The Curious Case of the Southern Ocean and the Peer-Reviewed Journal

Image, back in 2010: New errors in IPCC climate change report

By Mike Jonas

The Paper

What seems like a very long time ago, I downloaded surface temperature data for the Southern Oceans to see if I could find, and learn anything useful from, the patterns of the AAO (AntArctic Oscillation). I fairly quickly got diverted from that exercise when I noticed a remarkable temperature pattern in the data which showed that the IPCC and the climate modelers had got the entire Southern Ocean stunningly and diametrically wrong.

Others had already found that large parts of the Southern Ocean had cooled, but no-one as far as I knew had found this precise temperature pattern.

So I wrote a paper, and submitted it to a peer-reviewed journal – Sage Publications’ Journal of Ocean and Climate: Science, Technology and Impacts. Now I freely admit that I thought the chances of the paper being published were low – not because it wasn’t good enough (I was confident that it was) but because it demonstrated a failure of the IPCC and the climate models. What I didn’t expect was that (a) the process would take nearly a year, (b) the journal would handle it so dishonestly, and (c) the editor would end up stating explicitly that he wouldn’t publish a paper that was critical of the climate models, after having promised the exact opposite. There’s more on that below – see The Review Process.

At the end of the process, with the paper having finally been rejected, I wanted to at least get the paper’s content into the public domain so that the work couldn’t be hijacked, and Jo Nova very kindly put it up on her excellent blog. See: Far Southern Ocean cools. Kiss Goodbye to polar amplification around Antarctica. In that article, there were also links to the covering letter sent to the journal with the original submission, explaining why the paper was less complicated than perhaps they were used to, and to the Supplementary Information that accompanied the paper.

The temperature pattern that I found was shown in this graph:

(The paper’s Figure 2): Linear trends in sea surface temperature around the Antarctic, by Latitude. (The four lists are described in the paper). High latitudes (further south) are on the left, low latitudes (further north) on the right. The up-tick towards latitude -72 is explained in the paper.

The IPCC report said “Feedbacks associated with changes in sea ice and snow amplify surface warming near the poles” and gave several supporting references. But the Southern Oceans temperature pattern above shows the exact opposite: the further south you get, the greater the rate of cooling. In fact, at almost the precise latitude where the IPCC expected the most amplified warming there was some of the fastest cooling on the planet! [Note where zero trend is on the Y axis].

OK, so the climate models are not expected to be accurate in every detail. But how wrong can they be before they are shown to be invalid? The paper argued that getting a complete ocean diametrically wrong over a period of more than 30 years is enough to show that the climate models are invalid:

  • The climate models predict “amplified warming” in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica from sea ice and snow “feedback”.
  • This amplified warming is expected to occur over a large area, and there is “high confidence” in it. (IPCC Report: “In summary, there is robust evidence over multiple generations of models and high confidence in these large-scale warming patterns.”).
  • Satellite sea surface temperatures show the exact opposite. The strongest cooling occurred at the latitudes where most warming was expected.
  • The cooling occurred over a period of 36 years. The modelers claimed that 14 years was enough for the feedback to manifest itself.
  • The modelers had excuses – “deep ocean mixing, strong ocean heat uptake and the persistence of the vast Antarctic ice sheet” – but these aren’t unknowns, they are features that the models are supposed to model! As the paper pointed out: “If that explanation is correct, then they have identified some important large-scale climate processes that are not reasonably represented in the models. Without such processes, it is questionable whether the models are fit for purpose.”.
  • The IPCC acknowledged that model projections did not match observations, but claimed that “[weather] station records are short and sparse” and that the models were more reliable than the data. The paper pointed out that comprehensive satellite coverage has destroyed that argument.
  • The models must have failed to apply the laws of physics correctly in the Southern Oceans. The laws of physics are the same everywhere on the planet. The models’ results for all regions, and hence globally, must therefore be unreliable.

As I said in the paper:

The fact that the IPCC recognizes that it has a problem does not mean that the problem can be ignored. It means that they really do have a problem.

The Review Process

What was truly bizarre about the review of this particular paper is that the editor was complimentary about the paper (“this valuable analytical work”) and acknowledged that it was correct (“you are right as current models have many serious problems because of their poor resolution and their crude parameterizations of key processes”), but then refused publication saying quite openly that papers critical of the climate models were not needed because the models “need to be taken seriously (as the IPCC does) even with a pinch of salt”!

Western governments have spent billions (trillions?) of dollars on climate boondoggles, thanks to the likes of the IPCC, and when have you ever seen them use a pinch of salt? And why on Earth would you take seriously a model with poor resolution and crude parameterizations?

The review process began normally (well I assume it was normal) apart from some delays with technical problems in the journal’s website. Two reviews were sent to me by the editor. They identified places where better explanations or more detail were needed, and I submitted a revised paper.

The reviewers of the revised paper found not one single fault with any of the paper’s data or logic, but they still recommended rejection. The sequence of events was as follows:

  • There were delays early in the process, which led me to ask the editor whether he was reluctant to publish the paper because it showed that the IPCC and the climate models were in error.
  • The editor assured me that the delay was not driven by political considerations. The editor then promised me that I would have right of reply to reviews.
  • The editor sent two reviews by “Reviewer #1” and “Reviewer #2” to me. I responded politely and comprehensively to every point in the reviews and submitted a revised paper with more detail as requested.
  • A month later, I was advised that Reviewers #1 and #2 had withdrawn saying they didn’t have time to review the revised paper.
  • Another 3 weeks later, I was advised that 12 more reviewers had been approached to review the paper, and had all declined.
  • Another 5 weeks later, the editor rejected the paper.

In the rejection email, Reviewer #2 (one of the reviewers who had withdrawn because they didn’t have time) re-appeared with a weak fact-free repetition of part of their original review, even though it had already been comprehensively dealt with. The most reasonable explanation seems to me that the editor contacted the two reviewers asking them to maintain their rejection recommendation, so that he (the editor) could justifiably reject the paper. The fact that one reviewer did not do so is perhaps encouraging.

But the editor had also found a third reviewer to write a rejection, and I was not given the promised right of reply. The review was of pathetically low quality (see the dialogue referred to below), but it gave the editor the excuse he needed to reject the paper. Maybe he didn’t honor his promise to give me the right of reply, because of the risk that the third reviewer could be “seen off” like Reviewer #1? I doubt I’ll ever know.

I complained to the journal that the editor had reneged on his promise to give me right of reply to reviews. They just sent my complaint to the editor, who didn’t reply in person but left it to a lesser editor to throw up a brick wall. After that, if anything it just got worse. The full dialogue with the journal is available here.

The thing that amused me most about the whole affair was the commentary which the editor included in his rejection letter, and which was stunning in its implications:

Models might produce excess/unrealistic climatic warming in the Southern Ocean because of an inadequate representation of the surface albedo (the albedos of sea ice and marine snow are very variable and difficult to model) or because of problems with many other aspects of the ocean and sea ice physics (e.g., lateral and vertical mixing, upwelling) or the atmospheric dynamics (winds, precipitation). These problems are all very well known.

He’s got everything covered – the surface, the ocean, the atmosphere. The problem is in one of those!!!

If ever you needed evidence that they simply have no idea at all about how the climate works, well, there it is.

If only it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny.



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