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Climate and floods: Flannery is no expert, but neither are the experts

Few Australians can be unaware of yet another summer season where widespread floods are covering large areas of eastern Australia. As with last year’s summer deluge, this year’s rainfall is directly caused…

“Amateur enthusiast”: Tim Flannery with Greg Combet, the Federal Minister for Climate Change. AAP/Alan Porritt

A message from Greenpeace at Warragamba Dam in 2005, before the cycle turned. AAP/Greenpeace
Few Australians can be unaware of yet another summer season where widespread floods are covering large areas of eastern Australia. As with last year’s summer deluge, this year’s rainfall is directly caused by a La Niña event in the Pacific Ocean.

The last few years of excessive rainfall comes after a decade of drought in eastern Australia, especially in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia’s prime foodbasket. At that time, a strong El Niño over the summer season on 2002-3 led to a marked drop in rainfall. Subsequent years were either classified as neutral or El Niño conditions.

Importantly, the rain that did occur was insufficient to make up the soil moisture deficits and hence break the drought. Significantly, the absence of a rain-bearing La Niña meant that the drought was protracted.

Farmers struggled through very desperate times. The conditions were so bad that Tim Flannery, now Australia’s Chief Climate Commissioner, declared rather bizarrely in 2007 that hotter soils meant that “even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and river systems”.

Fast forward to 2012 and we see widespread drenching rains, flooded towns and cities, and dams full to the brim and overtopping. Indeed, the rainfall that we had last year not only filled Brisbane City’s Wivenhoe Dam water supply storage, but also all of its flood mitigation capacity. The resultant releases of water required to prevent a truly catastrophic dam failure contributed to the inundation of large parts of metropolitan Brisbane.

How is it that Tim Flannery could have got it so spectacularly wrong? The most obvious factor could well be Flannery’s lack of background in a climate science. He is an academic, however his background is mammalogy – he studied the evolution of mammals.

Mammal scholar: Flannery with actor Cate Blanchett, who launched his 2010 book, Here on Earth. AAP/Paul Miller

Flannery obviously has a great interest in climate change and no doubt has read some of the scientific literature and no doubts consults with other climate commissioners. I have no doubt either that he by and large understands what he reads.

The one thing he cannot do without a solid education in climate science is critique what he reads; without the background surely he cannot perceive the underlying and often unstated assumptions associated with what he reads or is told. He is perhaps best described as an amateur enthusiast, in which case I could actually have a little sympathy for him for getting it so wrong.

Flooding has struck many regions of eastern Australia. AAP/Mish Browne

However, it turns out that it is not just Flannery that has been making incorrect statements – many supposed experts including prominent commentators from the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO have been making equally incorrect statements. In principle, these people should really know better. Tim at least has an excuse for being wrong.

Immediately following the 2002-3 El Niño and Murray Darling Basin drought, Professor David Karoly authored a report under the auspices of the WWF-Australia. In this he noted that whilst rainfall had been low, the air temperatures had been particularly elevated. This led Karoly to claim that:

The higher temperatures caused a marked increase in evaporation rates, which sped up the loss of soil moisture and the drying of vegetation and watercourses. This is the first drought in Australia where the impact of human-induced global warming can be clearly observed.

While this may sounds intuitively correct, it is wrong. It completely ignores the known science of evapotranspiration and boundary layer meteorology. That is, when soil contains high moisture content, much of the sun’s energy is used in evaporation and consequently there is limited heating of the surface. However, during drought, soil moisture content is low and consequently nearly all of the incoming radiation is converted into heating the surface. The result is that air temperatures rise significantly.

David Karoly, a Professor of Meteorology at Melbourne University, confused cause and effect with regard to the fundamental basics of boundary layer meteorology. Obviously, Tim Flannery without the background in meteorology had no way of knowing just how incorrect this simple sounding mechanism was.

Sydney’s Warragamba Dam spills over earlier this week. AAP/Mick Tsikas

Other prominent commentators on climate change have also fallen into the same trap. Dr David Jones is the Head of Climate Monitoring and Prediction Services at the Bureau of Meteorology. He stated that, “Of course, the drought has not been helped by rising temperatures, which have increased losses through evaporation,” and, “It is very difficult to make a case that this is just simply a run of bad luck driven by a natural cycle and that a return to more normal rainfall is inevitable, as some would hope.” In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Dr Jones mused that “Perhaps we should call it our new climate.”

A similar line was adopted by another Bureau climatologist, Dr Bertrand Timbal, who has been quoted as saying “In the minds of a lot of people, the rainfall we had in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was a benchmark … But we are just not going to have that sort of good rain again as long as the system is warming up.”

So when Tim Flannery cites the hotter soils as leading to less runoff into our dams and reservoirs, he was not alone in misunderstanding the physics of climate, or in speculating about the role of CO₂ in causing the drought. This does however beg the question, why did we see such a prolonged drought followed by such widespread flooding?

Thousands of people have been evacuated from Wagga Wagga this week. AAP/Lukas Koch

The answer lies in the nature of El Niño and La Niña events. These events are not random, but actually occur in decadal to multi-decadal (20-40 year) clusters, associated with a long-term climate mode known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or PDO (sometimes known as the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation, IPO).

Between 1945 and 1975, we had a predominance of hard-hitting La Niña events, causing the widespread rainfalls referred to by Dr Timbal above. From 1975, the PDO changed state and El Niño became far more frequent with relatively few recharging La Niña events.

Former NSW premier Kristina Keneally at Sydney’s A$1.89 billion desalination plant, which she opened in 2010. AAP/Paul Miller

The Murray-Darling drought was so protracted because we were in this PDO period where El Niño events predominated, bringing deficit rainfall to eastern Australia. The nine-year absence of a substantial La Niña event meant that the deficits carried over from one year to the next.

Recent observations indicate that the PDO has now reverted to its alternate state whereby La Niña events predominate. Moreover, their impact on eastern Australia is enhanced.

Consequently, it should be of no surprise that we are now witnessing rainfall and flood events of a magnitude last seen in the period between 1950 and 1974. If the observed history of ENSO and Australian flood risk is any guide to the future, then we might expect further La Niña for the next decade or so.

The mistake that Tim Flannery, as well as the numerous expert commentators made, was that they confused climate variability for climate change. The future impact of climate change is very uncertain, but when one “wants to believe”, then it is all too easy to get sucked in and to get it spectacularly wrong.

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226 Comments sorted by

  1. Tim Scanlon

    Author and Scientist

    Weather impacts, especially extreme events like droughts and floods, are still some of the big unknowns. In fairness, climate models never suggested that floods would never occur again, in fact tropical system intensities are meant to be increasing.

    It really would be great if Flannery et al. stuck to the known facts on climate change and global warming. There is plenty of good science out there showing what has and is happening and that we need to deal with it now. We have science on our side, no need to use bad data when we have so much good data.

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    1. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Dear Tim - I thank your for you comment, and whilst we might disagree on what the climate may be like in 100 years time, I hope that we can at least agree that some commentators have diminished the science through over-speculation.

      It is appropriate to correct these errors, however I believe the real damage was done at the time - both in terms of influencing G'ment policy but also in inducing fear in vulnerable rural communities. Any public retraction is now simply too late

      Sincere best wishes, S.

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    2. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to James Szabadics

      James, you seem to be sourcing biased data that is not looking at the whole data set, just the bits that they like. Have a look at the actual peer reviewed studies below.
      http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v436/n7051/full/nature03906.html
      http://www.sciencemag.org/content/309/5742/1844.short
      http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/1520-0493%282000%29128%3C1139%3AASAOTC%3E2.0.CO%3B2
      http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v3/n3/full/ngeo779.html

      And one more for good measure:
      http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/links/hurricanes.htm

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    3. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to Stewart Franks

      No problem Stewart.

      I'm not a fan of BS claims being made to drum up media attention. It shows poor communication of the evidence of climate change and global warming. I even make a joke about some of The Greens public claims about cyclones in my climate presentations.

      But, counter to this, is the opposition to the peer reviewed science. The number of egregiously false claims that have been made to counter the reality of AGW and the need to do something about it is astounding. On more than one occasion there have been claims made that wouldn't have passed biology and physics 101 classes. It is only fair that all errors be held accountable, at least the AGW is mostly based on hard data and good science.

      Cheers, Tim.

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    4. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Tim,

      The data I posted is from a peer reviewed study which looks at observations up to 2011

      Abstract
      Tropical cyclone accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) has exhibited strikingly large global interannual variability during the past 40-years. In the pentad since 2006, Northern Hemisphere and global tropical cyclone ACE has decreased dramatically to the lowest levels since the late 1970s. Additionally, the frequency of tropical cyclones has reached a historical low. Here evidence is presented…

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  2. Danderson

    logged in via Twitter

    No comments. So who's got their "head in the sand" now?

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  3. Dave McRae

    logged in via Twitter

    Oh dear - the claim being made is that there is no discernible signal that cannot be attributed to cyclical/natural ENSO events. That CSIRO/BoM/AMOS knows jack. That a signal superimposed upon a natural is always natural.

    MunichRE also claims that there are other signals, the number of weather related disasters over 20 years with the huge increases in monetary damage (although they're reducing their risk because they don't deny climate science, they've mapped flood prone areas and take seriously…

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  4. Dave McRae

    logged in via Twitter

    Excellent article written on The Conversation before it began picking up deniers by a CSIRO Atmospheric scientist regarding the prediction of CSIRO going over a decade - and yes droughts and floods
    https://theconversation.edu.au/droughts-and-flooding-rains-climate-change-models-predict-increases-in-both-5470

    On the theme that because it's wet & cool here then it's wet and cool everywhere
    Melbourne dam levels http://www.melbournewater.com.au/content/water_storages/water_report/water_report.asp?bhjs=0

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  5. Michael Block

    Idler

    Stewart, I don't know you but note that you appear to be an engineer. If this is so, then how does your training make you more than just another 'amateur enthusiast' in the climatology field? This is a genuine question, I'm not 'having a go' at you!

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    1. Tony Linde
      Tony Linde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Matthew Thompson

      Scientists disagree. No change there, then. Unfortunately, we'll likely see climate change deniers picking bits from this article to shore up their attacks on climate science. I'm not suggesting articles like this ought not to be written but that climatologists, in disagreeing with colleagues, should start every article with the bold statement, 'There is no doubt that human activity is causing average Earth temperatures to rise, but...' Might make the deniers think twice about linking to the article ;)

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    2. Alistair McDhui

      Retired engineer

      In reply to Tony Linde

      I don't deny climate change, only the fraudulent physics which the IPCC uses to claims it's mostly down to CO2.

      The real explanation is mostly natural with net CO2-GW controlled by natural processes to near zero.

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    3. Tony Linde
      Tony Linde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Alistair McDhui

      I think I'll stick with the report that '97 to 98 percent of working climate scientists accept the evidence for human-induced climate change'.

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    4. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Michael Block

      Dear Michael - my phd was on improving climate models (still waiting). My subsequent work has been on quantifying uncertainty in environmental modelling (of all ilks) and understanding the role of different climate modes in a variety of practical contexts. Best wishes, S.

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    5. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Alistair McDhui

      Alistair, the IPCC doesn't use any physics at all, fraudulent or otherwise. They make no claims either. The scientists who submit to them do however. Do you really have such an interest in this area and not even know how they work?

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    6. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Alistair McDhui

      Alistair the IPCC does not conduct any research itself, its role is to assess. Your opinion that they "use" physics to make "claims" shows a lack of understanding.

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    7. Alistair McDhui

      Retired engineer

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      Oh My God! Are you suggesting that what I have considered to be the IPCC's claims in its reports on the basis of peer reviewed science are concocted by a bunch of WWF and Greenpeace activists without much reference [except for the claimed units] have been made up for political reasons?

      Thought so!

      Four major physics' mistakes render the IPCC models useless.

      Here's another critique from others than me:http://climaterealists.com/?id=9241

      It's the end game for a game of phantasy physics which hasn't correctly predicted anything.

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    8. Alistair McDhui

      Retired engineer

      In reply to Tony Linde

      Don't try to fool yourself too. The sample was whittled down and down....

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    9. Michael J. I. Brown

      ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Monash University

      In reply to Alistair McDhui

      There are multiple studies discussed on (and linked from) the wikipedia site. It is clear from these studies that the vast majority of climate scientists believe AGW is occurring.

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    10. Matt Stevens

      Senior Research Fellow/Statistician/PhD

      In reply to Tony Linde

      A sample of scientists who have built their careers on the theory of man induced CO2 climate change is sampled and 97% agree that it is CO2. Wow, what an astonishing finding...

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    11. Matt Stevens

      Senior Research Fellow/Statistician/PhD

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      I didn't say that, but from a statistical point of view, it is clearly a biased sample. I don't know if you work in academia Mike, but there are many cases where a true finding is not able to get ground due to a prevailing group of Professors whose careers have been built on a proposed alternate theory - Australian Nobel prize winner from WA with his work on ulcers comes to mind. He was banging on about it for more than a decade. The same problem occurs in lab based science, where small sample sizes prevail and removal of anomalous data points remarkably allows a theory to get ground.

      The article did an excellent job of highlighting why people have doubts about the whole CO2 climate change debate. If these so called respectable scientists say outlandish things and make links to weather as a ruse for climate change, then people have a right to question.

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    12. Tony Linde
      Tony Linde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Matt Stevens

      The number of cases where the vast majority of experts turns out to be completely wrong is likely very small. Your approach, Matt, would be similar to creationists claiming that biologists only support the theory of evolution because they've built their careers on it. Turn it around: they have built their careers on adding to the data and understanding of a widely accepted theory. Pretty much the same for AGW as for evolution.

      I believe the ulcer case is different: there simply wasn't enough evidence for the alternate theory so people stubbornly stuck to the old one. When the evidence mounted up, the beliefs changed.

      Scientists tend to follow the data, the evidence. And every scientist is looking for the data that will overturn all the accepted theories: that's where the funding and the prizes come from. Science is full of awkward bastards: you'd never get a conspiracy to hold :)

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    13. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Tony Linde

      I can understand politicians being poll-driven, but could somebody please advise when scientists adopted this approach in their deliberations.
      As I understand it Professor Dan Shechtman was told that his research must be wrong because it was different from the textbooks. Quasicrystals could not exist!!
      Robin Warren and Barry Marshall showed the bacterium Helicobacter pylori plays a key role in the development of both stomach and intestinal ulcers and received a Nobel prize, because they disagreed…

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    14. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to Philip Dowling

      Shechtman published peer-reviewed papers on quasicrystals many years before receiving a Nobel prize. Warren and Marshall published peer-reviewed papers on Helicobacter pylori many years before receiving a Nobel prize. Peer-reviewed papers contradicting any aspect of CO2 causing global warming: zilch.

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    15. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Chris, thank you for supporting my case that the scientific community can and regularly does ignore any information that does not accord with the current consensus.
      I have provided links to the Nobel prize website to support this.
      You will note that Schechtmann's paper was initially rejected for peer review publication.
      This clearly illustrates the censorship that can and does occur when it comes to choice of peer reviewed articles.
      The fact that it took so long for both discoveries to be finally…

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    16. R_Chirgwin

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Philip Dowling

      Marshall and Warren didn't receive the nobel for challenging prevailing dogmas. They got it because they were right. Nor does the initial rejection of Schechtmann's paper mean he was being censored; perhaps the first paper didn't present his materials with sufficient rigor?

      Few people are recognised by the Nobels quickly; one of this year's recipients, the astronomer Brian Schmidt's Nobel this year received his award for work first published in 1998.

      The idea that these people were right-because-they-were-mavericks…

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    17. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to Philip Dowling

      "You will note that Schechtmann's paper was initially rejected for peer review publication.
      This clearly illustrates the censorship that can and does occur when it comes to choice of peer reviewed articles."

      Schechtmann couldn't get a paper published for 5 months. How many decades has it now been since Plass published his papers, not to mention Callendar, Arrhenius, and Tyndall? That censorship must be working incredibly well, at least 50 years and counting.

      "The time delay before recognition by the Nobel Committee contrasts sharply with Barack Obama's Nobel prize."

      The Peace Prize and scientific Prizes aren't really in the same class.

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    18. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Michael J. I. Brown

      So when did science change from being empirical to an opinion poll or focus group activity?

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  6. Alistair McDhui

    Retired engineer

    The great IPCC CAGW fraud is, at last, coming to an end, As far as I can tell, It started in 1981 when James Hansen, a professional physicist, claimed we currently have 33 K GHG warming. But to do so, you have to convolve lapse rate warming with real GHG warming, probably ~9 K. So, the IPCC's median CO2 climate sensitivity claim is exaggerated by a factor of ~3.7. No professional should have made this basic mistake in meteorology.

    The incorporation of Arrhenius' incorrect ideas on 100% direct…

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    1. Dave McRae

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Alistair McDhui

      Why don't you publish a paper? Co-author with Franks here.

      If you overturn Arrhenius, Tyndall, Fourier etc your contribution would be astounding - Astounding would be an understatement.

      There's a Nobel Prize there for the taking but there would be so much more than just that if you did.

      Please publish in a real journal.

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    2. Alistair McDhui

      Retired engineer

      In reply to Dave McRae

      Thank you for your kind invitation, but you must realise that to counter a multi-billion a year industry based on a Big Scientific Mistake might take some time!

      One paper is written: it debunks Sagan/van der Hulst's aerosol optical physics. It will be published and explains the end of ice ages and modern Arctic warming with no GHG input.

      I'm currently working on the IR physics and it seems that it is leading to the mechanism by which you explain Miskolczi's constant IR optical depth.

      So, no net CO2-(A)GW. This will be a real disappointment to the rent seekers and the money men who have backed the windmills, and the politicians who want carbon trading, but that's science for you.

      All it takes is one iconoclast and the status quo vanishes.. It's great fun to debunk amateurs and charlatans - been doing it for 40 years!

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    3. Glenn Tamblyn

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Alistair McDhui

      Alastair. You mean that back-radiation that has been measured and analysed for at least 50 years. That one?

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    1. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to Mark Honeyman

      Since Flannery did not invent this bunk as I and others have pointed out, the real question is why have Bolt and others have been so successful at running a scientific misinformation campaign? As Bolt demonstrates, you don't need to know much about science to succeed at this. Just using his skills as newspaper writer is sufficient.

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  7. Marc Hendrickx

    Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

    Congratulations to the editors for finally allowing a voice from the rational side of the climate conversation to have an airing. And what a voice of reason it is! Professor Stewart Franks' article stands head and shoulders above the propaganda that routinely passes for expert commentary on this site by amateurs such as Andrew Glickson and Michael Brown, and activists like Stephen Lewandowsky.

    Franks' concludes "The mistake that Tim Flannery, as well as the numerous expert commentators made, was that they confused climate variability for climate change."

    As this variability demonstrates itself (again and again) in our land of drought and floods it seems the backtracking by alarmists like Flannery, who chose to ignore our climate history in favour of promoting climate histrionics has begun. Can someone explain why Flannery is still on the public payroll?

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    1. Michael J. I. Brown

      ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Monash University

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      Marc Hendrickx's comment is curious.

      Marc Hendrickx has previously expressed appreciation of The Australian's coverage of climate change. However, The Australian has often used amateurs rather than professionals for "expert" commentary on the climate change. This was discussed at http://theconversation.edu.au/event-horizon-the-black-hole-in-the-australians-climate-change-coverage-2642

      As for my expertise, my Conversation articles have focused on the gross errors present in some of the worst…

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    2. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Michael J. I. Brown

      Michael, It seems my sentence referring to you was incorrect. It should have read:
      Professor Stewart Franks' article stands head and shoulders above the propaganda that routinely passes for expert commentary on this site by amateurs such as Andrew Glickson and activists like Stephen Lewandowsky and Michael Brown.

      This statement better fits with your contributions on the subject at this site.

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    3. Michael J. I. Brown

      ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Monash University

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      Marc Hendrickx raises the issue of propaganda. Lets take Franks' statement that…

      "The conditions were so bad that Tim Flannery, now Australia’s Chief Climate Commissioner, declared that cities such as Brisbane would never again have dam-filling rains."

      …which this has now been removed/corrected from the article. Various people commenting on this article haven't been able to find the relevant Flannery quote, and it now looks like Franks and the TC staff could not find it either.

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    4. Matthew Thompson

      Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to Michael J. I. Brown

      Hi Michael, you'll see my explanation of that change in my comment down below.

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    5. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Michael J. I. Brown

      Are you suggesting Flannery has not overstated the case for Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming?

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    6. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Michael J. I. Brown

      In regard to the "dam filling" statements by Flannery; based on the following Franks comment is hardly propaganda.

      There's this editorial by Flannery in New Scientist that includes the passage from which the conclusion "that cities such as Brisbane would never again have dam-filling rains" isn't too long a bow to draw. Some odd unsubstantiated figures for river flows in there as well.
      http://www.science.org.au/nova/newscientist/105ns_001.htm
      From issue 2608 of New Scientist magazine, 16 June…

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    7. Michael J. I. Brown

      ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Monash University

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      Flannery certainly makes mistakes from time to time (all people do to varying degrees). It is also perfectly reasonable to point out real mistakes and unreasonable to invent fake mistakes.

      Marc Hendrickx is playing the quote fragment game in his above comment. Lets look at the quote in its original paragraph...

      "Desalination plants can provide insurance against drought. In Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane, water supplies are so low they need desalinated water urgently, possibly in as little as 18 months. Of course, these plants should be supplied by zero-carbon power sources. "

      ...which makes it clear that if the drought had continued (and Flannery wasn't saying it definitely would) then desal "possibly" would have been needed in as little as 18 months. A long distance from erroneous Brisbane statement.

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    8. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Michael J. I. Brown

      Odd that you would become an apologist for Flannery.

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    1. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Stewart Franks

      Hi Stewart, you like prediction obviously. How about Broekers prediction from 1975? Pretty high up there as far as predictions go in my opinion. Your examination of "amateur enthusiasts" proves that 2 plus 2 doesn't equal 7, 5 or 9. There is however an agglomeration of evidence out there from "professional specialists" that says 2 plus 2 does in fact equal 4.

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    2. Greg Flynn
      Greg Flynn is a Friend of The Conversation.

      ANU Science student

      In reply to Stewart Franks

      Prof Franks,

      Is the basis of your objection to Prof Karoly's claim - that an increase in temperature can cause loss of soil moisture? Seems pretty straightforward to me...
      You write that the loss of soil moisture is the primary change that then causes temperature rise. That is pretty straight forward too!

      Why can't both be true - ie a positive feedback?

      So what comes first? Lack of rain with no temperature increase? Or temperature increases that cause loss of soil moisture that causes further temperature rise?

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    3. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to R_Chirgwin

      From Lateline transcript 2005

      http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2005/s1389827.htm

      TIM FLANNERY: Well, I'm afraid that the science around climate change is firming up fairly quickly, and what we've seen is three major phenomena that are depriving Australia of its rainfall. One of them is just simply the shifting weather patterns as the planet warms up, so the tropics are expanding southwards and the winter rainfall zone is sort of dropping off the southern edge of the continent. The second…

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    4. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to R_Chirgwin

      Another Flannery Quote from a New Scientist editorial contribution:

      "But by far the most dangerous trend is the decline in the flow of Australian rivers: it has fallen by around 70 per cent in recent decades, so dams no longer fill even when it does rain. Growing evidence suggests that hotter soils, caused directly by global warming, have increased evaporation and transpiration and that the change is permanent. I believe the first thing Australians need to do is to stop worrying about "the drought" - which is transient - and start talking about the new climate."

      http://www.science.org.au/nova/newscientist/105ns_001.htm

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    5. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to James Szabadics

      Quote from a Flannery Article in the Age News paper:

      "Furthermore, the computer models predict that as the Pacific Ocean warms, rainfall across eastern Australia will reduce until a semi-permanent el-Nino-like state is induced.

      Again, in the real world this process seems well entrenched.

      If climate change is the cause of this drought, then it is no drought at all, but a manifestation of the new climate. Yes, things might get wetter again, but as long as the pollution persists things will never go back to what they were in the 1970s."
      END QUOTE

      http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/whither-our-weather/2007/01/01/1167500057951.html?page=2

      Now it seems it is as wet as the 70s...... and quite persistent La-Nina conditions. Could the models have been wrong to attribute the drought to climate change rather than the ENSO cycle?

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    6. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to James Szabadics

      Another Flnnery Quote from SMH in 2005

      QUOTE
      Drought is the term used, but it is the wrong term. A better term is climate change. Much of western NSW has been strip-mined by hopeless farming practices and when the landscape is changed, the climate changes.

      "Water is going to be in short supply across the eastern states," says Flannery. Pumping water from catchment areas near Sydney is not going to be enough, and will create knock-on effects in those catchments. The water restrictions now in force in Sydney are never going to be lifted, except after a run of freak conditions, just as Warragamba Dam is never again going to be full unless there is a freak period of high rainfall unlikely to be sustained.
      ENDQUOTE

      http://www.smh.com.au/news/Opinion/Running-out-of-water--and-time/2005/04/24/1114281450815.html

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    7. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to James Szabadics

      "Now it seems it is as wet as the 70s......"

      I'll start believing it is as wet http://www.bom.gov.au/jsp/awap/rain/index.jsp?colour=colour&time=latest&step=0&map=decile&period=36month&area=nat as the 70s when it is as wet as the 70s: http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/lnlist/197376/197306-197603.gif

      (Not that warmer air can't hold more water, of course.)

      "and quite persistent La-Nina conditions."

      I'll believe La Nina conditions are quite persistent when they are quite persistent. The current "conditions" haven't lasted anywhere near as long as a single past La Nina (1973-76): http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/lnlist/

      You, on the other hand, can believe whatever your belief system requires you to believe.

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    8. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to James Szabadics

      All of the above quotes from Tim Flannery are quite considered with caveats included such as "if this then ..."

      Nothing unusual or intemperate there.

      Also you write: "Could the models have been wrong to attribute the drought to climate change rather than the ENSO cycle? "

      Although folks might have been tempted to invoke climate change to comment on pst drought, I don't think any body has attributed a specific drought or flooding event to "the models". Rather model and observations based research by groups such as The Climate Futures Group from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre suggests that climate variability is likely to increase and they make estimates of by how much. Check them out!

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    9. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Hello Chris,

      Rainfall in Australia in 2010, 2011 and now 2012 is reminiscent of the la-nina conditions in in the 70s. A time series graph illustrates the similarity in rainfall totals.
      http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/climate/change/timeseries.cgi?graph=rranom&area=aus&season=0112&ave_yr=0

      Warmer air CAN hold more water - but it must then cool to precipitate.

      La Nina is quite persistent - we have just had a double dip la-nina which is similar to the 70s event.
      http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/enso/mei/ts.gif

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    10. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Stewart Franks

      Well said Stewart. You might also point out that the quotations from Flannery which you have given, are not the only statements he has made on these matters. He has been in the news for about fifteen years - starting as I recall, perhaps wrongly - with his book "The Weather Makers" which includes a lot of very similar nonsensical statements. His claims and those of others regarding rainfall "never happening again" has already cost the community billions of dollars in the hurried devleopment of…

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    11. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      Fred,

      I don't think he has really given a caveat, only just an after thought to cover his behind! "Warragamba Dam is never again going to be full unless there is a freak period of high rainfall unlikely to be sustained."

      "Unless there is a FREAK period, unlikely to be sustained" seems to be saying something very like "never again going to be full"! It doesn't matter whether the reference is to models or other research, the point is that the predictive statements were WRONG! and what's more, we have the scars on the landscape to prove it!

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    12. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to James Szabadics

      "Rainfall in Australia in 2010, 2011 and now 2012 is reminiscent of the la-nina conditions in in the 70s."

      It's only reminiscent in the sense of being intensely wet but it's hasn't yet reached the sustained wetness of 1973-1976 in eastern Australia: http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/climate/change/timeseries.cgi?graph=rranom&area=eaus&season=0112&ave_yr=0

      "La Nina is quite persistent - we have just had a double dip la-nina which is similar to the 70s event."

      It hasn't yet reached the persistence of the 1970s event which I already pointed out. And this is only one event. Franks is hypothesizing about the relative frequency of La Nina/El Nino events and we've only experienced a single La Nina period. That is far too little data to say anything about a change in relative frequencies of La Nina/El Nino.

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    13. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Chris,

      It is true that the recent couple of years do not represent a very large sample and one should be cautious in drawing too many conclusions too early. However, the pattern as it stands, with some years of drought followed by some wet years, is certainly similar already to samples of such sequnces in the past.

      The Federation drought which lasted for many years was punctuated with some years of very high rainfall (Brisbane's highest flood level in 1893) in most regions as was the wet…

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    14. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      OK Chris, I dont understand why you can't see similarity between this multi year la-nina and the 70s event.

      Its not yet the same duration but it is as I said reminiscent. 1973 to 1976 = 4 years whereas 2010 to 2012 = 3 years. I don't know what will happen in 2013 so it may yet come to pass that the current event will also run for 4 years but who knows.

      A multi-year La-Nina induced wet period seems to return every 20 to 30 years. I maintain that the current multi year La-Nina is similar to the last one in the 70s..

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    1. Tony Linde
      Tony Linde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Jon Jermey

      I did so beforehand: a quite valid survey approach, AFAICS, peer reviewed and reported in a respectable journal. See my comments below.

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  8. Mike Hansen

    Mr.

    For those looking for an antidote to Franks, I can recommend this article

    https://theconversation.edu.au/droughts-and-flooding-rains-climate-change-models-predict-increases-in-both-5470

    It is simply not true as Franks suggests that rainfall has returned to "normal"

    As the BOM's Special Climate Statement noted the last two years were

    "Australia's wettest two-year period on record"

    and

    "It is notable, however, that the bulk of the above-average rainfall of the past two years fell…

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    1. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ian Donald Lowe

      Quite so Ian D L. The records of the weather bureau do not go back to the 1840s when the Floods in the Brisbane River at least were only a bit behind the '93 Flood which still exceeds both '74 and 2011 by quite a bit. In fact in Brisbane in the middle of the city, beside the river, the water level last year was more than two metres lower than in 1974. Most of the problem arose because the Jim Soorly city council had permitted building well below the level of '74 and so much of the damage was…

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  9. Chris O'Neill

    Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

    Stewart:

    "Tim Flannery, now Australia’s Chief Climate Commissioner, declared that cities such as Brisbane would never again have dam-filling rains."

    He declared no such thing.

    "Rather bizarrely, in 2007 he stated that hotter soils meant that “even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and river systems”.

    You left out what he said just before that, i.e.

    "We're already seeing the initial impacts and they include a decline in the WINTER rainfall zone across SOUTHERN Australia, which is clearly an impact of climate change."

    Melbourne's reservoirs which are in the winter rainfall zone of southern Australia have got back up to 64.6% after more than a year of La Nina conditions, so Flannery is yet to be falsified.

    One final point, don't believe everything originating on Bolt's blog, it's even worse than newspapers.

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    1. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Chris,

      for the last 5 years rainfall in southern Australia Winter rainfall has been within 1sd of the mean or in other words about average.

      http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/climate/change/timeseries.cgi?graph=rranom&area=saus&season=0608&ave_yr=15

      The data for winter in southern australia appears over the dureation of the timeseries the record to follow a classical "cyclical fluctuation" in statistical terms. If the cycle does exist we should see a trend towards increasing winter rainfall over the next 20 years.

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    2. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Chris, the graph you posted shows no significant variance in the moving average around the zero line and the last 4 years are all well within 1sd of the mean. What precisely are you trying to say about the more localised Victorian winter rainfall?

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    3. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Chris - as I said the victorian graph you linked to shows the moving average has no such trend. It stays very close to the zero anomaly line. It does not show a decline in the trend for winter rainfall and recently is very close to average.

      I would agree that southwest WA does show a trend of reduced winter rainfall over the last 30 years. The regional change in the southwest corner of WA does not imply a decline in winter rainfall across the wider southern australian winter rainfall zone.

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    4. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to James Szabadics

      "as I said the victorian graph you linked to shows the moving average has no such trend"

      It does have such a trend (I linked to SA by mistake the first time) and the trend is in autumn as well.

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    5. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Chris, unlike the WA clear step change the Victorian winter rainfall trend looks cyclical. There appears to be a repeat of the decline in rainfall similar to the 1920 to 1940 period and recent recovery if sustained will confirm the cycle.

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  10. Huw Morgan

    Environmental Engineer

    Stuart

    Always great to have your contribution to the debate of climate change, I do miss them. People should not fear debate and disagreement in the field of science, its one of the great things about science.

    I suggest readers spend more time learning some things about how our continents climate is influenced by changes in the pacific ocean and less time defending what someone did or didn't say or what they really, should have, probably meant. At the very least you will expand your knowledge of the world we live in, and don't worry its not heresy against climate change to learn these things.

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  11. Don Aitkin

    writer, speaker and teacher

    I appreciate the essay, because it approaches what is currently happening without the scare-mongering which seems such a constant aspect of any statement about climate.

    I would add only that as far as Eastern Australia is concerned we seem to have had three discernible extensive droughts over the past century, each followed by the 'flooding rains' that Dorothea Mackellar wrote about. These droughts have been termed the 'Federation' drought, the 'Second World War' drought and the 'Millennium…

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    1. Tony Linde
      Tony Linde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Don Aitkin

      No doubt that Australians need to find ways to cope with recurring flood, drought and fire in better ways than in the past. But that does not mean ignoring what happens on a global scale. Rising temperatures as a result of human activity will mean rising ocean levels, whatever the affect on local climates, which will mean flooding of current coastlines around the world. Maybe not much of Australia will be affected, I don't know, but the affect on the rest of the world will certainly affect Australia. For any country to ignore this in the hope that others will fix the problem is stupid in the extreme. And I'm pleased to see that Australia recognises this.

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    2. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to Don Aitkin

      Ignore Don where he talks about carbon dioxide. He's just trolling.

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    3. Don Aitkin

      writer, speaker and teacher

      In reply to Tony Linde

      Tony, I did not say that Australians should ignore what happens on a global scale. Rather, that we should first look at how we should adapt to, and cope with, the recurring cycles of drought and flood in at least Eastern Australia. Why? Because these events really do have a great impact on us, causing much destruction, loss of life and misery. I would agree that they are difficult events to deal with, but they are ours, and a first task for our governments.

      It may be the case that human activity is leading to a slightly increased global temperature, although the picture is not very clear. But in terms of real consequences on Australia, floods and droughts (and fires) are the real crises, not GGE — at least, that's the way it seems to me.

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    4. Mark Graham

      Ecologist

      In reply to Tony Linde

      Hi Tony

      For some coarse data on sea level rise (from 1-14m) have a look at - flood.firetree.net
      Check out your favourite coastal resort of seaside subdivision.

      With only 1-2m of sea level rise you will see that a considerable proportion of the major floodplains of the East Coast of Austalia are inundated. With only 1m of sea level rise nearly all our coastal saltmarsh will be inundated. It is not yet known whether this ecosystem will be able to migrate fast enough in response to these changes, only time will tell. In many areas coastal saltmarsh simply has nowhere to go as potential migratory pathways are blocked by levees, roads, sea walls or urban development.

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  12. Mike Hansen

    Mr.

    I have a question for the moderators.

    In his article Franks claims that

    "The conditions were so bad that Tim Flannery, now Australia’s Chief Climate Commissioner, declared that cities such as Brisbane would never again have dam-filling rains."

    but provides no source for the claim.

    A search suggests the source for the original claim is Andrew Bolt although he provides no link to any statement by Flannery.

    Flannery may well have made this statement but as usual when checking claims made by shock jocks particularly Bolt who has been known to verbal his opponents (see recent court case), context is important.

    Is it The Conversation's policy to allow such claims to be made without providing a source?

    Is it possible to insist that Franks provides a link to Flannery's statement that contains the claim?

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    1. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to R_Chirgwin

      No it does not. There is no mention of Brisbane dams in this link.

      As has been pointed out above the full quote is

      "We're already seeing the initial impacts and they include a decline in the winter rainfall zone across southern Australia, which is clearly an impact of climate change, but also a decrease in run-off. Although we're getting say a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in some areas of Australia, that's translating to a 60 per cent decrease in the run-off into the dams and rivers. That's…

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  13. Joe Horvath

    Masters student, Climate Change Adaptation

    Professor Franks,

    An interesting and informative article outlining the dangers of people commenting outside their area of expertise.

    Having said that, Flannery did appear to be talking about winter rainfall patterns and Karoly's article was not peer reviewed. I don't think the "wants to believe" comment is either warranted or helpful.

    This article does seem to suggest the current extreme weather events are just part of a natural cyclical pattern. It is not clear whether the role of anthropogenic global warming is considered significant, insignificant or dismissed altogether. I would be interested in Professor Franks' clarification of this last aspect.

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  14. Michael Shand
    Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Software Tester

    Stewart Franks should be ashamed of himself.

    Deliberately misquoting people and suggesting implications that they did not make is both intellectually dishonest and childish. It does not help mature responsible adults have an open honest conversation.

    I clicked on the link to flannery's comments and If you actually go read the article flannery does not say what stewart implies.

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  15. Matthew Thompson

    Editor at The Conversation

    In consultation with the author, we've removed a reference to Tim Flannery saying that dams in cities such as Brisbane would never again have dam-filling rains. No direct quote could be found, although Professor Flannery included Brisbane in his 16 June 2007 New Scientist editorial about the "new climate" of permanent drought.

    In his editorial, Professor Flannery wrote:

    "Growing evidence suggests that hotter soils, caused directly by global warming, have increased evaporation and transpiration…

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    1. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Matthew Thompson

      Matthew Thompson,

      Thls 7:30 report interview provides further evidence that Stewart Franks initial comments were not too far off the mark.

      http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2007/s1901854.htm
      DR TIM FLANNERY: This month it's the Murray-Darling basin, next year it may be Brisbane, the year after that somewhere else. This is a global water crisis having a particularly big impact on Australia.

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    2. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Spot - in fact I would prefer the first option because then the record stands and people can judge for themselves.

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    3. Peter Best

      Computer Programmer

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      Stewart Franks has misquoted Flannery. He actually said "Although we're getting say a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in some areas of Australia, that's translating to a 60 per cent decrease in the run-off into the dams and rivers. That's because the soil is warmer because of global warming and the plants are under more stress and therefore using more moisture."

      It is the plants that are using more moisture, drying out the soil. Franks has completely ignored the role of vegetation in this system. Perhaps he will object to this, but he has to object to what Flannery actually said, not what he misquoted.

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    4. Peter Best

      Computer Programmer

      In reply to Peter Best

      "While this may sounds intuitively correct, it is wrong. It completely ignores the known science of evapotranspiration and boundary layer meteorology. That is, when soil contains high moisture content, much of the sun’s energy is used in evaporation and consequently there is limited heating of the surface. However, during drought, soil moisture content is low and consequently nearly all of the incoming radiation is converted into heating the surface. The result is that air temperatures rise significantly."

      You seem to be ignoring the role of climate. Australia has seen changing rainfall patterns. If there is less rain, because of drought, there will be less moisture in the soil to evaporate. If the atmosphere is warming due to CO2, it will heat the ground more regardless of what the sun is doing, causing more evaporation. As Flannery pointed out, plants under stress will extract more moisture from the soil. You have been cherry picking.

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    5. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Peter Best

      Dear Peter

      With all due respect - you do misunderstand the physics. Higher temperatures do not cause higher evaporation - this sound right but is completely wrong.

      Boundary Layer Meteorology is what you are lacking.

      When drought occurs, there is less moisture available for ET. The plants constrict their use (stomatal closure due to water limited roots). it means more of the net radiation goes to heating.

      Higher temperature is caused by a dry land surface.

      I invite you to attend my lectures (July-Nov) where I can spend more time with you with this.

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    6. Greg Flynn
      Greg Flynn is a Friend of The Conversation.

      ANU Science student

      In reply to Stewart Franks

      Prof Franks,

      Your elaboration of detail is academically helpful, but I don't see how it adds much to the discussion.

      You are no doubt finding how easy it is for people to nit-pick irrelevant details.

      So I would like you to "ground" the discussion by addressing even more basic science:

      Do you agree that warmer air temperatures allow [I use the word "allow" to avoid the trap of claiming "cause"] the air to hold more moisture? Remember the converse is why it rains, of course.

      So where does the "allowed" moisture come from? Evaporation! There is your link to Prof Karoly's statement (seems very breasonable in the context of the likely target audience of his report).

      So the question really is where does the change begin? And which feedbacks effect this initial change?

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    7. Matthew Thompson

      Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Dear Michael et al,

      The logic and substance of the article does not hinge on whether or not Tim Flannery made specific mention of Brisbane in his written and spoken comments about what he has called the "new climate".

      When I assess a piece of writing, or thinking, one thing I do is follow its flow. In this article, Franks argues the following:

      A) Flannery was wrong to say that dams would not fill again, etc, but given his academic background he should not be expected to have a mastery of…

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    8. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Matthew Thompson

      Dear Matthew,

      You say "Flannery was wrong to say that dams would not fill again, etc", but did he actually say anything of the sort?

      There is a big difference between this and a statement such as "dams no longer fill even when it does rain" which in the context can be reasonably interpreted as saying that regular filling of dams following typical rain events was not happening at the time he made the statement. I see no evidence whatsoever that Flannery has said or believes that dams would never…

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    9. Matthew Thompson

      Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Dear Michael,

      If you look again, you'll see that I do not say that Flannery was wrong.

      Instead, you'll see I wrote that "In this article Franks argues the following: A) Flannery was wrong ...".

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    10. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Matthew Thompson

      The original concern remains. Franks' article has raised a vigourous discussion pertaining in particular to some claims that have since been edited out by TC.

      Michael suggest - "I believe the editors should have either left the original text in place, with a note saying "no evidence has been found to substantiate this quotation", or else the entire article should be withdrawn."

      Leaving the original text un-edited but with an editorial note attached in place would seem to me to be the best practise here as nothing is obscured from further scrutiny!

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    11. Don Aitkin

      writer, speaker and teacher

      In reply to Matthew Thompson

      for Matthew Thompson: I am new to The Conversation, but think it a good venture and have begun to read widely. There seems to be no point in it, however, if people are uncivil. Then it becomes something whose title should be The Rant.

      Most areas of debate in public policy exist because people have strong views, often without much consideration for what passes for evidence in the area. Climate science is a good example, partly because the stakes are said to be so high, and partly because the whole area abounds in uncertainty.

      I support your statement about civility. You may have to repeat it more than once!

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    12. John McBride

      Associate Professor

      In reply to Matthew Thompson

      Dear Matthew,
      Dr Frank's reply to my comment was not civil. Its last sentence questioned my motivation. Once that happens, we are no longer engaged in a discussion based on scientific arguments, and is the primary reason why I then dropped out of the discussion.

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    13. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to John McBride

      Dear John

      I do apologise if you have been offended by my comment. I unequivocally withdraw it.

      There are many comments on this article which do imply a lack of objectivity, but yours is not one of them, and I am sorry that my last line implied otherwise

      sincere best wishes, Stewart

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    14. John McBride

      Associate Professor

      In reply to Stewart Franks

      Dear Stewart, Apology accepted.... Thank you very much for this response
      Regards
      John McB

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    15. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      I think what is undeniable, is that Flannery has made a plethora of statements which seem to have been designed to indicate to the public that we were in really big trouble with regard to the future of our dams. The $15 bn ?? expended on unnecessary desal plants for instance were undoubtedly wasted partly because of many of these statements by a high profile activist who di not have the scientific integrity to study the subject himself and went off half cocked to push the agenda he had started in his much earlier book "The Weather Makers". It is grasping at straws and a gross appeal to semantics to be discussing whether he actually used the word NEVER in regard to dams filling. The implications from his statements is perfectly clear.

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    16. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Flannery has put it in many different media appearances to directly raise the level of fear and alarm regarding global warming in society by postulating that the past drought was really the new climate thanks to global warming and was not part of the normal cycle of drought/flood.

      Being a good scientist he has indeed left some room for retreat in most of his statements by adding caveats. The statements go along the lines of - We are facing doom induced by climate change unless the opposite to what i said happens which would be unlikely.

      Most media outlets do not want to hear/translate the caveats to the doom statement. If the expert is saying "I dont really know what will happen" it ruins the media thirst for the doomsday storyline.

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    17. Michael J. I. Brown

      ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Monash University

      In reply to Matthew Thompson

      There have clearly been many arguments between Franks and the scientists he criticises for their lack of expertise. This is exemplified by the Cai et al. comment on Lockart, Kavetski & Franks.

      Is Franks criticising scientists for using methods and reaching conclusions that are counter to very well established science? If this is the case then one can rightly question the scientists' expertise.

      Is Franks criticising scientists for using methods and reaching conclusions that are primarily counter…

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    18. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Michael J. I. Brown

      Dear Michael

      "Is Franks criticising scientists for using methods and reaching conclusions that are counter to very well established science? If this is the case then one can rightly question the scientists' expertise."

      Yes - this is the case. The scientists cited have assumed that temperature enhances evapotranspiration. This is a confusion of cause and effect. Moreover, this is a fundamental basic principle of boundary layer meteorology

      The energy balance is that Rn-G = LE + H, that is…

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    19. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Peter Best

      Dear Peter

      "Although we're getting say a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in some areas of Australia, that's translating to a 60 per cent decrease in the run-off into the dams and rivers. That's because the soil is warmer because of global warming and the plants are under more stress and therefore using more moisture."

      This is the problem - it is fundamentally incorrect. When rainfall is 20 % lower the non-linear hydrological processes mean that the decline in runoff is greater - it has nothing to do with 'Co2 enhanced' evaporation. Again, none of this is new or contentious.

      One can only make these incorrect claims if one does not understand the physics.

      My comments do not ignore vegetation. they are fundamental to the landsurface-atmosphere interactions that we are discussing. When moisture is limited, we get stomatal closure as plants can regulate their water use in response to drought. As ET goes does, heating must go up

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    20. Michael J. I. Brown

      ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Monash University

      In reply to Stewart Franks

      I do understand that wet soil will rise in temperature slower than dry soil, due to evapotranspiration. The wet and dry towel analogy makes sense, and obviously evaporative cooling is quite effective.

      However, what happens when two large identical samples of soil with the same moisture content are exposed to air with very different temperatures? Given the basic theory of evaporation gives a temperature dependence, it would be somewhat surprising if this dependence completely disappeared. To return…

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    21. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Michael J. I. Brown

      Hi Michael

      let's stick with the laundry. In tasmania, it is 15C, sunny with relatively low himidty and a fresh breeze. In Darwin, it is 40C, cloudy, still and near 100% humidity.

      The tasmanian laundry drys much quicker.

      The penman-moneith is the preferred physically based equation for evapotranspiration. If you google it, you'll see that ET is controlled by a radiative component and a diffusive component. There is then an aerodynamic transfer term to account for windspeed and atmopsheric…

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    22. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Michael J. I. Brown

      "Given the basic theory of evaporation gives a temperature dependence..."

      I think that this is your error. It is an incorrect assertion

      There is a temperature dependence for evaporation from the oceans, but it is the ocean temperature not the air temperature.

      the PM equ has no direct temperature dependence - different system

      not intuitive, but there your go

      The problem with the 20/40 example is that we experience it in one place - when I hang my washing out on a hot day, it tends (all other things being equal) to dry quicker, then on a cool day. The difference is that you need more net radiation to make a hot day than a cool day - and hence there is more energy in the energy balance on the hot day.

      again - i do sincerely hope this helps. It is very difficult doing this 'online'

      bets wishes, S.

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    23. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Stewart Franks

      Dear Greg

      you are quite right - warmer air temperatures 'allow' the air parcel to hold more moisture. As the ocean temperature increases, more is evporated from them 1C = 6-7%

      the problem is that the 'co2' effect cannot happen instaneously - for the sake of argument, let us say that we have seen a warming of 1C over the last 100 years.

      The great bulk of the evaporation will be from the oceans, but the relative humdity will be the same. Therefore the atmospheric demand when that air parcel…

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    24. Michael J. I. Brown

      ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Monash University

      In reply to Stewart Franks

      I looked up the Penman-Moneith equation online, and there are several useful descriptions available (wikipedia and fao.org, amongst others).

      As noted by Dr Franks, the Penman-Moneith equation does have an implicit dependence on air temperature, and temperature does feature prominently in the online descriptions. Clearly evapotranspiration depends on a myriad of things, and humidity is one key factor. This is not a surprise to me since I have lived in Tucson (dry summers) and Princeton (humid…

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    25. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Michael J. I. Brown

      Michael - I appreciate your efforts in chasing these down

      PM equation certainly is textbook science (at least in the sense that it appears in nearly every textbook on the topic) - there are issues with its application at times, but I am unaware of it being challenged in the near 50 years since its original publication.

      There is no argument that 2 degrees increased air temp causes significantly enhanced evapotranspiration. Articles by Karoly, Nicholls, Jones, Cai et al, have all been based on…

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    26. Anthony Cox

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Generally speaking, is it fair to say that Flannery has made predictions of extreme water shortages in the future? Did public policy formulation consider Flannery's predictions? Was public money well spent implementing the policy based on Flannery's predictions?

      One feels the substance of Frank's essay is being sacrificed on the pedantic alter of delicate pseudo-legal distinctions.

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    27. R_Chirgwin

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Anthony Cox

      It's fair to say that Flannery made predictions ("in the future" is a tautology after all). But the specific prediction, that Brisbane would never see its dams fill after 2007 was fabrication.

      No, the essay isn't being "sacrificed" on any alter. For myself, I only raised editorial considerations, not scientific ones. On any reasonable editorial basis, there were gaps and errors in the article that justified it being amended (as has happened).

      There's nothing "delicate" or even "pseudo-legal" about inventing a quote.

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    28. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to John Nicol

      Mr Nicol

      Where is your evidence that the desal plants were built because of what Flannery said?

      Where is your evidence and logic that such expenditure was/will be unnecessary?

      As usual the cliamte science pseudo skeptic brigade makes a case without substantiation.

      But, if you want to hang Flannery becuase he mispoke - I presume you will be first in line to say mea culpa and accept full responsibility on behalf of the climate science (denialis) psuedo sleptic organisation (of which you are chairman) when the reality of AGW comes home to bite??

      Of course I realise you don't accept that will happen - but - hypothetically - will you go on record as being willing to apply the same standard of accountability which you so blithely apply to others??

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    29. Anthony Cox

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to R_Chirgwin

      "There's nothing "delicate" or even "pseudo-legal" about inventing a quote."

      Just so. Franks said Flannery said:

      ""[Tim Flannery] declared that cities such as Brisbane would never again have dam-filling rains"

      That has morphed to:

      "the dams would NEVER fill again." According to professor Ashely.

      This is not the same thing.

      There is no doubt Flannery has predicted future drying and advocated the need for desalination plants; this article is a template for a predicted drying future caused by AGW:

      http://www.science.org.au/nova/newscientist/105ns_001.htm

      It is unequivocal; AGW will mean existing water supply facilities will not be able to supply future water needs. Did Flannery say the "the dams would NEVER fill again." No. Did Flannery mean ""the dams would NEVER fill again."

      In my opinion, yes.

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    30. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Anthony Cox

      Dear Anthony

      It wasn't a direct quote - the 'such as Brisbane' was my interpretation of what he had said in various forms and on various occasions.

      The ironic thing is that the comment was removed on the advise of the editor, not because it wasn't an appropriate interpretation, but because people crtical of the article were fixating on it. Of course, once it was removed, they fixated on that!

      Best wishes, S.

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    31. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      Mark,

      I will answer your last question first. I have never tried to shield myself from accountability and for that reason have never commented on the Internet nor responded to a newspaper article in "comments" without using my full name and, as you know, often offering my email address and sometimes other details of myself.

      I am confident that there will be no future reckoning on any of the statements I have made (at least those which I have not corrected when necessary as soon as possible…

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    32. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to John Nicol

      Terrific John - you can start by taking accountability and admitting your errors and misspeaking on the post below where I have shown you are just plain wrong on the facts and misrepresentative.

      I am no apologist for Flannery - indeed my first post (first on the list here) acknowledges that he mis-spoke and that jumping on short term trends is against the science.

      But if I had to choose between having a dollar for everytime someone who supports the science of AGW mis-spoke or mis-represnted…

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    33. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to John Nicol

      Still no acknowledgement I notice from Mr Nicol for his incorrect statements on temperature or the courage to admit he was wrong.

      This from someone who is so willing to take Mr Fallnery to account for mispeaking but unwilling to apply the same standard to himself.

      Alas this is typical of the double standard of the climate pseudo-skeptics

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    34. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      Thanks again Mark for giving our Australian Climate Science Coalition a free plug and highlighting my chairmanship of the little group of very experienced and active scientists who act as free consultants to the group. Some of us are retired, others working in Universities, in different areas which are relevant to investigating what phenomena drive changes in climate and have been causing variations in global temperatures both in the past and in more recent times.

      We appreciate your raising…

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    35. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to John Nicol

      Sorry John - typo - my error - now when are you going to acknowledge your mistatement of the facts on climate??

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    36. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to John Nicol

      John - thank you for acknowledging your error in relation to your original claim about the temperature change between 1940 and 1965 which was completely wrong (I noticed you buried your retraction at the bottom of your comment but at least you made it - you might urge your groups secretary to make a similar effort for his errors).
      The rest of your post is long winded obfuscation in relation to the papers and data I have provided that doesn't really address their evidence, conclusions or augments…

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    37. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Michael J. I. Brown

      I note that Dr Michael Roderick (referred to by Franks) won the 2009 Australasian Science Prize for his world class work on evapouration which he has been researching for a number years.

      Roderick explains: “As the air temperature increases [due to global warming]
      and water evaporates faster, the public perception is that it will get drier, whereas the scientific basis is that it will rain more on a global average basis. However,locally – in, say, Sydney, Melbourne or the MDB – it will not necessarily…

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    38. Anthony Cox

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Yet Roderick's own work suggests that evaporation over land is declining:

      Roderick, Michael L. , Michael T. Hobbins and Graham D. Farquhar, 2009: Pan Evaporation Trends and the Terrestrial
      Water Balance. I. Principles and Observations. Geography Compass 3/2 (2009): 746–760, 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2008.00213.x

      Abstract:

      Pan evaporation is just that – it is the evaporation rate of water from a small dish located at the ground-surface. Pan evaporation is a measure of the evaporative demand over…

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    39. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Anthony Cox

      Yes Anthony - hence the prize for Dr Roderick.

      http://sciencewise.anu.edu.au/articles/Panning%20out

      "Back in 2007, Dr Roderick’s team were the first to effectively explain the falling evaporation rate anomaly. After an extensive study of vast quantities of data, they concluded that the reduced pan evaporation rates were the result of falling wind speeds - and coined the term, global stilling. Over the last 30 years the average wind speed has dropped by 0.01 ms-1 each year resulting in average…

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    40. Anthony Cox

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      "they concluded that the reduced pan evaporation rates were the result of falling wind speeds - and coined the term, global stilling."

      Tell it to the CSIRO:

      http://www.csiro.au/news/New-energy-in-search-for-future-wind

      Then there is this:

      http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2011/03/23/science.1197219.abstract

      Then back to Roderick:

      http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2008GL035627.shtml

      Isn't science fun.

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    41. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Anthony Cox

      Anthony.

      I do not think that Roderick needs to tell the CSIRO.

      From your link
      http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2008GL035627.shtml

      Co-author with Mike Roderick
      Randall J. Donohue
      CSIRO Land and Water and eWater Cooperative Research Centre, Canberra, A.C.T., Australia

      Anthony - yes science is fun but it is also hard work as is exemplified by Dr Roderick's years of work on this aspect of climate science.

      It actually involves studying and testing the science rather than looking for the latest gotcha by skimming article abstracts.

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    42. Michael J. I. Brown

      ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Monash University

      In reply to Stewart Franks

      I agree there isn't any argument about the fundamental physics, but I do believe there are significant arguments about evapotranspiration rates. There seem to be many relevant parameters that are non-trivial to quantify (highlighted by several of the comments/links in this discussion thread).

      I don't know when the beer will happen (my evenings tend to be busy) but I will make an extra effort if Dmitri can join us, as I know Dmitri from when we were both at Princeton.

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    43. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      Ia agree Marc. I think the problem with the argument over what Flannery did or dib not say is that most of the comments come from TV or radio interviews or from a wide variety of news papers.

      It is quite clear from his writings to which he must ascribe to and the myriad of other comments in the varuios forms of the press, that Flannery attempted to push as strongly as possible that we were going to be almost cetainly in continued drought in the East of Australia.

      Those who argue against…

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    44. Derek Bolton

      Retired s/w engineer

      In reply to John Nicol

      Isn't that exactly the problem here? Substituting what you would not be surprised to have heard him say for what he actually said? Consider the possibility that what people think he said or is likely to have said is strongly influenced by all the misquotes.

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  16. Paul Gregory

    Honorary Fellow at University of Melbourne

    I'm curious as to why Stewart Franks feels compelled to conduct a national media campaign calling into question the judgement of senior climate scientists when it has been proven before that he himself doesn't understand what a climatology is.

    Examples.

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/sunshine-claim-clouded-by-dispute/story-e6frgcjx-1225859043744

    http://www.amos.org.au/documents/item/309

    The full citation for the debunking of Stewart's poor attempt to link the recent drought to an increase in sunshine hours can be found here: http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2010/2009GL042254.shtml

    This article by Cai et al which proved that Frank's analysis was fundamentally flawed made the Geophysical Research Letters 'Editors Highlights' : see http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/highlights/highlights.cgi?action=show&doi=10.1029/2009GL042254&jc=gl

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    1. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Paul Gregory

      Dear Paul

      I suggest you also read the reply. They focussed on something that was already conceded in the original paper.

      A question - does rainfall drive temperatures or is it solar radiation?

      Precisely because of the averaging issue we then looked at the individual gauges - if I recall correctly 15 or the 16 gauges showed that sunshine was better correlated to temperature than rainfall. This is such a fundamental of basic physics that I was amazed that they had the chtzpah to write their comment.

      Of note, they do not now claim that one can identify the 'Co2 effect' through the residuals of a simple (and incorrectly interpreted) linear correlation between rainfall and temperature. Please do consider the long known physics rather than the incorrectly interpreted correlation (after all correlation does not imply causation).

      The journal editor was also confused

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  17. Marc Hendrickx

    Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

    Mike Stopa has a post titled "What if they are wrong".In which he explores how the errors would be explained. Along with Stopa's points below I suspect there will be significant backtracking of comments made about weather events. It seems that the experts as Franks notes above are starting to do this, suddenly pointing to comments about uncertainty that to date have received little emphasis.

    I requested Mike Stopa's post for The Con but the editors have decided others wise. Here's an extract…

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    1. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      So Marc - you have now "jumped the shark" and are denying the science behind the greenhouse effect.

      That puts you in the group that the doyen of climate science denial, Fred Singer referred to in his article "Climate Deniers Are Giving Us Skeptics a Bad Name".

      Here are 3 quotes from Singer

      "Now let me turn to the deniers. One of their favorite arguments is that the greenhouse effect does not exist at all because it violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics -- i.e., one cannot transfer…

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    2. Peter Best

      Computer Programmer

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      "'Here I ask this. Suppose it turns out that CO2 has essentially nothing to do with the earth’s climate. How will the history of this colossal mistake be written?"

      You may as well say "Suppose up is down". The "Greenhouse" effect is well understood, and physically measurable.

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    3. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike Hansen,

      While your quotations of Singer and others are quite true, his remarks do refer to a very small group of enthusiasts whose kind also populates the group who believe strongly that "CO2 causes global warming".

      You will notice also that none of the comments applied to the ENHANCED Green House Effect which refers to the rate of increase in temperature caused by increasing carbon dioxide. That industrialisation produces an increase in CO2 is not challenged by any one of consequence…

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    4. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike I have stated nothing of the sort and if you had a pair you would offer an apology.

      The only shark jumper is Flannery, but it seems you sit proudly on his shoulders with your hands clasped tightly over his eyes.

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    5. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      Stopa's article offered merely as a discussion point. I do not endorse all the views therein, as I'm sure you would not necessarily share exactly the same view as dear old Tim.

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    6. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      Shorter Marc Hendrickx

      I have stated nothing of the sort
      .
      .
      .
      .
      Well maybe I did but I did not mean it.

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    7. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Shorter Mike Hansen

      "Sorry Marc, but I still want to have Tim Flannery's baby"

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    8. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to John Nicol

      "So far, according to the IPCC Section 8.1.2.1 and 8.1.2.2, they have not been able to consistently reproduce known climates through hind casting,"

      I finally got round to checking John Nicol's assertions here and, surprise surprise, he's not telling the truth just like all the other false assertions he repeats over and over again about heat transfer through the atmosphere etc.

      IPCC Sections 8.1.2.1 and 8.1.2.2 are entitled "Model Intercomparisons and Ensembles" and "Metrics of Model Reliability…

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    9. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Thank you Chris for drawing my attention again to the IPCC. I did not make any statement as I am aware which stated that the IPCC had said that they "are not able to consistently reproduce... " However, I had pointed out that this is inferred from their own description of where they are at in their attempts to accurately model the climate.

      As I have explained elsewhere, the modelling you refer to involves PREPARING the models for "blind" testing, by setting ranges of parameters which can then…

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  18. Daryl Deal

    retired

    Here in Australia, we have the C.S.I.R.O Marine Division and the B.O.M., who are both experts in this field, and communicate and disseminate widely with all other international science bodies, in many countries in this field of global warming.

    C.S.I.R.O :- http://www.cmar.csiro.au/research/climate.html

    B.O.M. :- http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/change/

    In essence, the science on the subject of 'Global Warming', is robust fact based evidence, peer reviewed science, that has withstood rigorous…

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    1. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Daryl Deal

      The heads of both of these organisations are thinly disguised political appointments.
      Joseph Stalin also appointed the heads of his scientific organisations.

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  19. Michael Block

    Idler

    I've been following this debate with interest. Thanks to all for the informative (mostly) contributions. Stewart, you've highlighted Tim Flannery to illustrate your assertion that debate has been clouded by the contribution of 'amateur enthusiasts' as you call them. Are there any 'amateur enthusiasts' who have entered the debate on the 'other side' that you can also highlight for us?

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    1. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike,
      From the link you gave us it is difficult to prise out anything substantive which might contradict what Stewart Franks has said in his earlier papers and in his article here. It is merel;y quoting words by various people but not indicating any evidence for what they are saying or indicating the arguments of their paper.

      The comments though, were consistent with a lot made by Flannery, Karoly and Pitman as well as the CSIRO group in 2009, 2010. Of course it would be interesting to have…

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    2. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Thank you for this - it places a context on the polemic in the Franks article.

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  20. Ian Smith

    Hon. Res. Fellow at CSIRO

    Stuart,
    Would you be willing to back up your statement "..we are now witnessing rainfall and flood events of a magnitude last seen in the period between 1950 and 1974.....we might expect further La Niña for the next decade or so." ?

    For example, what do you think are the odds/probabilities that should be attached to the following propositions:

    That El Nino conditions will develop by the end of the year.

    ...Perth winter rainfall this year will be below the long term median.
    ...Adelaide winter rainfall this year will be below the long term median.
    ...Melbourne winter rainfall this year will be below the long term median.
    ...That global average temperature next year will be greater than this year.
    ...That global average temperature will reach a new record within the next 5 years.

    To be consistent, your odds must be greater than would "normally" be expected for such events.

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    1. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Ian Smith

      Dear Ian

      Many of the floods we are experiencing are of a magnitude 'generally' last experienced in 1974. Not in every case and not in every catchment, but nonetheless such widespread flooding has not been present since the last PDO/IPO negative period

      The rational for saying that we might experience further La Nina's over the next decade or so is based on a body of work (not just mine I might add) associated with ENSO-PDO/IPO interactions. These are of course fully peer-reviewed in the international literature

      I won't put probabilities on events speculatively. The qualitative statement that we 'might' experience an extended period of LN is enough and grounded on published work

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  21. Michael Block

    Idler

    Forgive my lay-person's understanding of this issue, but isn't the long-term global climate trend a different thing from short-term local weather? My understanding was that AGW is but one of many factors that are affecting global climate and that the effect is long-term. If that's the case wouldn't we expect a lower margin of error in climate predictions for 50 or 100 years that we would for 5 years? In that case any short-term prediction of the weather in a localised area of the planet is going to come with a higher margin of error - why is this contentious or even news?
    My understanding was also that as AGW increased the total energy in the atmosphere across the planet, that we are increasingly likely to get extreme weather patterns - the 'droughts and flooding rains'

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  22. Paul Whyte

    logged in via email @gelworks.com.au

    The article while interesting "Flannery is no expert, but neither are the experts" seems to fall into the class of attacking climate science with out putting obvious errors into their correct context.

    In the course of the next 100 years Flannery may be shown to be correct. I hope to live long enough to find out!

    Does Australia get wetter or dryer in the next 100 years? I think that we can say with reasonable confidence yes. Austrailia will be both dryer and wetter than we have known before…

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    1. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Whyte

      Paul,

      It is possible that Flannery may well be correct as to what the temperature of the globe may be in 100 year’s time. But I am sure you would agree that he is equally likely to be wrong and the world may be much cooler and in need of totally different adaptation techniques from what is proposed in taxing carbon dioxide. The emphasis should only be onpreparation for problems of any nature –tsunamis, earthquakes, flooding, fires all of which we know will happen and for possible future cooling…

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    2. Paul Whyte

      logged in via email @gelworks.com.au

      In reply to John Nicol

      Hi John,

      If the world economy developed the way that I wish then I should hope that a warming correction would be indeed be needed. I suspect that it would not be for the reasons that you are saying. If coal used ended in the next 15 years and we did shift to nuclear and renewables then CO2 levels would be expected to begin to lower. If we adopted widespread bio-char use then they would go down a lot faster.

      The climate changes due to forcings. Yes I agree that due to orbital forcings along…

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    3. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Whyte

      Dear Paul,
      Thank you very much for your helpful and informative response to my comments.
      First I must admit to being stupid in my remark regarding coal and charcoal as the difference you demonstrate should have been immediately obvious to me. I also accept that if we need to reduce carbon dioxide, that bio-char is a useful way to do it through improvements to farmland. Of course careful farming methods alone can make a significant contribution to this and most farmers are addressing this through…

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    4. Glenn Tamblyn

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Nicol

      Hi John

      Some basic numbers that narrow the discussion of what is or isn't going on.

      Increase in Total Heat Content for the climate is around 2.1 10^23 Joules. 90% of this in the oceans. This increase in heat hasn't slowed down, just changed where most of it is accumulating - in recent years it appears that more heat is being shuttled to the mid layers of the ocean rather than the surface, restricting surface ocean warming and thus atmospheric warming. But warming somewhere hasn't stopped, just…

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    5. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to John Nicol

      There is so much that is plain wrong (or ill informed or just plain misrepresentative) in this post by Mr Nicol (chairman of the "skeptics" society), that it is hard to know where to being. But here's one aspect.

      He says "“The warming that has happened since 1980 has been counter to natural forcings” I am not sure that you can confidently say that."

      WRONG - you can say that - or at least that's the published science says
      Rosenzweig et al (2008). "Attributing physical and biological impacts…

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    6. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to John Nicol

      Part 2
      Of course - this won't be the first time Mr Nicol ignores or airily dismisses the published credible science
      He then goes on to say
      "The warming shown in the history of the earth’s temperature since the workable thermometer became available, indicates at least, that warming was quicker in the later nineteenth century for approximately 20 to 25 years than it has been since 1979. While the number of valid points in that era will be debatable, the warming from 1940 to 1965 (again approximate…

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    7. Paul Whyte

      logged in via email @gelworks.com.au

      In reply to John Nicol

      Hi John,

      I'm an ex petroleum chemist who changed to medical manufacturing after becoming very sceptical about the petroleum industry being able to play a good role in the climate issue in 1986. My PhD supervisor use to joke about the prospect of running out of light crude by saying there was enough alternative feedstock to bake the planet from the greenhouse effect. I was one of a few hundred young scientists at the time developing alternative feedstocks for when the light crude ran out. I've…

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    8. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Anthony Cox

      Typical of Mr Cox - uses the blogosphere to critique published science.

      Credibility? Zero

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    9. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Whyte

      Dear Paul,
      Thank you for your comment and response. It is a pity you do not have time to continue this discussion but I respect that. It is interesting to know that your change of employment as a scientist from petroleum to medical goods and that Australia is an exported in this area. Well done. As a retired person I do not have many deadlines to meet but one keeps surprisingly busy! What with all this climate stuff!!

      I have looked at your references which I had seen before. I guess it…

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    10. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to John Nicol

      "No one has ever raised the Brindley and Harries 2002 rescinding"

      Brindley and Harries 2002 did not rescind Harries et al. 2001. In fact Brindley and Harries 2002 state:

      "This work (Harries et al. 2001) showed that, over large regions of the earth, the clear-sky emission spectrum showed detailed changes, which agreed well with theoretical expectations based on the known changes of greenhouse gases such as CO2, CH4, O3, and chlorofluorocarbons 11 and 12. In this way it has been experimentally confirmed for the first time that the greenhouse forcing of the earth has, indeed, been changed through the growth of greenhouse gases."

      The person who falsely claimed that Brindley and Harries 2002 rescinded Harries et al. 2001 is chairman of a scientific disinformation panel that contains a member who asserts (among other things) that the rise in atmospheric CO2 over the past 200 years originated from undersea volcanoes. Treat everything he says accordingly.

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    11. Michael J. I. Brown

      ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Monash University

      In reply to Paul Whyte

      John Nicol has written an essay and many (very) long comments on CO2 and the absorption of infrared light. However, he has never published a peer reviewed article on the topic and he has avoided comparing his model with readily available data. The plots in his essay seem at odds with the observed transmission of the Earth's atmosphere.

      John Nicol is chair of the Australian Cimate Science Coalition, which lacks professional climate scientists and receives virtually all of its funding from the International Climate Science Coalition, and thus the Heartland Institute lobby group (see http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/web-leak-shows-trail-of-climate-sceptic-funding-20120217-1tegk.html). lt is worth keeping this in mind when reading John Nicol's comments.

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    12. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michael J. I. Brown

      Dear Michael,

      Thank you again for helping so effectively to promote the Australian Climate Science Coalition which is dedicated to providing information on the science behind global warming. Chris and Mark are also contributing, so I thank you also.

      Our pages include news on current climate change, likely causes of this change, be it increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, variations in the solar cycle, the effects of cosmic rays (Svensmark and his research group in Denmark), Miskolczi…

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    13. Michael J. I. Brown

      ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Monash University

      In reply to John Nicol

      John Nicol's comment is a remarkable piece of spin.

      "Independent scientists"? The most vocal members of the ACSC are Ian Plimer and Bob Carter. Plimer has significant connections to the mining industry while Carter has received direct payments from the Heartland Institute lobby group (which has effectively bankrolled the ACSC too).

      The science track record of ACSC members is abysmal. Archibald's writings make extremely selective use of noisy data to produce dodgy conclusions. McLean's prediction that 2011 will be the coldest year since 1956 proved to be grossly wrong. For years John Nicol has avoided comparing his pet theory to the relevant and readily available data.

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  23. Mike Hansen

    Mr.

    When I initially read Stewart Franks' article my first impression was that this was a quote-mined "gish gallop" of Boltian proportions.

    It turns out that I was not far from the mark.

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/the_quotes_that_warmists_claim_dont_exist/
    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/the_warmists_straw_man_we_never_said_it_wouldnt_rain/

    This is the sort of "gotcha" journalism based on quote mining…

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  24. Peter Redshaw

    Retired

    The author may be right as to Tim Flannery's qualifications, but the argument is incorrectly framed. Neither the previous El Nino drought, nor the current La Nina rainfalls over the last 3 years, has anything to do with proving or disproving the premise of climate change. For a start the time period of these events are too short. The implications of climate change are at a very early stage and there real effects are only going be felt over the next one to two hundred years depending on what action…

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  25. Rob Painting

    climate science blogger

    It's disappointing that The Conversation stoops to the level of mainstream media rags. Much of what Franks has written is true - such as drier soils leading to more intense heating over land, but also a lot of it is plain wrong, or simply distortions.

    It's like he's pretending that global warming won't lead to intensification of the hydrological cycle (an observation), or a reduction of the periodicity of ENSO, or it's intensification. Not that these factors alone explain the clearly anomalous…

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    1. James Szabadics

      BSc

      In reply to Rob Painting

      Hi Rob,

      If you have any link which shows that the periodicity of ENSO is changing in anything other than a cyclical way similar to the past or that its amplitude is intensifying compared to past events please share it.

      I would expect that we will have futher el-nino and la-nina in the next decade. I would agree that with our severely limited ability to predict the change beyond a week or two any prediction is really just a gamble. The ENSO model ensemble forecasts for the next six months include every ENSO possibility from moderate el-nino to another la-nina dip and everything in between - see link .

      http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/CDB/Forecast/figf4.gif

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    2. Rob Painting

      climate science blogger

      In reply to James Szabadics

      James - not just links but peer-reviewed scientific papers. Paleo data indicate that ENSO has been around for a very long time - maybe as far back as the Miocene. When the background Pacific climate state is warm, the return cycle is shorter, and longer when the background state is cool -as it was in Medieval times.

      And you appear to be confused about what this means. ENSO is very unlikely to disappear, the opposing warm/dry (El Nino) and cool/wet (La Nina) phases are likely to become more extreme. This seems apparent in the sea level trend in the last few years.

      It may seem to be more 'jumping the gun', but unlike Tim Flannery's claims highlighted in this article, it's based on well-grounded scientific research.

      Anyway, I'll write up a blog post later in the week and link to it.

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  26. Peter Best

    Computer Programmer

    If that's the best you can do, Mr Franks, then the case against AGW is pretty weak. It is incredible the amount of noise made by the skeptics, when their arguments are so poor.

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    1. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Peter Best

      Not quite sure what you are referring to

      The article is abour errors of science - temperature and ET - flood/drought and natural variability in australia.

      It makes no case against AGW, just a number of commentators who claim expertise and yet are demonstrably in error when citing flood and drought in Australia as examples of AGW

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  27. Don Aitkin

    writer, speaker and teacher

    This thread is approaching its end, and since it began I have read The Weather Makers Re-examined, by D. W. Allen. I recommend it. Allen demonstrates again and again that Tim Flannery's approach is to exaggerate the dangers and minimise the advantages (of global warming). Allen uses 594 references to scientific papers to back up his demolition.

    Very well worth reading.

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    1. Don Aitkin

      writer, speaker and teacher

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      What on earth has that got to do with what I posted above?

      As it happens, your reference does not show 0.45 deg C of global warming, but the GTA in the lower troposphere, which the UAH readings indicate as being about where they were in 1980. I would not dwell on that anyway, but point out to the curious that you can read the chart in a number of ways — drawing a straight line through it is not the most obvious thing to do!

      And I don't dispute the likelihood of warming over the past 30 years. I do dispute that the methodology used allows us to make comparisons between the GTAs of recent years to three decimal places. That cannot be sustained.

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    2. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to Don Aitkin

      "the UAH readings indicate as being about where they were in 1980... you can read the chart in a number of ways"

      We're well aware of that. It's referred to as cherry-picking. Some people think this is the most obvious thing to do.

      "I don't dispute the likelihood of warming over the past 30 years."

      So what's the point of saying "there's only thirty years' worth" of data? The important thing is the amount of warming they have measured. Does it make sense to say "only" 0.45 degrees of warming? Are you claiming 0.45 degrees is insignificant?

      "I do dispute that the methodology used allows us to make comparisons between the GTAs of recent years to three decimal places."

      No-one is doing that, calculation accuracy notwithstanding. And that's rather a non-sequitur to not disputing warming over the past 30 years.

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    3. Don Aitkin

      writer, speaker and teacher

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      No, Chris, it's not called cherry-picking — that refers to starting and finishing trend lines at points that support one's argument. I didn't select this chart: you did. I merely point out that putting a single trend line through it is only one of the ways you can interpret the data. You could see the el Nino high-point of 1998 as a separator, and show the warming trends before and after. You could take out the el Nino as an 'event' and re-compute. Lots of people have played with woodfortrees. You…

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    4. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to Don Aitkin

      "it's not called cherry-picking — that refers to starting and finishing trend lines at points that support one's argument"

      "the UAH readings indicate as being about where they were in 1980"

      That's exactly cherry-picking. There are literally hundreds of data points available with information and you pick just two of them, ignoring the vast majority of the information.

      "You could see the el Nino high-point of 1998 as a separator, and show the warming trends before and after."

      Is there any…

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    5. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Chris,
      I note your brief comment on Don Aitken’s post regarding NASA’s tropospheric temperature measurements under the direction of Roy Spencer.

      It occurred to me on looking at the link you gave to his results that you have really hit the nail on the head in explaining to us why the climate industry is still exporting as well as marketing locally, the proposition that the last 12 or so years have still shown warming. This product results from their inability to read and analyse a graph correctly…

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  28. Richard Jamison

    logged in via LinkedIn

    I understand that Mr Flannery is not a climate scientist and that neither is Mr Franks, therefore how can either of them make comments/observations or predictions on climate? Given the very complex system that is Earth's climate, wouldn't it be best to seek to have those that actually are trained in that specific field, provide their expert opinions.

    I'm sure that Mr Flannery is passionate about AGW, and as a scientist, accepts the opinions of climatologists, but if he's not trained as one, how can he be an authority on the subject or head a commission on it? This goes for Mr Franks too. He's trained as an engineer. Can someone please explain how either man can speak with authority, let alone publish papers in a field that they aren't expert or trained in?

    I hope this is not a naive comment. Not being a scientist but only a very avid enthusiast, I'm very interested in the question. Thanks.

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    1. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Richard Jamison

      Richard, that is a very good question.

      Tim Flannery is a scientist, but doesn't specialise in climate. His role as head of the climate change commission is as a science communicator. The commission does not conduct research into the climate, it explains the consensus position of the world's experts.

      As a communicator of science, it is unfortunate if Flannery makes a mistake, but this doesn't say anything about the underlying science. If Flannery and the real experts disagree, then I'm sure…

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    2. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Richard Jamison

      Dear Richard

      I refer you to my bio - I am not an engineer. My Phd was on improving GCMs through better descriptions of land surface - atmopshere transfer processes. This is climate science

      I do appreciate that my affiliation in the School of Engineering does confuse

      Best wishes, S.

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    3. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Richard's question was fair enough - also I believe my response was

      I do not believe that your response is anything but a slur.

      The article stand alone - flannery and senior scientists have made errors with regard to (i) the physics of evaporation and (ii) the PDO-IPO and its interactions with ENSO.

      Both of these topics are in the international literature, published by myself and numerous others.

      The errors made by those cited in the article go against what you refer to as mainstream science.

      Interestingly, Flannery repeated the error from 2007 just last night on The Project. This goes against the physics of evaporation and boundary layer meteorology which has been well-known for over 50 years.

      I'd respectfully ask you to either research the issues raised (ie play the ball without playing the man), or else stick to what you do know, Michael

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    4. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Stewart Franks

      Stewart (apologies for calling you Stuart above), I don't see that what I wrote is "playing the man".

      Surely you agree with me that your position on anthropogenic climate change is contrary to that of most of the world's experts?

      You do represent a fringe opinion on the seriousness of anthropogenic climate change, that is just a statement of fact. Do you disagree with this?

      The only statement I made which may be controversial is my opinion of the work that you have co-authored with Carter et al. However, the document I referred to is full of the usual climate denier nonsense, e.g., "CO2 is not a pollutant"; you plot temperatures since 1995 against CO2 and use this to imply that they are unrelated (come on! that is just embarrassing); comparing arctic sea ice falls with Antarctic gains therefore there is nothing to worry about; preferring a paper by Idso & Singer to GRACE satellite measurements of ice mass loss; and so on.

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    5. Don Aitkin

      writer, speaker and teacher

      In reply to Richard Jamison

      Richard,

      I wonder if this will help. To begin, 'climate science' is a very new field, and I do not think that in Australia there is a single senior person, on either side, who has a PhD in it — they couldn't have and be senior too.

      Second, it is about as wide a field as science itself, and perhaps is wider than science in that it comes into the fields of social science and even the humanities.

      I have used before the notion of a 'quarry' in which people come to mine, bringing the skills and…

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    6. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Dear Michael

      I am in no way offended if you misspell my name - a common error, much like assuming I am an engineer :)

      Your post seeks to classify me according to your interpretations of my beliefs re: AGW.

      That is not the topic of the article. Certainly that statements made by those cited were wrong and contrary to the few experts that do know better on these issues.

      That is the issue under discussion. There is a rich diversity of view on the diverse aspects of AGW, none of which are…

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    7. Anthony Cox

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      "climate denier nonsense"

      Hardly the expression an honest broker would use.

      Your entire point is the consensus one; it amazes me that highly qualified scientists resort to this consensus "nonsense" when its defects are even apparent to someone who has the status of the janitor but who can still knock together a rebuttal of it:

      http://theclimatescepticsparty.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/consensus-myth-97-of-nothing.html

      To the naughty corner for you Michael to write out 100 times "black swan good."

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    8. Stewart Franks

      Professor School of Engineering at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Richard Jamison

      Dear Richard

      Yours was an innocent question - unfortuantely, an astrophysicist with a climate bee in his bonnet answered inappropriately and raised my ire.

      I have published on all on the science issues raised in the article. I am genuinely available to address any science questions you may have regarding this article.

      I do just wish that everyone could be as genuine in their comments and questions on this article as your question demonstrates

      sincere apologies,

      Best wishes, Stewart

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    9. John Nicol

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Richard Jamison

      Richard,

      It is true that Tim Flannery is very passionate about his own ideas on global warming, but one does need much more than passion to perform good science - one also needs the skills to carry out appropriate research, to understand the literature and to have an open mind. Reading much of what Tim Flannery has written, he appears to heve none of these things in regard to climate.

      Cooments here about qualifications are very well summed up by Don Aitken. Twenty years ago a climatologist…

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  29. Matthew Thompson

    Editor at The Conversation

    Dear readers,

    I have deleted numerous comments for breaching our Community Standards. There are plenty remaining that breach the standards by being off-topic, but if those discussions are friendly enough then they have generally survived this morning's purge.

    If you posted a polite comment and it is missing, it is probably because when I delete abusive, defamatory, snide, and uncivil comments, the website automatically deletes replies to it - my apologies to those whose replies were good and…

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  30. Derek Bolton

    Retired s/w engineer

    Dr Franks, thanks for this article. You make a good case that Prof Karoly has it backwards in his paper on the 2002 drought. Indeed, his Fig 1 shows a clear negative correlation between rainfall and air temperature.
    Unfortunately, I suspect some will try to use your essay to imply there's no connection between droughts and GHGs. GHGs increase incoming radiation, driving more evaporation. When that dries out the soil, elevated temperatures result.

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  31. Tanja Stark

    Creative consultant

    Just spotted this up and coming paper in Nature - not sure how to interpret this in view of above, but thought it would be worth linking for debates sake.

    Parched soils trigger more storms

    Afternoon storms are more likely to develop when soils are parched, according to a new study published this week in Nature which examined hydrological processes across six continents.

    The results have important implications for the future development of global weather and climate models which may currently…

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