Saving Climate Data (Part 4)

At noon today in Washington DC, while Trump was being inaugurated, all mentions of “climate change” and “global warming” were eliminated from the White House website.

Well, not all. The word “climate” still shows up here:

President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan….

There are also reports that all mentions of climate change will be scrubbed from the website of the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA.

From Motherboard

Let me quote from this article:

• Jason Koebler, All references to climate change have been deleted from the White House website, Motherboard, 20 January 2017.

Scientists and professors around the country had been rushing to download and rehost as much government science as was possible before the transition, based on a fear that Trump’s administration would neglect or outright delete government information, databases, and web applications about science. Last week, the Radio Motherboard podcast recorded an episode about these efforts, which you can listen to below, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

The Internet Archive, too, has been keeping a close watch on the White House website; President Obama’s climate change page had been archived every single day in January.

So far, nothing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website has changed under Trump, but a report earlier this week from Inside EPA, a newsletter and website that reports on the agency, suggested that pages about climate are destined to be cut within the first few weeks of his presidency.

Scientists I’ve spoken to who are archiving websites say they expect scientific data on the NASA, NOAA, Department of Energy, and EPA websites to be neglected or deleted eventually. They say they don’t expect agency sites to be updated immediately, but expect it to play out over the course of months. This sort of low-key data destruction might not be the type of censorship people typically think about, but scientists are treating it as such.

From Technology Review

Greg Egan pointed out another good article, on MIT’s magazine:

• James Temple, Climate data preservation efforts mount as Trump takes office, Technology Review, 20 January 2010.

Quoting from that:

Dozens of computer science students at the University of California, Los Angeles, will mark Inauguration Day by downloading federal climate databases they fear could vanish under the Trump Administration.

Friday’s hackathon follows a series of grassroots data preservation efforts in recent weeks, amid increasing concerns the new administration is filling agencies with climate deniers likely eager to cut off access to scientific data that undermine their policy views. Those worries only grew earlier this week, when Inside EPA reported website that the Environmental Protection Agency transition team plans to scrub climate data from the agency’s website, citing a source familiar with the team.

Earlier federal data hackathons include the “Guerrilla Archiving” event at the University of Toronto last month, the Internet Archive’s Gov Data Hackathon in San Francisco at the beginning of January, and the DataRescue Philly event at the University of Pennsylvania last week.

Much of the collected data is being stored in the servers of the End of Term Web Archive, a collaborative effort to preserve government websites at the conclusion of presidential terms. The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Program in Environmental Humanities launched the separate DataRefuge project, in part to back up environmental data sets that standard Web crawling tools can’t collect.

Many of the groups are working off a master list of crucial data sets from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other agencies. Meteorologist and climate journalist Eric Holthaus helped prompt the creation of that crowdsourced list with a tweet early last month.

Other key developments driving the archival initiatives included reports that the transition team had asked Energy Department officials for a list of staff who attended climate change meetings in recent years, and public statements from senior campaign policy advisors arguing that NASA should get out of the business of “politically correct environmental monitoring.”

“The transition team has given us no reason to believe that they will respect scientific data, particularly when it’s inconvenient,” says Gretchen Goldman, research director in the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. These historical databases are crucial to ongoing climate change research in the United States and abroad, she says.

To be clear, the Trump camp hasn’t publicly declared plans to erase or eliminate access to the databases. But there is certainly precedent for state and federal governments editing, removing, or downplaying scientific information that doesn’t conform to their political views.

Late last year, it emerged that text on Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources website was substantially rewritten to remove references to climate change. In addition, an extensive Congressional investigation concluded in a 2007 report that the Bush Administration “engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.”

In fact these Bush Administration efforts were masterminded by Myron Ebell, who Trump chose to lead his EPA transition team!

Continuing:

In fact, there are wide-ranging changes to federal websites with every change in administration for a variety of reasons. The Internet Archive, which collaborated on the End of Term project in 2008 and 2012 as well, notes that more than 80 percent of PDFs on .gov sites disappeared during that four-year period.

The organization has seen a surge of interest in backing up sites and data this year across all government agencies, but particularly for climate information. In the end, they expect to collect well more than 100 terabytes of data, close to triple the amount in previous years, says Jefferson Bailey, director of Web archiving.

In fact the Azimuth Backup Project alone may gather about 40 terabytes!

From Inside EPA

And then there’s this view from inside the Environmental Protection Agency:

• Dawn Reeves, Trump transition preparing to scrub some climate data from EPA Website, Inside EPA, January 17, 2017

The incoming Trump administration’s EPA transition team intends to remove non-regulatory climate data from the agency’s website, including references to President Barack Obama’s June 2013 Climate Action Plan, the strategies for 2014 and 2015 to cut methane and other data, according to a source familiar with the transition team.

Additionally, Obama’s 2013 memo ordering EPA to establish its power sector carbon pollution standards “will not survive the first day,” the source says, a step that rule opponents say is integral to the incoming administration’s pledge to roll back the Clean Power Plan and new source power plant rules.

The Climate Action Plan has been the Obama administration’s government-wide blueprint for addressing climate change and includes information on cutting domestic greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions, including both regulatory and voluntary approaches; information on preparing for the impacts of climate change; and information on leading international efforts.

The removal of such information from EPA’s website — as well as likely removal of references to such programs that link to the White House and other agency websites — is being prepped now.

The transition team’s preparations fortify concerns from agency staff, environmentalists and many scientists that the Trump administration is going to destroy reams of EPA and other agencies’ climate data. Scientists have been preparing for this possibility for months, with many working to preserve key data on private websites.

Environmentalists are also stepping up their efforts to preserve the data. The Sierra Club Jan. 13 filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking reams of climate-related data from EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE), including power plant GHG data. Even if the request is denied, the group said it should buy them some time.

“We’re interested in trying to download and preserve the information, but it’s going to take some time,” Andrea Issod, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club, told Bloomberg. “We hope our request will be a counterweight to the coming assault on this critical pollution and climate data.”

While Trump has pledged to take a host of steps to roll back Obama EPA climate and other high-profile actions actions on his first day in office, transition and other officials say the date may slip.

“In truth, it might not [happen] on the first day, it might be a week,” the source close to the transition says of the removal of climate information from EPA’s website. The source adds that in addition to EPA, the transition team is also looking at such information on the websites of DOE and the Interior Department.

Additionally, incoming Trump press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Jan. 17 that not much may happen on Inauguration Day itself, but to expect major developments the following Monday, Jan. 23. “I think on [Jan. 23] you’re going to see a big flurry of activity” that is expected to include the disappearance of at least some EPA climate references.

Until Trump is inaugurated on Jan. 20, the transition team cannot tell agency staff what to do, and the source familiar with the transition team’s work is unaware of any communications requiring language removal or beta testing of websites happening now, though it appears that some of this work is occurring.

“We can only ask for information at this point until we are in charge. On [Jan. 20] at about 2 o’clock, then they can ask [staff] to” take actions, the source adds.

Scope & Breadth

The scope and breadth of the information to be removed is unclear. While it is likely to include executive actions on climate, it does not appear that the reams of climate science information, including models, tools and databases on the EPA Office of Research & Development’s (ORD) website will be impacted, at least not immediately.

ORD also has published climate, air and energy strategic research action plans, including one for 2016-2019 that includes research to assess impacts; prevent and reduce emissions; and prepare for and respond to changes in climate and air quality.

But other EPA information maintained on its websites including its climate change page and its “What is EPA doing about climate change” page that references the Climate Action Plan, the 2014 methane strategy and a 2015 oil and gas methane reduction strategy are expected targets.

Another possible target is new information EPA just compiled—and hosted a Jan. 17 webinar to discuss—on climate change impacts to vulnerable communities.

One former EPA official who has experience with transitions says it is unlikely that any top Obama EPA official is on board with this. “I would think they would be violently against this. . . I would think that the last thing [EPA Administrator] Gina McCarthy would want to do would to be complicit in Trump’s effort to purge the website” of climate-related work, and that if she knew she would “go ballistic.”

But the former official, the source close to the transition team and others note that EPA career staff is fearful and may be undertaking such prep work “as a defensive maneuver to avoid getting targeted,” the official says, adding that any directive would likely be coming from mid-level managers rather than political appointees or senior level officials.

But while the former official was surprised that such work might be happening now, the fact that it is only said to be targeting voluntary efforts “has a certain ring of truth to it. Someone who is knowledgeable would draw that distinction.”

Additionally, one science advocate says, “The people who are running the EPA transition have a long history of sowing misunderstanding about climate change and they tend to believe in a vast conspiracy in the scientific community to lie to the public. If they think the information is truly fraudulent, it would make sense they would try to scrub it. . . . But the role of the agency is to inform the public . . . [and not to satisfy] the musings of a band of conspiracy theorists.”

The source was referring to EPA transition team leader Myron Ebell, a long-time climate skeptic at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, along with David Schnare, another opponent of climate action, who is at the Energy & Environment Legal Institute.

And while “a new administration has the right to change information about policy, what they don’t have the right to do is change the scientific information about policies they wish to put forward and that includes removing resources on science that serve the public.”

The advocate adds that many state and local governments rely on EPA climate information.

EPA Concern

But there has been plenty of concern that such a move would take place, especially after transition team officials last month sought the names of DOE employees who worked on climate change, raising alarms and cries of a “political witch hunt” along with a Dec. 13 letter from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that prompted the transition team to disavow the memo.

Since then, scientists have been scrambling to preserve government data.

On Jan. 10, High Country News reported that on a Saturday last month, 150 technology specialists, hackers, scholars and activists assembled in Toronto for the “Guerrilla Archiving Event: Saving Environmental Data from Trump” where the group combed the internet for key climate and environmental data from EPA’s website.

“A giant computer program would then copy the information onto an independent server, where it will remain publicly accessible—and safe from potential government interference.”

The organizer of the event, Henry Warwick, said, “Say Trump firewalls the EPA,” pulling reams of information from public access. “No one will have access to the data in these papers” unless the archiving took place.

Additionally, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a Jan. 17 report, “Preserving Scientific Integrity in Federal Policy Making,” urging the Trump administration to retain scientific integrity. It wrote in a related blog post, “So how will government science fare under Trump? Scientists are not just going to wait and see. More than 5,500 scientists have now signed onto a letter asking the president-elect to uphold scientific integrity in his administration. . . . We know what’s at stake. We’ve come too far with scientific integrity to see it unraveled by an anti-science president. It’s worth fighting for.”

7 Responses to Saving Climate Data (Part 4)

  1. John,

    Thanks for all your amazing work. I especially appreciate the climate data archival project.

    I’ve been a student of planet earth for over 50 years. I can’t help it because this is the only home I’ve known. I care about what is happening to our atmosphere. The last time I checked, we only have one of those.

    I’m data-driven. I can’t help that either. I was born that way.

    To cut through the politics, the B.S. and bravado, I’ve been processing weather data for the past couple of years. I’m seeing some interesting patterns of change. I wanted to discover what is really going on for myself.

    I write articles that nobody reads and produce interesting interactive dashboards that people can use to view the data themselves. Here is my latest article: https://3danim8.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/visualizing-observed-worldwide-air-temperature-changes/

    Please keep up the fight for honesty and integrity in climate science. I fear that we are in for a bumpy ride.

    Ken

  2. @whut says:

    My slant on climate data: I think of climate as being the response of the earth’s atmosphere and oceans to a forcing input. So that similar to an electrical circuit, it won’t do anything unless forced. As scientists and engineers, we know enough about electricity and circuit theory to be able to predict the response of a circuit to any arbitrary input. By that reasoning, we don’t need to archive all the results of various forcings to the circuits that have been created — instead, we van always reproduce simulated responses on demand. That’s why we have simulators such as SPICE and others. So that for all the circuits ever engineered, we really don’t have to archive much at all. The same goes for other analogs, such as mechanical responses.

    Yet for the earth’s climate circuit, we appear to be at the primitive stages of this predictive process. We actually require massive amounts of historical data to be able to understand and place into context any new observation. For weather, we can do a pretty good job of short-term prediction based on a combination of simulators and Bayesian reasoning. But over the long-term, our prediction abilities degrade.

    However, there are certain climate phenomena — perhaps classified more as geophysical behaviors — that we can readily predict. One of the more obvious of these is ocean tides. Via algorithms that often feature hundreds of parameters, we can accurately predict tidal levels at any time in the future. This is largely because we can accurately map the orbits of the earth, moon, and sun, and critical to this process know something about the physics. Because of this knowledge, we really don’t need to store huge amounts of historical data via tidal gauges (and of course we now have satellite readings). In most cases tidal predictions have become purely parametric software algorithms.

    So the question is, can we do more of this kind of prediction for other climate behaviors?

    I have been working on two fundamental climate phenomena — QBO and ENSO — and presented my own geophysical models at last month’s AGU meeting, slides here.

    The first of these two models, the QBO of equatorial stratospheric winds, appears to operate similarly to ocean tides, predominantly driven by lunisolar forcings, and completely in synchronization with the Draconic or lunar tidal cycle. The new model is deterministic and accurate enough that we literally don’t require historical data to predict future QBO cycles. Of course the stumbling block is that the consensus theory for QBO was originally devised by the Trump-like blowhard Richard Lindzen, who ended up leading other scientists down a path of overt complexity and non-determinism. That’s IMO of course, but I back my model up with a first-principles derivation based on Laplace’s tidal equations first formulated in 1776 — leading to a simple forcing formulation.

    Take a look at my ENSO model as well, which is related to QBO but differs in details. These kinds of models may not necessarily replace relying on historical data, but can certainly supplement the observations. I have no doubt that our ability to predict QBO and ENSO in future years will be as automatic as our ability to predict ocean tides.

    This something to think about as we archive climate data. Trump may try to relegate all the data to the dumpster but he won’t be successful in preventing scientific progress.

    • MarkR says:

      “I think of climate as being the response of the earth’s atmosphere and oceans to a forcing input. So that similar to an electrical circuit, it won’t do anything unless forced.”

      Well, it also does ENSO and PDO and all those other acronyms… so it depends on timescale.

      The standard energy-budget treatment of the climate with its feedback sums etc results in equations that match those given for circuits.

      But your circuit properties change depending on timescale, forcing (aerosol is different from CO2) and the patterns of warming you see.

      Consider:
      http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00544.1
      http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2828

      You can adjust for all these things in your simple circuit-like equation with “forcing efficacies” and other adjustments, but that ends up looking kind of arbitrary and it’s hard to work out the physical justification as to why they should be those numbers. I’m sure you could get some parameterised system but I don’t really see the benefits. As I understand it, tides work because you can collapse the enormous amount of information down onto relatively few EOFs.

      • @whut says:

        The essential reason that ocean tides work out is that the lunar and solar cycles match the tidal cycles. There is no real magic to getting the periods to match, but the amplitudes are more difficult.

        For QBO, the same argument applies. The QBO cycles match precisely the expected lunisolar periods, but the amplitudes require some tuning.

        This is a good thing because it means that another fundamental climate behavior can be understood from first principles. This can then be used as a foundational building block to understand other climate behaviors.

        The question is why Lindzen could never figure this out.

  3. […] ricercatori americani hanno lanciato un appello a salvare i dati climatici (aggiornamenti da John Baez), qualcuno li ha definiti paranoici. Dal sito del governo USA sono già state […]

  4. […] with the bad news there is some good […]

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