Fw: Tempest brews in (NOAA) weather think tank
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Tempest brews in weather think tank
Scientists: Climate data squelched
Sunday, October 01, 2006
BY KITTA MacPHERSON
Scientists at a world-renowned climate research
lab in New Jersey say their discoveries are being
hidden from public view because their conclusions
on global warming differ from those in the Bush
The scientists, part of the research staff of the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
say a spate of press releases as well as a
position paper reviewing various studies on the
risk of global warming have been quashed by
officials at the Commerce Department.
The researchers work at the Geophysical Fluid
Dynamics Laboratory in Plainsboro, a small branch
of NOAA and the birthplace of the technique that
uses computer models to forecast climate.
They say the press releases and the position
paper detailed reports linking intensified
hurricanes to global warming. The reports also
predict spells of intense weather like droughts
and floods, and paint some warming as
irreversible, the scientists say.
"What can I tell you? I was telling them
something they didn't want to hear," said Richard
Wetherald, a career scientist at the federally
funded center. "But the public is not being
informed when these things are zapped."
Wetherald, 70, a registered Republican, said the
Commerce Department has quashed three press
releases written to trumpet major findings
stemming from his research at the lab near
Wetherald's colleague, Thomas Knutson, one of the
world's experts on the relationship between
changing climates and extreme weather events,
says he has been barred from participating in two
television interviews for national broadcasts to
discuss hurricanes and climate change.
"My feeling was that it was not right," Knutson said.
Neither NOAA nor the White House responded to
several requests for an interview. President
Bush's science adviser, John Marbuger, was not
available for this article.
Tensions between the lab and officials in
Washington first came to light last week when the
journal Nature quoted Ants Leetmaa, the director
of the Plainsboro center, as saying the Bush
administration has squelched a public statement
on hurricanes and climate change prepared last
spring. The paper was the work of a panel of
scientists Leetmaa headed.
NOAA administrator Conrad Lautenbacher, who is
based in Silver Spring, Md., told Nature that the
scientists' paper was merely an exercise in
expression and that the agency could not release
such a statement on a field that is changing so
In response to Knutson's assertion that he was
not allowed to do TV interviews, Lautenbacher
told Nature his agency would never condone
limiting the speech of its researchers.
While most scientists agree with the notion that
humankind's use of fossil fuels is warming the
climate, how to counter it is a matter of intense
political debate in Washington.
President Bush concedes the Earth has warmed
somewhat over the past century or so; he disputes
the idea that the changes are due to human
activity or the use of petroleum products. And he
believes that actions taken to limit emissions
will hurt the economy.
The lab was formed in 1955 as the research branch
of the U.S. Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C.,
and grew out of landmark weather prediction
experiments carried out in the late 1940s and
early 1950s at the Institute for Advanced Study
A member of the research team, Joseph
Smagorinsky, became the lab's first director. He
expanded the early efforts to encompass global
simulations of the atmosphere and oceans and
moved the lab to Princeton's Forrestal campus in
The small black granite NOAA facility just off
Route 1 in Plainsboro, with world-class
supercomputers anchored in its basement, is
regarded as one of the world's leading
environmental research laboratories.
Jerry Mahlman, who led the lab from 1962 until he
retired in 2000, thinks his colleagues there have
been "shackled" since shortly after he left. He
said restrictions from Washington have grown as
the scientific data buttressing the case for
global warming has ballooned.
"Global warming is almost a no-brainer at this
point," said Mahlman, who lives now on a mountain
in Colorado. "You really can't find intelligent,
quantitative arguments to make it go away."
Over the past five years, Wetherald, the
researcher, has written several grim papers on
climate change that appeared in prestigious
journals. One report demonstrates the
inevitability of a runaway effect known as
"committed warming." Others point to more
frequent bouts of extreme weather in the future.
"I was trying to get an estimate as to how much
trouble we are really in," said Wetherald. It
never occurred to him that anyone would try to
muzzle him. "The facts are the facts, aren't
The problem started in 2001, he said, after
Congress rejected the Kyoto Protocol, an
international agreement to restrict the amount of
fossil fuel emissions. Shortly after Congress
acted, he wrote a press release, he says, with
the help of the NOAA press office, on a paper to
be published in the prestigious Geophysical
Within days, Jana Goldman, a NOAA press officer,
said the press release had been rejected. The
journal was sending out its own press release,
she told him. NOAA did not want to duplicate
Wetherald didn't buy the argument. The journal's
press release would be written in scientific
jargon. A NOAA press release would be
understandable to the public.
Two other press releases were rejected in 2002
and 2004 on two other global warming papers
written by Wetherald. In those cases, he says,
press officer Goldman did not give him a reason
but merely said "officials" at Commerce rejected
Wetherald says Goldman never told him who did the rejecting.
Goldman did not return several calls to her direct line.
"Obviously, the papers had a message, and it was
not what they wanted it to be," Wetherald said.
"A decision was made at a high level not to let
Knutson said he, too, ran into difficulty when he
tried to convey the implications of his research
to a broader audience. He said he was not
permitted to be interviewed on CNBC last October
when the discussion was expected to center on
post-Katrina analyses of the federal government's
responsibilities and whether global warming is
creating more category-5 hurricanes like Katrina.
Knutson said he was also barred from appearing on
a national talk show hosted by Ron Reagan Jr. to
speak about the same subject.
E-mails obtained by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.),
the ranking Democrat on the House Government
Reform Committee, and placed on his Web site last
week confirm Knutson's account, according to
Waxman's spokesperson, Karen Lightfoot.
An Oct. 19, 2005, e-mail from Goldman to Chuck
Fuqua, a press representative at Commerce, relays
the interview request from CNBC.
In a separate e-mail, Fuqua seeks to gauge
Knutson's scientific position, responding by
asking: "What is Knutson's position on global
warming vs. decadal cycles? Is he consistent with
Bell and Landsea?"
Gerry Bell, NOAA's chief hurricane forecast
scientist, said at a press briefing held in the
wake of Hurricane Katrina that the intensity of
the storm was not related to global warming.
Chris Landsea is a research meteorologist with
the hurricane research division of the Atlantic
Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in
Miami who questions the connection between global
warming and intensified hurricanes.
In contrast, Knutson's research concludes that
global warming may lead to an increasing risk of
highly destructive category-5 storms.
In response, Kent Laborde, a NOAA press officer,
in an e-mail to Fuqua described Knutson as a
"'different animal" and said he projected a
"'very small increase in hurricane intensity" due
to global warming. Fuqua wrote back, "'why can't
we have one of the other guys then?"
NOAA's daily media tracking log, also obtained by
Waxman, shows that the matter ended there.
"Request was denied," the log states.
In this regard, the public lost out, Knutson
said. "I am one of the leading experts in the
area, and I should be allowed to speak about my
work," he noted.
Waxman has appealed to Carlos Gutierrez, the U.S.
Secretary of Commerce, for more information about
Kitta MacPherson covers science. She may be
reached at kmacpherson@... or at (973)
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