1B and 3A, those are exceptional regions. Most of the world and the global mean have warmed as much as the WEP and Indian Oceans. We infer that global temperature today is probably at or near its highest level in the Holocene.

The Proxy Data

First let’s look at the proxy data, which has been archived at WDCP here and also in the PNAS supplementary information. Below is my plot of the archived data, which confirms that the Hansen figures match the archived data. The right panel is the period after the LGM. You will notice that the most recent proxy value is 4320 BP. I haven’t crosschecked the age model to determine how much hair is on that e.g. whether it could be 5320 BP as opposed to 4320 BP. However, it does seem to be from the Holocene Optimum rather than the later Neoglacial. We’ve seen in other studies that the Holocene Optimum was a distinct warm period (e.g. trees growing in presently glaciated areas in Alberta, Peru and the Alps). The proxy record says only that the Holocene Optimum was an unusually warm period within the Pleistocene and that glacials are more common than interglacials. Since it has no information more recent than 4320 BP, there’s not much else that it can say.

Hansen et al state that the accuracy of their proxy is ~1 deg C. (“The paleoclimate SST, based on Mg content of foraminifera shells, provides accuracy to~1°C (29).” The reference is to Stott et al, 2004, which in turn relies on Nurnberg et al 1996. However, Rosenthal et al 2004 reported that inter-laboratory errors in these calculations can be +- 2-3 degrees C, so this might not be as accurate a thermometer as advertised.

Figure 3. Re-plot of Mg/Ca SST estimates for WEP

Update: Barker et al 2005 is a more recent review of Mg/Ca themometry available here

The Instrumental Data
The right hand panel of the above figures is made up of instrumental data, which is illustrated in more detail in the SI here

Figure 4. WEP Instrumental Data from PNAS SI

I was unable to quickly locate a digital file for the GISS instrumental records shown here. Accordingly for comparison, I’ve plotted up the corresponding HadCRU2 gridcell data up to 2004 ( I need to update the file, but this suffices for present purposes) shown monthly here. There are a couple of striking differences – the most obvious one is that there is virtually no data for 1870-2000 in this data set. The GISS data is said to be based on “optimal interpolation” – but one wonders here what the interpolation is based on. In the period where there is data, it is hard to see any very imposing trend.

HadCRU2 Gridcell containing 0.5N, 159E

The next figure shows my calculation of the corresponding gridcell for MSU version 5.2 results from 1979 to 2005. (I haven’t triple-checked my collation of satellite data; I think that my collation program is OK but it’s easy to make little mistakes and I haven’t worked with this data so I put this forward with a little caution.)

Satellite Gridcell containing 0.5N, 159E

There seem to be some puzzling differences between the surface and satellite data – discrepancies which are distinct from trend issues as shown below (data annualized) The discrepancies in timing are a little surprising – which makes me wonder whether I’ve done something wrong in the satellite collation.

The Splice
Let’s now re-visit Hansen’s splicing argument:

Accepting paleo and modern temperatures at face value implies a WEP 1870 SST in the middle of its Holocene range. Shifting the scale to align the 1870 SST with the lowest Holocene value raises the paleo curve by ~0.5°C. Even in that case, the 2001–2005 WEP SST is at least as great as any Holocene proxy temperature at that location. Coarse temporal resolution of the Holocene data, ~1,000 years, may mask brief warmer excursions, but cores with higher resolution (29) suggest that peak Holocene WEP SSTs were not more than ~1°C warmer than in the late Holocene, before modern warming.

The CRU data does not contain any information on 1870 SST; so the estimate of 1870 SST depends entirely on interpolation and the original raw data needs to be examined.

More importantly, Hansen’s alignment of 1870 SST to the lowest value in the Holocene Optimum is completely arbitrary – on what basis can this alignment be justified? 1870 is still emerging from the LIA; why couldn’t 1870 SST be significantly lower than Holocene Optimum values? If the alignment were different, then it’s really hard to say what the relationship is between modern warming and the Holocene Optimum? Developing a comparison in the Western Equatorial Pacific seems to me to be a useful place to compare – but you can’t do so on the basis of an arm-waving comparison such as this.

In a sense, the most intriguing point of this type of study is focusing on how unusual the Holocene Optimum itself was within the past 200,000 years. Much of the time, the climate was substantially colder. Was the temperature rise into the Holocene Optimum a bad thing? Not for Toronto real estate, as receding glaciers enhanced the eventual value of lots in Toronto, although I realize that there are other possible metrics of human welfare.

Addendum: The MBH EOF1
Finally, a small thing that’s sort of interesting. Hansen shows the following figure to illustrate trends by region – you’ll notice the strong trend in the Indian Ocean – I don’t know how this reconciles with the increased presence of Glob. bulloides offshore Oman that are interpreted as evidence of upwelling of cold water, but that’s a story for another day.

What intrigued me about this pattern is its similarity to Mann’s temperature PC1 which is overweighted in the Indian Ocean as shown below.


  1. Jeremy
    Posted Sep 27, 2006 at 5:50 PM | Permalink

    If I ever took different data sets and lined them up without an explicit and rational justification, and the result got out to a customer, I would be fired. Thankfully I’m not a statistician, where such things probably require more words to justify.

  2. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Sep 27, 2006 at 5:52 PM | Permalink

    Too bad – if you were a climate scientist, you’d be made a member of the National Academy.

  3. Jeff Weffer
    Posted Sep 27, 2006 at 7:15 PM | Permalink

    The whole field of global warming research is such a house of cards. One of these days, it has to come crashing down.

    Maybe it won’t happen for 20 years until someone proves that all of our historical and recent temperature trends have been repeatedly distorted so much that they can no longer be relied on.

    Maybe it will happen sooner. But for today, the headlines are that it is the warmest in a mill-yun years.

    Good job Steve. Do more homework and prove that this is just another house of cards.

  4. Posted Sep 27, 2006 at 7:36 PM | Permalink

    Any word on how this is related to a terrible wave of extinctions that Hansen declares we are on the edge of?

  5. Pat Frank
    Posted Sep 27, 2006 at 8:29 PM | Permalink

    Steve M., why are you intrigued that Hansen’s map looked like Mann’s EOF no.1? Do you think Mann’s analysis extracted something physically real?

  6. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Sep 27, 2006 at 8:32 PM | Permalink

    This is the temperature PC1 from organized gridcells and different in properties to the tree ring network. The PC1 is a lot like the average but it has a bigger trend – so it overweights series that have larger trends. IT’s interesting that the northern Indian OCean should be relatively prominent.

  7. bkc
    Posted Sep 27, 2006 at 9:48 PM | Permalink

    How can you compare 1000 year resolution data with 5 year averaged data ?!?

  8. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Sep 27, 2006 at 9:51 PM | Permalink

    Since Steve has addressed this here, I’m copying my comment in the “Warmest in a Millll-yun Years” thread to this location … also, Steve, I have the WEP gridcell data. I’ve put here for anyone’s use.



    Well, since numbers are useless without confidence intervals, I decided to analyze the Mann et al. paper and add confidence intervals.

    There are several sources of error, both in the paleo data and the modern data.

    According to the paper and the underlying references, the 95% confidence interval for the Mg/Ca method of estimating modern SSTs is +/- 1.2°C. However, I have not been able to find any estimate of the confidence intervals for this method using million year old samples … To be conservative, I have used that figure (1.2°) as the error for the full paleo record, although it seems certain to increase with the age of the sample.

    In addition, we have the error in the modern gridded SST’s. The paper Global analyses of sea surface temperature, sea ice, and night marine air temperature since the late nineteenth century, N. A. Rayner et al., puts the figure for the average 95% confidence interval for the SST grids at 1.6°C in 1870, decreasing to 0.45°C in 1995. Since the modern SST is used to calculate the paleotemperature, this 0.45°C error must be added to the paleo temperature error, and the individual year’s error is used for the modern temperature error.

    Finally, we have the splicing error between the modern and the paleo temperatures. This I have estimated as being equal to the 95% confidence interval for the paleo temperatures (without the modern SST error), or 1.2°C. I have added this error to the paleo record.

    Here is the result of the analysis:

    With these error estimates, we can examine Hansen’s claim that “… the Earth is now within ~1°C of its maximum temperature in the past million years, because recent warming has lifted the current temperature out of the prior Holocene range.”

    Clearly, given these errors we cannot say that we are warmer than the Holocene. Remember, to say that two data points are statistically different, it is necessary that their confidence intervals (shown by the error bars in the graph) do not overlap. Thus, in order to make the lesser claim, that we are warmer than the Holocene range, we’d have to warm up by about a degree and a half. And to say that we are warmer than the old record, we’d have to warm by about 2°.


  9. bender
    Posted Sep 27, 2006 at 9:56 PM | Permalink

    Re #7
    By pretending the change in resolution doesn’t matter? By hoping your audience doesn’t notice?

    Seriously; this is another one of those holes that probably swallowed up the reconstructionists’ MWP. Tree rings are annually resolved when it comes to cross-dating, but not when it comes to the temperature response.

  10. Posted Sep 27, 2006 at 11:21 PM | Permalink


    How can you compare 1000 year resolution data with 5 year averaged data ?!?

    Maybe they mean that if we gain +1 C and keep it for 2000 years, we will hit the maximum. But if they mean this, they should say it explicitly.

    Lots of good comments here about the figures. I’d like to add one comment: colors in 1B and 3A. +2 C from 1950-1980 level is almost black. In this context I find it bit odd. During the Weichsel glaciation 18000 years ago, the annual temps in Scandinavia were 25 C lower than today. What color would we assign to that?

  11. Steve Bloom
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 2:02 AM | Permalink

    Steve M., that lab comparison paper is Rosenthal et al, not Rutherton, but in any case have a look at Barker et al (2005) before drawing too firm of a conclusion that the proper error has not been assigned to the Lea group’s data.

    Re #8: “Finally, we have the splicing error between the modern and the paleo temperatures. This I have estimated as being equal to the 95% confidence interval for the paleo temperatures (without the modern SST error), or 1.2°C. I have added this error to the paleo record.” So you’re in effect doubling the paleo error? Based on…?

  12. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 2:13 AM | Permalink

    Re 11, Steve B., we don’t know where the paleo modern record should be spliced on to the modern record. It could be anywhere within the confidence interval of the paleo record. Actually, it should include the modern confidence interval as well, but like I say, I was using conservative estimates …


  13. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 5:05 AM | Permalink

    #11. Thank you for the citation correction and for the reference to Barker et al 2005, which is indeed an excellent review of Mg/Ca thermometry. However, I don’t see that they dispute the findings of Rosenthal et al 2004 about inter-lab differences. Additionally rhwy express the following concern about post-deposition alteration:

    Several studies have shown that foraminiferal Mg/Ca ratios systematically decrease through post-depositional dissolution under the influence of undersaturated bottom-waters or pore-waters (Fig. 4) (Lorens et al., 1977; Rosenthal and Boyle, 1993; Russell et al., 1994; Brown and Elderfield, 1996; Rosenthal et al., 2000). The cause of this reduction is thought to be the preferential dissolution of high Mg/Ca regions of the test i.e. those formed in warmer waters (Brown and Elderfield, 1996; Rosenthal et al., 2000). The effect of partial dissolution is therefore a biasing of mean test Mg/Ca values towards colder temperatures.

    If so, then how would one be able to draw any conclusions about the relationship of the Holocene Optimum to the Eemian?

    BTW it would be nice to see some modern samples in these cores. In this case, Bring the Proxies Up to Date would require something more recent than 4320 BP.

  14. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 5:14 AM | Permalink

    O. Dmitrenko (1), N. Oskina (2)say here about Hole 806B, the hole used here:

    The significant temperature changes and correlation with changes in Hole 805C indicate the absence of the upper part of Pleistocene-Holocene sediments in the Hole 806B…. The nannofossil association changes through the sequence are not correlating with SST. The preservation, abundance, and species compositions are changing in random order, and depend on bioturbation and sediments slipping down the plateau slope.

  15. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 5:30 AM | Permalink

    Steve M. thanks for the quote from Bender. As you recall, I said:

    According to the paper and the underlying references, the 95% confidence interval for the Mg/Ca method of estimating modern SSTs is +/- 1.2°C. However, I have not been able to find any estimate of the confidence intervals for this method using million year old samples … To be conservative, I have used that figure (1.2°) as the error for the full paleo record, although it seems certain to increase with the age of the sample.

    It appears my error bars were indeed conservative … the error bar in the warmer direction should have increased with age.

    I was also curious about the lack of modern samples, particularly since Lea et al. used “core top” samples to calibrate their Mg/Ca thermometer against the modern temperature. Perhaps the act of drilling the cores mixes or dissolves the top layer. At the OGP806 drill site, 1 mm = ~ 50 years, so they are not using about the top 80 mm of the core.


  16. welikerocks
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 6:13 AM | Permalink

    I can’t begin to understand all these graphs and you know how lame I am without my husband to back me up on science. So skip down to my last 2 paragraphs if you don’ t want to read my blatherings.

    If I think about it the Holocene is too small to fit on a realistic geologic timescale and to argue about the last 1,000,000 by degrees…well you know..and Willis is right, the farther back you go sampling and guessing, the bigger the error bars. (Not to mention, what we know or don’t know about polar shifts, orbit wobbles, magnetic fields/radiation, the sun, mountains/growing shrinking, lakes forming/disappearing: you know everything…affecting the earth’s climate and weather…. clouds, water, volcanos on land and under da’ sea, etc and all that can happen in a million years)

    I’d think you’d be just trying to illustrate the general weather around here and there compared to today, not the over all exact temperature (by fractions!) with such a hodgepodge.

    On the funny side and the reason I wanted to comment in the first place: I was looking for a timescale and found according to Wikipedia the Earth is only 4,570 million years old!

    see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geologic_timescale
    2nd paragraph. Is that an RC expert contribution? LOL

  17. TCO
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 6:20 AM | Permalink

    Is simple addition of error bars the correct statistical method, Willis or is this more a situation like bender has mentioned where errors do not mount exactly, but instead can do some self-cancelling?

  18. Jeff Weffer
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 6:33 AM | Permalink

    Since we know that fossils are created when bone and exoskeletons (primarily calcium) are replaced by other minerals over long and shorter time periods, how can we tell anything from foraminiferal fossils MG/CA ratios after being buried for so long in ocean sediment.

    The ocean has large concentrations of MG and CA and the underlying sediments do as well. Why would there be any kind of stability in the ratio between the two minerals over time in a fossil and how could that ratio tell us anything about SSTs long ago?

  19. Jeff Weffer
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 6:41 AM | Permalink

    I’ve since read the Barker et al paper linked above. They have corrected their ratio analysis for intra-lab measurement differences, water temperature and water depth differences but they have not proven correlation or stability over “time”.

  20. Anders
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 6:42 AM | Permalink

    #16, I think it is a question of number formats. 4,570 million years is the same as four thousand five hundred and seventy million years. That is four and a half billion years, which is good enough for government work.

  21. Henrik
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 6:46 AM | Permalink

    So how did one descript the levell of Hansen’s mistake by numbers of degrees C?

    And what’s Hansens answer to proxies showing Far Island & Sargasso surface temparatures being some 3 C higher in MWP than CWP or 1 degree C higher in continental Europe?

    And does Hansen give any value of precise historical documents such as Nacional Library of Oslo (farming in Greenland in MWP)? Documents from Roman Empire (Alps in RWP)? Propably NO. This kinda junkscience made by Hansen and Mann makes climate science look pretty comical.

  22. Roger Bell
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 6:51 AM | Permalink

    Alas, the Washington Post has seized upon Hansen’s paper and has written an editorial under the heading HEED THIS WARNING – The problem of climate change has become a crisis that no responsible politician can ignore.
    Roger Bell

  23. welikerocks
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 7:25 AM | Permalink

    The planet’s been pretty much even-steven ice covered and not ice covered over the last million years. This current earth climate report to me is like taking one wave upon an ocean, zooming in on its behavior in one blip of a second and shouting: Oh no look! The swell is going up!

  24. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 7:33 AM | Permalink

    Richard Muller has a discussion of Site 806 here

  25. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 8:23 AM | Permalink

    re: #24

    Is this discussion dated 1996 or 1997, do you know? I assume it must be one or the other since it cites a 1996 paper as ‘in press’.

  26. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 8:28 AM | Permalink

    If anyone can find some information on the calcification depth of Glob. ruber, I’d appreciate it. It looks like it’s a shallow water plankton – I saw one comment mentioning 0-25 m as the calcification depth. But is it at the top of the bottom of this interval? I presume that 25m depth is colder than the surface. The Mg/Ca thermometer definitely seems to be for calcification depth, so the splice would have to be adjusted for the difference between the depth of the SST measurement in the modern instrumental records and the calcification depth of the Mg/Ca “thermometer”. This splice is ridiculous even by Team standards.

  27. John Blethen
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 9:18 AM | Permalink

    The fervor of Hansen and others of like mind, including most of the media, seems like a classic case of mass hysteria, a well known medical phenomenon. Has anyone analyzed it as such?

  28. Peter Hartley
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 9:37 AM | Permalink

    In a comment on another thread on papers using foraminifera as “thermometers” I had the following to say:

    I had a quick google or two after looking at the cited article on Planktonic Foraminifera off California and discovered some rather interesting facts.

    1. Looking at the origianl article, one discovers in Figure 1 that the plankton that have increased drammatically at the end of the 20th century are Globigenerina bulloides, Neogloboquadrina dutertrei, Globigerinoides ruber and Orbulina universa.

    2. Googling one finds a second article, Environmental control of living symbiotic and asymbiotic foraminifera of the California current by Ortiz, J. D.; Mix, A. C.; Collier, R. W.in Paleoceanography, Volume 10, Issue 6, p. 987-1010 in which it is stated “Species that benefit from symbiont photosynthesis (Orbulina universa, Neogloboquadrina dutertrei, Globigerinoides ruber, and Globigerinita glutinata) dominate the offshore fauna”.

    3. One then immediately asks “is it possible that the unusual 20th century behavior of these species is another indication of the powerful CO2 fertilizer effect that makes all plants (including plankton that benefit from photosynthesis) grow better?” This would seem to be an obvious hypothesis. Hopefully the authors of the first cited article did something to rule that out. These plankton might otherwise be the “bristlecones of the sea” so to speak.

    Does a similar concern apply to this paper by Hansen? Was there a “calibration” of foraminifera productivity to SST in the modern era that ignored the possible effect of CO2 fertilization? If so, past temperatures may be greatly understated by looking at the prevalence of such species.

  29. bender
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 9:45 AM | Permalink

    ‘Alarm signalling’ is well-studied in animal behavior (birds, ants, mammals, you name it). Why not humans?

    However I don’t think anyone would deny that climate alarmism is happening. You could probably prove it by showing how information flows match the predictions from alarm signalling theory. But why bother when you can see it in the headlines? The real question is whether the alarmism is justified. (And if so, what do we do about it.)

    [In both cases an open audit model allows easy access to all the data so that powerful minds can work in parallel to address the questions. We should not leave this one to the ivory tower academics.]

  30. Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 10:06 AM | Permalink

    Didn’t Hansen say that it was OK to exagerate (lie) about the results of studies, using the most extreme scenario, if it meant getting more people to take AGW seriously? Is this “thing” peer reviewed?

  31. Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 10:34 AM | Permalink

    Muller, McDonald, Mann, Milankovitch, McIntire and Mckitrick. How about some discussion of the “M” probabilities.

  32. bender
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 10:40 AM | Permalink

    Other questions on Hansen’s Fig 5 composite line graph:
    1. Why is it plotted in color when b&w would suffice?
    2. Why is the line plotted in red, not some other color?
    3. Why are the different data sources not plotted in different colors (or line styles)?

    There are several possible explanations. It is not polite to speculate as to someone’s motive, however it is impossible to ignore these logical possibilities:

    1. Because b&w does not allow for red.
    2. Because red is nature’s universal color symbol for alarm.
    3. Because that would suggest there’s a data seam, which would bring into question the quality of the stitching & the qualifications of the seamstress.

    As a reviewer I would insist on these cost-saving, information-preserving changes. Sure, Hansen mentions the data seam in the figure caption text. But does this figure caption translate over into the newspapers? No!

    Some climatologists are careless about the information portrayed in their graphics. Others are are intentionally “dumbing them down” or “dressing them up” in order that the alarm signal gets transmitted undistorted. This is the hockey stick in drag.

  33. welikerocks
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 11:18 AM | Permalink

    Re:# 30 sonicfrog, you might be thinking of :

    Schneider told Discover Magazine: “We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and make little mention of doubts we may have…
    …we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translated into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. That of course means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and make little mention of doubts we may have…”

    full link is in #171 in this older topic:
    NAS POST TODAY 8-23-06

    And yuck! I had to read through that whole thing to find it. LOL

  34. John Hekman
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 11:48 AM | Permalink

    Re: #28 (whether fertilization by CO2 is a factor in foraminifera growth in late 20thC)

    Since they were looking at areas near the coast, wouldn’t effluent from agriculture and other human sources be a big factor?

  35. Jeremy
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 11:55 AM | Permalink

    Re: #33, The full quote from that PDF link doesn’t redeem him either. Schneider claims that he is taken out of context, and to a degree he is correct. However, the whole quote doesn’t do anything but condemn him in a clearer manner. In full context he is implying that the scientific method is to be bent, that qualifiers and assumptions are to be ignored when public safety may be at stake. That is wrong, plain and simple. If that man were in my department, I would be ashamed and consider transferring to a different school. His entire thought process seems to be that truth isn’t valuable when faced with fear. It is the thinking that if we fear our own demise, we should not seek whole truths because action is needed. So in effect, and keeper and expander of knowledge and understanding is instead becoming a politician.

    So now, in the climatologist’s personal view, political action is necessary for the public good, so a scientist supposedly has the “option” of witholding caveats in order to generate political will to effect change in society.

    That is not science, not even close. What’s amazing is he clarifies himself to his own doom. It’s like the sci-method has been just chucked out the window without a care. He has betrayed the public trust fully by even suggesting what he effectively enabled with those comments.

  36. Jeremy
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 12:04 PM | Permalink

    oops… make “and keeper and expander” == “the keeper…”

  37. Jeremy
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 12:33 PM | Permalink

    To give a counter-example…

    In Los Angeles we sometimes get earthquakes. For a long time, whenever we had a local earthquake the local news stations would send field reporters zipping over to CalTech. They would always talk to the same lady on camera, and she was nearly always standing right in front of some old-fashioned strip-chart machines that were busily humming along. These reporters were doing what TV field reporters do, they try to get some soundbite that has some flavor to it. They have their job and their job is to try to make people say interesting things on camera. In a certain sense they are the manufacturers of video bits. This woman, (I forget what her name is) time and time again would talk slowly and deliberately, ensuring that what she said could not be taken to mean anything other than what was known at the time. She was a marvel of truthful restraint and she would do this at all hours. I seem to remember seeing her in her pajamas giving such interviews. That is what people investigating possibly calamitous events should be. You do not state more than you know, ever.

    The end result was that she never said anything terribly interesting. That was bad for the media, they wanted something to talk about. But it was GREAT for the public in Los Angeles, because right after frightening events (strong earthquakes can really shake you up for days afterwards) we had a real scientist telling us basically nothing and appearing very calm and composed. It is the scientists who scream and shout and jump about what they fear might happen that are truly doing the disservice to humanity.

  38. TAC
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 1:59 PM | Permalink

    Re #37: I think the woman is Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey.

  39. Steve Bloom
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 3:06 PM | Permalink

    Re #39: Good old-fashioned conspiracy theorizing! How refreshing.

  40. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 3:21 PM | Permalink

    RE: #40 – not at all. It would be incredibly naive to think that there is not real money pushing the IPCC / “Green” point of view. It’s really sort of humorous the way environmental extremists try to portray themselves as Davids against the reputed Goliath of “corporate interests” or alternatively, and even more radically, capitalism, in this day and age. It was one thing back in the 1960s when the “ecology movement” was a truly countercultural thing with some really good points to make. But now, “being green” has gotten so mainstream that one cannot make it through any corporate website, or newspaper such as the FT or WSJ, without reading one or another tract of Green propaganda. Clearly, major money and major “Who’s who” sorts of people have embraced “being Green” either out of actual “conversion” or for its PR value. I am really beginning to resent the attempts by “Greens” to portray themselves as minorities, outsiders, victims or “righteous revolultionaries,” when the truth is, the tennets of the ideology have completely infiltrated mainstream culture. And as a result, our mainstream culture has already been radicalized way past the healthy medium. Get off it Steve B!

  41. Dave Eaton
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 3:26 PM | Permalink

    Re #40

    Agreed, but the shoe is often on the other foot. How many times has Steve M been accused of being on the take from Exxon or some oil company?

    On that note, I was a little surprised that Inhofe’s recent speech claimed that environmental PACs have contributed ~2.5x as much money as oil companies to politicians. I haven’t audited that claim, but I think that there is plenty of dough on both sides to muddy the water. James Hanson took Ketchup Money! Gasp.

    I wish chemistry was as sexy as climatology. I could use some phat shillin’ money.

  42. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 3:34 PM | Permalink

    Some of the original climate research was financed by American nuclear labs. The Climate Dioxide Information Centre (CDIAC) operated (and still operates) out of the Oak Ridges National Lab, the first lab to synthesize plutonium. It seems to have been set up in the wake of Three Mile Island. Jones’ first work appears to have been financed by CDIAC and he has been funded by DOE ever since. Ben Santer is at a nuclear lab. MBH98 was financed by an Alexander Hollandaer Fellowship. In order to apply for this, Mann would have sent his application to the Oak Ridges Nuclear facility. I’m told that Greenpeace among others was rather late on the climate bandwagon because of the nuclear implications of any plausible climate policy.

  43. charles
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 3:42 PM | Permalink


    True, the silver lining in all this doom and gloom is most likely a greater role for nuclear energy in the future.

    Talk about irony.

  44. TCO
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 7:19 PM | Permalink


  45. Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 7:32 PM | Permalink

    So do I get the impression that large parts of the current scare about fossil fuels has been directly financed by the nuclear industry?

    Just imagine what you could do with that information… nuclear-secrets.org anyone?

  46. Dave Eaton
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 7:38 PM | Permalink


    At first I thought you were referring to the model Saturn you drive. But I’m betting you mean the military nuclear accident. Your comment is too cryptic to be certain what you mean, so, what do you mean? A couple of fatalities in the early 60s means…what, exactly?

    Pebble bed reactors…

  47. Dave Eaton
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 7:50 PM | Permalink

    Steve M.-

    I hate to nitpick, but it is “Oak Ridge National Laboratory” (‘ridge’ singular). ORNL often used as shorthand.

  48. TCO
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 8:19 PM | Permalink

    It’s the US Chernoybyl incident. Imagine if the same ‘tractor had been 1000MW and near an urban center. It was located in an area that literally can take an atom bomb without killing anyone else nearby.

  49. Dave Eaton
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 8:32 PM | Permalink

    OK. I only knew the sketchiest details. I think newer, safer reactor designs are worth the political headaches necessary to implement them, but I also would have no problem with them being way out in the middle of nowhere, if need be.

    In any case, the broader point that there is irony in greens supporting nukes as an unavoidable logical conclusion of their worries about AGW applies. Nukes, or yurts.

  50. TCO
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 8:48 PM | Permalink

    I been there son…

  51. Jeff Weffer
    Posted Sep 28, 2006 at 9:21 PM | Permalink

    Might be a good time to bring the historical climate cycle again. 100,000 years of glaciers, 15,000 years of interglacial.

    So it is nearly as warm today as 1 million years ago. 985,000 years ago then, everything within 3,000 miles of the poles was covered in big monstrous glaciers.

    Isn’t it rather riduclous for a “climate scientist” to make such claims when he knows full well the actual climate and glacial cycle?

  52. Jos Verhulst
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 12:35 AM | Permalink


    “French and Belgian archaeologists have found proof that Neanderthals – mankind’s closest relatives – were living in near-tropical conditions, hunting rhinoceros and elephant, close to what is now France’s Channel coast 125,000 years ago”.

    So 125,000 years ago, the climate was near tropical at 50° NL !
    It certainly is not near-tropical or even mediterranean right now.

  53. Jim Edwards
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 2:58 AM | Permalink


    Branson was interviewed by Neil Cavuto on Fox News. He is NOT giving $ to Pres. Clinton and his Global Initiative. He is only pledging to use the operating profits from his energy-using business [Virgin Air] to fund new [greener] energy-producing / saving businesses. He intends to make a lot of money from this move and is getting great PR. It’s a very astute business decision. Warming or no warming he’ll make money off the deal, if only b/c China and India want to live like us.

  54. KevinUK
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 6:07 AM | Permalink

    Steve M, sorry for this off-thread stuff but

    #44, charles

    As an ex-nuclear physicist I sincerely hope that any possible future nuclear power programme in the UK is NOT based on a lie as the last one was. The early generations of nucler plant in the UK were designed to breed plutonium for the weopons programme as well as to produce electricity. The general public were not told this so in my opinion they were sold nuclear power on the basis of a lie. I would not wish for this to be repeated again as appears to be the case in the UK at present. This time the lie is AGW.

    #45, TCO

    We’ve discussed SL-1 previously on that occasion when we were advised to ‘get a room’. there were many incidents that occurred in the rush for the ‘bomb’ that sadly taint the otherwise excellent safety record of the nuclear power generation industry. Our bugpbear in the UK which we can never livedown is the Windscale pile fire. The pile were designed and built specifically to breed plutonium for the early weopons programme just like the Hanford piles in the US (notice the connection here i.e. an obsession with producing weopons grade fissile material – which is now no longer required post Glasnost and the fall of the Berlin wall). Also note that many/most nuclear incidents in the past have involved criticality incidents associated with the reprocessing of fuel (to extract the plutonium). If reprocessing was avoided in the future and instead the spent fuel went directly to a storage facility instead (to be subsequently reprocessed well into the future when the plutonium is required) then many of thes eincidents would be avoided.

    #46, john a

    I don’t think there is any nuclear conspiracy theory in AGW alarmism – at least not in the UK anyway as we have now successful sold off or shutdown all our nuclear research facilities. Having said that therer are definitely links in the UK between the ex-nuclear research sites (e.g. Risley, Harwell and Winfrith) and the environment/alternative energy industries. Indeed the only significant business that now remains part of the privatised UKAEA (i.e. AEA Technology) is the AEAT Environment business. Amongst other things this business works with DEFRA on the Envirowise programme and on future energy solutions. Much of this stems from the original funding of alternative energy research managed by the original UKAEA Energy Technology Support Unit (ETSU). So yes you are right in part John, that there are connections between the two industries but in my opinion there is no conspiracy.

    #50, dave

    With one very notable exception (RBMK – a design influenced by the need to breed plutonium) we already have very safe reactor designs throughout the world. This has been more than adequately demonstrated over the past 50 years+. One of the problems with nuclear power (why it is uneconomic) is because a lot of a nuclear power plants lifetime costs are in its construction costs. Because it is a heavily regulated industry the reactor designs tend to be over engineered (e.g. tertiary reactor shutdown systems, dual redundant backup cooling systems etc). Because of regulation (not IMO because of safety incidents) these reactor designs have tended to evolve into even more complex designs. The nuclear power generation industry (with the possible exception of France) has therefore not been able to claim the economic benefits which economy of scale and replication normally bring in the construction industry. In my opinion it is time to settle on one design of one demonstrably sager design of reactor system (including fuel design), licence it for use in all countries in the EU and then build many of them. Sorry dave but in my opinion we need pebble-bed reactors like we need a hole in the head.


  55. KevinUK
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 6:11 AM | Permalink

    #55, sorry

    ‘sager’ should be ‘safer’.


  56. KevinUK
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 6:31 AM | Permalink

    #54, jim

    This article in the Observer says that the money will be coming from the profits of Virgin Rail as well as Virgin Air. Now given that the profit comes from fee-paying passengers wouldn’t it make more sense to reduce the costs of transport on the UK rail network and thereby encourage motorist out of their cars and onto the (bio-fuelled) train instead? Indeed if journeys into and out of London from the regions (on those nice new tilting Pendolino’s) were done by rail rather than by air wouldn’t that result in less net CO2 emissions? I wait with baited breath for my first cross-country trip on a Virgin Voyager fuelled on Virgin Bio-fuels.


  57. fFreddy
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 6:39 AM | Permalink

    Re #55, KevinUK

    In my opinion it is time to settle on one design of one demonstrably sager design of reactor system (including fuel design), licence it for use in all countries in the EU and then build many of them. Sorry dave but in my opinion we need pebble-bed reactors like we need a hole in the head.

    Forgive my curiosity, but what is the safer design you have in mind ? And what is wrong with pebble-beds ?

  58. KevinUK
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 7:06 AM | Permalink


    At the risk of going well off-thread (as we did last time we had a nuclear power generation debate session on another thread) to answer you question. The safe designs are already here. The are demonstrably safe by virtual of their history. In the case of the UK it is the Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor (AGR). In the case of France it is the French PWR design. In the case of Canada it is the CANDU (my favourite because it doesn’t require the Uranium to be enriched). In the US it is the Westinghouse PWR design etc etc. All proven in service. All now with life extensions beyond their design lifetimes. Why on earth therefore do we need yet another design of nuclear reactor. By saying ‘we need pebble-bed reactors like we need a hole in the head’ I am not criticising the design of the pebble-bed reactor and is claimed inherent safe design, I am instead saying that it is not required (not for sometime yet anyway) i.e. we already have demonstrably safe thermal reactor designs we don’t need any more, we just need to build more of the same. In the ca eof the UK its highly unlikely (not because of safety concerns) that we will ever build anymore AGRs (a design which I have considerable knowledge of having worked on the design, construction and commissioning of Torness NPS in the 80s). Instead given our experience with Sizewell B, it is much more likely that we will licence and approve the French design of PWR for use in the UK. Despite its excellent safety and peformance record, the sad fact is that we have could no longer build another AGR like Torness or Heysham II as our homegrown nuclear industry has de-tooled and de-skilled. Any skills required to design and build a new generation of nuclear power generation plant within the UK will therefore have to be bought in from outside the UK.


  59. TCO
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 7:07 AM | Permalink

    I’m cool with nukes and all. Just trying to act salty. I would advise you though that conventional, modern reactors are not “inherently safe”. If you misoperate the thing badly enough or bypass safety interlocks or such, then you can have a nuclear accident, even a boiler explosion as with SL-1.

  60. KevinUK
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 7:42 AM | Permalink


    TCO, SL1 was not a ‘boiler explosion’. It was a supercriticality incident in which as I think you know (because you reminded me about it during our last nuclear safety debate), an operator removed a single control rod completely from the reactor which caused the power to increase dramatically within the space of a few seconds. This resulted in the ejection of the control completely from the reactor which pinned the poor operator to the ceiling of the containment building. There was a suspicion that the control rod could have been removed deliberately i.e. operator suicide but I think it more likely that this incident occurred because the control rod became stuck and was accidently ‘yanked’ out by pulling it to overcome the obstruction.

    TCO, could you define what you mean by ‘inherently safe’? Could you explain how any system (not just a nuclear reactor) can be designed so that is ‘inherently safe’?


  61. BKC
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 9:12 AM | Permalink


    He may have been thinking of this design. If the reactor overheats, the fuel expands and the reaction stops of its own accord. Of course, the whole system is not inherently safe – especially with liquid sodium as a coolant. However, there appear to be several advantages related to fuel, safety and waste recycling. What’s your opinion of this design?

  62. KevinUK
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 10:56 AM | Permalink


    I worked on sodium cooled fast reactor designs and let me tell you they are not and nevr could be ‘inherently safe’. I once did a study modelling sodium spray fires. I’ve personally witnessed what happens when hot sodium under pressure is ejected from a cracked pipe. Let me tell you it’s pretty spectacular and modelling it wa snot easy. I personally prefer a relatively single phase inert gas (like CO2 or He) as a coolant combined with a moderator that has a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity e.g. graphite. but then I’m prepared to admit that I’m biassed in that respect given my AGR background. I’ve posted my opinions on fast reactors (slow breeder reactors as Walter marshall called them)in another thread in the past so I won’t report them. You can perhaps work out that I am not exactly a fan of plutonium (under statement).


  63. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 10:57 AM | Permalink

    More in today’s rags (FT and WSJ) giving a positive spin to Hansen’s ranting.

    Saw one that claimed “animal species are migrating [sic] toward the poles.” Which species, bounded by which past / baseline range coordinates, and how far “migrated” (completely wrong nomenclature to describe range changes)? I never see any specific evidence of this reputed migration in the Animal Kingdom. Where are the peer reviewed publications with some evidence?

  64. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 11:05 AM | Permalink

    RE: #55 – ot – If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. If Pu breeders are outlawed, only outlaw nations will have Pu breeders.

    Personally, as much I would love to to trust my fellow Man, harsh reality says, I better have bigger and badder guns / Pu stores than he does. /ot

  65. BKC
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 11:49 AM | Permalink


    Thanks for the response (one last ot post on this and I’ll leave it alone:)

    I’m not in the nuke power industry, but came across some info on the reactor type a while back and it piqued my interest. I can certainly understand your aversion to using sodium as a coolant. But it did have some interesting benefits, such as;

    *It could burn the spent fuel rods from existing reactors.
    *It’s much more efficient at burning the fuel. There is a much larger available supply of fuel.
    *The fuel can all be processed on site, and the plutonium is not in an easily usable form. Can be used to eliminate plutonium wastes from bombs and thermal reactors.
    *Half-life of waste products are much more reasonable. There is also much less waste.

    The benefits seem to be substantial.

  66. Jim Edwards
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 11:49 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for the article link. Branson’s move appears more cynical than I thought. He’s taking advantage of a UK Gov’t mandate to use 5% biofuel, whether it makes economic / ecological sense or not. Also possibly using good PR to forestall airline taxation. Ha ! He’s a genius.

    I have no idea if pushing people onto rail makes sense for UK. It wouldn’t in the US b/c our population is so dispersed and we don’t have the passenger infrastructure. The subsidies for long-distance rail travel are obscene here, b/c it doesn’t make economic sense to build a 1500 km rail line to move 5000 passengers a month. Current rail lines are for freight use, primarily.

  67. fFreddy
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 11:54 AM | Permalink

    Re #67
    Branson’s no fool. His immediate use of his new green cuddly points is to bully other parts of the the airline business.

  68. Jim Edwards
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 12:09 PM | Permalink

    It sounds like he has ideas about reducing his fuel costs by slowing down his planes, but he wants the Gov’t to mandate that all the other carriers slow down, too, so he doesn’t lose ticket sales. More Gov’t interference in the marketplace. If he can sell cheaper tickets for flights that are longer, he should do so and allow his competitors to pick their own strategy.

  69. Richard Lewis
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 12:54 PM | Permalink

    Re: #64

    Several of my “peers” have reviewed this publication:


    They found it profoundly consistent with the prevalent alarmism of the AGW research community.

  70. Dave Eaton
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 1:01 PM | Permalink

    I appreciate your insight, with your experience. Nuke power is certainly outside mine- honestly, I wrote ‘pebble bed reactors’ because it was the first nuclear related thing that came to mind. The later comment about safer nuke power was not directly related. I have heard a little about pebble bed reactors and that the fuel would be relatively worthless to bad guys looking for weaponry, but I don’t know that.

    As a chemist, I would love to see (under properly controlled conditions) liquid sodium spray.

  71. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 1:21 PM | Permalink

    RE: #69 – Indeed, slowing down has been the overall trend for a while, simply from the fuel cost perspective. The 747 was the fastest subsonic airliner. Subsequent newer ones are slower. I am a imagining something that is a cross between an A380 and next gen C130 (but with the turboprops based on something similar to the B777 turbofans) might be typical 30 years from now.

  72. TCO
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 1:52 PM | Permalink


    I’m not sure if your point is semantic or conceptual. By “boiler explosion”, I mean that the pressure vessel ruptured becuase of high pressure steam. Of course, the rupture occurred because of an over-power situation (prompt criticality). That is just the source of the heating though. In a conventional boiler, it would be from combustion air–in a ‘tractor it’s from fission inside the fuel plates.


    Essentially, the SL-1 accident was a boiler explosion, a type of accident that has caused death and destruction since the beginning of the Industrial Age.

  73. TCO
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 1:59 PM | Permalink

    Kevin, I don’t know what inherent safety is or for that matter what a pebble bed reactor is. I think there are some good engineering reasons for the use of regular PWRs and when I hear someone blather about pebble beds or some other design fix (someone who likely does not know what keff means), it raises some hair on the back of my neck. Nukes have inherent issues and have had a lot of thought on how to deal with those issues (and much of it coming back to the operator training and selection) and to philosophies of design, rather then next gen fixes.

    Did you operate a high power sodium reactor? Was not aware of any other then the US Navy one which had significant issues and was converted to water.

  74. KevinUK
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 2:13 PM | Permalink

    #70, Richard

    I think this quote from the article sums it up

    “They sounded more terrified than playful”, claimed Crystal Dearing, a graduate student working toward a degree in Anthropogenic Environmental Disasters at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. “They sounded distressed and fearful.”

    Is this someone looking for their next funding grant?

    #66, BKC

    In quoting the claimed advantages of this ‘Integeral Fast Reactor’ you’ve asked a lot of questions which I’d like to refute but don’t have the time to at present. If Steve M doesn’t mind I’ll reply later. My reply will hopefully demonstrate that as in climate change there are a lot of people in the nucler industry looking for their next research grant. Claims are therefore shall we politely say often ‘exaggerated’. To undestand what i mean by this will take a lot of explanation of the history of nuclear power in terms of the evolution of reactor designs.

    #71, Dave

    It was probably one of the most spectacular experiments I’ve ever seen surpassed only by the molten fuel coolant interactions I witnessed at experiments conducte datthe Winfrith nuclear research centre in Dorset, England. The experiment was carried out for a variety of reasons one of which was to see how significant the ‘plume’ would be and how easy (or not) it would be to cope with the spray from a fire control perspective. The result was a massive plume (even though it was only a small amount of sodium and not very well. Suffice to say I wouldn’t like to be in the same containment building when a fast reactor’s steam generating unit (SGU) suffers a crack. Fast reactors use sodium in the secondary cooling circuit to avoid the possibility of a water to sodium reaction in the primary circuit (the nuclear reactor). Does this sound inherently safe to you?

    #65, Steve S

    Much as I agree with a lot that you post on this blog I have to disagree with you on this one. Enriching uranium to weopons grade or breeding plutonium is no easy task. If it was then many more countries would have ‘the bomb’ by now. Those that do have it, have it because they have been given the technology to produce fissile material by one of the ‘super powers’ (China, USSR, US, France etc). Plutonium is far more difficult to produce than enrich uranium as former first requires relatively low enriched uramium to be irradiated in a nuclear reactor and for early discharged (non-spent) fuel to be reprocessed to extract the plutonium. Enriched uranium on the other hand in comparison requires only a gas centrifuge plant albeit admitted using adavanced centrifuge technology. The enrichment level is progressively increased by cascading the output from each bank of centrifuges back through the cascade again and again. Both obviously require a reasonably plentiful supply of uranium hexafluoride to start with. The solution therefore to avoidance of plutonium proliferation is to not breed it from lowly enriched uranium and the solution to proliferation of weopons grade uranium is to control the supply of uranium/uranium hexafluoride. So what do we then do about the stockpiles? Answer – we burn them in existing (modified for a mixed oxide fuel cycle) nuclear reactors and DO NOT reprocess the spent fuel but instead send it directly for storage. Let me tell you that no terrorist would be able to get within spitting distance of a spent fuel element/sub-assembly. The real ‘nuclear’ terrorist threat will come from a so called ‘dirty bomb’. A conventional bomb that contains non-fissile radioactive material obtained from a non-secure nuclear waste management/packaging plant that deals with radioactive materials that result from the reprocessing of nuclear fuels and/or medical radiography sources. If fuel reprocessing were to be stopped then this risk would significantly be reduced.


  75. TCO
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 2:31 PM | Permalink

    Kevin, agreed that operated fuel is nasty stuff full of transuranics with both high activity and long half-lifes. Palpably evil. I’ve defueled a highly enriched core after power operation and the stuff goes into lead coke bottles and armoured, lead lined trains and is sent out for some reprocessing. Certainly there would be a fatality risk to try to work with the stuff without big training and big machines and big sheilding. That said, we still had a platoon of Marines, when the material moved…

  76. KevinUK
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 2:51 PM | Permalink

    #73 and 74, TCO

    I’ve only just seen these posts following my last post. At some point Stve is liely to tell us off for all this off thread nuclear discussion. But to finally answer your posts:

    My point was largely semantic but I think your quote from the link is mis-leading. The SL-1 pressure vessel experienced a massive disruption because of the supercriticality incident caused as a direct result of the removing a single control rod from the reactor (this says a lot about the shortcomings of this military research reactor). It was not as the phrase ‘boiler explosion’ implies due as in the case of a conventional pressure vessel due to a build up in pressure. In that sense it can be likened to a small scale Chernobyl. I believe in this respect it is best to call a spade a spade. It was, as with Chernobyl, a ‘nuclear explosion’ in the sense that the primary cause was a supercriticality incident (massive release of enrgy in a very short period of time). I do not apologise to my ex-nuclear colleagues for the use of ‘nuclear explosion’ in this context but I would qualify my statement by saying that it was not ‘mushroom cloud’ bomb like nuclear weopon explosion – far from it.

    There are several Fast Reactors through the world. In my case, in the cours eof my work I have visited the UK Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) in Dounreay, Scotland many times. I’ve also worked on the design of the subsequently defunct UK Commercial Demonstration Fast Reactor (CDFR). Interestingly back in the early 80s, I was once accused by a line manager of mine of having ‘pre-conceived ideas on the fast reactor project’. As it subsequently turned out the Minister for Energy also had the same ‘pre-conceived ideas’ and so agreed with me as the fast reactor research programme was closed down along with PFR in the mid to late 90s. I’ve always wondered what happened to him. Perhaps he now lives and works in Exeter?


  77. Greg F
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 3:04 PM | Permalink

    Is this someone looking for their next funding grant?

    Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the disclaimer.

  78. TCO
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 3:06 PM | Permalink

    To me, the fundamental concept and issue is that the pressure vessel was ruptured. I have heard this type of accident referred to colloquially as a bioler explosion in the industry. It is completely understood that prompt gamma heating is the cause of the steam pressure.

  79. TCO
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 3:07 PM | Permalink

    You did not answer my question about practicing sodium reactors. Are there any non-research, commercial or military reactors using sodium?

  80. Dave Eaton
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 3:36 PM | Permalink

    #75 KevinUK-
    No. Not inherently safe. The experiment sounds cool, indeed, but safe, not even a little.

    Our off-topic nuclear power discussion makes me wonder- does anyone know if there are sites where the discussion involve proposed AGW mitigation strategies being subjected to hard-headed critique? I am interested in discussions where the focus is not mutual denunciations of AGW true-believer by heretical skeptics and vice versa, but a willingness of the converted, agnostic and unapologetically skeptical to at least suspend disbelief (whether that disbelief is in AGW, technology, capitalism, etc) a bit and discuss what the science, engineering and economics would be IF the various AGW scenarios are accurate. I appreciate Steve M’s indulgence thus far, and would rather go where such discussion is appropriate rather than overburden CA.

    Fairly simple analyses reveals huge holes in some proposed alt. energy projects like wind and solar. With nukes, clearly the details are more nuanced. But even detatched from the AGW debate, the technology and science looks interesting to me.

  81. Follow the Money
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 3:42 PM | Permalink


    “Re #39: Good old-fashioned conspiracy theorizing! How refreshing.

    Comment by Steve Bloom “¢’‚¬? 28 September 2006 @ 3:06 pm”

    Sniff sniff. Gosh Steve you don’t know how legislation is made? Do you know how lobbies work, how PR firms’ NGO divisions work? Didn’t think so.

    How about UN bureaucracies?

  82. KevinUK
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 4:58 PM | Permalink

    #82, FTM

    Isn’t Steve B a member of the Sierra Club?

    #79 and #80, TCO

    “prompt gamma heating”. TCO are you testing me to find out if I’m really an ex-nuclear physicist or have you been on the ‘sauce’ again? You are obviously well read and so I’m sure therefore already know that the majority of the energy released in a fission reaction is in the form of kinetic energy of the fission products (approx two halves of the mass of the nucleus that has been split due to fission) and the resultant free neutrons and not from gamma rays.

    I thought I had answered your question “Did you operate a high power sodium reactor?”. To answer your new question there are several sodium cooled non-research, non-military nuclear reactors throughout the world. Here is a wikipedia link that gives some details of liquid metal fast breeder reactors (LMFBRs) throughout the world.


  83. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 5:57 PM | Permalink

    RE: #83 – Steve B is not only a member, he’s a VIP.

  84. TCO
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 6:02 PM | Permalink


    1. I didn’t get the yes or no answer or didn’t see it. Was just curious. Is fast reactor synonymous with sodium? Have you operated? What kind of power rating did it have and how does it compare cost wise with a PWR?

    2. Yeah on the power percents, but prompt gamma heating can still turn the power for a prompt supercritical reactor. The issue is that you have a very fast power rise within the fuel, that you have some thermal lag across the fuel plate and cladding. So that power can be turned by flashing of the moderator. I think in the SL1 incident, they say that is was a race between the swelling of the fuel plates themselves and prompt gamma heating and the swelling won. But in other cores and accident modeling, the power is actually turned by prompt gamma heating. But in any case, it’s a very different deal then the normal steady state operations where power is determined by the demand from the turbines and the generational lifetime of the neutrons is determined by delayed neutron precursors. I’m not making up terms. I’m not a nuclear physicist of course or a core designer or anything. Just a dumb baby elephant…

  85. bender
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 6:02 PM | Permalink

    Re #84
    So when he says he has “30 years experience working with policy” people, he probably means as a lobbyist working on a narrow agenda pushing in one direction, as opposed to serious policy-makers who try to balance various competing interests? I asked him this straight up, but all he did was dodge and accuse me of a tap-dance.

  86. Steve Bloom
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 6:52 PM | Permalink

    Re #86: bender, your premise is wrong. If you had ever spent substantial time lobbying for anything, you’d know that.

  87. bender
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 7:02 PM | Permalink

    Re #87
    What premise? That serious policy-makers try to balance competing interests? Well, if you’re a lobbyist, then of course that’s how you would see things. YOU’RE the one with the balanced persepctive and everyone else has an agenda.

    You’re right – I’m as far from a lobbyist as you could ever get. That’s why I’m asking you the questions that you’re ducking. Talk to me.

  88. TCO
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 7:15 PM | Permalink

    Read THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. It explains lobbying. And is a fun read.

  89. bender
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 7:26 PM | Permalink

    I don’t have time to read things like that. I’m busy computing ARMA coefficents. Just tell me what premise of mine is wrong.

  90. TCO
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 7:38 PM | Permalink

    It’s a fun read, man.

  91. bender
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 8:14 PM | Permalink

    I expect half the problem was that 95% of evolutionists didn’t know what they were talking about and didn’t understand their audience. That’s been my experience anyway. [And this observation is not pointed at you, Pat.]

    The same way I’m arguing that scientists and policy makers don’t speak the same language and appreciate the others experiences & perspective.

  92. Steve Bloom
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 8:25 PM | Permalink

    Re #88: bender, you started out (in a different thread, I think) proposing something like educating policy-makers about scientific uncertainty. Since in principal that can be done in a few minutes, and of course most policy-makers have already seen something along those lines, I assumed you meant something much more in depth. To make things simple and just keep it at the federal level and further assume we’re talking elected officials, the fact is that most of them won’t take the time for such a thing. The entire system is set up so that scientific conclusions can be spoon-fed to them by scientists (mainly from the government or via quasi-governmental institutions such as the NAS or AGU but, *especially when the policy-makers do not like the implications of what the usual experts are telling them*, from other scientists). Just to be clear, this approach is used for everything, not just climate and not just scientific issues. (Caveat: My personal experience is almost entirely at the state and local level.)

    When you talk about balancing interests, that’s fair enough (ignoring completely the very large issue of how a given policy-maker goes about deciding which interests are to be balanced), but it’s a paradigm that has very little to do an understanding of scientific uncertainty even when scientific issues are involved. A great example of this is the long process (still underway) of regulating tobacco at the federal level. The issue of scientific uncertainty became part of this debate only as a red herring. I think there’s evidence that the same thing is going on in the climate policy debate, the evidence being that many of the “no regrets” policy steps that would reduce GHGs and also reduce oil imports, improve air quality and preserve oil supply against “peak oil” have not been taken.

  93. Pat Frank
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 8:26 PM | Permalink

    #93 — Maybe reflecting on “FUDtanks” will enlighten you, Steve B.

    #94 — That might have been 25% of the problem, and that only at first. The problem continues as before, despite adaptations of the presentations. Defenders of Evolutionary Theory generally knew (and know) very well what they’re talking about. The talk.origins site, e.g., dates from very early on in the modern debate.

  94. Steve Bloom
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 8:29 PM | Permalink

    Re #94: “The same way I’m arguing that scientists and policy makers don’t speak the same language and appreciate the others experiences & perspective.” Well put. It’s just that educating the policy-makers about uncertainty won’t do much to change this dynamic.

  95. TCO
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 8:33 PM | Permalink

    THANK YOU FOR SMOKING rawks!!! I love the evil…

  96. bender
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 9:07 PM | Permalink

    Re #97
    That is because you & your gang equate uncertainty with FUD, whereas I (and Judith Curry) understand the critical role it plays in scientific hypothesis testing – especially in earth sciences. Ecological systems do not respond simply to CO2 the way the human lungs respond to tobacco. That’s where your equation is breaking down quite badly. To a lobbyist it’s the same thing. To a scientist, not even close.

  97. bender
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 9:16 PM | Permalink

    Re: #95, caveat
    I wasn’t going to comment on the likelihood that you had little experience at the federal level. But I had my suspicions. Perspectives in Washington are quite a bit more varied than in California. It’s a tough balancing act. When you’re on one side, you don’t see the science-policy gap the same way as when you’re an appointed bridger. The biggest barrier to bridging is scientific uncertainty on the one side, and entrenched, divided positions on the other.

  98. Steve Bloom
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 9:17 PM | Permalink

    Re #99: I treat you seriously just for a moment and this kind of nonsense is what I get. Judy’s approach to climate science uncertainty is quite different from yours, BTW. Did you forget that she’s part of the “consensus”?

  99. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 9:22 PM | Permalink

    Steve B, Americans should know about trying to make the facts fit the policy. I’m sure that Dick Cheney thought that WMD doubters were just causing FUD. But we’re not talking about policy here – think of us as talking about aluminum tubes and whether they are evidence of WMD. What is the significance of Mg/Ca levels in G. ruber in the Western Equatorial Pool? It’s just a technical question. But you’ve already on decided on the policy – why do you care about whether there really are WMD?

  100. Steve Bloom
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 9:27 PM | Permalink

    Re #100: A very definitive conclusion from someone who has no idea what he’s talking about. “The biggest barrier to bridging is scientific uncertainty on the one side, and entrenched, divided positions on the other.” Does this even make sense to you?

  101. bender
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 9:43 PM | Permalink

    Re #101
    Not sure what I said to offend you. Sorry.

    Did I forget she’s part of the consensus? No. In fact I just read her brief to NAS saying so. I also read about how she found it difficult to maintain a position of scientific objectivity in the face of pressures to join “the consensus”. Which I did not quite understand until, errr, recently.

    Re #103
    I know what I’m talking about. If you don’t understand it, there’s probably something missing in the conversation. Do my statements make sense to me? Umm, yes.

  102. Steve Bloom
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 9:45 PM | Permalink

    Re #102: I think you give Dick Cheney not nearly enough credit for malevolence, but that’s a whole other discussion.

    Steve M., most scientists felt that there was enough evidence years ago; that is, after all, why there is a consensus. Having read an awful lot of the scientific literature, I agree with them. Because there will always be some uncertainty, additional evidence is always helpful, and as much as possible it needs to be put in terms that policy-makers and the public can best understand. That’s why Hansen wrote the paper the way he did.

  103. bender
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 9:45 PM | Permalink

    Re #103
    You could view my statement as a “definitive conclusion” if you choose. Another view would be as that of an entry point to dialogue. It was you that chose the former interpretation. I wonder why.

  104. bender
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 9:48 PM | Permalink

    Re #105
    You read alot. So does TCO. I contend that you do not read critically. How can you, when you don’t understand what is and isn’t a trend?

  105. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 9:52 PM | Permalink

    If Hansen is writing for the public, he should write in popular magazines. PNAS is a scholarly journal and should enforce scholarly standards. HAnsen;s article would be unacceptable in any discipline other than climate science.

  106. bender
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 9:57 PM | Permalink

    Hansen’s inferences are not statisically defensible, Bloom. That is the problem. This is not a mere technicality. He thinks we’re near a point of “dangeorus” climate change, and there’s a good chance he’s wrong. Why? Because of this consensus that, like you, is in absolute denial about about massive uncertainties in all the models and reconstructions. They’re massive. Not at all like the effects of tobacco. Massive.

    Recall: I declared early on that I suspect the A in AGW is non-zero. So I’m part of that “consensus”. But this idea that the planet is going to spiral towards some dangerous Venusian extreme – well that’s just non-scientific alarmism. Hansen is not at the centre of any consensus on that one.

    As a scientist, I reject alarmism.

  107. Steve Bloom
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 10:05 PM | Permalink

    Re #108: As you are well aware, “put in terms the public can understand” and “written for the public” are different things. We will be seeing a lot more review-type articles that make reference to the UNFCCC treaty requirement of “avoiding dangerous climate change.” Do you think that’s inappropriate?

  108. bender
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 10:09 PM | Permalink

    Hansen’s aticle was non-scientific. It belongs in the gray literature. Published in PNAS it now has a false legitimacy. Legitimacy it does not deserve.

  109. Steve Bloom
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 10:13 PM | Permalink

    Re #109: “Venusian extreme”?! Why don’t you try referring to what Hansen actually said. 3C is hardly a Venusian extreme, although it is plenty bad.

  110. Steve Bloom
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 10:16 PM | Permalink

    Re #111: OK bender, write a letter to Ralph Cicerone setting forth all of your reasons for that view. Be sure to copy your boss.

  111. TCO
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 10:17 PM | Permalink

    On topic: I wonder if PNAS suffers from some of the same issues as NAture/Science from being generalist “super literature” and in addition, suffers from being “Academy of Motion Picture” disease in terms of promoting old fossils and such. Look at the Thompson paper that we saw from there before. I wonder if such papers could not cut it in the specialist literature.

    Off topic: Am I really done for the night, Steve, or did you relent? (My “executive” is still here. And don’t paddle us both and send us to bed, together.)

  112. bender
    Posted Sep 29, 2006 at 10:49 PM | Permalink

    Re #112
    1. It’s not 3°C. It’s 3±1°C. (You see what I mean about people always ignoring the uncertainty?) And I am skeptical about both the expectation and its uncertainty. ±1°C seems awfully precise.
    2. You’re right, it was unfortunate to mention the Venusian extreme in the same paragraph as Hansen. To my knowledge he’s never said anything like that. On the other hand it is totally unclear what he means by “dangerous” and that leaves the door open to interpretation. Which is a major reason why this paper should not be in the primary scientific literature. When terms are undefined it makes propositions ambiguous, leaves too much room for misinterpretation. It is the language of alarmism. If he had said “dangerously uncertain” that would be different.

  113. Steve Bloom
    Posted Sep 30, 2006 at 2:37 AM | Permalink

    Re #115: The error bar goes with climate sensitivity (to doubled CO2), not with the temp increase constituting dangerous climate change. That said, I confused things by referring to 3C since what Hansen said is that a 2C increase (i.e., the lower error bar of the 3C increase) gets us to that point.

  114. Edward
    Posted Sep 30, 2006 at 7:09 AM | Permalink

    Talking about error bars for cherry picked data seems ridiculous. The error bars might as well be + or – infinity. All of there proxy studies have this problem and some how they get away with it.

  115. bender
    Posted Sep 30, 2006 at 9:00 AM | Permalink

    Re #117
    In referring to ±1°C I was talking about IPCC uncertainty, which is supposed to be all-inclusive (instrumental, proxies, GCMs). But I think your point is well-taken. The uncertainties on the millienial-scale proxy reconstructions are much larger than what is shown in the published literature.

  116. David Smith
    Posted Oct 2, 2006 at 4:28 PM | Permalink

    Fun with headlines:

    Antarctic Ocean Sea Ice at Historic High levels !!
    Arctic Ice Growing, at Current Rate Will Cover 40 Million Square Kilometers by Century’s End, May Threaten Europe and New York

    These are “factually correct” (see link) but highly misleading. I made them up, of course.

    The truth is, Arctic sea ice melt is taking a slight pause and did not set a record low this year. Antarctic sea ice stays about the same, or maybe slightly up.

  117. David Smith
    Posted Oct 9, 2006 at 10:07 PM | Permalink

    Just FYI, I noticed that the US NOAA climate site includes a “Paleoclimate Perspective” section. The August, 2006 perspective uses tree rings to look at a minor drought in part of north Texas, and then see how the drought stacks up against the weather of the last 400 years.

    The link is here. You have to scroll down to the paleo section.

  118. Steve Bloom
    Posted Oct 10, 2006 at 1:48 AM | Permalink

    Re #119: Hey, David, what about that strange Arctic warm water anomaly and the sea ice thickness trend there? Are you quite sure there’s been a pause in total ice volume (not directly measurable, but the one that really counts)? In any case, a bare failure to set a new record low in areal extent is hardly a “pause.”

  119. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Oct 10, 2006 at 2:21 AM | Permalink

    Steve B., you say:

    Steve M., most scientists felt that there was enough evidence years ago; that is, after all, why there is a consensus.

    Citation? While this “consensus” is often claimed, the only scientific study I know of showed that it wasn’t true.


  120. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Oct 10, 2006 at 2:37 AM | Permalink

    Re #121, Steve, the North Polar ice is decreasing … but the South Polar ice is increasing. Overall? Here’s the picture, from the HadISST Hadley Center Ice and Sea Surface Temperature database:

    Do you see anything in there that warrants grave concern?

    Single-minded focus on one small area, be it the Arctic (warming) or the south-eastern US (cooling) is always deceptive …


  121. David Smith
    Posted Oct 10, 2006 at 6:38 AM | Permalink

    Hello, Steve. “Slight pause” comes from the sea ice extent graph in Figure 2 of this link. The post was a spoof on how “facts” can be used in a highly-misleading way.

    But, on the points you raise, the polyaya (hole in the ice) you mention was apparently due to wind patterns and ice movement, per the commentary from the ice scientists. But, there are other possible explanations, including thinned ice, and as they say, the matter needs research.

    I believe that the other thing you refer to is “ice area”, which is the ice coverage if all the ice is squished together, thereby removing the open water among the ice. The year 2006 did not break the 2002 record low in ice area, nor did 2003, 2004 or 2005. The last I read was that 2006 would probably be the next-to-lowest ice area in the records, next to 2002.

    This year is the first time I’ve watched cloud cover in the Arctic. I never realized how cloudy the region is in summer and fall. If the Arctic weather is more-cloudy in the summer and less-cloudy in the fall, then a lot of ice gets preserved and a lot of sunlight gets bounced back into space while in the fall a lot of IR gets radiated out to space. Or, vice-versa. Worth some reading.

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