Nell, Dudley and Snidely: Uncertainty

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 7:07 AM GMT on February 17, 2015

Nell, Dudley and Snidely: Uncertainty

In last week’s article I wrote:

Probability and likelihood are notoriously difficult ways to communicate in quiet consultation, and even more difficult in newspapers, on the radio, television and online. Probability and risk are just made for conflicting headlines. The conclusions are, therefore, by definition, uncertain, and uncertainty can always fuel both sides of a rhetorical or a political argument.

I got a very nice comment from Scott Sabol of WJW FOX 8 about the “uphill battle attempting to communicate uncertainty both in day-to-day weather forecasts and the describing of the components of extreme weather events/climate change influence without alienating the audience.” I have seen several blogs since the blizzard forecasts of January 23 – 26 that focus on the need to better quantify and describe the uncertainty associated with winter storms. Uncertainty is subject of this article.

Here’s a still growing record of the Northeast blizzard news cycle on my Tumblr site. This record includes some of the blogs referenced in the previous paragraph that discuss the need for better communication of uncertainty.

In the fall of 2014, I taught a small course on uncertainty, and specifically, on placing uncertainty of climate change in context with other sources of uncertainty in applying climate knowledge to planning and policy. My starting point in many uncertainty discussions is from the uncertainty fallacy; namely, that the quantification and reduction of uncertainty is the primary barrier that hinders the use of scientific knowledge in decision making. During the 1990s, many proposals and measurement missions were sold on the promise of “reducing uncertainty.” If you consider all of the complex processes that make up the climate system and their simplified representation in models, then casual statements that uncertainty will be reduced by any one investigation are not likely to hold up. Uncertainty might be better understood and be better described, but reduction is unlikely. Further, reduction does not assure better usability of knowledge, and in most cases it is not required.

One of my favorite classroom experiences is when the business students in class describe to the scientists and engineers that they are always making decisions in the face of great uncertainty. They want to know how climate uncertainty stacks up against other sources of uncertainty. They also what evidence that changes in the uncertainty descriptions will be incremental; that is, for example, from one assessment to the next, the description is largely the same.

If you listen to the NPR series on Risk and Reason, you will get a feeling of the difficulty of communicating uncertainty and the difficulty that people have in using information about uncertainty. In that series, there are those who advocate never using numbers describing uncertainty in policy contexts, and then there are those thinking of clever and effective ways to communicate numbers to individuals making important decisions. One take away is that how people use information about uncertainty is highly personal. There are often strong elements of fear and want.

Also, in many cases people have an agenda of how they want to use uncertainty – to make something happen or to keep something from happening ( a Rood blog, an ancient Rood blog, and yet another Rood blog, enough).

The quest for uncertainty quantification and highly quantified descriptions of uncertainty to assist in decision making is a mistake often made by scientists. In the cohort of clients I work with, the vast majority is simply not prepared to work with highly quantitative descriptions of uncertainty. Even more to the point, when climate uncertainty is placed into context with other sources of uncertainty, the quantification is overkill. There are studies that suggest, for instance Tang and Dessai (2012), that highly quantified descriptions of uncertainty can, on average, reduce the usability of climate information.

All of these factors together lead to at least one robust conclusion, there is no way to communicate uncertainty in a usable way to everyone. Therefore, you need have several strategies for communicating uncertainty, and you need to frame those strategies for different audiences. In the work that I have done with experts in public health, there is always the discussion about how to communicate a risk, for example, heat waves to the public. There is also the discussion of how to communicate information to first responders and to emergency health providers so that they will be on the lookout for heat-related afflictions. I am not aware that there is any discussion to communicate to anyone the numbers from epidemiological statisticians that one type of heat index has some fractional advantage in predicting heat-related afflictions.

An important point is the need to make a special effort to communicate to those who are trained professionals and have a framework in which to interpret and use uncertainty information. In the case of a weather emergency, one imagines that large cities might have such professionals. One of the most interesting responses that I saw in the Northeast blizzard news cycle was one where funding for experts, interpreters, in providing guidance on the use of forecasts had been eliminated. I don’t know the complete knowledge chain from weather forecast to shutting down a city, but this type of expertise is critical at some place in that knowledge chain.

My whole raison d’être these days is training interpreters on how to use climate knowledge in problem solving. Many of the same principles apply in how to use weather forecasts and how to use science-based knowledge in general. The Northeast blizzard news cycle has been and continues to be a real-world example for both climate and weather. The continued snow storms in Boston, for example, are a wonderful example of relentless patterns of weather that demonstrate that weather is not “random.” However, the biggest lessons are on uncertainty, communication and exaggeration for the benefit of telling a story.

I stated, above, that how we use uncertainty is highly personal. I have used climate knowledge and weather uncertainty to choose the location of a house on the Chesapeake Bay as well as to decide whether of not to take a kayak out into a hurricane. In neither case did I feel I was taking on large risk. This weekend, I (over)heard what seemed to be a discussion of two people deciding not to vaccinate their son because they had determined that their son had exceptional natural immunity. A relevant weather-related example of personal choice and, perhaps, the subconscious is the evidence that people take hurricanes named after women less seriously than hurricanes named after men. It made me think of naming winter storms and what Venus or Vesta might suggest compared to Jupiter or Mars. That, of course, led to Nell, Dudley and Snidely.

One thing that I count on from scientific organizations is a dispassionate description of events and uncertainty. Winter storms, especially if we are going to personify them, need a dispassionate, standard scale to describe them. The weather service has several scales that are effective for hurricanes, tornadoes and storms at sea. Winter storms offer a difficult detail, namely, the rain-ice-snow line, whose boundaries are tricky and important. Climate change offers the additional difficulty that characteristics of storms are changing and expected to change more. Therefore, placing storms within recent and historic context seems like a potentially usable piece of information. We need qualifiers, not number-heavy quantifiers. We don’t need to explain numerical dispersion errors in models to the masses. We don’t need to break down all of the pieces – to speak loudly and more slowly.

From the point of view of the climate scientist and the roles that climate change plays in a particular storm – it is always true that public communication is walking into a maelstrom where people have many agendas of how they want to use uncertainty – to make something happen or to keep something from happening. I have had colleagues tell me that there is an imperative to participate in ever loudening ways to convey the knowledge of climate change. This does not appeal or seem effective to me. Those conversations of deliberate disruption and doubt need to be identified for what they are and left in their stewing pool. We need to persistently differentiate the important aspects of climate change, isolate the deliberate disruption, and more effectively expose that which is important about climate change in the many conversations that are emerging.

r


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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SPECTACULAR SWEDISH LIGHT SHOW
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 8. JohnLonergan:

Missing Arctic warming does contribute to the hiatus, but it is only one piece in the puzzle.

A new paper from scientists at the Danish Meteorological institute investigates the geographical distribution of warming over the period of the recent slowdown. Interestingly they fail to find any significant contribution from the omission of the rapidly warming Arctic from some temperature datasets. This is surprising, given that the DMI's own data, as well as the AVHRR satellite data, the major weather model reanalyses and land based weather stations all show rapid Arctic warming at a rate which should affect global trends.

We have reproduced their work and established the reasons for their result. Gleisner and colleagues fail to find the impact of Arctic warming for three reasons: where they are looking for it, how they are looking for it, and when they are looking for it. We will consider each of these questions in turn.

First: A sanity check
First let's do a very simple sanity check to see if missing out the Arctic should have a noticeable effect on Arctic temperature trends.

HadCRUT4 had on average 64% coverage for the region north of 60N for our original study period of 1997-2012. This region corresponds to about 6.7% of the planet's surface. Therefore the missing region corresponds to about 2.5% of the planet. Eighty percent of the missing region is north of 70N where coverage is very incomplete.

The rate of Arctic warming in the MERRA for region north of 70N, where most of the missing coverage occurs, is 1.3C/decade. The ERA-interim reanalysis shows a higher rate of 1.7C/decade. (Check it yourself)

The trend for the rest of the world is much smaller. Therefore, the missing region in the Arctic alone should increase the global trend by roughly 0.03 to 0.04C/decade. The trend in HadCRUT4 over that period is about 0.05C/decade. So inclusion of the Arctic alone might be expected to increase the global trend by 60-80%, as illustrated in Figure 1. Gleisner et al provide no explanation for the apparent contradiction between their results and the weather models.



Figure 1: Global impact of Arctic warming estimated from reanalyses. The JRA-55 analysis (not shown) shows good agreement with ERA-interim.

Read more...


Not to mention that UAH only measures from 85S to 85N the rest is interpolated, and the RSS 82.5S to 82.5N. C&W's kriging is clearly the most accurate method at the moment.
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And on the upstream of this they are moving the Iditarod, why ? The trail is rocks.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Sorry . 2 posts
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
I would remind everyone Dr. Jennifer Francis is right. This deep loop in the jet stream has been in place for weeks .
It has been stuck for weeks, And it is exactly what she forecast.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Missing Arctic warming does contribute to the hiatus, but it is only one piece in the puzzle.

A new paper from scientists at the Danish Meteorological institute investigates the geographical distribution of warming over the period of the recent slowdown. Interestingly they fail to find any significant contribution from the omission of the rapidly warming Arctic from some temperature datasets. This is surprising, given that the DMI's own data, as well as the AVHRR satellite data, the major weather model reanalyses and land based weather stations all show rapid Arctic warming at a rate which should affect global trends.

We have reproduced their work and established the reasons for their result. Gleisner and colleagues fail to find the impact of Arctic warming for three reasons: where they are looking for it, how they are looking for it, and when they are looking for it. We will consider each of these questions in turn.

First: A sanity check
First let's do a very simple sanity check to see if missing out the Arctic should have a noticeable effect on Arctic temperature trends.

HadCRUT4 had on average 64% coverage for the region north of 60°N for our original study period of 1997-2012. This region corresponds to about 6.7% of the planet's surface. Therefore the missing region corresponds to about 2.5% of the planet. Eighty percent of the missing region is north of 70°N where coverage is very incomplete.

The rate of Arctic warming in the MERRA for region north of 70°N, where most of the missing coverage occurs, is 1.3°C/decade. The ERA-interim reanalysis shows a higher rate of 1.7°C/decade. (Check it yourself)

The trend for the rest of the world is much smaller. Therefore, the missing region in the Arctic alone should increase the global trend by roughly 0.03 to 0.04°C/decade. The trend in HadCRUT4 over that period is about 0.05°C/decade. So inclusion of the Arctic alone might be expected to increase the global trend by 60-80%, as illustrated in Figure 1. Gleisner et al provide no explanation for the apparent contradiction between their results and the weather models.



Figure 1: Global impact of Arctic warming estimated from reanalyses. The JRA-55 analysis (not shown) shows good agreement with ERA-interim.

Read more...
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
“Momenta” Exposes Next Big Climate Concern – Bigger than Keystone XL

Burning Powder River Basin coal deposits would result in cataclysmic and irreversible impacts on global climate change.

Pacific Palisades, CA – As a much hoped for Presidential veto of the Keystone XL is on the horizon, coal mining in the Powder River Basin may be the next big issue for environmental activists to tackle.

“Momenta” is a documentary which exposes the strip mining operations in the Powder River Basin, how there are plans to increase production and how a more sustainable path is possible.

Located right along the border between Montana and Wyoming, and described as a greater threat to the climate than keystone XL, the Powder River Basin (PRB), contains the two largest coal mines in the world. According to the Center for American Progress, the PRB currently supplies 40 percent of the nation’s coal and accounts for 13 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Even as the demand for coal in the U.S. is on the decline, the rapidly expanding Asian market is getting the attention of the American coal industry. According to the film, a plan is in place to extract 140 million pounds of coal per year from the Powder River Basin and ship it overseas via deep-water ports in Washington and Oregon.

Each day, over fifty mile-and-a-half-long trains, laden with Powder River coal, will travel from Wyoming and Montana, thundering through hundreds of rural towns to ports in the Pacific Northwest. The near-constant stream of escaping coal dust imposes toxic environmental pollutants and a myriad of health risks in the communities through which the trains travel.

“This is a story that needs to be told, and illustrated to give everyone the scale of the problem,” said POW’s Executive Director, Chris Steinkamp. “Momenta tells the story of a region at the center of the global climate issue – do we maintain the destructive status quo or look forward to the future?”

On a global scale, environmental experts warn that the amount of carbon emissions produced by burning the Powder River coal deposit would result in cataclysmic and irreversible impacts on global climate change.

The documentary features interviews with prominent experts and environmental activists in locations already feeling the effects of the coal trains and who stand to be affected by the increased coal impacts throughout the entire length of the coal train route.

Read more >>

http://momentaproject.com/

https://twitter.com/MomentaProject

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Massive West Virginia Explosion Highlights Problems With Oil Train Regulation

A full day after a still-unknown amount of oil spilled from a 109-car oil train in West Virginia, portions of Kanawha and Fayette counties are still on fire.
The sight is becoming less abnormal. Across the United States and Canada, there’s been a string of fiery accidents involving oil trains. The accidents have involved these same unit trains containing 100-plus cars of light crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale. Just this weekend, a train derailed and spilled Bakken oil in Ontario, Canada. Last year an oil train derailed on a bridge over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, and 13 cars tipped over along the Penobscot River in Maine. Two summers ago, a derailment in Lac Megantic, Canada, killed 47 people.
These accidents have been the product of a 40-fold increase in crude-by-rail shipments since 2008 — an unprecedented jump that has so far seen no concurrent upgrade in federal safety requirements. In the wake of Monday’s disaster in West Virginia, rail safety advocates are drawing attention to what they see as huge problems with the way oil trains are currently regulated.
The most basic problem is that current safety regulations were never meant to handle the enormous loads and speeds at which oil trains are operating today. That’s at least according to Fred Millar, a rail safety consultant who has spent 30 years lobbying for accident prevention around the country.

Read more ...
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Hottest 12 Months On Record Globally Thanks To Warm January, Reports NASA



In January, the planet continued the warming trend that made 2014 the hottest calendar year on record. NASA reports that last month was the second-hottest January on record (after 2007), while the Japan Meteorological Agency ranked it the hottest.
Significantly, there has never been as hot a 12-month period in NASA’s database as the previous 12 months (February 2014–January 2015). This is using a 12-month moving average, so we can “see the march of temperature change over time,” rather than just once every calendar year.
While it has been cold for those of us living in a slice of the eastern and northeastern U.S., the rest of the country and the globe is quite warm, with large parts of North America and Asia experiencing nearly off-the-charts heat. That’s clear in the NASA chart below for January temperatures, whose upper range extends to a whopping 8.1°C (14.6°F) above the 1951-1980 average!


Global temperatures in January vs. 1951-1980 average. Via NASA.

Read more ...
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Audubon's Birds and Climate Change Report


314 Species on the Brink

Shrinking and shifting ranges could imperil nearly half of U.S. birds within this century

Link
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Jury in on climate change, so stop using arguments of convenience and listen to experts

The body of evidence on climate change is not contained in one paper, one set of observations, or by one person, but encompasses thousands of people's ideas and observations.

As a Nobel Prize winner, I travel the world meeting all kinds of people.

Most of the policy, business and political leaders I meet immediately apologise for their lack of knowledge of science.

Except when it comes to climate science. Whenever this subject comes up, it never ceases to amaze me how each person I meet suddenly becomes an expert.


Link
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Still the monied interests are great and will drill, dig and burn every lump and drop of fossil fuel till it is ALL gone.

Finally, the learned will grin.

Then what?



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Quoting RickyRood:
[...] Those conversations of deliberate disruption and doubt need to be identified for what they are and left in their stewing pool. We need to persistently differentiate the important aspects of climate change, isolate the deliberate disruption, and more effectively expose that which is important about climate change to the many conversations that are emerging.


...or re-emerging. The many conversations seem as cyclical as a blizzard news cycle, no?

As usual, thank you for your continued work in communicating the science. A calm, reasoned, and steady voice is more effective than a loud, bellicose one; the former attracting the ears of those who are willing to listen.
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About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.