Untidy Minds #1 : Richard Lindzen

I must admit : even though I try to read widely, there are some things I miss. I’ve just become aware of a research paper that was published in Geophysical Research Letters in August 2009 :-


“Abstract : Climate feedbacks are estimated from fluctuations in the outgoing radiation budget from the latest version of Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) nonscanner data. It appears, for the entire tropics, the observed outgoing radiation fluxes increase with the increase in sea surface temperatures (SSTs). The observed behavior of radiation fluxes implies negative feedback processes associated with relatively low climate sensitivity. This is the opposite of the behavior of 11 atmospheric models forced by the same SSTs. Therefore, the models display much higher climate sensitivity than is inferred from ERBE, though it is difficult to pin down such high sensitivities with any precision. Results also show, the feedback in ERBE is mostly from shortwave radiation while the feedback in the models is mostly from longwave radiation. Although such a test does not distinguish the mechanisms, this is important since the inconsistency of climate feedbacks constitutes a very fundamental problem in climate prediction.”

What the authors are asserting is that observational data does not agree with Climate Change computer models.

Climate Change computer models rely on a term known as “climate sensitivity”, and the Lindzen and Choi are saying that the observational data indicates that “climate sensitivity” is lower than the value used in the computer models.

“Climate Sensitivity” is a value that is calculated from a variety of evidence from the Sciences of Physics and Chemistry, using a variety of mathematical techniques.

It basically means “how sensitive is the Earth system to changes in Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere”, in other words, “how much hotter will it get as we increase Greenhouse Gas emisions”.

If you did not know anything about Richard Lindzen, you might have been forgiven for whooping for joy on the realisation that Climate Change is not as bad as we feared it was, and that we can all relax and sink back into our sofas with a can of beer and a slice of pizza and stop being so worried.

However, Richard Lindzen is a known Climate Change skeptic/sceptic, so before we take him at his word, we should do a little more research.

It turns out that another Climate Change skeptic/sceptic, Dr Roy Spencer has criticised the Lindzen and Choi paper :-


“…WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN? It is not clear to me just what the Lindzen and Choi results mean in the context of long-term feedbacks (and thus climate sensitivity). I’ve been sitting on the above analysis for weeks since (1) I am not completely comfortable with their averaging of the satellite data, (2) I get such different results for feedback parameters than they got; and (3) it is not clear whether their analysis of AMIP model output really does relate to feedbacks in those models, especially since my analysis (as yet unpublished) of the more realistic CMIP models gives very different results. Of course, since the above analysis is not peer-reviewed and published, it might be worth no more than what you paid for it. But I predict that Lindzen and Choi will eventually be challenged by other researchers who will do their own analysis of the ERBE data, possibly like that I have outlined above, and then publish conclusions that are quite divergent from the authors’ conclusions…”

Sometimes you have to correct data. Maybe it was gathered with uninitialised or biased equipment. Perhaps it was not gathered at the place or the time you thought it was. Sometimes you have to analyse the data in a new way. Perhaps you assumed one physical condition, but you should accept that another held sway at the time. Correcting data and changing analyses : it’s all perfectly within the bounds of rational action.

The Copenhagen Diagnosis that was published just recently, so as to be available for the Copenhagen Climate Talks, showed that there were uncertainties in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on this very satellite issue, but that further research has now been done, in essence verifying the Climate Change computer models :-


“Is Warming Occurring Higher up in the Atmosphere? : The IPCC AR4 noted a remaining uncertainty in temperature trends in the atmosphere above the lowest layers near the Earth’s surface. Most data sets available at that time showed weaker than expected warming in the atmospheric region referred to as the tropical upper troposphere, ten to fifteen kilometers above the surface. However, the observations suffered from significant stability issues especially in this altitude region. Researchers have since performed additional analyses of the same data using more rigorous techniques, and developed a new method of assessing temperature trends from wind observations (Allen and Sherwood 2008). The new observational estimates show greater warming than the earlier ones, and the new, larger set of estimates taken as a whole now bracket the trends predicted by the models (Thorne 2008). This resolves a significant ambiguity expressed in AR4 (Santer et al. 2008).”

It’s not as clear as Richard Lindzen makes out. It’s also not as happy. Climate Sensitivity could be high enough to cause serious Global Warming before the year 2100, and the risk is that Life on Earth, including us, faces a mass extinction, unless we curb our Carbon.

All of this makes another Climate Change denier, Christopher Monckton, do a good impression of a ridiculous buffoon, as he bases most of his anti-Global Warming rant on “Dick” Lindzen’s paper :-


The research papers mentioned can be found here :-

IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), Working Group I (WG1), Chapter 3 :-

“3.4 Changes in the Free Atmosphere : 3.4.1 Temperature of the Upper Air: Troposphere and Stratosphere : Within the community that constructs and actively analyses satellite- and radiosonde-based temperature records there is agreement that the uncertainties about long-term change are substantial. Changes in instrumentation and protocols pervade both sonde and satellite records, obfuscating the modest longterm trends. Historically there is no reference network to
anchor the record and establish the uncertainties arising from these changes – many of which are both barely documented and poorly understood. Therefore, investigators have to make seemingly reasonable choices of how to handle these sometimes known but often unknown infl uences. It is difficult to make quantitatively defensible judgments as to which, if any, of the multiple, independently derived estimates is closer to the true climate evolution. This reflects almost entirely upon the inadequacies of the historical observing network and points to the need for future network design that provides the reference sonde-based ground truth. Karl et al. (2006) provide a comprehensive review of this issue.”

Karl et al., (2006) :-
Karl, T.R., S.J. Hassol, C.D. Miller, and W.L. Murray (eds.), 2006:
“Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences”. A report by the Climate Change Science Program and Subcommittee on Global Change Research, Washington, DC, 180pp.

Allen and Sherwood (2008) :-
“Warming maximum in the tropical upper troposphere deduced from thermal winds”
Robert J. Allen & Steven C. Sherwood
Nature Geoscience 1, 399 – 403 (2008)
Published online: 25 May 2008 | doi:10.1038/ngeo208
Copy of PDF

Thorne, P. W., (2008) “The answer is blowing in the wind.” Nature Geoscience 1, 347–348 (1 June 2008) | doi:10.1038/ngeo209

Copy of PDF

Santer, B. D. et al., (2008) “Consistency of modelled and observed temperature trends in the tropical troposphere” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF CLIMATOLOGY Int. J. Climatol. 28: 1703–1722 (2008) Published online 10 October 2008 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/joc.1756


One thought on “Untidy Minds #1 : Richard Lindzen”

  1. Richard Lindzen’s paper suggests a lower climate sensitivity to CO2. Is this not good news? He also suggests as CO2 levels have already risen from pre industrial 290ppm to 365ppm with only 0.75 degrees of warming , a further rise of similar amounts would result in half as much downward forcing.
    Does this not suggest we should consider decarbonising slowly without ruining economies and harming third world development?
    Why the ad hominem attacks on a climate scientist with over 200 peer reviewed articles?
    Andrew Ansari

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