Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Emphasising Climate Alarm over Climate Pragmatism

COMMENT: Tony Eastley interviewed British Lord and president of the Royal Society, Martin John Rees on this morning's AM program (President of Royal Society perplexed by climate sceptics).
The headline suggests that there is something wrong with legitimate scepticism about the potential dangers of man made climate change, however in the course of the interview Lord Rees states:

"There is clearly controversy about just how bad it is going to be and about we should best respond to this threat." 

Once again ABC choose to emphasis Climate Alarm over Climate Pragmatism in their reporting. As Lord Rees indicates considerable work remains to be done on the issue of climate sensitivity to increasing CO2 emissions. Recent work by MIT's Prof Richard Lindzen suggests sensitivity lies at the lower end of IPCC models, meaning future climate change is likely to be an inconvenience rather than a disaster. We hear little of this view on Auntie, even when it is so plainly stated by mainstream scientists like Lord Rees.

From the vault - Zombie explorer discovers Oz

Landline10 September 2006 The complaint
A viewer pointed out that a report wrongly stated that Captain Cook discovered Australia in 1788, which would have been quite a feat considering he was killed in 1779.
The ABC acknowledged the error and amended the program's transcript to reflect the correct date of 1770.

"From the Vault" - digging up past corrections and clarifications from the ABC archives

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Update: Minister's Wrong Figures-a missed opportunity

COMMENT: We have received a reply concerning our complaint about Minister Wong's wrong figures. It appears ABC are happy to leave these factual errors un-corrected, as  "For the purposes of section 5 of the Editorial Policies, the comments of contributors are not considered factual content."

Are they making things up on the run now? We asked them and will post what they say.

Here's the reply in full, also posted with the original complaint HERE

Thank you for your email regarding The World Today report Head of UN climate change team calls it quits.

Your concerns have been investigated by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the ABC.  We have reviewed the broadcast, assessed it against the ABC’s editorial standards and sought and considered material provided by ABC News.

There are no ABC reporters named Nance Saxton.  The ABC reporter who filed this report is named Nance Haxton.

The views of Senator Wong and Tim Flannery are their own, they are not the views of the ABC.  For the purposes of section 5 of the Editorial Policies, the comments of contributors are not considered factual content.

Audience and Consumer Affairs believe the interviews were suitably questioning, on the issue that was the focus of the report; the continuity of negotiations over a global climate treaty following the departure of the top UN official on climate change.

Audience and Consumer Affairs believe the report is in keeping with section 5 of the ABC Editorial Policies, which are available online at;

Nevertheless, you can be assured that your comments have been brought to the attention of ABC News management.

Update:A climate time lie: the saga continues

 COMMENT: We have received a reply from the ABC's Complaints Review Executive regarding our complaint about ABC's 'A journey through climate change history’ (see below0 . Not surprisingly the CRE have not upheld our complaint stating "Having reviewed the content, the complaint and the responses from A&CA, I consider that ABC editorial requirements were met." The review rested on use of section 7.4.1 that relies on a diversity of views across a platform, allowing single programs or articles to be as biased or unbalanced. It remains our contention that it is unfair to expect that readers of ‘A journey through climate change history’ would be familiar with the discussion that has taken place about Climate Change on the ABC. The presentation is a stand alone site. People new to the site would be significantly misled if the web presentation is not altered as it provides an un-balanced representation of the debate. Continued linkage to the ABC News page provides justification to consider the site under provision of Section 5-news content. CRE didn't address our complaint in detail, passing over the specific points raised. These included:

4. I understand 'A Journey through Climate History' is not intended as an exhaustive timeline of every single climatic event in Earth's history. I am advised that the Ordovician ice age was not included in the timeline due to its relative brevity, and not because of any 'inconvenient truth', as you suggest. Audience & Consumer Affairs does not believe the omission of this ice age from the timeline was inconsistent with the ABC's editorial standards.

While “brief” the Ordovician Ice Age is of great significance in the current debate as the Ice Age is thought to have occurred at a time when CO2 levels were as high 4000 ppm. Its "relative brevity" is irrelevant and it should be included in the timeline to provide readers with a more balanced picture of the role of CO2 on climate. 

5b. Once again, as with point 4, it is relevant to note that it is not the intention of the website to provide an exhaustive timeline of all historical climatic events. I understand ABC Innovation considers that it was acceptable to include the most recent warm period, the Medieval Warm Period, and not include the Roman Warm Period. Audience & Consumer Affairs does not believe this omission was inconsistent with relevant editorial standards.

Roman Warm Period coincided with the height of the Roman Empire. This is as relevant than other historical events in the timeline.

6. We acknowledge that the placement of the Medieval Warm Period at 700 AD in the timeline was inaccurate and inconsistent with the event description, which refers to the period "between AD 800 1300". It has been moved to 800.

We also acknowledge that the statement in the entry, "the idea that it was a global phenomenon is now discredited and it is suspected that the average global temperature could have been slightly cooler than in the early 20th century" overstated the certainty of the current understanding of the Medieval Warm Period. The entry has been amended to reflect the current level of uncertainty as to whether the phenomenon was global, based on IPCC reports.

The timeline continues to promote references that bias one side of the debate of the extent of the Medieval Warm Period. Where are references that highlight the broad nature of warming during the Medieval Warm Period such as reference to CO2science's  Medieval Warm Period Project?

10. We do not believe it was necessary for the timeline entry on An Inconvenient Truth to mention the errors found in the Dimmock case in the UK. The entry described the film as "controversial", ensuring that users are aware that it was subject to controversy. It is relevant to note that a link was provided to the Wikipedia page about the film, which discusses the Dimmock case at some length. On review, we are satisfied that the entry was consistent with the editorial standard for accuracy.

Note the way The Great Global Warming Swindle is treated for comparison. ABC do not stop at merely mentioning it was controversial but go into great detail about the subsequent Ofcom inquiry. Any reasonable consideration of these two popular documentaries would treat them equally.

11. Once again, the timeline is not intended to be exhaustive and does not contain every climate-related event in human history. Audience & Consumer Affairs does not believe the omission of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) report to which you refer was inconsistent with relevant editorial standards.

Omissions are just as significant as inclusions. The overall impression is that the producers of the timeline are biased by not including mention of the NIPCC report. In the context of the history of Climate Change it is a significant development.

Significantly no one in the ABC has investigated the correspondence leading to the production of the presentation in the first place. Our own attempts to source these documents were prevented by draconian FOI legislation that exempts ABC from FOI requests for production material.  Still wondering if there is a brave whistle blower in ABC innovation willing to reveal the details of what went on.

We now explore the next avenue available to us the ABC Independent Complaints Review Panel (ICRP).  appointed by the ABC Board to review written complaints which relate to allegations of serious cases of factual inaccuracy, bias, lack of balance or unfair treatment arising from ABC content. We will let you the outcome.

The CRE reply is posted in full below:

A request for review was received on 18 February 2010 from a New South Wales user of who was dissatisfied with responses from Audience and Consumer Affairs (A&CA). It was acknowledged on 19 February with advice that the review would be completed by 18 March. This was delayed slightly as further correspondence occurred between the complainant and A&CA arising from his letter to this office.
‘A Journey through Climate History’ is produced by ABC Innovation and was first published on 8 December 2009 as part of a new environment portal. It is also linked to the ABC News site.
The complainant wrote on 16 December 2009 that the timeline was ‘riddled with errors’. He sent other emails on 10 January adding to the list of what he considered errors and on 24 January asking for the cost of producing the website. In summary the complainant raised 13 concerns about the content. A&CA completed their investigation and responded on 15 February with advice that the content was assessed against section 7 of ABC Editorial Policies applicable to topical and factual content. In part this requires that every reasonable effort must be made to ensure that factual content is accurate and in context. The response from A&CA confirmed seven inaccuracies and several spelling mistakes. The complainant was also advised that the ‘Journey’ was not intended to be an exhaustive timeline so it did not include every aspect of climate change.
In response to the complainant’s request for information on the cost of producing the website A&CA advised that they were not in a position to provide that information and pointed to the ABC’s Annual Report which
includes general expenditure details.

On 15 February the complainant wrote to this office seeking a review. As his letter also raised claims of bias that had not been included in the initial complaints about the website, the letter were referred back to A&CA which is standard practice.
A&CA then investigated the claims of bias and wrote on 18 March that requirements of Editorial Policy 7.4.1 were met. A&CA pointed out that a range of views on the topic had been presented by ABC Online. On 18 March the complainant advised that he also wanted his claims of bias reviewed. On 19 March the complainant wrote to this office basically repeating five points that he had made earlier to A&CA. He concluded:
In summary it is unfair to expect the users of ‘A journey through climate change history’ would be familiar with the wide ranging discussion that has taken place about Climate Change on the ABC. People new to the debate would be significantly misled if the web presentation is not altered . . .
Basis of Assessment
The ‘Journey through Climate History’ website is categorised by ABC Innovation as topical and factual content and required to meet standards set out in section 7 of ABC Editorial Policies. Given the complainant’s concerns about accuracy I have considered the matter against 7.4.2:
(a) Every reasonable effort must be made to ensure that factual content is accurate and in context.
(b) The ABC will not hesitate to admit and correct a significant error when it is established that one has been made. When a correction is necessary, it will be made in an appropriate manner as soon as reasonably practicable.
As the complainant has also sought review of the A&CA response to his later claims of bias, I have considered this against 7.4.1.
The ABC is committed to impartiality: where topical and factual content deals with a matter of contention or public debate, a diversity of principal relevant perspectives should be demonstrated across a network or platform in an appropriate timeframe.
Through its topical and factual content the ABC reflects a wide range of audience interests and deals with specialist topics like science in a range of formats such as websites. In this case the content was produced by ABC Innovation, and although the website is linked to the ABC News site, the editorial standards for news and current affairs content do not apply.

I note that the response from A&CA, dated 15 February, acknowledged several inaccuracies and spelling mistakes on the website. Therefore there is no need for me to reconsider all the claims of inaccuracy. The response also explained that amendments had been made. ABC Innovation management
has confirmed that corrections to the website were made on 12 and 15 February.
I consider that the A&CA investigation of the content leading to the written confirmation of inaccuracies, and the modifications made to the website made by ABC Innovation, meet the requirements to admit errors and make corrections as detailed in 7.4.2(b).
I note the complainant’s argument that more material should have been included in the timeline. As mentioned earlier, the current ABC Editorial Policies approved by the ABC Board do not require balance in topical and
factual content. Rather the focus is on impartiality. As explained in 7.4.1 impartiality is demonstrated by the provision of a diversity of principal relevant perspectives about contentious matters across a platform in an
appropriate timeframe. However there is no requirement to present every viewpoint or treat them in the same way.
In this case the issue of climate change is clearly a matter of contention and public debate and the platform in question is My research has found that the ABC’s website does present a diversity of principal relevant perspectives on climate history and therefore meets the requirement of 7.4.1.
I also note the complainant’s view that ‘omissions are just as significant a inclusions’ and his concern that some climate events were not included on the timeline. The introduction page on the website states:
‘The events that appear throughout the timeline are intended to introduce you to the greater scope of research and context that exists outside this summary. Please follow the links that are provided in the short descriptions of events, for further information. Whilst the ABC cannot guarantee the accuracy of information external to the timeline, we have endeavoured to provide accurate and relevant links wherever possible.
In my view the introduction makes it clear to the average reader that the timeline does not include every aspect of climate through history. It actually encourages users of ABC Online to do more research and read more widely.
In my view this is appropriate recognition that an expansive issue like the history of climate cannot be addressed in a single website.

Given the amount of material about climate available on the ABC website, I do not consider that readers are being misled, as argued by the complainant.
Having reviewed the content, the complaint and the responses from A&CA, I consider that ABC editorial requirements were met. Noting the findings of inaccuracy already advised by A&CA, this review does not find other aspects of the complaint to be upheld.

25 March 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Update: Coral Reef report exaggerates scientific doomsday scenarios

COMMENT:  ABC have provided a lengthy response to our complaint "Coral Reef report exaggerates scientific doomsday scenarios".
Of note is that ABC assessed the complaint under Section 7 that deals with topical and factual content and not under Section 5 that deals with news.
"Your concerns about this article have been investigated by Audience & Consumer Affairs. I should first explain that the article is categorised as topical and factual content and not news and current affairs content. Accordingly, section 5.2 of the ABC's Editorial Policies (, to which you refer, is not applicable to the article. Rather, it is subject to section 7 of the Editorial Policies. The relevant provisions relating to accuracy and alternative perspectives are sections 7.4.1 and 7.4.2, which state as follows:

"7.4.1 The ABC is committed to impartiality: where topical and factual content deals with a matter of contention or public debate, a diversity of principal relevant perspectives should be demonstrated across a network or platform in an appropriate timeframe.
7.4.2 Factual content requires accuracy.
(a) Every reasonable effort must be made to ensure that factual content is accurate and in context."

Hence the claims for balance were not considered. We did score one win though:
On review, Audience & Consumer Affairs acknowledges that the statement "In 2007 the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that an increase in sea level of just 18 to 59 centimetres, likely by 2100, would be enough to wipe the Maldives off the map" did not adhere to the editorial requirement for accuracy as although the IPCC did warn of a sea level increase of 18 to 59 centimetres by 2100, it did not suggest that this would wipe the Maldives off the map. The article has been amended to separate the reference to the IPCC from the reference to the Maldives.

The complete response is posted with the original complaint. Coral Reef report exaggerates scientific doomsday scenarios.

From the vault - Earth Hour - WWF- Counting heads, shoulders, knees and toes

7.00 News – 29 March 2008
A viewer questioned the accuracy of figures provided in reports about the participation rate of households in Earth Hour.
The ABC acknowledged that two distinct figures given for the participation rates in Earth Hour in Sydney in 2007 were both incorrect. The figure which should have been quoted was 2.2 million. The report should also have highlighted the fact that this figure was supplied by the company AMR Interactive who were engaged by Earth Hour organisers to conduct a poll on participation rates. The ABC also acknowledged that the statement “„hundreds and thousands of Sydney homes had been plunged into darkness for Earth Hour” was an estimate and should not have been broadcast. The figure of 6 million Australian participants, quoted in the news bulletin of the following night, was derived from Earth Hour organisers the WWF Australia. The ABC acknowledged that the figure should have been attributed to the WWF.

"From the Vault" - digging up past corrections and clarifications from the ABC archives.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

ABC Ultimo, one of our most frequent readers

We are using Stat Counter to provide some statistics to gauge the level of interest in ABC NEWS WATCH. The wonderful thing about Stat Counter ( is that it provides a breakdown of IP addresses of visitors. We note that a number of computers from "ABC Ultimo and Sydney" spent some time in the wee small hours of last night going through virtually all our posts since the blog commenced in January.
Part of a journalist training course, perhaps?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

UPDATE: ABC scratch the surface of AGU censorship story

COMMENT: ABC appear to have listened to our request for coverage of allegations of censorship and scientific malfeasance levied against the American Geophysical Union by a group of authors whose paper was rejected by editors of the AGU journal, Geophysical Research Letters. Their reports on News online "Climate 'deniers' accuse journal of censorship" and PM "Censorship or professional publication? Another round in climate science wars"were by environment reporter Sarah Clarke.

The reports provided both sides with an opportunity to air their views, but unfortunately they barely scratch the surface, leaving many questions unanswered.We assume for instance that an attempt was made to solicit comment from the editors of the Journal in question but no mention of this is made in the reports. Similarly Sarah Clark appears to have missed the opportunity to question researcher Kevin Trenberth about his statement:
"The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." that appeared in emails allegedly leaked from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

Reporter Clark could have also further explored Trenberth's claims of 'Denialism' that feature prominently, providing a headline for the ABC online report. Is Trenberth suggesting authors Mclean et al are denying climate change? (The journal article at the centre of the debate appears to agree that the climate is changing.) Or are they simply disagreeing with Trenberth's views on the significance and main cause of warming? Or is this simply evidence of petty namecalling on the part of Trenberth? If so it is sad to see the story focus so heavily on this attack, rather than explore the scientific claims in more detail.

News reporting is more than simple superficial broadcasting of a conversation. It's about asking the tough questions, about investigation, about  research about lifting the lid. In a piece for Sunday Profile in 2006 investigative journalist Chris Masters was asked if ABC still have the money, the freedom and the guts to undertaken investigative journalism. He responded "I don't think so". It seems nothing has changed since 2006.

Chris Masters In Private publication 
In the foreword to your book Inside Story 15 years ago, your then Executive Producer, Jonathan Holmes wrote, “It would be nice to think that young men and women could aspire to a career in the ABC which will take them to the heights of investigative journalism. I only wish I could be certain that in 20 years or 10 the ABC will still have the money, the freedom and the guts to let them do it.” This was a somewhat gloomy assessment of the future but somewhere between 10 and 20 years have now passed, does the ABC still have the money, the freedom and the guts to let them do it?

I don’t think so.

Why, what’s happened?

But I mean, I hope I’m wrong. I think a lot of this is organic. No matter how hard you might try to pressure the ABC there’ll be good people that will manage to do a good job as long as they see what the stories are and it’s not actually all about money as well we know at the ABC where in news and current affairs our budgets are a lot smaller than they are with our commercial competitors. So I absolutely hope I’m wrong about that and I also recognise that we’re just so naturally pessimistic in news and current affairs. We always think that it was better yesterday and we sometimes forget that there are lots of things that are far more better and I think that even when Four Corners was doing much bigger programs in the 1980’s it’s a smarter sharper program now than it ever was in the 1980’s.

UPDATE: CSIRO shed a little light.

COMMENT: We put a number of questions to CSIRO regarding the joint BOM/CSIRO "State of the climate" report following what we considered to be a poor quality report on the release by the ABC (HERE). CSIRO have taken some time with a response and we thank them. Their answers appear below. We may take the time to comment on these at a later date. 

Thank you for your questions to Dr Megan Clark last week.  Dr Clark asked CSIRO Enquiries to coordinate the preparation of our response, which required input from a number of climate scientists from CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.  Your questions have been addressed in order below. 

Response to emails dated 15/3/2010

Question 1: CSIRO State of the Climate ( claims to be sourced from peer reviewed articles, however the actual references are not cited. Can CSIRO provide the peer reviewed references it used in the preparation of this document such that it might be subject to independent scrutiny by independent scientists.

Answer: The CSIRO State of the Climate document is only available in summary form – it summarises key findings from peer-reviewed science papers. The following information provides links to the references and raw data for each section.

1. Temperature

Trend maps are available the Bureau of Meteorology web site here:

Time series charts and datasets are available here:

Information about the maps is available here:
and about the time series here:

These pages also contain references to various scientific papers written about the datasets as follows:

Della-Marta, P.M., Collins, D.A. and Braganza, K. 2004. Updating Australia's high-quality annual temperature dataset. Australian Meteorological Magazine53, 75-93.

Jones, D.A. and Trewin, B.C. 2000. The spatial structure of monthly temperature anomalies over Australia. Australian Meteorological Magazine49, 261-276.

Jones, D.A. and Trewin, B.C. 2002. On the adequacy of digitised historical Australian daily temperature data for climate monitoring.Australian Meteorological Magazine51, 237-250.

Torok, S.J. and Nicholls, N. 1996. A historical annual temperature dataset for Australia. Australian Meteorological Magazine45, 251-260.

Trewin, B.C. 2001. Extreme temperature events in Australia. PhD Thesis, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia.

The temperature trend maps/time series are calculated from homogeneous or high-quality temperature datasets developed for monitoring long-term temperature trends and variability. These datasets are available for download here:
(Annual dataset is used for annual maps/time series, daily dataset is used for seasonal maps/time series)

For the Record hot day maximums and record cold day maximums, the number of records in each year is calculated using a 68-station subset of the high-quality daily temperature dataset which meets data completeness and homogeneity criteria.
See: Trewin, B.C. 2010. Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Journal, in press.

2. Rainfall

Trend maps are available on the Bureau of Meteorology web site here:

Time series charts and datasets are available here:

Information about the maps is available here:
and about the time series here:

These pages also contain references to scientific papers written about the datasets as follows:

Lavery, B., Kariko, A. and Nicholls, N. 1992. A historical rainfall data set for Australia. Australian Meteorological Magazine40, 33-39.

Lavery, B., Joung, G. and Nicholls, N. 1997. An extended high-quality historical rainfall dataset for Australia. Australian Meteorological Magazine46, 27-38.

The rainfall trend maps are calculated from a high-quality rainfall dataset developed specifically for monitoring long-term trends and variability in Australian rainfall. These datasets are available for download here:
(Monthly dataset is used for maps)

Rainfall time series are calculated using a high-resolution gridded dataset developed for the Australian Water Availability Project (AWAP). Time series based on this gridded dataset are very similar to those of the high-quality”rainfall station dataset used to produce the trend maps.

A scientific reference for the AWAP data is:

Jones, D.A., Wang, W., Fawcett, R 2009. High-quality spatial climate data-sets for Australia Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Journal., 58, 233.248.

3. Oceans

Trend maps are available on the Bureau of Meteorology site here:

Time series charts and datasets are available here:

Information about the maps is available here:
and about the time series here:

These pages also contain references to scientific papers written about the datasets.

The sea surface temperature time series are calculated from the NOAA Extended Reconstructed Sea Surface Temperature (NOAA_ERSST_V2) data provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA, from their Web site at A full description of the NOAA_ERSST_V2 data can be found in Smith and Reynolds (2003, 2004).

Smith, T.M. and Reynolds, R.W. 2003. Extended Reconstruction of Global Sea Surface Temperatures Based on COADS Data (1854-1997). Journal of Climate16, 1495-1510.

Smith, T.M. and Reynolds, R.W. 2004. Improved extended reconstruction of SST (1854-1997). Journal of Climate17, 2466-2477.

See also:

Reference: Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre. 2008. Position Analysis: CO2 and climate change: ocean impacts and adaptation issues. Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC, Hobart, Australia.

Church J. A., White N. J., Hunter J. R., McInnes K. L., Cowell P. J. & O'Farrell S. P. (2008) Sea Level Rise and the Vulnerability of Coastal Environments In: Newman P. (ed). 2008. Transitions: Transitioning to a Resilient City. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, Australia. Pp. 191-210.

Church, J., White, N.J., Hunter, J.R. and Lambeck, K. (2008) Briefing: A Post-IPCC Update on Sea Level Rise Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC, Hobart pp5

Church, J. A. and N.J. White (2006), A 20th century acceleration in global sea level rise, Geophysical Research Letters, 33, L01602, doi:10.1029/2005GL024826

Church, J.A., N.J. White, T. Aarup, W.S. Wilson, P.L. Woodworth, C.M. Domingues, J.R. Hunter & K. Lambeck (2008), Understanding global sea levels: past, present and future. Sustainability Science, Special Feature: Original Article, doi:10.1007/s11625-008-0042-4;

Deng, X, DA Griffin, K. Ridgway, J.A. Church, W.E. Featherstone, N. White and M. Cahill (2009). Satellite altimetry for geodetic, oceanographic and climate studies in the Australian region, in: Vignudelli S.K.A. and Cipollini P. (eds.), Coastal Altimetry, Springer, Berlin

4. Carbon dioxide emissions and concentrations

Le Quéré, C., Raupach, M.R., Canadell, J.G., Marland, G., Bopp, L., Ciais, P., Conway, T.J., Doney, S.C., Feely, R., Foster, P., Friedlingstein, P., Gurney, K., Houghton, R.A., House, J.I., Huntingford, C., Levy, P., Lomas, M.R., Majkut, J., Metzl, N., Ometto, J., Peters, G.P., Prentice, I.C., Randerson, J.T., Running, S.W., Sarmiento, J.L., Schuster, U., Sitch, S., Takahashi, T., Viovy, N., van der Werf, G.R., Woodward, F. I. (2009). Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide. Nature Geoscience 2 (doi:10.1038/ngeo689)

Raupach, M.R., Marland, G., Ciais, P., Le Quere, C., Canadell, J.G., Klepper, G. and Field C.B. (2007). Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104, 10288-10293, doi:10.1073/pnas.0700609104. (

Canadell, J.G., Le Quéré, C., Raupach, M.R., Field, C.B., Buitenhuis, E.T., Ciais, P., Conway, T.J., Gillett, N.P., Houghton, R.A., Marland, G. (2007). Contributions to accelerating atmospheric CO2 growth from economic activity, carbon intensity, and efficiency of natural sinks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America104, 18866-18870, doi:10.1073/pnas.0702737104. (

The Human perturbation of the carbon cycle. UNESCO/Scope/UNEP Policy Brief Number 10, November 2009.

MacFarling Meure, C., Etheridge, D., Trudinger, C., Steele, P., Langenfelds, R., van Ommen, T., Smith A. and Elkins J. W. (2006). Law Dome CO2, CH4 and N2O ice core records extended to 2000 years BP, Geophysical Research Letters, 33(14), 10.1029/2006GL026152.

Etheridge, D. M., Steele, L. P., Langenfelds, R. L., Francey, R. J., Barnola, J. M., and Morgan, V. I. (1996). Natural and anthropogenic changes in atmospheric CO2 over the last 1000 years from air in Antarctic ice and firn. Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres, 101 (D2): 4115-4128;

Petit, J. R. et al. Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica. Nature 399, 429–436 (1999);

Luthi, D. et al., High-resolution carbon dioxide concentration record 650,000–800,000 years before present, Nature Vol 453, 379-382, 15 May 2008

See also:
Key greenhouse and ozone depleting gases (

5. Australia’s future climate

CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology (2007): Climate change in Australia. Technical Report, 140 pp.

See also:
Cai W and Cowan T, (2006) SAM and regional rainfall in IPCC AR4 models: can anthropogenic forcing account for southwest Western Australian winter rainfall reduction? Geophysical Research Letters33, L24708.

Question 2:  The charts showing temperature, rainfall and hot and cold day maximums do not show data prior to 1960. BMR claims to have been observing and reporting on weather in Australia for over 100 years. Why did it not use its complete set of records in depicting changes in these parameters? Does omitting an earlier period of warming between 1910 and 1940 for which BMR has records affect the resulting charts? What would be the effect of including this data on the charts?  Can CSIRO provide updated charts showing the effect of including the full set of records?

Answer: The plots provided in the Climate Snapshot cover the last 50 years because this is the period in recent memory of most Australians and for which we have the most comprehensive information. Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations (IPCC 2007). It is also worth noting that the period 1961-90 is regarded internationally as the standard reference period and the Snapshot brings us forward to today. The Bureau has always stressed that the full record is available for people to look at and analyse and has recently published the full record in the Annual Climate Summary 2009, the major Bureau publication released in March 2010.

Question 3: Climate models for eastern Australian show conflicting results with both an increase and decrease in projected rainfall. Why has the CSIRO focused on model results that show a decrease for this report? For a summary of model results that show a range of projections see: "Assessment of rainfall simulations from global climate models and implications for climate change impact on runoff studies" by CSIRO scientists F.H.S. Chiew, D.G.C. Kirono, D. Kent and J. Vaze

Answer: The statement about a likely decrease in rainfall in southern areas is based on information published in Climate change in Australia (CSIRO & BoM, 2007). The 150-page technical report can be downloaded from and an 8-page brochure can be downloaded from  The rainfall projections are based on results from 23 climate models. Page 5 of the brochure summarises the rainfall projections. Figure 4 shows the 50th percentile rainfall change in colour, with stippling indicating the regions where at least 2/3rds of the 23 models agree on a decrease in rainfall. This is why we say a likely decrease in southern areas rather than a certain decrease.

Question 4: Assuming current rates of sea level rise (3mm.year) continue providing a net increase of 300 mm for the 21st century can CSIRO comment on why this constitutes a cause for major concern?

Answer: Oceanographers do not simply extrapolate observed trends in sea level to make projections for the 21st century. They use models based on the laws of physics and driven by different IPCC emission scenarios to estimate the range of future sea level rise. See The IPCC (2007) estimated a rise of 18-59 cm by the year 2100, with a possible additional contribution from ice sheets of 10-20 cm to make a total of 19 to 79cm. The IPCC noted that further ice sheet contributions may increase the upper limit of sea-level rise. Note that a number of peer-reviewed papers published since 2007 have indicated the possibility of a larger sea-level rise, consistent with the IPCC concern of larger ice sheet contributions: see S. Rahmstorf, 2007 (A semi-empirical approach to projecting future sea-level rise. Science, 315, 368-370), R. Horton, C. Herweijer, C. Rosenzweig, J. Liu, V. Gornitz, and A. C. Ruane 2008 (Sea level rise projections for current generation CGCMs based on the semi-empirical method, Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L02715, doi:10.1029/2007GL032486), and M. Vermeer and S. Rahmstorf, 2009 (Global sea level linked to global temperature. PNAS, doi:10.1073/pnas.0907765106).

Increased coastal erosion and the increased frequency of extreme events (coastal flooding) are major causes for concern.  See the following reference: Church, J.A., J.R. Hunter, K.L. McInnes and N.J. White (2006), Sea level rise around the Australian coastline and the changing frequency of extreme sea level events. Australian Meteorological Magazine, 55, 253-260.

Question 5. In regard to Ocean acidification. Given that ph levels will remain above a neutral point of 7. Is it not more correct to say that oceans may become "less alkaline" rather than "more acidic".

Answer: The acidity of ocean water as detailed in Stumm W. and Morgan J. J., (1970) Aquatic Chemistry, John Wiley and Sons, is different than the meaning here which is about acid-base status of a substance. Stumm and Morgan is a major reference used in ocean chemistry and they express acidity as the proton condition relative to a reference proton level. Based on your use of pH 7 as a distinction between acid and base, you could say the pH of the seawater is decreasing due to carbon dioxide uptake and this does result in a less basic solution. However, it is also correct to say the acidity of seawater is increasing (ie tending to more acidic conditions) as a result of carbon dioxide uptake and storage by the ocean. The use of "less alkaline" in the statement can also lead to confusion because carbon dioxide uptake by the ocean does not change ocean alkalinity, but it does increase the total dissolved carbon dioxide concentration and it decreases pH. The ocean waters are indeed experiencing lower pH, greater acidity, and less basic conditions. All are compatible statements and trying to choose one over the other is like trying to decide if something is warmer or less cold. The issue is the carbon dioxide uptake is changing ocean chemistry, including ocean pH, and that may have a serious implications for marine ecosystems. 

Question 6:  CSIRO points out the obvious in indicating that climate change is real. The real issues to Australian society surrounds whether anthropogenic change will be dangerous. As recent peer reviewed publications (eg Lindzen, R. S., and Y.-S. Choi, 2009- On the determination of climate feedbacks from ERBE data, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L16705, doi:10.1029/) indicate that IPCC climate models have overstated the climate's sensitivity to CO2 increases. Can the CSIRO comment on the certainty behind predictions of future impacts of climate on human populations?

Answer: The uncertainty in model climate sensitivity is discussed in detail in IPCC (2007) Working Group 1 Chapter 8 section 8.6. Regarding model reliability, see IPCC (2007) Working Group 1 FAQ 8.1 and

Question 7:  Dr Clarke describes the Australian dataset as "robust" , however in allegedly leaked documents from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia a programmer named "Harry" describes the Australian temperature dataset in the following way.
"I am very sorry to report that the rest of the databases seem to be in nearly as poor a state as Australia was. There are hundreds if not thousands of pairs of dummy stations, one with no WMO and one with, usually overlapping and with the same station name and very similar coordinates. I know it could be old and new stations, but why such large overlaps if that’s the case? Aarrggghhh! There truly is no end in sight… So, we can have a proper result, but only by including a load of garbage!"
"getting seriously fed up with the state of the Australian data"
Why does CRU programmer "Harry" describe the Australian temperature database as "poor" and compare it to garbage? Doesn't this contradict your assertion that the data is robust?

Answer: In 2006 the Bureau of Meteorology provided the CRU with an update of all Bureau of Meteorology monthly temperature data (mean monthly maximum and minimum temperature) and pan evaporation. At the time the Bureau of Meteorology also established a monthly data feed to CRU to ensure all data for Australia were made available for their real-time analyses. This greatly improved the data holdings that CRU had for the Australian region and the quality of their holdings.

The comments about Bureau data relate to the CRU programmers experience in reconciling the new data with their old data holdings. A particular issue related to the locational and metadata which were very different. The comments do not relate to the quality of the Bureau data.

The Bureau uses high-quality data primarily recorded at its Reference Climate Station Network. The stations used in the analyses come from rural and regional sites chosen for their long and reliable records. The associated temperature data therefore show very little or no urban warming. You can explore the data the Bureau of Meteorology uses to described Australia's annual temperatures at The sites used are the rural sites. While the Bureau has urban sites in the Reference Climate Station Network (to monitor climate in major urban centres) they are not used in products such as monitoring long-term trends in temperatures.

- - - - End of CSIRO Response - - - - - -

Friday, March 26, 2010

Missing News: Censorship at AGU: scientists denied the right of reply

Update 2. Further views provided by Bob Carter and John McLean including comment on ABC "How we were censored"  at QUADRANT

Update 1 14.23pm 26/3/2010-see 4 Corners generic reply below
ABC MISSING HEADLINE: "American Geophysical Union at centre of censorship allegations"
ABC HAVE NOT YET REPORTED ON: claims of censorship and scientific malfeasance levied against the American Geophysical Union by a group of authors whose paper was rejected by editors of the AGU journal, Geophysical Research Letters. The claims, outlined in an article published by the authors through the Washington based Science and Public Policy Institute (available HERE), include:
• Collaboration to attack scientific papers that provide evidence militating against a dangerous human influence on climate, by a group of scientists whose attitudes have already been exposed by the CRU email (a.k.a. Climategate) affair, namely Grant Foster, James Annan, Phil Jones, Michael Mann, Jim Renwick, Jim Salinger, Gavin Schmidt and Kevin Trenberth.
• The clear intention of this group has been to try to damage the credibility of an independently refereed paper whose conclusions they disliked, rather than to create and participate in a constructive scientific discussion amongst equals.
• Inappropriate contact between one of the authors (Kevin Trenberth) and the former President of the AGU (Mike McPhaden), in a way that can be construed as interference in editorial process.
• Inappropriate tampering with AGU editorial management by requesting an alternative editor, which resulted in the replacement of the original editor by editor-2.
• Unprofessional publication of Foster et al.’s critique on the Internet, in AGU journal format, before it had been considered or accepted for publication by AGU.
• Questionable editorial inaction, in editor-2 not rejecting the Foster et al. critique on grounds of its prior publication and formatting, both in direct contravention of AGU guidelines.
• Failure to follow the AGU guidelines regarding nomination of potential reviewers, by Foster et al. proposing persons (a) with whom they have close professional relationships and (b) in anticipation that they will be biased.
• Error of editorial judgement in accepting for publication a critique of a paper that contains incorrect claims about the content of that paper and focuses on peripheral issues rather than on the paper's substantive scientific conclusions.
• Failure to apply editorial power impartially, but instead acting in support of the prevailing hypothesis of dangerous human-caused global warming.
• Denial of a right of reply to those whose research was being criticized.

THE SUGGESTION: This story has all the ingredients of a Four Corners expose. Can ABC please engage the services of Chris Masters to investigate this further?
OUTCOME: Seems framing this as a suggestion results in much swifter treatment than if issued as a complaint, even if it is a generic!
Thank you for your email dated 25 March.
Your program suggestion has been passed on to one of our producers for consideration.  We may be in touch with you again if we feel we can take this matter further.
Thanks again for taking the time to write to us.
Program Assistant
Four Corners
ABC Television
COMMENT: I wonder if ABC editorial staff will recognise the newsworthiness of this piece, or will they run another chicken run story?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lord Howe Island Corals: reports of our death greatly exaggerated.

COMMENT: Southern Cross University (SCU) issued a press release dated 24 March 2010 describing a coral bleaching event on Lord Howe Island due to unusual weather conditions (warmer sea water temperature, low wind and cloud cover...the effects of the current El Nino perhaps?) in early 2010. The press release must have been provided some time earlier to ABC's environment reporter Sarah Clarke whose subsequent reports including interviews with SCU's Prof Peter Harrison and some handy on-site footage of Lord Howe Island was released on Radio National's AM at around 7.30 am EDST.
Sarah Clarke managed to spread the news far and wide providing near saturation coverage across all ABC formats.
AM-"Warmer waters bleach Lord Howe's unique reef"
Science Online: Bleaching leaves Lord Howe reef on 'knife edge'
TV:ABC 7.00 news SYDNEY Lord Howe Island reef succumbs to bleaching
News Online: Bleaching leaves Lord Howe reef on 'knife edge'
Radio Australia: "Warmer waters bleach Lord Howe's unique reef"
Links to the story were also featured prominently on ABC's home page. The reports feature photos provided by Prof. Harrison.

We note that Prof Harrison and Sarah Clarke are not strangers and have "collaborated" together in the past, for instance on this story for the 7:30 Report in November 2007 "Busting the Scientific Whaling Myth". Perhaps this explains Ms Clarke's early access to the SCU press release.

The story emphasised the unique nature of the reefs at Lord Howe and their susceptibility to climate change. What the reports failed to mention was that a study published in the journal Global and Planetary Change in 2005 titled "Episodes of reef growth at Lord Howe Island, the southernmost reef in the southwest Pacific" (Volume 49: 222-237) by Woodroffe et al., found a long history of coral reefs at Lord Howe Island with sporadic reef development extending well back into the Pleistocene. Woodroffe et al. note:

"Although the modern fringing reef on the western side of Lord Howe Island supports luxuriant coral
communities (Veron and Done, 1979; Harriott et al., 1995), coring and dating of lagoonal sediments imply a phase of more prolific coral growth and sediment production in the mid-Holocene (Kennedy and Woodroffe, 2000). This coincides with a time at which higher temperatures have been indicated by isotopic proxies in corals on the Great Barrier Reef (Gagan et al., 1998), and in worm tubes in eastern Australia (Baker et al.,2001). It remains unproven, however, whether sea-surface temperatures were higher at Lord Howe Island. An alternative explanation is that there was a broad expanse
of suitable substrate available as the sea rose across the bench bevelled into calcarenites that had been deposited during a previous interstadial." 
It seems to us that it was probably a combination of factors of warmer temperatures and available space that provided the conditions for more prolific coral growth in the mid-Holocene, we wait the results of further research. Regardless, the geological evidence shows that coral reefs have managed to adapt to a range of climatic and sea level conditions at Lord Howe Island and in this context the current bleaching event is likely to be just one of a multitude of events in the reef's past, many of which were probably much more dramatic and dire than the current one. 

The ABC reports included a number of statements by Lord Howe Island Marine Park manager Ian Kerr, but oddly this one from SCU's press release failed to get a mention in any of the ABC coverage: “ I've seen aerial photographs and I’m pleased to report the beauty and uniqueness of the reef is still intact, we remain very concerned about this event and will continue to facilitate the research and monitoring that needs to continue,” Mr Kerr said.

With this in mind it seems reports that reefs at Lord Howe are "on a knife's edge", are somewhat exaggerated, unless of course that knife has a very dull edge. 

The late Richard Feynman stated in a speech at Caltech on the subject of Cargo cult Science "In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another." This applies not only to science, but also I think, to science reporting in order to avoid cargo cult journalism.

Cargo cult journalism evident in this SMH story on the Bay of Bengal and now in this ABC report "Island vanishes under the sea"  No mention in either article of a little something called subsidence.