Open Letter To Oregon AMS On Climate Change

Posted on April 12, 2012 by


5440 Note: This open letter was sent to all members of the Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society in response to the Climate Change lecture by Phil Mote, et al, at Portland State University on April 10.

After watching both the proponents of man-made global warming on Tuesday April 10th at the Oregon chapters meeting of the American Meteorological Society, I decided to write this open letter to describe from my point of view of a skeptic why we disagree with the conclusions presented.  First I wanted to thank you for giving the presentation and being willing to accept questions.  Far too often these kinds of things are presented only in the media and not talked about.  There are many things I think we can agree on and almost all the scientific facts presented are widely agreed upon.  It’s the things not included, and the conclusions reached because of that which we disagree.  Also its not as much if warming is occurring, but on the amount of warming that is caused by CO2.  If the warming is as bad as the IPCC claims then we are in for quite a problem, but if it is far less then it may not matter at all (at least for the next few hundreds of years).  The global warming theory is based on the theory that if we don’t do something right away, that disaster will happen.  If it’s far less of a problem then is currently believed by the IPCC then that theory may not be accurate.

First let’s talk about the things we agree on.  CO2 is a greenhouse gas, one in which a doubling of all the CO2 in the atmosphere would introduce a forcing of 3.7 W/m^2.  Differentiating Stefan–Boltzmann law that would be an increase of 0.98 ºC in direct forcing by a doubling of CO2.  We also agree that atmospheric CO2 has increased significantly over the last 50 years by about 20%.  Most of that is likely due to human influences (emissions and land use changes), although no one knows for certain exactly how much is due to volcanic or non-human caused biological sources.  I think both sides can also agree that many “extreme weather” events such as tornados are not caused by global warming even if it is occurring, despite what some in the media might say, and that very damaging tornados are on the decrease not increase over the last 50 years.

Now let’s talk about the temperature record.  Both sides claim the other is cherry-picking data, but I think that’s just because this issue is so heated.  Now both sides can agree I believe that there has been significant temperature increase over the last 100 years of about 0.74ºC.  Although about 0.4ºC of that occurred before the 1940’s which emissions was very low compared to today.  I think both sides can also agree that there has been little change in the average global temperature over the last 14 years, we seem to have leveled off at least temporarily.  The proxies for the last 1000 years of temperature change show a much more modest increase in temperature of 0.4 ºC (assuming one doesn’t take into account the divergence problem of some of the proxies).

So now we get to the first main point of contention, which are additional missing forcings not included in current climate models.  The first is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which is similar to the ENSO el nino/la nina oscillation in the tropical pacific, but over much longer time periods.  Where ENSO switches every few years, the PDO switches over such long time periods that it can effect real climate change.  In addition to sea surface temperature changes, it’s possible that this change in cloud patterns change the radiative forcing as well.  Critically the PDO was in a hot warm phase until the 1940’s, in which it turned cold, until the late 1970’s in which it was hot again, and then back to cold after 2000.  Compared to our modern temperature record over the last 100 years, this fairly closely matches with when the temperature increased and decreased.

The second potential missing forcing is the effect of cosmic rays.  Cosmic rays, as you are probably aware, are highly energetically charged subatomic particles created from stars and other unknown sources in the galaxy.  These cosmic rays are strongly affected by changes in the sun’s solar wind, which is the stream of charged particles that the sun sends out in every direction.  The first way it affects the cosmic rays, is through the termination shock, which occurs at the edge of our solar system ~94 AU from our sun.  As the solar wind drops from supersonic to subsonic speeds, it creates a kind of permanent sonic boom at the edge of our solar system.  This termination shock deflects about 90% of low energy cosmic rays preventing them from entering our solar system.  The solar wind is what gives the earth its ionosphere the highly charged atmosphere above 85km, and that ionosphere deflects many of the weaker cosmic rays back out into space.  As the solar wind activity modulates much of the cosmic ray flux, the sunspots which are a good indication of solar wind activity can be used as a proxy for how active the solar wind is.

Now as to climate change caused by cosmic rays.  First one must look at the Maunder minimum (1650-1700), and the Dalton minimum(1790-1820), in which the number of sunspots decreased very significantly (during the maunder minimum astronomers only saw about 50 sunspots in 30 years compared to the usual 40,000-50,000).  These two time periods also happened to be right in the middle of some of the biggest cold periods in recorded history.  The Maunder minimum was right in the middle of the Little Ice Age, in which the Thames River in London (the one with the London Bridge on it now) froze in 1677.  The year without a summer in 1816 (also caused by volcanic Mount Tambora eruption) was in the middle of the Dalton minimum, in which New York’s upper bay froze from Brooklyn to governors island, the total dead from starvation and other related issues was over 200,000 in just Europe alone.  Now the fact that these time periods happened to coincide with low sunspot activity may just be coincidence, or could also be other factors such as solar radiation being lower as well as solar wind.  But regardless the sun can clearly have significant impacts on climate.  Meanwhile in modern times over the last 100 years we are at a time of solar maximum not seen in over 1000 years.

Recent evidence from the National Solar Observatory and the Air Force Research Laboratory suggest that may be changing.  Our current solar cycle 24 is very weak, the weakest in 100 years, and Solar cycle 25 may be even weaker, potentially even with no sun spots at all.  This suggests some upcoming forces caused by the sun over the next 50 years that might far outweigh any changes that humans cause.

Scientific studies from CERN’s CLOUD experiment, show that cosmic rays can create very small particles (too small to be cloud condensing nuclei), but those particles may grow over time to be big enough to help in cloud creation.  A recent 2012 paper by Svensmark (, demonstrate that in the presence of cosmic rays can help with the creation of >50 nm nuclei of sulfuric acid in the atmosphere.  This is strong evidence that cosmic rays may be affecting the cloud cover, which is how they are affecting the climate.

So now with these potential additional forcing, what in the models have taken their place?  (after all the models at least match climate record, so if there are additional forcing, then something in the model is too big of a factor).  We believe the primary factor in the models that is too large is the CO2 feedback factor.  This is how much additional temperature increase in addition to the direct forcing cause by a doubling of CO2 (a doubling of CO2 directly causes only 0.98 ºC remember).  Depending on the model this factor is all over the place in IPCC models, from as small as 2 to as large as 10 (ºC for a doubling of CO2).  Now Andreas Schmittner, your own 2011 paper in Science has been very helpful in rejecting some of the crazy CO2 feedbacks proposed by some of the IPCC models.  By comparing the temperature and CO2 from proxies of the last glacial maximum (when ice sheets were at their highest approximately 23,000 years ago), and comparing it to modern maximum in order to determine the CO2 sensitivity you suggested a 2.3 °C for a doubling of CO2, with a 66% confidence in the 1.7–2.6 °C range.  By comparing from such a long time ago, over such long time periods, any difference in the PDO is averaged out.  There may still be a difference in the cosmic ray flux between these two time periods.  If you take into account the Cosmic Ray Flux differences I think you will find a climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 of 1.3 ± 0.3 ºC.  This is what Shaviv got in a 2005 paper:  I believe it is accurate.  It also approximates a 2.0 ± 0.5 ºC for a doubling of CO2 if the CRF is ignored, which is very similar to your own.

So in the end can we agree, both skeptics and non- skeptics on a CO2 feedback factor?  A 2.3°C temperature change for a doubling of CO2 would not surprise me at all if cosmic ray’s are not taken into account.  Is there some reason you think that cosmic rays can’t affect climate?  Or a reason you disagree with the 2012 paper from Svensmark (, showing a possible link from cosmic rays to clouds.  If I am correct and a 1.3± 0.3 ºC for a doubling of CO2, that could mean very little climate change compared to the average 3ºC that the IPCC seems to believe.  So are we the skeptic for believing in 1.3°C per doubling of CO2?  Or are you the skeptic with us of the IPCC’s 3ºC per doubling of CO2 with your 2.3°C estimation?


Devin Watkins

Climate Change Skeptic