Watt’s wrong

This picture from JPL shows that CO2 is pretty well mixed in the atmosphere. The mixing ratio is between 373 and 380 ppm in most places, it exceeds it at a few spots and it is lower at Antarctica. The colors exaggerate small differences which are certainly interesting, but do not seem to be very important for the greenhouse effect. Anthony Watts (Watts Up With That?) shows this image to show that supposedly CO2 is not well mixed. But overall, compared with the preindustrial level of 280 ppm, it is relatively uniformly distributed. Watts complains:

My question is: how does this global variance translate into the phrase “well-mixed” when used to describe global CO2 distribution? It would seem that if it were truly “well-mixed”, we’d see only minor variances on the order of a couple of PPM. Yet clearly we have significant regional and hemispheric variance.

And yet, “minor variances on the order of a couple of PPM” is exactly what we see.

Watts also repeats the old canard implies that since CO2 were made on Mount Loa, which is a volcano, they could not be reliable, but actually measurements are made globally – and the graphic above, that Watts shows in the same blog entry,  shows that the measurements agree with the satellite data. Also, observe the remarkable absence of higher mixing ratios at locations with volcanic activity, for example Iceland or Hawaii.

So, Watt’s wrong?

Update: See also Mauno Loa is a volcano, so what?

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Filed under global warming, science

18 responses to “Watt’s wrong

  1. I think there’s a typo in your post. It states, “The mixing ratio is between 273 and 380 ppm in most places,” but I think you meant “between 373 and 380.”

  2. wattsupwiththat

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    (since you don’t reveal anything about yourself name-wise in your about page I have no way of knowing.)

    I raised a question about CO2 mixing and why “well-mixed” is considered “true” when we have these hemispheric and regional differences as shown on satellite. I also said nothing about ‘reliability” of Mauna Loa CO2 data, you used that word, I did not. What I questioned is why they consider that site “well mixed” and free of other possible CO2 influences. I said nothing about ROW Co2 measurements, but you implied that I know nothing of them. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

    But most importantly, before you accuse me of being wrong, or of writing a “wrong” essay, you could at least do your own research well enough to get my name correct don’t you think?

    correct name is: Anthony Watts (not James Watt)


    (my name is in the header at the end of the description – hard to miss it)

    “Commentary on puzzling things in life, nature, science, technology, and recent news by Anthony Watts”

    But I won’t write a blog post to highlight your error titled “unknown anonymous blogger posing as blogger “Fermi Paradox” wrong, I’ll be a gentleman and simply point it out to you for you to correct at your leisure.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Anthony Watts

  3. Tamino, Anthony: Thanks, I made a few corrections.


    I am sorry for the wrong name, for some reason I always think of James, not Anthony, no malice intended.

    You wrote in your post:
    “Hmm, “no obvious nearby source of pollution” I suppose the volcanic outgassing nearby doesn’t count as “pollution” since it is natural in origin.”

    For me that sounds like you imply that they may be unreliable. I don’t know why else you mentioned it, without noting that measurements at other places show similar results.

  4. wattsupwiththat

    James Watt is credited as developer of the steam engine, perhaps his well known name influences subliminally when mine is used.

    You wrote: “I don’t know why else you mentioned it, without noting that measurements at other places show similar results.”

    I thought I did, I wrote: (regarding CO2 mixing) “Keeling’s measurements at Mauna Loa and other locations worldwide rely on this being true, so that “hotspots” aren’t being inadvertently measured.”

    And when I said “pollution” is was in reference to categorization.

    If you can point me to a source that demonstrates clearly that no Co2 outgassing from the Mauna Loa volcano reaches the instrumentation, I’ll gladly revise my post.

  5. Mr. Watts: considering your snide implications about the Mauna Loa CO2 data and your pathetic attempt to sidestep responsibility for your loathsome actions, calling yourself a “gentleman” is actually disgusting.

    Readers interested in the level of understanding of climate and of the proper treatment of data by Anthony Watts and his contributors, should read this and this and this and this and this and this.

  6. Pingback: Mauno Loa is a volcano, so what? « Fermi Paradox

  7. wattsupwiththat

    I ask a question, “what about mixing” I get a blog saying immediately that I’m wrong. I respond pointing out the author didn’t even get my name right which was kindly fixed.

    But then I leave open the issue that if I’m wrong on the Mauna Loa issue, I’ll make a change. For that I’m called “snide” and “loathsome” by a person that doesn’t even use his real name.

    Tamino is clearly more interested in defamation than the current discussion, otherwise he would not have made all the links.

    The reader can judge who is the gentleman and who is not.

    The question that thousands of people have raised about Manua Loa and Co2 monitoring is a valid one. It makes perfect sense for anyone, layman or scientist to question the placement of a CO2 monitoring station on an active CO2 emitting volcano. Anyone who doesn’t question that would be the exception. While Keeling may be able to say the he believes the local effects are factored out, has there been an independent confirmation? Is there any correlation between CO2 levels of Mauna Loa outgassing since 1958? If there was for example a data set or graph of that, done independently of Keeling, the question could easily be settled once and for all.

    And the central question remains, why do we have regional and hemispheric variations in the “well-mixed” CO2. The satellite imagery gives us far better visualization than we ever had from the handful of CO2 surface monitoring stations, I’d think that would be an interesting question to explore rather than simply burying it under discussions of how “wrong” or “loathsome” I am.

  8. It makes perfect sense for anyone, layman or scientist to question the placement of a CO2 monitoring station on an active CO2 emitting volcano.

    It makes even better sense for someone who regularly blogs about climate science actually to investigate the issue before opening his mouth. Too bad you rarely if ever bother to do so.

    Instead you spout off in a way which is clearly designed to denigrate the validity of the data. Your modus operandi is to find some issue which you can use to make climate science look bad, post about it without in-depth investigation or proper analysis, make extremely snide implications … but when you’re shown to be ignorant, wrong, and astoundingly inept, you then accuse whoever exposes your ignorance of being ungentlemanly. But you never hesitate to call yourself a gentleman. How arrogant you are! You’re a textbook example of what Hamlet meant when he said, “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain still.”

    As for the many links: you and your contributors really are among the most grossly incompetent data analysts in the blogosphere. It’s not just the inherent fallibility of human endeavor; the level of your ignorance and incompetence is genuinely astounding. Before anyone believes a single word you say, they have a right to know just how grossly incompetent you and your cadre are. Readers of this blog should read all of the given links — after which, Mr. Watts, you won’t have a shred of credibility.

  9. I ask a question, “what about mixing” I get a blog saying immediately that I’m wrong.

    Oh, how dare someone from the internet criticize you… I am sorry Anthony, but that’s how a discussion works.

    You seem to have an obsession with real names. As if a real name would somehow make an argument more persuasive that cannot stand on its own. I respect tamino because he investigates things with great vigor and expertise. Something I cannot say about you. If I know the real name or not is completely irrelevant.

    Tamino is clearly more interested in defamation than the current discussion, otherwise he would not have made all the links.

    This is where the irony meter breaks. tamino made those posts exactly to make a discussion, and to show your (lacking) expertise in the matter.

    The reader can judge who is the gentleman and who is not.

    Yes, exactly.

    All you do is spread doubt about matters that are long settled. Of course Mauno Loa is a volcano, but that’s completely irrelevant when data from other stations show the same results.

    Need to get some work done now…

  10. Hank Roberts

    Mr. Watts asks for exactly what he’d like to have, to be able to misunderstand this.

    What you need is the data showing that CO2 from the mountain _is_ detected — and accounted for.

    With any surface station, the work is done by detecting and accounting for local issues, not by avoiding detecting them.

    You can find this by looking it up. One example; follow the citing articles and references and similar papers for much more:


  11. scmrak

    ‘scuse me for interrupting the squabbling, but to get back to the original question: as a geologist (you may read that as someone who has spent the last thirty years making hundreds of thousands of maps), I’d interject that the color-contoured map shown at the top of this page shows several things:

    First, the total variation (~365 to ~383) is approximately 5% of the mean value contoured in the map. The colors have clearly been chosen to accentuate differences, a common technique for this kind of display. The first thing a geologist would do when looking at a contour map (colored or not) is check the contour interval. It’s only one ppm here.
    Second, location of relative highs appears at a glance to be a function of industrialization and prevailing winds, with (most) highs in the temperate zones downwind of industrialized countries. We all know better than to make arguments based on appearances, nu?
    Third, though there’s been a lot of arguing about Mauna Loa and volcanic contributions to global CO2, the concentration in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands (if my geography is correct in this projection) seems to be near the mean of the distribution and in a local low
    Fourth, the caption on the original photo at NASA/JPL’s website specifically says “the high degree of mixing”…

    You may now return to your argument.


  12. It’s a shame when discussions like this veer towards the personal denigration of individuals, however misguided and incompetent we may believe them to be.

    I don’t agree with a single one of Anthony Watts’ theses on climate. But I do think that some of his questions are good questions at a certain level, not least because they give us an intriguing insight into the very weak public understanding of science.

    To the man in the street, the ‘urban heat island’ effect is obvious, and as such it is certainly an issue which needs to be examined and assessed. The fact that Mauna Loa is a volcano emitting CO2 might likewise seem staggeringly significant to the non-expert.

    So by all means, let Watts come up with the questions. Far from being a threat, we should look on that as an opportunity to communicate the truth.

    At a certain level, you can blame climate change deniers and the more cynically-manipulative sceptics for systematically peddling misinformation which is then propagated blindly all around the internet. But at another, you could look on the public confusion about global warming, particularly within North America, as something of a failure by science itself to educate and communicate the facts clearly to an audience which so sadly doesn’t want to hear them.

    The public understanding of science is lamentable and that is something which we can all too easily forget. As one illustration, just the other day, someone wryly told me that the disappearance of Greenland’s ice cap couldn’t possibly have any effect on global sea levels, since ‘It’s obvious to anyone that all that ice would float in any case.’

    It stands to reason, dunnit ? as so many of my fellow Londoners might say.

    Thinking like this, it seems to me enormously important to take seriously all the many misinformed assertions put forward by Anthony Watts and his ilk. That’s because it really is by rigorously, dispassionately and courteously taking their flawed arguments apart piece by tiny piece that public understanding will eventually be improved.

    Although I have to remain optimistic that attitudes and mindsets can be changed, as a geologist I’m also acutely aware just how much more of an impact high oil prices have had on environmental issues than any number of green initiatives.

    It’s perhaps some measure of our failure as scientist communicators and educators when the harsh realities of petroleum supply economics have achieved far more progress in reducing carbon emissions within the past six months than two decades of informed scientific advice.

    Keep up the good work.

  13. TrueSceptic

    Mr. Watts,

    Entries on climate science in your blog continually cast doubt on climate science and those who practise it. The overwhelming impression given is that climate scientists are, in general, dishonest or incompetent.

    Looking at your posts, and those of your guest bloggers, it is clear even to a layman than they contain many errors. It could be that these errors are due to simple incompetence, but then we should expect the outcome, overall, to support the science as often as it questions it.

    We don’t see this, however: we see data mangling and written claims consistently impugning the science and its practitioners. In any case, you have been doing this long enough to avoid making basic errors.

    The only logical conclusion is that the errors and use of invalid techniques are deliberate. Your reaction to criticism leaves no doubt about that.

    It is hypocritical and outrageous that you would accuse anyone of misrepresenting you or of defamation. You are no gentleman; you are a scoundrel.

  14. TrueSceptic


    You make some good points: there are indeed questions about climate science that need clarifying and answering. The problem is that, despite much experience in looking at the evidence and the science, bloggers like Anthony Watts continue to misrepresent the very things you mention.

    Genuine sceptics do not do that: they examine critically and they learn.

    What you seem to advocate is that every GWSceptic claim, no matter how idiotic, ill-informed, or dishonest, needs to be refuted every time, even though it has been made and refuted countless times before. Is that a reasonable use of anyone’s time?

    Anyway, I join you in your closing comment. People like Fermi Paradox and Tamino deserve our thanks.

  15. Leon

    I am stunned how the pro AGW people continue to throw insults at those who regularly catch them out for broadcasting fictitious and misleading information. In another blog I raised the very same pertinent question being asked here by Anthony Watts, before reading this blog. If CO2 mixes evenly in the air how come Charles Keeling could eliminate the CO2 from the volcanoes, and remember, not only was Mouna Loa erupting, so was Mount Kilauea, or are they the same?

    Another point that gives me great concern is that where ice records have been obtained, there are nearby volcanoes that could have influenced the CO2 readings. In Antarctica there is Mount Erebus, the worlds longest (in time) active volcano (about 1 million years). The arctic turbulence blows fiercely down there, for in 1912 Douglas Mawson measured wind speed at over 300 KMP. This turbulence would have spread the ash from the volcano around the continent and then contained it, for to the north are the severe winds of the “Roaring 50′s and 40″s.

    In Iceland we also see erupting volcanoes that could also easily influence the readings. Where else have we seen any ice core records that are beyond the influence of volcanoes? Don’t forget that CO2 is said to be 1.5 times the weight of the atmosphere, for how else could it be buried into the snow or enter the carbon cycle?

    From what I have read, the space satellite’s instruments cannot distinguish between atmospheric carbon dioxide and that which is lying on the ground, hence the reason for the “A train”.

  16. > distinguish between atmospheric carbon dioxide
    > and that which is lying on the ground,

    Easy to distinguish:

    – atmospheric carbon dioxide, you’re looking at Venus, Earth, or Mars

    – carbon dioxide lying on the ground, you’re looking at Mars

    – lying on the ground, you’re looking postings at the septic edge of the bogusphere.

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