Sierra snowpack study instantly attacked because it undermines AGW claims

If you want a prototypical example of how climate science has ceased being true science and instead become little more than an ideological battleground, look no further than a study released yesterday showing that, contrary to earlier claims, global warming has had zero effect on the depth of the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.


Although the study received almost no media coverage (hmmmm, wonder why?), the San Francisco Chronicle did publish an article entitled Study: Sierra snowfall consistent over 130 years. But they covered the study not to give it wider publicity, but rather to give a platform to critics trying to discredit it.

The main thing we learn from this incident is not that snow levels in California have essentially remain unchanged since 1878, but rather that the weak, fallacious and ultimately politically-driven counter-arguments from the critics reveal just how far mainstream climate science has drifted from unbiased truth-seeking.

From the article:

Snowfall in the Sierra Nevada has remained consistent for 130 years, with no evidence that anything has changed as a result of climate change, according to a study released Tuesday.

The analysis of snowfall data in the Sierra going back to 1878 found no more or less snow overall – a result that, on the surface, appears to contradict aspects of recent climate change models.

John Christy, the Alabama state climatologist who authored the study, said the amount of snow in the mountains has not decreased in the past 50 years, a period when greenhouse gases were supposed to have increased the effects of global warming.

The heaping piles of snow that fell in the Sierra last winter and the paltry amounts this year fall within the realm of normal weather variability, he concluded.

“The dramatic claims about snow disappearing in the Sierra just are not verified,” said Christy, a climate change skeptic and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “It looks like you’re going to have snow for the foreseeable future.”


So — what’s to criticize about the study? The Global Warming Alarmists instantly sprang into action and settled on three lines of attack.


Climate experts and water resources officials were immediately skeptical of the report, pointing out that it doesn’t come to a meaningful conclusion and uses data from a ragtag collection of people, many of them amateurs.

Christy’s study used snow measurements from railroad officials, loggers, mining companies, hydroelectric utilities, water districts and government organizations going back to 1878. That’s when railroad workers began measuring the snowpack’s depth near the tracks at Echo Summit using a device similar to a yardstick.

“No one else had looked at this data in detail,” said Christy, a Fresno native who said some of the information will be published in the American Meteorological Society’s online Journal of Hydrometeorology.

Remember: in the 19th century, there were no satellites, no such thing as “climate science,” and no official list of who is or is not allowed to measure snowpack. So the data in the archives is the only data we have about snowpack back then, and thus also the best data on snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. And yet, the climate mafia dismisses a century’s worth of engineers and government officials as “a ragtag collection of people, many of them amateurs.”

By this standard, Galileo was an amateur, Charles Darwin was an amateur, Isaac Newton was an amateur, as was basically every scientist who ever lived prior to the standardization of university professorships in the first half of the 20th century, which officially segregated the world into “amateurs” and “professionals” once and for all.


But this is not mere historical ignorance on the critics’ part. Because when you get to dictate who is and is not an “amateur,” and thus dictate whose data is or is not valid, then you get to control the outcome of any study. You can accept as “reliable” any data that confirms your pre-estabished thesis, and reject as “amateurish” any data that contradicts it.

Yet that’s not how science works. If these critics were true scientists, they would rethink their thesis, not attack the personal integrity of a century’s worth of engineers.

Also note that, until very recently, no one had any political agenda to fabricate data to support or undermine global warming, so left out of the critique is any explanation of why some railroad official would fudge his data. Are the critics seriously implying that the following thought went through someone’s mind back in 1878: “Gee, I’d better lie about how deep this snow is, because I want to trick researchers 130 years in the future into thinking that some theory about global warming that hasn’t even been developed yet isn’t really true. Bwahahahaha!

Back to the article, where the second line of attack is to dismiss the data as meaningless because no one measured how wet the snow was:

Mike Dettinger, a climatologist and research hydrologist at the Scripps Institute of the U.S. Geological Survey, said Christy is picking and choosing data while misleading people about what climate change scientists are actually saying.

For one, he said, snow depth is not as good a measure of the winter weather conditions as water content and density.

The number of inches or feet of snow on the ground can mean a variety of things, he said, depending on if it is fluffy powder or compacted, wet snow.


Of course, he has no data at all about the water content and density of 19th-century California snow, and no evidence that snow a hundred years ago was drier or fluffier than it is today, but hey, they were all amateurs back then!

Finally, the critics poo-poo the study as irrelevant, since other studies of snowpack elsewhere in North America had different results:

What’s significant in terms of global warming, he said, is the fact that the snowpack has declined over three quarters of the western United States, an area that includes Montana, Wyoming and New Mexico. Scripps researchers, in coordination with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists, have concluded that 60 percent of that downward trend is due to greenhouse gases.

“There is a popular conception that the snowpack has declined everywhere, but that is not what the science says,” Dettinger said. “What we’re saying broadly is that across western North America there have been declines in spring snowpack.”

But those other results must have been based on very recent measurements that couldn’t reveal any long-term trends, since they’ve already determined that measurement taken by “amateurs” in the old days don’t count.

Or was 1878 Montana brimming with all sorts of “professional” snow measurers that California lacked?

This is more likely: When old data confirms your thesis of global warming, then it is accepted as valid; but when old data undermines your thesis of global warming, then it is rejected. Simple.


The take-away news here is not that snow levels in California have remained unchanged since the Industrial Revolution. That’s not surprising. What’s newsworthy is that people claiming to be scientists act like true “amateurs” with confirmation bias, who only accept the validity of data which matches their preconceived notions.


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