UPDATE 25/2/2010 Tom Knutson's response appears below
ABC HEADLINE: "Cyclones to become 'fewer but fiercer'" ABC online, based on a story broadcast on the ABC's PM bulletin, under the headline "Cyclones to become less common but more intense".
ABC REPORTED: ABC's Timothy Macdonald for PM interviews authors about their review of the modeled effects of climate change on cyclones titled "Tropical cyclones and climate change" published online in Nature Geoscience. Interviewees included: Tom Knutson, a research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US, and John McBride, principal research scientist for the Bureau of Meteorology. Tom Knutson and John McBride along with ABC reporter Timothy Macdonald provided commentary on the Nature report. No questions were asked by Macdonald of either Tom Knutson and John McBride.
THE COMPLAINT: ABC NEWS WATCH thought the job of journalists was to ask questions. Indeed the ABC's own editorial policies seem to back us up section 5.2.2 (f) states: Be questioning. Serve the public interest by investigating issues affecting society and individuals. As reporter Timothy Macdonald failed to ask any questions according to the transcript here are 13 questions ABC could have asked Tom Knutson and John McBride to give ABC audience important information about their author's work:
Update John McBride's response to questions appear below
1. You state in your abstract "Whether the characteristics of tropical cyclones have changed or will change in a warming climate — and if so, how — has been the subject of considerable investigation, often with conflicting results."
Can you describe some of the conflicting results? What is the range of projections?
2. You indicate “For future projections of tropical cyclone activity, the challenge is to develop both a reliable projection of changes in the various factors influencing tropical cyclones, both local and remote, and a means of simulating the effect of these climate changes on tropical cyclone metrics, such as storm frequency, intensity and track distribution. “ How reliable are current models with respect to tropical cyclones?
3. You state in your paper: “For detection and attribution, the emphasis here is on the Atlantic Ocean basin because the data records for this region are longer and relatively more reliable, though our assessment state ments (summarized in Box1) include consideration of all basins as appropriate. “ Given that the emphasis in your paper is on the Atlantic, is it appropriate to extrapolate these findings to other basins, such as the basin affecting Northern Australian tropical systems?
4. You state that “a substantial part of the increase in Atlantic power dissipation since 1950 is likely due to factors other than greenhouse-gas-induced warming. “ Can you name those factors?
5. You indicate: “Substantial multidecadal SST variability is evident in the North Atlantic basin (Fig. 2, second green series). The cause of this variability remains uncertain, with possible contributions from both internal climate variability and radiative-forcing changes.” If the cause of variability remains uncertain how confident are you that models are able to project tropical cyclone frequency into the future with any confidence?.
6. Changes in observing capacity brought about by satellite monitoring capability suggest many apparent changes in observational frequency are an artefact of observation methodology. Can you expand on comments around this issue you raise in your paper?
7. You cite Mann et al., 2009 study of a 1500 year record of sediment outwash from a number of sites along the US east coast that finds several periods of strong Atlantic hurricane landfalls during several periods over the last 1000 years. How do you reconcile potential natural variation with variation potentially induced by anthropogenic forcing? How would we know if future increases are due to anthropogenic factors? Is there a signature that would allow a confident assignation of anthropogenic factors as the cause of any change?
8. You state that in regard to future projections of tropical cyclone frequency that “Many of these models reproduce key aspects of observed part cyclone activity…” What proportion of models used in your review do not?
9. You state: “However, confidence in these projections remains very low for individual basins (Supplementary Table S1), owing to uncer tainties in the large-scale patterns of future tropical climate change, as evident in the lack of agreement between the model projections of patterns of tropical SST changes as well as remaining limitations in the downscaling strategies.” How do you reconcile this “very low” level of confidence with your assessment of likelihood of future tropical cyclone frequency which you state is “likely that global mean tropical-cyclone-frequency will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged owing to greenhouse warming.” How do you reconcile this level of confidence with your statement “For individual basins, there is much more uncertainty in projections of tropical cyclone frequency, with changes of up to ±50% or more projected by various models.” What does this say about confidence in systems affecting Northern Australia?
10. You state that “Analyses of globally consistent satellite-based intensity estimates since 1981 indicate that trends in the best track-data are indeed inflated42, but do support an increase globally in the intensities of the strongest tropical cyclones.” Given increase in green house gases since the industrial revolution what does this say about the link between green house gases and tropical cyclone intensity?
11. You state “We judge that a sub stantial increase in the frequency of the most intense storms is more likely than not globally, although this may not occur in all tropical regions. Our confidence in this finding is limited, since the model-projected change results from a competition between the influence of increasing storm intensity and decreasing overall storm frequency. How do you reconcile this lack of confidence with use of the word “likely”?
12. Given “The uncertainty in climate-model-projected SSTs and related variables can affect even the sign of the projected tropical cyclone activity change in a given region.” Is your likelihood assessment little more than a “gut feeling”?
13. Finally we note that you acknowledge the Sultan of Oman for sponsoring initial meetings for the report. Given the dire implications of climate change promulgated by the IPCC do you consider this is an extravagance and that less carbon dioxide intensive methods of holding meetings might be more appropriate in the future.
We expect ABC at least make a token effort at meeting its editorial policy. Please have another go at this one and at least put some of these questions to the authors, or perhaps come up with a few of your own. As we lack confidence that the ABC will do the job, ABC NEWS WATCH will attempt to put these questions directly to the authors. If we get a response it will be posted on this site.
COMMENT: Once more ABC appears to have done little more than re-print the media release. Not a single question mark appears in the interview transcript! Perhaps ABC editorial policy should contain some advice on how to avoid lazy journalism?