Michael Tobis and Vampire Arguments

Blogging while waiting to board.

Three years ago there was a sudden flurry of interest in ice in the Antarctic.

Although climate theory and the IPCC agree that global warming should cause an increase in Antarctic ice, due to increased precipitation in an area that, while warming, is still very cold, apparently the idea that somewhere, anywhere, could actually be gaining ice was anathema to some. And so there was Steig, and the GRACE measurements, and all that.

Michael Tobis recently denied that I have found peer-reviewed support for about nine different issues that we have argued about over the years. He challenged me to show him again what I have showed him before. Recreate the argument and show the links that I provided in support.

Bear in mind that I am not claiming that a) I am 100% correct or b) that the existence of a paper somewhere proves that I am right. Just that my own assumptions do have some backing in the peer-reviewed literature.

September 6, 2010, Michael Tobis’ website Only In It For The Gold:

“A press release just yesterday (!) amounted to a major correction to GRACE estimates of mass flux. This is apparently a correction for isostatic rebound. It is good news because it means our worst fears that might be gleaned form the above graphs may need reconsideration.
Based on this principle, previous estimates for the Greenland ice cap calculated that the ice was melting at a rate of 230 gigatonnes a year (i.e. 230,000 billion kg). That would result in an average rise in global sea levels of around 0.75 mm a year. For West Antarctica, the estimate was 132 gigatonnes a year. However, it now turns out that these results were not properly corrected for glacial isostatic adjustment, the phenomenon that the Earth’s crust rebounds as a result of the melting of the massive ice caps from the last major Ice Age around 20,000 years ago. These movements of the Earth’s crust have to be incorporated in the calculations, since these vertical movements change the Earth’s mass distribution and therefore also have an influence on the gravitational field.
The corrected figures are reported in a multi-author paper in the Nature Geoscience by Wu et al. Quoth Wu:
According to our estimates, mass losses between 2002 and 2008 in Greenland, Alaska/Yukon and West Antarctica are 104±23, 101±23 and 64±32 Gt yr−1, respectively. Our estimates of glacial isostatic adjustment indicate a large geocentre velocity of −0.72±0.06 mm yr−1 in the polar direction. We conclude that a significant revision of the present estimates of glacial isostatic adjustments and land–ocean water exchange is required.”

This is actually picking up the story midstream, as Tobis had sounded much more worried in an earlier post. But I’m waiting for boarding call.

Here’s one source I found for my belief: “1992 to 2003, Curt Davis, MU professor of electrical and computer engineering, and his team of researchers observed 7.1 million kilometers of the ice sheet, using satellites to measure changes in elevation. They discovered that the ice sheet’s interior was gaining mass by about 45 billion tons per year, which was enough to slow sea level rise by .12 millimeters per year. The interior of the ice sheet is the only large terrestrial ice body that is likely gaining mass rather than losing it, Davis said.
“Many recent studies have focused on coastal ice sheet losses and their contributions to sea level rise,” Davis said. “This study suggests that the interior areas of the ice sheet also can play an important role. In particular, the East Antarctic ice sheet is the largest in the world and contains enough mass to raise sea level by more than 50 meters. Thus, only small changes in its interior can have a significant affect on sea level.”
The study, funded by NASA’s Cryospheric Processes Program and the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Glaciology Program, suggests that increased precipitation was the likely cause of the gain. This was based on comparisons with precipitation model predictions over the same period of time. The most recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that Antarctica would gain mass due to increased precipitation in a warming climate. However, the study made no direct link to global warming.
“We need more ice core measurements from East Antarctica to determine if this increased precipitation is a change from the past or part of natural variability,” said Joe McConnell of the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev., who co-authored the study.
The researchers used satellite radar altimeters from the European Space Agency’s ERS-1 and ERS-2 satellites to make 347 million elevation-change measurements between June 1992 to May 2003.
The research team found there was a strong correlation between the predicted precipitation trends and measured elevation change over the 11-year period for the ice sheet, which indicated that East Antarctica’s interior was likely gaining mass due to the increased precipitation. The results, though, did not assess the overall contribution of the entire Antarctic ice sheet to sea level rise.”

This is how it was reported: “From the NY Times: “The eastern half of Antarctica is gaining weight, more than 45 billion tons a year, according to a new scientific study.

Data from satellites bouncing radar signals off the ground show that the surface of eastern Antarctica appears to be slowly growing higher, by about 1.8 centimeters a year, as snow and ice pile up.

The gain in eastern Antarctica snow partly offsets the rise in sea level caused by the melting of ice and snow in other parts of the world. The finding also matches expectations that the earth’s warming temperatures would increase the amount of moisture in the air and lead to greater snowfall over Antarctica.

”It’s been long predicted by climate models,” said Dr. Curt H. Davis, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Missouri and the lead author of a paper that was published on the Web site of the journal Science yesterday. ”This is the first observational evidence.”

The accumulation occurring across 2.75 million square miles of eastern Antarctica corresponds to a gain of 45 billion tons of water a year or, equivalently, the removal of the top 0.12 millimeter of the world’s oceans.”

Here’s another: “In the IPCC TAR Chapter 3 Executive Summary is this bullet point: “Over the period 1979 to 1996, the Antarctic (Cavalieri et al., 1997; Parkinson et al., 1999) shows a weak increase of 1.3 ± 0.2%/decade.”

And Tobis finally answers: That’s the Wingham result Fuller cites. (See Alley, Spencer and Anandakrishnan Ann. Glac. 46)

OK, there is one result that shows growing ice, which although it actually OVERLAPS the zero line, we need to take seriously because it SUPPORTS Fuller, as opposed to the GRACE data which don’t overlap the zero line but get close to it, which we are to ignore, because Fuller doesn’t like it.

Stipulate, then, that there is a study, somewhat on the early side, showing net growth of Antarctica. I would already have stipulated it, but Fuller has done us the kindness of identifying the study in question.”

This is what happens throughout the climate debate. Vampire arguments, the undead, even with a stake in their heart, are resuscitated for use at a later date. Both sides do it, but none more consistently than Michael Tobis.

Sorry to have inflicted a rant on you all. Posting will be light as I am traveling internationally for 2 weeks.

28 responses to “Michael Tobis and Vampire Arguments

  1. I don’t think I ever claimed that East Antarctica could not have gained ice mass in the 1990s. I stand by every claim in the linked piece and don’t see anywhere that you have refuted a single bit of it.

    It seems to me the origin of the debate is here:

    You claimed “Other measurements, consistent with climate theory, have consistently shown the Antarctic gaining, not losing ice.”

    I said that’s wrong. Much back and forth ensued culminating in the linked article where I summarized my position.

    Recently, you claimed that I had “admitted” that you had found evidence refuting me. But plainly that misrepresents the story. I admit no such thing because your evidence does not refute mine.

    Regarding the original claim, if EAST Antarctica had some small mass growth in the 1990s that does not mean the Antarctic AS A WHOLE was gaining mass even then, and certainly not now, and certainly nothing about such a claim is “consistently” shown by other measurements.

    In fact, rapid changes in West Antarctica are dominating the larger but relatively quiescent East Antarctic.

    EVERYTHING I SAID IS IN ACCORD WITH THE FIRST FIGURE shown at the In It link, showing multiple authorship of POST-2000 decline in OVERALL Antarctic ice mass.



    • Well, you see, Doctor Tobis, you say that now. But in the past you have said, ” The only unreported good news is that ice cap melting might have been overestimated, though it is still large and probably accelerating.” and “On the other hand it is only good news about bad news; the ice retreat may have been overestimated, but we are still talking about hundreds of billions of tons more ice melting than accumulating every year, and this rate still shows signs of accelerating.” (http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/01/forbes-rich-list-of-nonsense/)

      and you led off a post with this quote: “Ice loss in Antarctica increased by 75 percent in the last 10 years due to a speed-up in the flow of its glaciers and is now nearly as great as that observed in Greenland, according to a new, comprehensive study by NASA and university scientists.” http://initforthegold.blogspot.sg/2008/01/antarctic-melting-accelerates.html

      and…”First of all, the equilibrium response to a 3 C warming is enormous. If we hit the (approximately known and likely by now unavoidable) 3 C threshhold, and at that point civilization has no more capacity to think in the long term as we do today, we are looking at sea level rise in the tens of meters. This means Greenland will substantially be melted down to the rock, the WAIS (**) will totally disappear, and a substantial fringe of West East Antarctica will probably also be bare. The primary evidence is the geological evidence of seas that deep in the previous interglacial approximately 100kA ago,” although you qualified it here “it is considered nearly certain that the ice sheets will NOT respond quickly enough for the tens of meters of sea level rise which we would eventually expect with a 3 C rise to happen in this century (whew!) or even this millennium.” But then, two paragraphs later you said, “The mass balance of Antarctica as a whole swamps the events in this area now, so the GRACE instrument may not pick them up. But nobody knows how quickly the destabilization will occur once the ice sheet lets go of its sill in the Amundsen embayment, which as I understand it, it already has. Once it starts, a one-time and abrupt sea level rise of about 2 or 3 meters in a few decades is plausible.” (http://initforthegold.blogspot.sg/search?q=fuller)

      When we discussed it at your blog you wrote: “This is the whole point, Tom. This is completely, utterly wrong. The more you say it, the less it looks like a mistake and the more it looks like bullshit.

      Every single piece of evidence you’ve brought to refute the GRACE estimate talks about either 1) the east Antarctic interior, not the entire continental mass balance.” You had no response to my reply: “”We find that data from climate model reanalyses are not able to characterise the contemporary snowfall fluctuation with useful accuracy and our best estimate of the overall mass trend—growth of 27+/-29 Gt yr^-1 —is based on an assessment of the expected snowfall variability. Mass gains from accumulating snow, particularly on the Antarctic Peninsula and within East Antarctica, exceed the ice dynamic mass loss from West Antarctica.” D. J. WINGHAM, et al, “Mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet,” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A (2006) 364, 1627–1635, p. 1627

      “We show that 72% of the Antarctic ice sheet is gaining 27+/-29 Gt yr^-1, a sink of ocean mass sufficient to lower global sea levels by 0.08 mm yr^-1.” D. J. WINGHAM, et al, “Mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet,” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A (2006) 364, 1627–1635, p. 1634

      “We have used ice-flow velocity measurements from synthetic aperture radar to reassess the mass balance of the Ross Ice Streams, West Antarctica. We find strong evidence for ice-sheet growth (26.8 gigatons per year), in contrast to earlier estimates indicating a mass deficit (20.9 gigatons per year). Average thickening is equal to ~25% of the accumulation rate, with most of this growth occurring on Ice Stream C. Whillans Ice Stream, which was thought to have a significantly negative mass balance, is close to balance, reflecting its continuing slowdown. The overall positive mass balance may signal an end to the Holocene retreat of these ice streams.” Ian Joughin and Slawek Tulaczyk, “Positive Mass Balance of the Ross Ice Streams, West Antarctica” Science, 295(2002), p. 476″, and my quote from NASA: “Two-thirds of Antarctica is a high, cold desert. Known as East Antarctica, this section has an average altitude of about 2 kilometer (1.2 miles), higher than the American Colorado Plateau. There is a continent about the size of Australia underneath all this ice; the ice sheet sitting on top averages at a little over 2 kilometer (1.2 miles) thick. If all of this ice melted, it would raise global sea level by about 60 meter (197 feet). But little, if any, surface warming is occurring over East Antarctica. Radar and laser-based satellite data show a little mass loss at the edges of East Antarctica, which is being partly offset by accumulation of snow in the interior, although a very recent result from the NASA/German Aerospace Center’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) suggests that since 2006 there has been more ice loss from East Antarctica than previously thought 5. Overall, not much is going on in East Antarctica.”

      And Conan O’Brien has never made a mistake on his show, either.

      • You persist in confusing several different aspects of the Antarctic ice story.

        I have tried to untangle it enough times. Sorry, I do not accept that I have been inconsistent in this matter nor that you have refuted me. And sorry you do not have the patience to read and understand my good faith efforts to explain why what I have said all forms a consistent picture.

        I’m not perfect, and I’m happy to change my mind given new information/ But I haven’t changed my mind at any point along these various discussions about what the Antarctic ice is doing and what the evidence is regarding it. And you haven’t provided me with any information on this topic that is inconsistent with what I had previously said.

        I’ve done my best, so there’s really not much point in trying again.

  2. OFF TOPIC One of the most successful climat blogs was Pielke, SR’s. One of the things he did right was to turn the comments off. You could email him and if the email had merit he posted it. Just a thought.

  3. Well, that settles it then,

  4. These claims that Antarctica is losing mass get annoying when the authors refuse to address the underlying causes. Yes, we all know that a small part of the West Antarctic Peninsula is losing mass to warming temperature – but warming is not the cause of ice mass inland.

    Think of ice cubes in a tray in your freezer. If you monitor them, you will find that they lose mass. They seem to melt away, even though the temperature never exceeds freezing.

    This process is called sublimation. It is the transformation of solid to gas without passing through the phase of being a liquid. This is what happens to ice in very low humidity.

    Antarctica is drying out, not warming up. A fact that directly contradict the climate models. It is extremely dishonest to cast the loss of ice mass far from the Antarctic coast to “warming”.

    • Nobody I know of is calling loss of ice mass far from the edge anything much as it does not dominate the mass balance at all. You’ll have to provide a direct quote before anyone should take claims of “dishonesty” seriously, but clearly there is a lot of substantive misunderstanding about.

      If there’s a dishonest part, (and I don’t see why there needs to be one) it is the constant looking away from the destabilization of West Antarctica, especially around the Amundsen Bay, and how it dominates the mass balance of the entire ice sheet. Anyway I would direct your attention there.


      Precipitation in the interior in a stable climate is in balance with sublimation and advective transport. All of these terms are very small though. The mass balance at the fringes is much more phenomenologically interesting as well as more practically important.

      I hope you find this helpful.

      • From your link “it’s widespread and in some cases thinning extends hundreds of kilometres inland.”

        I fail to see how loss of ice mass in an area where glacial flow is measured in feet per year and temperature never exceeds freezing can be attributed to anything other than sublimation.

        Yes, I am quite aware that ice loss in the Peninsula and one fringe of of West Antarctica is severe but that does not explain the yellow and orange appearing inland on the graphic that you linked.

      • The direct quotes are right there, Dr. Tobis–if you cannot see what you’ve written, physical blindness needs to be added to a sort of moral inability to see the issue and confront it squarely. You have repeatedly written of Antarctic ice loss as a real issue. I have repeatedly shown you statements from published, peer-reviewed papers, NASA and the IPCC that say otherwise. I don’t claim infallibility in my opinion. The point is, I have shown credible support for my position that you flatly refuse to see. That is despite acknowledging the fact that I found support at the time. You then forget it.

        This is what you wrote: “OK, there is one result that shows growing ice, which although it actually OVERLAPS the zero line, we need to take seriously because it SUPPORTS Fuller, as opposed to the GRACE data which don’t overlap the zero line but get close to it, which we are to ignore, because Fuller doesn’t like it. Stipulate, then, that there is a study, somewhat on the early side, showing net growth of Antarctica. I would already have stipulated it, but Fuller has done us the kindness of identifying the study in question”.

        Are you saying you did not write those words? I’m not asking you to agree with my position–you are free to invent whatever reality is more congenial to you than the reality that serves for the rest of the world. At your weblog I said that in all of our disagreements I had found academic or respected sources supporting my point of view. You said ‘put up or shut up’. I listed several of the issues where we had disagreed. You chose this one. We disagreed–not on whether or not Antarctic ice was growing or shrinking–but on whether I was the only one saying so. I produced several sources at the time and you acknowledge that I had.

        But now you say I did not. Most of the descriptions of that sort of behavior use clinical terminology.

      • Your reference supports you but does not refute me. Which is what I was trying to say all along. That means there may probably was net mass loss in Antarctica in the 1990s. Your reference was included in my first figure and was taken into account in everything I said.

        Since this is something we agree about and have from the beginning, it doesn’t qualify as a case where you found support for a disagreement.

        Note that it says nothing about the mass loss TREND, which is pretty clearly negative. As the first figure clearly shows.


        Your study is, I think, the brown box. Each box estimates mass loss over a different period. The trend is the way the boxes align. The trend goes downward. I agree with you that the brown box exists and disagree that it refutes that the trend goes downward.

      • Dang. I mean there was probably net mass gain in the 90s.

  5. Shhhh……we don’t talk about Antarctica. The agreement is we only speak of Arctic summer ice. Get with the program.

  6. Steig et al was about temperature
    O’Donnel et al was the rebuttal
    Southern Ocean SSTs are on a 25 year decline(http://bobtisdale.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/14-southern.png)
    Antarctic Sea Ice is on a 25 year incline (http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/seaice.anomaly.antarctic.png)
    Coincidence? I think not.

    • YFNWG,
      What decline in Antarctic sea ice?
      Your graph does not indicate one, from what can be seen in your link.
      Additionally, most comments irt Antarctic sea ice seek to either point out the slight increase or explain it as a part of AGW.

      • To be fair to Dr. Tobis, on occasion he has done that–acknowledged a slight increase. (He seemed real surprised the first time I told him that that was what climate science actually predicted for the Antarctic.) But he forgets and goes back to the default mode. And then he forgets that he has been shown the link before.

      • Wow. I cannot access my own website from where I am right now. Except via Gmail…

      • Learn to read carefully please:
        Antarctic Sea Ice *INCLINE* (meaning to go up)
        Southern Ocean SST *DECLINE* (meaning to go down)

  7. Two individuals, looking at the same general body of scientific literature, arrive at very different points of emphasis and interpretation filtered through their cultural predispositions. So what are the existential threat predispositions that influence MT’s judgement. What are the lukewarmer predispositions that influence TF’s?

  8. “This is what happens throughout the climate debate. Vampire arguments, the undead, even with a stake in their heart, are resuscitated for use at a later date. ”

    I’m sorry to say, Tom, that this what happens in all of science at varying levels of intensity at varying times. Note that some paleoecologists are stumping again for an ecological cause for the K-T extinctions. Craters be damned!

    Ideas die off and are resurrected in slightly new forms over periods of decades. Sometimes they die again quickly, other times they are cannonized.

  9. When Revkin advertised the new Tobis site at Dot Earth on November 30, 2011, I sent in this comment. It was deleted by the NYT blog police, which surprised me, since the only offensive content consisted of direct quotes from Tobis. It appears nothing has changed in the intervening 16+ months.

    “Five reasons why I think Tobis is irrelevant-
    Echo chamber, Malthusian stench, Execrable Rants, Nonsensical platitudes and Narcissistic priggishness-

    Echo chamber-
    “The site is not for everybody; certainly people who want to argue the question of whether AGW (anthropogenic global warming) is or isn’t a problem will find nothing to engage with on our site.”

    Malthusian stench-
    “The only way to simplify ourselves out of the present mess is by cutting our population 80%, unfortunately.”
    Michael Tobis, January 9, 2009

    Execrable Rants-
    “It is because the fiunkcg survival of the ficunkg planet is at fciunkg stake. And if we narrowly fkncuig miss pulling this out, it may well end up being your, your own fnikucg personal individual fkcnuig self-satisfied mischief and disrespect for authority that tips the balance. You have a lot of fkucnig nerve saying you are on my “side”.”
    Michael Tobis, April, 2011

    Nonsensical platitudes-
    “…creating a global social contract…”

    Narcissistic priggishness-
    “I think Curry should STFU, or at least stick to such matters, if any, where she has reason for confidence in what she says.”
    Michael Tobis, November, 2011

    However, software engineer Tobis has extensive experience and expertise in developing government policy to exterminate 80% of the global population?

    God help us.”

  10. “Malthusian stench” is dishonest.

    “The only way to simplify ourselves out of the present mess is by cutting our population 80%, unfortunately.”

    is an argument against “simplification”, not in favor of depopulation. I should think anyone sensible would agree with the idea that abandoning technology would be catastrophic.

    This spin that I’m suggesting that is pretty much libelous.

  11. Pingback: Homilies and (ad) Hominems | The Lukewarmer's Way

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