How to get students interested in climate science

William Kessler of NOAA wrote this:

I am a physical oceanographer who knows nothing about the Chandler wobble, is only slightly familiar with the QBO, but is a longtime expert on ENSO.
To be blunt, trying to shoehorn ENSO into a periodic tidal framework stretches reality to fit someone’s preconceived theory. Only the most motivated reasoning can believe this.

… (more stuff)

I am sorry to have wasted an hour on this.

Billy Kessler, NOAA/PMEL, Seattle

Interactive comment on Earth Syst. Dynam. Discuss.,,

Billy also wrote this on his web site (emphasis mine):

4. An idea for a science fair project.
Requested by a parent.

Here’s an idea. This experiment is similar to what actual scientists are doing right now.

The project is to construct some forecast models of El Niño’s development over the next few months. We don’t know what it will do. Will it get more intense?, weaken?, remain strong?, and if so for how long? These are the subject of much debate in the scientific community right now, and many efforts are under way to predict and understand it.

The models would be forecasts made using several assumptions, and the main result would be graphs showing how the forecasts compared with actual evolving conditions.

One model would be called “persistence”. That is, whatever conditions are occurring now, they will continue. Surprisingly, persistence is often a hard-to-beat forecast, and weather forecasters score themselves on how much better than persistence thay (sp) can do. A second model is continuation of the trend. That is, if the sea surface temperature (SST) is warming up it will continue to warm at the same rate. Obviously that can’t go on forever but in many ways a trend is a good indicator of future trends. A third model is random changes. Get a random number generator (or pick numbers out of a hat). Each day or week, use the random numbers to predict what the change of SST will be (scale the numbers to keep it reasonable). Those are three simple models that can be used to project forward from current conditions. Essentially that’s what weather forecast models do, just more sophisticatedly (see question 13). Maybe you can think of some other ways to make forecasts (if you get something that works, send it in!)

Choose a few buoys from our network in different regions of the tropical Pacific (for example, on the equator, off the equator, in the east, and the west). Get the data from our web page (click for detailed instructions to get this data). Make and graph predictions for each buoy chosen for a month or two ahead, then collect observations as they come in (the data files are updated daily). Graph the observations against the three predictions. My guess is that each model would be successful in some regions for some periods of time. Other extensions would be to compare forecasts beginning at different times. Perhaps a forecast begun with September comditions (sp) is good for 3 months, but one begun in December is only good for one month. Etc.

Another simple project is to determine how significant an effect El Niño has on your local region. Do this by gathering an assortment of local weather time series from your region (monthly rainfall, temperature, etc) (available at the web pages of the National Weather service). Then get an index of El Niño like the Southern Oscillation Index (see Question 17 for a description and graphic, and download the values at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. The specific data links are: values for 1951-today and 1882-1950. Note that the SOI monthly values are very jumpy and must be smoothed by a 5-month running mean). Compare the turns of the El Niño/La Niña cycle with changes in your local weather; this could either be through a listing of El Niño/La Niña years and good/bad local weather, or by correlation of the two time series (send me e-mail for how to do correlation). You will probably find out that some aspects of your local weather are related to the El Niño/La Niña cycle and some are not. Also that some strong El Niño or La Niña years make a difference but some do not. This reflects the fact that, far from the center of action in the tropical Pacific, El Niño is only one of many influences on weather.

If your (sp) are pretty good at math and computer programming (at least 8th-grade math), then I have a more advanced project that you can find here.

FAQ from

Just an example of “your” typical Trumpian science. “Thay” certainly are sophisticatedly

Face with rolling eyes

2 thoughts on “How to get students interested in climate science

  1. More hypocrisy from Billy:

    “Some words of caution on El Niño forecasts.
    Written for a middle school class in San Diego at the request of their teacher.
    It is important to remember that El Niño is not the only effect on weather. It is but one fluctuation among many, and the weather we experience is the sum of all of these overlaid and interacting. Most of these interactions are poorly understood, particularly the longer-term ones, and as we get longer and longer records we become aware of more and more complexity. The different El Niños occur on different background states, at different times of year, and therefore have different total effects. Therefore, one cannot simply speak of the isolated effects of El Niño on weather in San Diego. There is only the ever-changing combination of influences. That is the main reason why we cannot produce reliable long-term forecasts.

    Scientists study El Niño partly for its own effects, but also partly as an example of how this kind of climate oscillation interacts with the rest of the climate system. We know there are many such oscillations, and we would like to be able to fit the whole picture together. We hope that what we learn about the climate system from studying El Niño will help us understand other, less obvious, variability.

    Teaching kids the one and only way

    From today Jamie Raskin during impeachment trial twice quoting Ben Franklin


  2. The short ideas paper I presented on the role of tides was rejected by Earth Systems Dynamics, with this note (no doubt decided with consideration of Billy’s input) :

    “Thank you for submitting your manuscript to ESD. Your work caused some resonance and was commented and discussed not only by the referees, but also by other authors. Most of the questions raised were related to the explanation how your ideas differentiate from the previous works. Although you explained it in detail in your response, this explanation required quite a bit of text and figures. Since ESD ideas is a very short communication format, it has no room for all these explanations, I solicit you to submit a classic full-size paper to ESD with all these questions addressed.”

    I encourage you to read the discussion commentary to see how these ideas are viewed.

    But rejecting the paper because others couldn’t get the simplicity of the idea? A little over the top,

    Billy’s comment

    “shoehorn ENSO into a periodic tidal framework”

    Umm, like duh. Way back in 1776, Laplace developed the now-referred-to Laplace’s Tidal Equations to attempt to model tidal flows, including the effects of Coriolis and lateral forcing. They proved so successful that they were enhanced to form the so-called primitive equations used to approximate atmospheric flow in global atmospheric models. So they are essentially GCMs. So what I did is to derive a compact analytical solution for the LTE along the equator and applied that theoretical model to evaluating the ENSO while using tidal forces as input.

    And Billy from NOAA calls that a preconceived theory and motivated reasoning ? I would give up if they weren’t so laughably ignorant about how to do physics.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s