Study undermines “science is settled” claims

water vapour

Water vapour more significant than CO2?

A study released last year reveals water vapour has an important role in global warming and more research is needed. When water vapour declines it seems to lead to global cooling, preventing overheating.

The story was covered in The Guardian on 29 January, 2010:

Water vapour caused one-third of global warming in 1990s, study reveals

Experts say their research does not undermine the scientific consensus on man-made climate change, but call for ‘closer examination’ of the way computer models consider water vapour.

Scientists have underestimated the role that water vapour plays in determining global temperature changes, according to a new study that could fuel further attacks on the science of climate change.

The research, led by one of the world’s top climate scientists, suggests that almost one-third of the global warming recorded during the 1990s was due to an increase in water vapour in the high atmosphere, not human emissions of greenhouse gases. A subsequent decline in water vapour after 2000 could explain a recent slowdown in global temperature rise, the scientists add.

The experts say their research does not undermine the scientific consensus that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activity drive global warming, but they call for “closer examination” of the way climate computer models consider water vapour…

The new research, led by Susan Solomon, at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who co-chaired the 2007 IPCC report on the science of global warming, is published today in the journal Science, one of the most respected in the world.

Solomon said the new finding does not challenge the conclusion that human activity drives climate change. “Not to my mind it doesn’t,” she said. “It shows that we shouldn’t over-interpret the results from a few years one way or another”…

“What I will say, is that this [new study] shows there are climate scientists round the world who are trying very hard to understand and to explain to people openly and honestly what has happened over the last decade.”

The new study analysed water vapour in the stratosphere, about 10 miles up, where it acts as a potent greenhouse gas and traps heat at the Earth’s surface…

“These findings show that stratospheric water vapour represents an important driver of decadal global surface climate change,” the scientists say. They say it should lead to a “closer examination of the representation of stratospheric water vapour changes in climate models”.

Solomon said it was not clear why the water vapour levels had swung up and down, but suggested it could be down to changes in sea surface temperature, which drives convection currents and can move air around in the high atmosphere.

She said it was not clear if the water vapour decrease after 2000 reflects a natural shift, or if it was a consequence of a warming world. If the latter is true, then more warming could see greater decreases in water vapour, acting as a negative feedback to apply the brakes on future temperature rise.

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18 Thoughts on “Study undermines “science is settled” claims

  1. val majkus on 06/05/2011 at 12:07 am said:

    I received this tip from John O’Sullivan today:

    Dr. Tim Ball has published a devastating debunk of the IPCC exposing how they reject irradiance as a cause of temperature change since 1950 plus clouds, albedo, sunspots, etc.

  2. John on 06/05/2011 at 4:58 am said:

    Check out this global warming protest song

  3. Australis on 06/05/2011 at 8:17 am said:

    Susan Solomon’s ranking in the world of climate alarm seems to exceed those of even Phil Jones and Jim Hansen. As co-chair of IPCC Science, and top researcher at NOAA, she qualifies as “the world’s most senior spokesperson on CAGW”. Especially when speaking as lead author of multi-disciplinary research described in a peer-reviewed paper published in “Science”.

    The research found that: “almost one-third of the global warming recorded during the 1990s was due to an increase in water vapour in the high atmosphere, not human emissions of greenhouse gases”.

    It isn’t yet known what drives the changes in stratospheric H2O:

    If driven by global warming, then it is a massive negative feedback which destroys the assumption the IPCC models that net feedbacks are positive. In turn, that demolishes the IPCC future projections and the entire CAGW hypothesis – and the accompanying policies and industries.

    If driven by unknown “natural shifts”, then future changes are wholly unpredictable. Dr Solomon seems to accept that the post-2000 shift has offset all the effects of AGW this century. Nobody knows when the next shift may occur or whether it will drive temperatures downwards
    or upwards. It all makes the puny efforts of mankind seem a bit trivial.

    Why hasn’t this been the leading climate story of the year?

    • Yes, amazing, isn’t it? The study was released last year, but it should still be leading the news! This quite dissolves “humanity’s greatest challenge“, yet who has heard of it? Environmental organisations, “carbon footprint” consultants, governments and international improvers of the planet appear normal — as though on a real and valid mission. Clearly, even if the revelations from this paper mean something to them, they’re not blinking! I’d like to have more information about this paper and its aftermath. Maybe Real Climate…

  4. val majkus on 06/05/2011 at 2:05 pm said:

    John thanks for that link; great, loved the baby’s face at the end;

  5. The Bilk on 06/05/2011 at 8:53 pm said:

    I can’t relate to this

    • The Ilk on 06/05/2011 at 8:55 pm said:

      But…… said you were – “an active scientist who works in the climate change arena”

    • The Bilk on 06/05/2011 at 9:05 pm said:

      Climate change is real, it’s happening, it’s alarming.and it could be catastrophic.

      We need billions of dollars to relocate millions of climate refugees that we’ve convinced will have their homelands inundated by rapidly rising rising sea levels any day now and if we don’t de-industrialize the entire developed world our grandchildren will be subject to unbearable heat and they will all frizzle up and die.

    • The Ilk on 06/05/2011 at 9:09 pm said:

      It’s cooling………your science is shonkey.

    • Andy on 06/05/2011 at 9:17 pm said:

      Hans von Storch ( via Gosselin) reports a similar dialogue

      On the loss of credibility, climate science itself is to blame. The science has stirred up scientifically unfounded expectations, says von Storch. The demand that the public has to rapidly accept instructions on how to act in order to save the planet has blurred the boundaries between policy and science. As a result, science has not become something that has to do with “curiosity”, but rather gives the impression that it’s all about pushing a pre-conceived value-based agenda: “As scientists we have become political tools who are to deliver sought arguments to get citizens to do the right thing

      HvS seems to be treading a line between the Ilk and the Bilk.

    • The Bilk on 06/05/2011 at 10:41 pm said:

      I can’t relate to this.

      Climate change IS real, it IS happening, it IS alarming, it really COULD be catastrophic AND it causes extreme weather, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes……trust me – I’m a scientist, our modeled projections are unequivocal.

      We need trillions of dollars in punitive taxes from wealthy countries so we can redistribute it to people in poor countries because this is the only way to stop the looming catastrophe.

    • The Ilk on 06/05/2011 at 10:43 pm said:

      Now you’re just making it up……………you’re nuts.

  6. Richard C (NZ) on 08/05/2011 at 9:03 pm said:

    The WV situation needs to be kept front-of-mind at NZ govt climate change HQ and I have not forgotten this challenge in respect to Sir Peter Gluckman:-

    (not so) Silent says:
    April 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    “Why dont you guys team up and draft up a precis and send it to him? Include references etc”

    Okay, the contact page of the Office of the Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Committee is here:-

    Sir Peter is Chief Science Advisor

    Accordingly, I have sent an email an attachment to the PMSAC office addressed to Sir Peter.

    The email:-

    Sir Peter,

    Your role as Chief Science Adviser requires you to be conversant with the latest science relevant to public policy. This approach is in respect to climate science and atmospheric water vapour trends.

    The hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming is wholly reliant on the amplification of water vapour levels by increasing carbon dioxide levels (the positive feedback). Are you aware of recent science showing a declining water vapour trend and that critical global water vapour data has not been released for over a decade?

    I urge you to read the attached brief with reference and links to relevant peer-reviewed papers for a better perspective. What the papers show is that the role of water vapour has been greatly underestimated to the extent that the AGW hypothesis is losing the support of the one key construct that underpins it. The release of global water vapour trends would either validate or invalidate the hypothesis. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the significance of this.

    There is also an issue in the fact that in the overlapping spectrum CO2 reduces the emissivity of H2O: This decline in the emissivity of H2O in the presence of CO2 means the dependency of AGW on climate sensitivity from positive feedback from H2O is severely restrained and must be problematic. I have not provided any further information or references on that issue at this stage but could do so if required.


    Richard Cumming

    • Richard C (NZ) on 08/05/2011 at 9:10 pm said:

      The attachment
      To Sir Peter Gluckman,

      The theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming relies entirely on the notion that increases in the minor greenhouse gas CO2 result in increases of the major greenhouse gas water vapor, thereby supposedly increasing global warming to alarming levels of 2-5C per doubling of CO2 levels. Without this assumed and unproven positive feedback from water vapor, there is no basis for alarm.

      The IPCC states in their 2007 report:-

      “The average atmospheric water vapour content has increased since at least the 1980s over land and ocean as well as in the upper troposphere. The increase is broadly consistent with the extra water vapour that warmer air can hold.”

      The 2005 paper “Water vapor trends and variability from the global NVAP dataset” by Thomas. H. Vonder Haar, John M. Forsythe, Johnny Luo, David L. Randel and Shannon Woo based on the NASA water vapor data set [called NVAP] showed that water vapor levels had instead declined (with 95% confidence) between 1988-1999. The paper states,

      “By examining the 12 year record [1988-1999], a decrease of TPW [total precipitable water vapor] at a rate of -0.29 mm / decade is observed. This relationship is significant at the 95 % but not at the 99 % level. A downward trend would be intriguing since there should be a positive slope if a global warming signal was present.”

      While most NASA data is made available on the internet within a few months of collection and analysis, for some reason NASA NVAP water vapor data -which could either support or undermine the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming- is not going to be officially released for up to 12 years since collection. Dr Roger A. Pielke Sr.(Senior Research Scientist, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), University of Colorado in Boulder Professor Emeritus of the Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins) asks:-

      “Since this is such a fundamental climate metric to compare with the IPCC multi-decadal global model predictions (which project a continued increase in tropospheric water vapor), the achievement of an updated (through 2010) accurate analysis of the NVAP data should be of the highest climate science priority.”

      Should not also, the NZ government via the Office of Climate Change be pursuing this data as the most important (and only) action that the office undertakes because it is the one metric that either supports or disproves the CAGW hypothesis?

      If a downward trend in total precipitable water vapour (TPW) has continued since 1999, no further action needs to be taken in respect to man-made climate change as a result of fossil fuel emissions and the ETS can be repealed.

      Richard Cumming


      Water vapor trends and variability from the global NVAP dataset. Vonder Haar et al, 2005,5

      Contributions of Stratospheric Water Vapor to Decadal Changes in the Rate of Global Warming. Solomon et al, 2010

      Trends in middle- and upper-level tropospheric humidity from NCEP reanalysis data. Paltridge et al, 2009

      Three-dimensional tropospheric water vapor in coupled climate models compared with observations from the AIRS satellite system. Pierce et al, 2006

      I will place abstracts and links under “Open Threads” “Water Vapour” when I get time.

    • Andy on 08/05/2011 at 9:50 pm said:

      I would suggest that questions of science may be a bit lost on Prof G. He seems quite keen on Roger Pielke jr in his latest paper (several references to “The Honest Broker”)

      Maybe some choice quotes from “The Climate Fix”, a more recent publication from the same author, might help the cause.

      Even though RP Jnr bases his policy on “consensus” science, his solutions are very much grounded in reality.

      It is my intention to write to Prof G on these matters…

    • Richard C (NZ) on 09/05/2011 at 8:09 pm said:

      Response from PMSAC

      Dear Richard

      Many thanks for your email which I have forwarded to Sir Peter for his information.



    • Science questions might be lost on Sir Peter, but he knows where to get advice on them and should make some kind of response, so well done, Richard! Something will come of this. Please keep us informed.

  7. Richard C (NZ) on 09/05/2011 at 8:56 pm said:

    Why is Water Vapour, the Most Important Greenhouse Gas, Ignored?

    by Dr. Tim Ball on May 4, 2011


    A Positive Feedback That Is Actually Negative

    There’s a problem even if you accept the assumption an increase in CO2 will cause a temperature increase. The atmosphere is almost saturated with respect to CO2′s capacity to delay heat escape. A good analogy is the objective of blocking light coming through a window. A single coat of paint will block almost all the light, and is like the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Second and third coats block very little more light, just as doubling or tripling CO2 will cause very little temperature increase. This created a dilemma for the theory that a human increase in CO2 would create significant warming.

    It was supposedly resolved by claiming an increase in CO2 causes a temperature increase that causes increased evaporation putting more water vapor in the atmosphere. Now the most important greenhouse gas they essentially ignored received attention. Temperature increases projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) depend totally on increased water vapor. It is known as a positive feedback and is at the center of the debate of climate sensitivity. Evidence shows the positive feedback is wrong and climate sensitivity is overestimated.


    Reality Provides the Ugly Fact

    All computer models have the positive feedback mechanism built in, so warming predictions are no surprise. The problem is that the real world is not cooperating. Richard Lindzen demonstrated this clearly at the Third International Conference on Climate Change (June 2009). He presented this diagram that compared model predictions with real world data (top left graph):
    Bottom right plot is NIWA’s UKMO model

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