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September 11, 2018

A Day That Will Live

Reading two books on gravety wave detection (and having dinner with one of the Nobel prize winners) recalled for me the always recuring problem of detecting signals in noise; i.e. when the signal to noise ratio is low.

This in turn brought back many readings of experiments and theorizing in the early days of climate change research, and it struck me that the plethora of arguments was primarily a signal to noise problem.

I am not sure when the first signs of warming occured that might be attributable to carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. However, at that time the effect was likely small and often swamped by other phenomena such as sun spots or "natural variations."

What is most perplexing to me is the strong resistance from some quarters to the very idea that man could upset the atmosphere. I just read parts of the testimony of James Imhofe lashing violently against many arguments that there is man-made climate change. His work was during the same time frame as James Hansen and his testimony to congress.

The first aspect to recognize is that climate change seems to be utterly different, and yet it is not.

The first detection of a gravity way was a stunning coincidence: a gigantic gravety even with a day of the detectors being turned on. Two black holes racing around each other, one about 24 solar masses and the other about revolving at about 36,000 rpm and coming closer and closer until they finaly merged. The signal was so clear on both LIGO detectors that there was no possibility of a fluke. Yet the scientists spent 4 months analyzing the data while write the paper to announce the discovery, and to be sure the signal really was not noise.

Subsequent signals were not so easy.

In global warming there is both signal and noise and depending on your predisposition you may whose one o the other,whje

Detecting, in the early days, when the warmth has a relative small effect there could be many arguentwwuiei The analogy given about gravity waves is that it was like detecting a distance of one ten-thousandth of a drop of water relative to a square mile of a lake in Scotland. However, the first signal lasted about 0.2 seconds and was replicated at a second site. The measurement was staggering as well as the discovery.

In climate change I think it is easy to forget that up until now much of the signal (if not all of it) was lost in the noise. However, as the temperature of the atmosphere started to increase to a good fraction of a degree, the weather events of the world started to change also. I remember a researcher returing to Greenland one year after planting instruments and being totally astonished at the degree of warming.

Today the images in the slide show included here can be terrifying and yet are a fraction of what it must have been like while housing and business were reduced to matchsticks. And now, in this present perfect storm of negligance and irrationality. There simply is not a means to avoid going over the falls. How steep and rocky the ride is depends on how good a job we can do before we hear the rumble of the falls.

That job is going to depend on leadership, speed, the best scientists and engineers, a great deal of money and luck. For there is no possibility of success without extrordinary negative emissions capabiligty.

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