Cyril Galvin and AGU’s position on Climate Change

The American Geophysical Union adopted a position statement concerning climate change in December 2007 which can be found here.

The position begins,

The Earth’s climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming.

Many components of the climate system—including the temperatures of the atmosphere, land and ocean, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, the sea level, the distribution of precipitation, and the length of seasons—are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th century.

It does not surprise me to see individuals in an organization dissenting with the official view, which may be a majority view (it’s hard for “organizations” to say anything, they are made of real people and it’s hard to get thousands of real people to agree on anything). Andy Revkin tried to get a good analysis of who accepted the position statement and who didn’t here . He bolded the comments of AGU members so their posts are readily identified.

Anyways, I happened to catch a forum in EOS, November 11 Vol. 89, 46. This is a copy (PDF) which may require subscription. The article was by Cyril Galvin, a coastal engineer, who expressed explicit dissent of the AGU’s position statement. He is certainly entitled to his views, but I was very surprised to see the reasons for that dissent

1. “A team of NASA and university scientists has detected an ongoing reversal in Arctic Ocean circulation triggered by atmospheric circulation changes that vary on decade- long time scales. The results suggest not all of the large changes in Arctic climate in recent years are a result of longterm trends associated with global warming.” This is the first paragraph of an article by Alan Buis of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, appearing on page 32 of a 41- page NASA newsletter (The Earth Observer, 20(1), January- February 2008). It was derived from a 2007 article in Geophysical Research Letters by J. Morison et al. (34, L07602,

This is interesting but not at all surprising. No one serious has said that all of the Arctic variability is due to anthropogenic factors. All this is saying is that natural variability and weather happens. I happened to e-mail Dr. Morison a few months ago to ask him his thoughts on the relative influence of natural and anthropogenic factors and his response was that he thought about half of the observed variability is due to natural factors, but was worried that when natural variability (such as ice exportation from a rising AO) were superimposed on a long-term trend, the sea-ice system could have problems returning to its original state. The AO has relaxed since the 1990’s and may be going positive again, but no one has explained the observed variability with natural variability alone. In fact, there are two recent papers detecting recent anthropogenic influence, here and here.

He continues…

In global warming discussions, much is made of the supposed agreement between climate models and data. But even supposing that theory agrees with data (or that data agree with theory), I believe that the “apparent correlation between theory and data is no guarantee that the theory accurately describes the phenomenon” and “[d] emonstration of agreement between a proposed theory and a given set of data is no proof that the theory is valid.” The above quotations, which are from my 1967 review of longshore currents (Reviews of Geophysics,
5(3), 301, 303, August 1967), are general statements, applicable to all fields in science. Their generality is affirmed in the American Association for the Advancement of Science book Benchmarks for Science Literacy (1993), which states that demonstration of correlation is not proof of cause -and- effect relations, and that students should know this “by the end of the 12th grade.” “A believable correlation between two variables doesn’t mean that either one causes the other…” (p. 230; see also pp. 226 and 270″

I agree with this. Correlations and process by elimination, etc are not very convincing. In 1896, Svante Arrhenius predicted the global temperature response to a doubling of carbon dioxide which was not remarkably different from today’s best estimates (it was on the high end). He did not have any CO2 or temperature data to get correlations off of. The infamous Vostok plot of CO2 and temperature going back several hundred thousand years was not available to him. He had no fancy models. This “theory” stems from physical principles in radiative transfer and the attribution is not based on a good correlation, but quantitative analysis of radiative forcings for different external agents, various fingerprints (like stratospheric cooling, etc) that cannot be explained by solely natural variability. See The Scientific Basis for Anthropogenic Climate Change

The prevailing assumption in the press, in legislative considerations, and in climate science is that global warming causes sea level rise, which causes beach erosion. The link supposed between global warming and sea level is demonstrated by a Google search of the World Wide Web: The words “sea level” and “global warming” occur together 1,830,000 times (Google data on 22 September 2008), more than any other effect listed by the AGU statement except precipitation, which exceeds sea level by only about 1%.

I don’t quite understand the connection. A Google Search of ‘Global Warming Deniers and nazis’ reveals almost 34,000 results. I’m not sure I’d make any connection based on that. The scientific literature suggests Eustatic sea level rise is 3.3 mm/yr now. Galvin downplays the effect of sea level rise (particularly by comparing the trend with annual cyclicity), and spends quite a bit of time talking about localized erosion, however estimates suggest millions of people will be effected by just a meter of sea level rise, and be significantly costly, and the sea level rise is real as a result of thermal expansion of warmer waters and ice melt.

In summary, disagreeing with the “consensus” is fine, but rational reasons should be given for doing so, especially by scientists. This was not. There is nothing especially sloppy about the writeup, but it does not strike me as being written by someone following closely in the field of climate (change).


8 responses to “Cyril Galvin and AGU’s position on Climate Change

  1. Cyril Galvin has responsed to my post via e-mail:



    Thank you for your message. I had been out of town on Friday,
    and had preparation and catchup to get through.

    I appreciate your noticing my discussion of the AGU position
    statement on Human Impacts. Equivalently, on Global Warming.
    I am glad to learn of Dr Morison’s opinion that “about half of the
    observed variability is due to natural factors”. Presumably, he
    refers to Arctic Ocean ice cover. Is that his opinion?

    Your last paragraph has “consensus” in quotes, which would cause
    the reader to attribute the word to me. That word is a word I
    ordinarily would not use, and in rereading my paper, I can’t find
    that I did use it.

    Support for statements in the next to last paragraph of my Eos
    article can be found in an abstract of a poster to be presented at
    the AGU Fall mtg on Dec 16. You can find the abstract thru then the Fall Meeting, then my abstract identified
    as OS23C-1275. I also have a brief item on energy policy in the
    AAPG Explorer, November issue, if that is available to you.
    I’ll send you paper copies of each if you want.

    Again, thank you very much for noticing my Eos article.

    Cy ”

    Response– The next to last paragraph in the article reads,

    “From logic, there is an even stronger argument
    against the claimed threat from sea
    level rise. Nowhere on the sandy ocean
    shores of the world is there a beach whose
    erosion has been documented to be caused
    by sea level rise. That fact implies, and calculations
    strongly suggest, that sea level rise,
    measured over the timescale of civilizations,
    is of secondary importance compared with
    other processes acting at the coast”

    I also apologize if the attribution of the word ‘consensus’ was implied as being spoken by Galvin. It was not, and I did not think I made it look that way. I also responded,

    “Yes, Dr. Morison was referring to sea ice in the arctic, and in his words, “That is an observation, not theory.”– chris

  2. I’m glad you noticed and pursued this. I’ve had it lying open since it arrived.

    I think it says the same thing that the hurricane, drought, and other researchers say — natural variability is so large that the global warming signal only emerges from the statistical work on the human lifetime scale — it’s not possible to attribute any single event to “climate change” — and that would even apply to things like changing arrival of migratory species, leaf opening, and the like. For any particular bird or butterfly (or flock thereof) or any particular tree or forest in a particular area, well, stuff happens.

    Same for any particular beach or barrier island. It’s only recently that we’ve known that many coastal islands are migrating slowly, eroding and reforming. Who knew?

    What puzzled me was the feeling the author omitted mentioning the possibility of looking for a signal by collecting data on erosion rates of change and extreme events, taking data over time from many sources — as though it never occurred to him or anyone else to look the way other researchers have looked.

    (Aside — folks, EOS comes weekly with the $25 annual AGU membership, along with a glossy Physics Today monthly; worthwhile.
    You won’t get access to the journals without added paid subscriptions.)

  3. Chris

    wonder if you can report on this lawsuit, see Reuters early story here:


    for immediate release: December 1, 2008
    contact: Dan Bloom:

    Lawsuit against world leaders for $1 billion for global warming impact
    on future?

    Tags: Environment, climate treaty, crimes against humanity, global
    warming, greenhouse emissions, international criminal court

    In a global publicity stunt, a U.S. environmental activist is poised
    to lodge a US$1 billion damages class action lawsuit at the
    International Criminal Court (ICC) against all world leaders for
    failing to prevent global warming.

    Climate ctivist and blogger Dan Bloom, 60, a graduate of Tufts
    University in 1971, says he will sue world leaders for “intent to
    commit manslaughter against future generations of human beings by
    allowing murderous amounts of fossil fuels to be harvested, burned and
    sent into the atmosphere as CO2″.

    He intends to lodge the lawsuit on Dec. 6 at the ICC in the Hague.

    The prosecutor’s office at the ICC, the world’s first permanent court
    (pictured below right) for war crimes, genocide and crimes against
    humanity, says it is allowed to receive information on crimes that may
    fall within the court’s jurisdiction from any source.

    “Such information does not per se trigger a judicial proceeding,” the
    prosecutor’s office hastened to add.

    The question for media analysts and reporters is: will or should the
    prosecutor take on the case?

    One might argue in defense that world leaders are in fact trying to
    impose climate-saving measures. In Vienna last year, almost all rich
    nations agreed to consider cuts in greenhouse emissions of 25-40
    percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Talks on a new climate treaty will
    be held in Poznan, Poland, from Dec. 1-12.

    Rajendra Pachauri, head of the U.N. Climate Panel, says the cuts are
    needed to limit temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, an amount
    seen by the EU, some other nations and many environmentalists as a
    threshold for “dangerous” climate change.

    Granted then that there is growing consensus that climate change poses
    a real threat, is it not only world leaders who are failing to prevent
    global warming?

    Perhaps the global collective of individuals, governments and industry
    is to blame and the ICC lawsuit a valid publicity stunt in the
    constant battle to raise awareness and prompt action?

    Because it’s action we need ― and now, right?

  4. Comment for Danny Bloom left at RC:

    Dr. Galvin, thanks for the pointer;
    for others, this is the search that worked for me:
    in the Search box put:
    “1275 Galvin”
    then click the first link of the many returned,
    “Two Sea-Level Challenges”

    (AGU links are about impossible to copy and paste usefully!)

    I’m a reader, not a scientist, trying to understand and when I can interpret for those who aren’t reading as much as I do. I poked at my question for you in the prior post a few days ago. Your abstract at the AGU page helps make sense of this, let me ask if I’m reading you right. I understand and agree with this point:

    “… the first challenge is to abandon “relative sea level rise” in favor of “water depth increase”, in order that the words accurately descibe what happens. It would further clarify popular understanding if the term “actual sea level rise” were used in place of “eustatic sea level rise” ….”

    That would help.

    The second point is the one I tried to get at a few days ago in the thread, above.
    Are you saying the same as the hurricane people or the bird migration people as I said above, that no individual event is ever going to be attributable to climate change because for any individual event? No argument there.

    But I wonder about looking for a small signal by assessing large numbers of events. At which point “goto 01” — we don’t have a clear idea of what “actual sea level rise” is established consistently across enough locations to generate the data?

    Or am I missing something?

    Much appreciate your even reading this, and I’ll be grateful if you find time to comment further at any point.

    I’m only a $25/year AGU member so I’ll be reading EOS and looking in on the meeting through the big glass wall over at Moscone on my lunch break.

  5. This sort of comparison may be helpful, as the numbers come in from around the world’s oceans:

    That’s from

  6. Eli too had read Galvins jeremiad and thought it very peculiar. He was wondering if the folks at EOS were trying to make an example of the fellow. Galvin reminds Eli of the counter to the old saw that you have to know eighty percent of the answer to ask an intelligent question, that you don’t have to know very much to have an opinion. Rather he has gathered on to an isolated piece of knowledge, that changes in currents can have significant effects, and indeed they can, but if variable effects are superimposed onto a long term and significant trend, on the average the trend wins. Worse, while sometimes the variability opposes the trend, there are others where it amplifies the trend and if the trend is against you, you lose big.

    Clearly, Galvin has little idea of how greenhouse gases work, the synergy between their increase and land use changes in the past two hundred years and frankly about the mechanism behind sea level rise, as is clearly shown by his comment here about Arctic Ocean Ice cover contributing to sea level rise.

    As many iced tea lovers and anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with the issue of sea level rise knows, ice floats, so the Arctic Ocean Ice will contribute little (there are some density issues) if nothing to global sea level rise. On the other hand, grounded ice, ice shelves, and the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps melting do have a direct effect. There there are significant issues concerned with timing and thermodynamics. Thermodynamics tells you that a global rise of a few degrees would melt these caps enough for several meters of sea level rise. The issue is how long, based on our current understanding, not for a few centuries or even more but even a meter in the next century would be a catastrophe because human’s have tended to settle near the sea, and among other things river deltas are among the most fertile areas on earth

    What Galvin washes away is that there are many low lying areas (US east coast barrier islands, and that in terms of damage, what costs is the worst possible case, the storm surge on top of a rising sea level. In terms of sea level damage, Galvin would do well to look at the James Titus’ web pages. For sea level rise up to date, he might look at the University of Colorado wizard and, of course, the maps at KU that show what goes under when the sea level goes up. If you think it ain’t significant, go talk to someone who can value the real estate. The value of the Long Island NY shore alone pays for all the mitigation we need. The UC maps show that sea level rise is not uniform across the oceans (read the site for more) and the south seas and SE Asia are getting hammered. BTW these are from satellite measurements, so don’t even go near the subsidence is doing it all tree.

    Chris brings the important point out. It is not correlation alone that underpins our concern about climate change but the basic radiation physics and fluid dynamics of the atmosphere reinforced by the correlations that they predict well enough to have confidence in the rather conservative (in the proper sense) conclusions of the IPCC.

  7. I noticed mention in the news yesterday that wave height along the West Coast is increasing, apart from sea level rise — no idea why, but it’s affecting planning for any longterm building because it will increase erosion rates. (Loosely consolidated sedimentary rock that was recent seabottom makes crumbly beach cliffs — that’s why landslides are the major way landforms change in the California mountains, the stuff wasn’t left under heat and pressure long enough before it got uplifted.)

  8. You can read similar news about global warming in my blog too…

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 )

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