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Rahmstorf (2011): Robust or Just Busted (Part 5): Why a paper about “robustness”

September 29, 2012

This is part 5 of a multi-part series about “Testing the robustness of semi-empirical sea level projections,” Rahmstorf, et. al., Climate Dynamics, 2011. You can see an index of all parts here. I frequently refer to this paper as R2011.

I will refer to Stefan Rahmstorf’s ”Testing the robustness of semi-empirical sea level projections” as R2011 [1].

What does R2011 mean by “robust?”

What does Rahmstorf mean when he says his model linking sea level to temperature is “robust?”  Simply this: when the inputs that he deems acceptable are inserted into his model, he gets the results he likes.

How does he decide which inputs are acceptable?  Easy – if they yield the results he likes, then they are acceptable.  It is a very simple and efficient system of logic!

Why a paper about “robustness?”

Rahmstorf and his associates have a pressing need to defend their sea level rise projections.  I have presented a host of reasons why his model is bogus.  One of the most embarrassing is that one of his fit parameters, that he expected to be positive, is in fact negative for every combination of input tried.  This leads to all kinds of bizarre results (see here, here and here , for example).  The other is that his sea level projections dropped dramatically when his preferred source of 20th century historical input data updated their data set.

This “robustness” paper (R2011) is a stumbling attempt to dismiss the revised sea level data from the source that he had previously enthusiastically used.

A quick recap

Rahmstorf’s model, which I will refer to as the VR2009[2] model, attempts to relate global sea level rise to global temperature through the following formula…

where H is sea level and T is temperature.  Insert historical data for H and T,  and solve to a, b, and To.  Then insert projected temperatures for the 21st century and calculate projected sea level rises for the 21st century.  The VR2009 model and approach have an amazing number of problems and the list just keeps getting longer.  There is a whole family of realistic temperature scenarios for the 21st century that cause this model to yield ridiculous results (see here).  The root of most of these problems comes from the fact that every set of historical sea level inputs and temperatures that Rahmstorf and associates have tried result in a negative b.  That includes every set of input data considered in R2011 (see figure 1, below).

Model inputs and projections in R2011

(click to enlarge) …

FIGURE 1. R2011′s projections of 21st century sea level rise and baseline temperatures under the RCP45 emissions senario (Moss, 2010)[3] for various temperature and sea level input data sets.

I have circled the results R2011 likes.  As you can see, nothing involving the Church’s and White’s 2011 sea level data (CW11)[4] meets R2011′s  quality standard.  R2011 has determined that Church’s and  White’s 2006 sea level data (CW06)[5] is better than Church’s and White’s 2011 data, despite the fact that Church and White obviously think their updated 2011 data is better.

It comes down to To

Why does R2011 think the 2006 sea level data is better than the improved 2011 sea level data?  Well, I have already explained that – the 2006 Church and White sea level data gives the results that R2011 wants – higher sea level rise projections for the 21st century!

But they can’t really say that.  Instead they say that the 2011 Church and White data leads to a baseline temperature, To, that they insist is too low.  To is the steady-state temperature deviation from the 1950-1980 average temperature at which Rahmstorf’s model says the sea level would be unchanging.

Look at the right side of figure 1.  It shows the baseline temperature that R2011 derived with the various sets of input data.  The values of To that meet with R2011′s approval average out to about -0.43 degrees.  But those based on CW11 average out to about -0.62 degrees C.  A difference of less than two tenths of a degree.

If you were to ask the authors of R2011 what other evidence do they have that To must be about -0.43 degrees, they will refer you to “Climate related sea-level variations over the past two millennia[6],” which used evidence from two salt marshes in North Carolina to corroborate this global value.  And they have great confidence in this independent confirmation (because two out of three of the R2011 authors were also authors on this paper).  Hmmm.

I will have more to say about R2011′s preference for To in a later post.

A few input combinations that R2011 did not show you

R2011 implies that it has tried some vast universe of input sea level and temperature data combinations in their model. They say “We then compare projections of all these different model versions (over 30)…”  Wow! Count them – over 30!

But there are many more possible combinations than that.  R2011 has picked a few cherries from a very prolific tree.

In figures 2 and 3, below, I have run several temperature and sea level input data sets in my implementation of Rahmstorf’s model.  In some cases my input combinations are the same as some found in figure 1.  In some cases they are different.  I have arranged the input combinations in chronological order, with older versions of input data on the bottom.  Notice a trend?  Figure 2 and figure 3 give projections based on the RCP45  and RCP85 emission scenarios, respectively.

FIGURE 2. Sea level rise projections for the 21st century based on my implementation of Rahmstorf’s model under the RCP45 emissions scenario (Moss, 2010) for various temperature and sea level input data sets.
FIGURE 3. Sea level rise projections for the 21st century based on my implementation of Rahmstorf’s model under the RCP85 emissions scenario (Moss, 2010) for various temperature and sea level input data sets.

As you can see, newer sea level data (whether it is actually sea level (CW06 vs CH11, or reservoir storage (RS) or ground water depletion (GWD)  modifiers) tends to lead to lower 21st century projections when inserted into Rahmstorf’s model.

Which projection do I endorse? None of them.  Make no mistake – the Rahmstorf model is bogus, no matter what the inputs are.  I am just playing games with it.  The Rahmstorf model is an illusion that hooks you with a simple truth: It is a pretty good bet that higher temperatures lead to higher sea levels.  But the Rahmstorf model is not much better than a Ouija board for quantifying how much.

There is much to be said about the results in figures 2 and 3.  The 48 files below give the long story that is summarized in figures 2 and 3.

Much more to come in later posts

Sea level data: Church and White 2006
Reservoir storage: Chao 2oo8
Ground water depletion: none
Result files…
Summary: vr-summary-120923-091214.doc
Inputs: vr-input-image-120923-091214.png
Fit: vr-fit-image-120923-091214.png
Projections: vr-projections-image-120923-091214.png

Sea level data: Church and White 2006
Reservoir storage: Chao 2oo8
Ground water depletion: Wada 2010 extrapolated to 1880
Result files…
Summary: vr-summary-120923-091326.doc
Inputs: vr-input-image-120923-091326.png
Fit: vr-fit-image-120923-091326.png
Projections: vr-projections-image-120923-091326.png

Sea level data: Church and White 2006
Reservoir storage: Chao 2oo8
Ground water depletion: Wada 2010
Result files…
Summary: vr-summary-120923-091413.doc
Inputs: vr-input-image-120923-091413.png
Fit: vr-fit-image-120923-091413.png
Projections: vr-projections-image-120923-091413.png

Sea level data: Church and White 2006
Reservoir storage: Chao 2oo8
Ground water depletion: Wada 2012
Result files…
Summary: vr-summary-120923-091517.doc
Inputs: vr-input-image-120923-091517.png
Fit: vr-fit-image-120923-091517.png
Projections: vr-projections-image-120923-091517.png

Sea level data: Church and White 2006
Reservoir storage: Pokhrel 2012 extrapolated back to 1900
Ground water depletion: Pokhrel 2012 extrapolated back to 1900
Result files…
Summary: vr-summary-120923-091643.doc
Inputs: vr-input-image-120923-091643.png
Fit: vr-fit-image-120923-091643.png
Projections: vr-projections-image-120923-091643.png

Sea level data: Church and White 2006
Reservoir storage: Pokhrel 2012
Ground water depletion: Pokhrel 2012
Result files…
Summary: vr-summary-120923-091727.doc
Inputs: vr-input-image-120923-091727.png
Fit: vr-fit-image-120923-091727.png
Projections: vr-projections-image-120923-091727.png

Sea level data: Church and White 2011
Reservoir storage: Chao 2008
Ground water depletion: none
Result files…
Summary: vr-summary-120923-091904.doc
Inputs: vr-input-image-120923-091904.png
Fit: vr-fit-image-120923-091904.png
Projections: vr-projections-image-120923-091904.png

Sea level data: Church and White 2011
Reservoir storage: Chao 2008
Ground water depletion: Wada 2010 extrapolated to 1880
Result files…
Summary: vr-summary-120923-091956.doc
Inputs: vr-input-image-120923-091956.png
Fit: vr-fit-image-120923-091956.png
Projections: vr-projections-image-120923-091956.png

Sea level data: Church and White 2011
Reservoir storage: Chao 2008
Ground water depletion: Wada 2010
Result files…
Summary: vr-summary-120923-092105.doc
Inputs: vr-input-image-120923-092105.png
Fit: vr-fit-image-120923-092105.png
Projections: vr-projections-image-120923-092105.png

Sea level data: Church and White 2011
Reservoir storage: Chao 2008
Ground water depletion: Wada 2012
Result files…
Summary: vr-summary-120923-092202.doc
Inputs: vr-input-image-120923-092202.png
Fit: vr-fit-image-120923-092202.png
Projections: vr-projections-image-120923-092202.png

Sea level data: Church and White 2011
Reservoir storage: Pokhrel 2012 extrapolated to 1900
Ground water depletion: Pokhrel 2012 extrapolated to 1900
Result files…
Summary: vr-summary-120923-092330.doc
Inputs: vr-input-image-120923-092330.png
Fit: vr-fit-image-120923-092330.png
Projections: vr-projections-image-120923-092330.png

Sea level data: Church and White 2011
Reservoir storage: Pokhrel 2012
Ground water depletion: Pokhrel 2012
Result files…
Summary: vr-summary-120923-094501.doc
Inputs: vr-input-image-120923-094501.png
Fit: vr-fit-image-120923-094501.png
Projections: vr-projections-image-120923-094501.png

_________________________________

[1]  Rahmstorf, S., Perrette, M., and Vermeer, M., “Testing the robustness of semi-empirical sea level projections” Climate Dynamics, 2011

[2] Vermeer, M., Rahmstorf, S., “Global sea level linked to global temperature,” PNAS, 2009

[3] Moss, et. al., “The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment,” Nature, 463, 2010

[4] Church, J. A. and N.J. White, “Sea-level rise from the late 19th to  the early 21st Century“, Surveys in Geophysics, 2011

[5] Church, J. A., and N. J. White, “A 20th century acceleration in global sea-level rise“,  Geophys. Res. Lett., 33, 2006

[6] Kemp, Horton, Donnelly, Mann, Vermeer & Rahmstorf,  “Climate related sea-level variations over the past two millennia,” PNAS, 2011

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