Does Gavin Schmidt know who or what is causing it?

Post 29. October 2018

The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, recently called climate change “the most systemic threat to humankind” (NYT, March 29, 2018). Similar blunt talks the scenery on global warming, ever since the infamous testimony by Dr. James E. Hansen at a Congressional committee that it was 99 percent certain that the warming trend was not a natural variation but was caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other artificial gases in the atmosphere. (NYT, 06/24/88).  

Thirty years later hardly less dramatically talks the current director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in a recent New York Time –Opinion- (10/24/18) that: The biggest crime scene on the planet is the planet. A picture pops up. Lieutenant Columbo from the crime drama series is out to investigate global warming. But while Columbo may just stand in a living room or kitchen, for Schmidt it feels that: “It comes down to the same kind of detective work that typifies a crime scene investigation, only here we are dealing with a case that encompasses the whole world.“  However, any good investigation is open in any direction, and may include those spreading false claims.

The good thing is that Gavin Schmidt’s text contains nothing that rectifies such an investigation, because it is so superficial and unsubstantial that it is not worth to look in this direction. Nevertheless his information is annoying. How can a NASA director after dozen of years and multi-billion investments see the global warming issue so narrowly? One paragraph read as it follows:

Like forensic detectives, climate scientists have developed a new array of tools in recent decades designed to skillfully calculate what the fingerprints of these changes look like, and more important, how they differ from one another. It turns out that increases in solar activity produce warming throughout the atmosphere, while carbon dioxide increases cooling in the upper atmosphere and warms the surface. Variations in ocean circulation distribute heat, while changes in the sun or in greenhouse gases change the total heat amount in the system. Air pollution, volcanoes and irrigation all cool the climate, while rising greenhouse gases warm it.

Unrelated, various aspects are pointed out to attribute a warming role to the “greenhouse gas”. Similar superficial is Figure 2. The overwhelming role of water and thus of the oceans is hardly noticed. How significant their role is, the late oceanographer Dr. Robert E. Stevenson described in 2000:

 “The atmosphere cannot warm until the underlying surface warms first. The lower atmosphere is transparent to direct solar radiation, preventing it from being significantly warmed by sunlight alone. The surface atmosphere thus gets its warmth in three ways: from direct contact with the oceans; from infrared radiation off the ocean surface; and, from the removal of latent heat from the ocean by evaporation. Consequently, the temperature of the lower atmosphere is largely determined by the temperature of the ocean.”
                           Full text:

The relevance of the ocean is well demonstrated in Figure 3. Discussing global heat matters without the ocean is loose talking.  Gavin Schmidt might be wrong when claiming at the end of his essay: Our best assessment is therefore that humans, at least the ones responsible for the bulk of carbon dioxide emissions, have been responsible for all of the recent trends in global temperatures. The forensics have spoken, and we are to blame.”

A clear picture of causes and guilt in: „the biggest crime scene on the planet” is still pending. The investigation in “the biggest crime scene on the planet” should take place in any direction.

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