Knorr Soup

Uh-oh. It looks like severely misinterpreting what the Knorr result is about is going to spread. People now have a misleading headline to point to, which fits in with some random crackpottery that has been around for some time claiming that atmospheric CO2 isn’t rising at all for some magical mystical reason. (Gavin at RC is also covering this story.)

Compare the headline with the lede:


For those of you new to the story, what Knorr actually investigates is whether the ratio of carbon buildup rate in the atmosphere to carbon emissions rate has changed over time. The idea that the buildup rate is actually zero is easy to glean from the headline, but the cited research shows nothing of the sort.

Here is how Science Daily wants you to reference it:
Note the very large change in meaning between the two titles, a change that might not be obvious to the general public.

My delicious.com “climate” feed has this about twenty times this morning. I hope Knorr will respond to this quickly, but the early indications are that he’ll just stay in the ivory tower, a strategy of which apparently RP Jr. heartily approves.

It’s very interesting in the light of Ken Green’s comment yesterday that:

Or, if you think the recent study showing that the CO2 fraction in the atmosphere hasn’t changed since 1850 might be correct, that’s all you need [to support inaction on carbon accumulation].

The date of the Science Daily report was also yesterday; the matching misleading summaries might just possibly show Dr Green on top of the pop literature faster than the rest of the whole internet, but might also indicate a common source.

Knappenberger’s first response is salutary:

Not sure how this ammunition for “deniers”–CO2 from anthropogenic activities is still building up in the atmosphere at an increasing rate. Although certainly Knorr’s results should give “alarmists” pause.

So will Morano spread the confusion? Or will he manage to be as responsible as Knappenberger? Taking bets now; it’s not up on his site yet to my knowledge.


Update: This from November 10 has expired from “www.originalbristol.com” but is still available in a Google cache. For posterity:

A Bristol University scientist claims he knows why climate change is not happening as quickly as some predictions.

Dr Wolfgang Knorr has found that natural ‘sinks’ like oceans and forests have absorbed the same percentage of CO2, despite man-made emissions shooting up to 35bn tonnes a year.

His research suggests the earth may be able to absorb more carbon than previously thought, and may explain why climate change is happening more slowly than in some predictions.

He says his research is “good news” for the current Copenhagen climate talks, but warns they must still produce an agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

And Dr Knorr denies his research backs up people who deny the reality of climate change. He told Original 106.5: “That would be a very superficial interpretation of these results. Half of the CO2 we emit stays in the atmosphere and that’s enough to cause global warming.

“Also, this research is only based on the past. We are pushing the system to its limits and it might break at some stage, as the model suggests. But it hasn’t happened yet. I would not experiment with the climate system.”

However, he does believe his findings offer hope for the current Copenhagen climate talks, in which world nations are seekign an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

He said: “It’s good news because some suggestions that these things have already declined may have been false alarms. It is not as dire as we think.

“That makes it slightly easier to stabilise the CO2 and the climate, so that’s good news for the negotiations because it’s tough enough to impose the necessary limits on CO2 emissions.”

But he is adamant the talks must agree to a cap on carbon, and believes climate change sceptics will find little use for his research.

He said: “We have had a lot of research that could be interpreted that way [as supporting climate change denial]. I believe science has to be open and fair and we should not hide any of the results.

“Climate critics will always find something, no matter what the results are.It’s not an indication not to do anything and you can always misinterpret results. But I think that kind of misinformation dies out quickly, I don’t see a problem.”

While the cache is available there is a Flash-based audio widget there which still links to the original radio interview, but the above summarizes the audio well enough.


Update: Science Daily is off the hook for the terrible headline! Anna Haynes (thanks!) traces it back to (are you sitting down) an AGU press release!

Emphasis added below, by the way. Nothing supporting the emphasized text appears in the original abstract or article. Is there any justification at all for the assertion highlighted in the text?

14. No rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide fraction in past 160 years

Most of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activity does not remain in the atmosphere, but is instead absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems. In fact, only about 45 percent of emitted carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere. However, some studies have suggested that the ability of oceans and plants to absorb carbon dioxide recently may have begun to decline and that the airborne fraction of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions is therefore beginning to increase. Many climate models also assume that the airborne fraction will increase. Because understanding of the airborne fraction of carbon dioxide is important for predicting future climate change, it is essential to have accurate knowledge of whether that fraction is changing or will change as emissions increase. To assess whether the airborne fraction is indeed increasing, Knorr reanalyzes available atmospheric carbon dioxide and emissions data since 1850 and considers the uncertainties in the data. In contradiction to some recent studies, he finds that the airborne fraction of carbon dioxide has not increased either during the past 150 years or during the most recent five decades.

Title: Is the airborne fraction of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions increasing?

Authors: Wolfgang Knorr: Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

Source: Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) paper 10.1029/2009GL040613, 2009
http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2009GL040613

Is it too much to expect AGU to do a competent job of promoting its own results?


Update 1/3: Science Daily has fixed the headline. Echoing Gavin, “good for them!”


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