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Neptune’s inconvenient truth

Posted by Richard on May 14, 2007

We've known since at least 2005 that Mars has been warming rapidly — much more rapidly than Earth. Anthropogenic climate change skeptics like Russian astronomer Habibull Abdussamatov have argued that the warming on both planets can be explained by solar radiation changes.

Defenders of the "scientific consensus" replied that Martian warming is due to wobbles in its orbit, not solar changes, and is irrelevant to the issue of the Earth warming. Meanwhile, Jupiter and Saturn have also shown evidence of warming, and evidence of warming on Triton and Pluto has existed for years.

Now, scientists have added Neptune to the list, and with a pretty strong correlation to what's happening on Earth:

Neptune is the planet farthest from the Sun (Pluto is now considered only a dwarf planet), Neptune is the planet farthest from the Earth, and to our knowledge, there has been absolutely no industrialization out at Neptune in recent centuries. There has been no recent build-up of greenhouse gases there, no deforestation, no rapid urbanization, no increase in contrails from jet airplanes, and no increase in ozone in the low atmosphere; recent changes at Neptune could never be blamed on any human influence. Incredibly, an article has appeared in a recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters showing a stunning relationship between the solar output, Neptune's brightness, and heaven forbid, the temperature of the Earth. With its obvious implications to the greenhouse debate, we are certain you have never heard of the work and never will outside World Climate Report.

According to H.B. Hammel of Boulder's Space Science Institute and G.W. Lockwood of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, increased solar irradiation correlates 0.90 with Neptune's brightness increase and 0.89 with Earth's temperature rise.

So we know that solar energy output has increased for much of the 20th century (leveling off at the end of the century, just about when Earth's warming began leveling off), and we have evidence of warming on many other bodies in the solar system, and we have at least one model that closely correlates solar output with warming of two planets. But, hey, nobody cares because they've already arrived at a consensus — at least all the scientists who want to keep getting those nice grants have.

I haven't seen any information about Mercury's temperature, and I'm hesitant to bring up the evidence of warming on Venus. Some very smart people think Venus is an example of the "runaway greenhouse effect" that may be in our future if we ignore Al Gore. Never mind that the atmosphere of Venus is 96.5% carbon dioxide (the evil greenhouse gas), while Earth's CO2 level has risen from 0.028% to — gasp! — 0.036% (and that's a tenth of what it was a few hundred million years ago).

Gosh, practically every sizable body in the solar system seems to be getting warmer. I only have one more question, but I'm reluctant to ask it because this isn't that kind of blog.

Oh, what the heck…

Is Uranus getting hot?

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10 Responses to “Neptune’s inconvenient truth”

  1. Delta Blues said

    Apparently there are far too many Klingons surrounding Uranus to make a proper internal examination. Apparently a vast majority of global warming proponents volunteer their anuses for inspection on a regular basis though. Research continues, mostly from San Francisco.

  2. Fred Bortz said

    I have written a biography of one of the authors (H. B. Hammel) and I continue to follow her work. (See http://www.fredbortz.com/HammelBio for more about her and her work.)

    My take is this:

    Let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly here. The authors present this as an interesting result but point out that any solar effect on Earth’s climate is much smaller than anthropogenic factors.

    There’s also another explanation for the warming on Mars that has nothing to do with changes in the Sun but rather with changes in the distribution of Martian dust.

    I have blogged about both planets recently. See http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/blog/2040

  3. rgcombs said

    Delta, I was tempted to ”’flush”’ your comment. πŸ˜‰

    Fred, thanks for the link and for dropping by. I’m entirely in favor of not jumping to conclusiions. For instance, conclusions about what’s causing the Earth’s warming and how long it might continue. Conclusions about when the next significant natural cooling event might begin and whether we should be trying to counteract it instead of hasten it.

    You’re right — there is an alternative explanation for Martian warming. In fact, I believe alternative (non-solar) explanations have been offered for most, if not all, of the bodies believed to be warming.

    Which brings me to William of Ockham (or Occam, if you prefer). Would he want me to embrace six or eight separate, distinct, and reasonably complex explanations for why every sizable body in the solar system is warming, or would he prefer that I look at the one factor that might rather simply explain the warming of them all?

    I’ve found that, all other things being equal, it’s best to heed [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ockham%27s_Razor William of Ockham’s advice].

  4. No Oil for Pacifists said

    In addition to Occam’s Razor, I recommend assessing climate change with [http://www.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg200504290800.asp “(Jonah) Goldberg’s Gambit”]: “Don’t just do something! Stand there.”

  5. rgcombs said

    ””Don’t just do something! Stand there.””

    I’m a great proponent of the virtue of laziness (much of human progress is owed to laziness), and I’ve been using that phrase for at least 35 years.

    It’s especially appropriate in a situation such as this, where “doing something” may have long-term consequences that we can’t predict. A hundred years from now, as the ice sheets begin edging southward, people living north of the Mason-Dixon line may wish we’d cranked out more carbon dioxide.

  6. Fred Bortz said

    I would argue that Occam’s razor cuts another way. In this case, when numerous, extremely credible climate models using credible data have considered the many factors affecting Earth’s recent warming spell, and all of them say that the dominant one by far is anthropogenic CO2, then why claim that previously undetected solar effects are more dominant? In other words, when you hear hoof beats in horse country, don’t expect zebras.

    The message from Neptune is very tentative at this point, and the paper’s authors recognize that any solar effect that is involved would pale in comparison to anthropogenic effects on Earth.

    Likewise, one very credible explanation of the recent warming on Mars does not require any solar effect at all. Meanwhile, no one is suggesting another model of solar effects on Mars other than the variation in total insolation, which might be related to changes in Martian winds but is too small to cause Earth’s warming.

    I think people who claim that the news from Neptune and Mars support arguments against anthropogenic global warming are hearing hoof beats and expecting unicorns.

  7. rgcombs said

    ”numerous, extremely credible climate models”

    Credible is in the eye of the beholder. And models are only as good as the assumptions on which they’re based. These models all agree because their creators have the same point of view, and their assumptions reflect that.

    In other words, the model-makers are ”defining” this as “strictly horse country,” but I see evidence of other hooved animals. πŸ™‚

    Mind you, Fred, I’m open to the possibility that they’re right. Are you open to the possibility that they’re wrong?

    And what if another ice age is just around the corner? In that case, we should hope the models are right and then ”’increase”’ our CO2 production to ameliorate it.

    For now, I think “Don’t just do something! Stand there.” is good advice. And I’m surprised that we aren’t hearing it from all the fans of the Precautionary Principle. πŸ˜‰

  8. Fred Bortz said

    Nice to be having a slow motion, civil argument.

    Your comment about the models’ credibility gets to the heart of a lot of our disagreement. I have read and reviewed Chris Mooney’s new book, “Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming,” for a few major metro newspapers and have created a web page for it where that review will appear after it is printed. (http://www.scienceshelf.com/StormWorld.htm) Meanwhile, that URL will get you the publicist’s comments about the book.

    One very striking point that Mooney makes is the long history of arguments between empiricists, who focus on the data and seek patterns, and modelers/theoreticians, who look for the underlying causes of the patterns. The empiricists always put very little stock in the models, while the modelers sometimes put too much stock in them.

    This has, in the past, produced a very useful creative tension in science. The present politicized atmosphere is producing tension without much creativity, since it has been getting more personal than scientific, an effect that is magnified by enormous media attention.

    To answer your question, I am always open to new findings about the models, but for now, I find them quite credible.

    As Mooney’s book points out, the models that relate hurricane formation to warmer seas are not yet mature enough to bring about a consensus. The results are interesting and the scientific process involving them is fascinating to observe.

    As for the precautionary principle, that’s the source of my call for action here. We can’t afford to wait to see if the worst-case scenarios happen, especially when there are economically viable alternatives and opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop beneficial new technologies.

    In other words, inaction is much riskier than action.

    Of course, you disagree. Stop by my blog at http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/blog/fred_bortz to see my latest posting about an improperly chosen “poster child” for people who share my views on the need to act. You’ll find it intriguing.

  9. rgcombs said

    Fred, civil arguments are a wonderful thing. Slow-motion maybe not so much, but so it goes. Glad to see you’re warning climate change true believers to back off on Kilimanjaro. IIRC, its glaciers have been receding since at least 1890.

    I’ll try to remember to check out your review of the Mooney book later when it’s available (great bow tie, BTW!). Your remarks about it and modeling suggest that Colorado State’s William Gray, the pre-eminent hurricane forecaster and modeling skeptic, may come up. πŸ™‚

    Speaking of hurricanes, wasn’t there a study recently showing an inverse correlation between Florida hurricanes and ocean temperature? And I vaguely recall someone arguing that cooler ocean temperatures, not warmer ones, lead to more powerful hurricanes.

    Anyway, I mentioned the precautionary principle merely to tweak you with tongue in cheek. I think it’s an abomination which, if applied as advocated by its radical proponents, would stop virtually all scientific and technological progress.

    What I should have mentioned, in the context of the wonderful “Goldberg’s Gambit,” is Hippocrates: “First, do no harm.” As I said, I’m open to the possibility that human activity is warming the planet — but I’m not persuaded that, if it’s happening, it’s a bad thing. I know, the obvious counter-argument is that we’ve already done harm and just need to undo it. But are you certain?

    What if an ice age really is imminent? What if we’d be much better off, despite the adjustments required, if Earth had a higher CO2 level and thus much more vegetation?

    And how the heck do we know what the ideal, perfect global temperature that we want to remain at forever is? On what basis do you conclude that the global climate 100 years ago was “better” than the climate today or the one projected (with quite a bit of uncertainty) for 100 years from now?

    Even if humans are warming the planet, why is that automatically assumed to be bad? Aren’t you just, deep down, prejudiced against any change introduced by humans — just as some people despise all human dams, but consider beaver dams completely natural and just peachy?

  10. Fred Bortz said

    Indeed, R. G., we have had an interesting discussion. It’s probably gone as far as is useful, so let me respond specific responses to your last message and sign off. Perhaps some of your readers will visit my blog or web sites to see how my approach plays out.

    Yes, the review of Storm World will mention Dr. Gray. The book talks about him a lot.

    Mooney’s description about the long history of contention between empiricists like Gray and modelers like Kerry Emmanuel is quite intriguing. You, like Gray, apparently don’t put much stock in models. I argue that models have to prove themselves, but as they gain credibility, they offer good predictive tools. The models that have proven themselves to be robust (albeit in post-diction and short term prediction, since that’s all we have to judge them on to date) are predicting consequences too ominous to ignore.

    Anyway, my review will be posted sometime on Sunday, June 24, at the following URL:

    http://www.scienceshelf.com/StormWorld.htm

    A shorter version, which does not specifically mention Gray, will be published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

    A couple of other points, where you show you really “get” where I’m coming from (thank you):

    My contention is indeed that we should “First, do no harm.” In this case, our actions, which for a long time seemed to be producing great benefit at little cost to the environment, are turning out to be more harmful than we thought. That means we need to consider other actions that are less harmful. Choosing appropriate actions is not a scientific debate but a political one. The policy makers need to consider the scientific consensus (as well as its considerable error bars in some areas, such as the impact of “dynamic” polar melting which is not included in the current IPCC sea level prediction), evaluate the scenarios, and develop solutions that do the least harm and produce the greatest benefit.

    My argument is, as I’m sure you appreciate, that we can’t delay the political debate any longer while we wait to see which scenarios are right. The cost of inaction appears to be very large indeed.

    As for Kilimanjaro, my blog posting warms both sides about using it as a poster child.

    See http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/kilimanjaro-poster-child-13432.html

    I think it is unfortunate that some people who take my position about the need to act choose the most “romantic” glacier to focus on, even if it is probably receding for reasons other than global warming. But that doesn’t negate the receding glaciers outside of the tropics, where global warming appears to be a major factor.

    People on both sides who view this as a political game with winners and losers may point with glee at Kilimanjaro. People who view this as a potential problem for all inhabitants of a planet in flux look at the rest of the glaciers with concern.

    Which group of people are you in? I’m in the latter, as I’m sure you know.

    E-mail me if you want me to respond further.

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