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Fw: Tempest brews in (NOAA) weather think tank

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  • npat1
    ... Tempest brews in weather think tank Scientists: Climate data squelched
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2006
      ---------- Forwarded Message ----------
      Tempest brews in weather think tank
      Scientists: Climate data squelched
      Sunday, October 01, 2006
      Star-Ledger Staff

      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
      in Princeton.

      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
      Research Letters.

      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
      it out."

      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
      the incident.

      Kitta MacPherson covers science. She may be
      reached at kmacpherson@... or at (973)

      � 2006 The Star Ledger
      � 2006 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.

      Posted by Tim
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