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THE JOSEPH EFFECT by Professor Will Alexander February 14, 2009

Posted by honestclimate in Discussions.
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Professor Will Alexander

Professor Will Alexander

By Professor Will Alexander

Via email, February 12, 2009

My apologies for burdening you with all these memos in quick succession. It is essential that they be circulated ahead of the Midrand Summit on climate change. Otherwise the South African authorities, particularly the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and the Water Research Commission are going to make fools of themselves if they publicly support climate alarmism during the summit proceedings.

The same applies internationally in the lead-up to the Copenhagen conference of the parties in December. The Internet is swarming with anti-global warming material. This climate change bubble must burst for the simple reason that it is based on deeply faulted science as these memos demonstrate.

Please circulate.

PS A man drowned in Alexandra Township on Tuesday after being washed away by another flash flood. Does anybody care?

Memo 11/09

Climate change – the Joseph Effect

Thursday 12 February 2009

Behold, there came seven years of great plenty throughout the land of Egypt – and there shall arise after them seven years of famine. Genesis, 41, 29-30

Empty Beervlei Dam during a drought

The ancient Egyptians were entirely at the mercy of the variable flows in the Nile River. They started measuring the annual maximum water levels some 5000 years ago. By the time the that Joseph arrived on the scene (circa 1400 BC) it must have been clear that there were unusual alternating sequences of above and below average flows in the river. This was the basis of his prophecy that is quoted in both the Old Testament and the Koran.

You would have thought that by now we should be able to quantify these regular above and below average sequences in our rivers. They are critically important for water resource development and operation. This has not happened. Why?

We have to go back to the basics. We all know what a flood is but what about a drought?

What is a drought?

Just as a tunnel is not a structure (it is an empty hole) a drought is a non-event (it is the absence of something). There are other difficulties when trying to formulate the definition of a drought.

How can we measure degrees of absence of something? Only by introducing the dimension of time.

If it has been absent for a long time it is more severe than if it has been absent for a short time.

But then it may not have been altogether absent. Is being altogether absent for a short time more severe than been partially absent for a long time? The answer to this question depends on the application, which in turn depends on the storage in the system. Users of water from a storage dam may not to notice a short, severe drought, but a subsistence farmer in the catchment may go bankrupt. A commercial farmer in the catchment may survive because he has stored money in the bank to accommodate such an eventuality.

Therefore the key to surviving a variable process is storage – either storage of water in a dam, or storage of lucerne in a barn, or storage of money in a bank. But how much storage is required to accommodate variable conditions? This depends on the severity-duration relationship of the process.

The analytical methodology required for determining the severity-duration relationship, is three-dimensional time series analysis.

With the above in mind, what do climate change scientists mean when they predict that global-warming will increase the severity of droughts? Most importantly, do they understand how these issues are addressed and solved in South Africa and elsewhere in the world?

How can climate change scientists, who generally have minimal experience in numerical and statistical methods, proclaim that global-warming will result in an increase in the frequency of damaging droughts? The detection of changes, should they occur, will involve the application of complex analytical procedures and additional decades of observations.

Water resource analyses

In the past, the universal approach to water resource development from rivers was along the following lines. If a long record was available at or near the site, and the expected demand for (say) the next 30 years was known, it was a simple exercise.

All that the analyst had to do was to assume that the dam was built at the beginning of the record and determine the minimum storage capacity required to maintain the demand without interruption throughout the period of record.

It worked well. However, as the demands grew relative to the natural flows, the system started failing. Restrictions had to be imposed as the storage in the dams decreased to unexpectedly low levels.

It was soon realised that it was the unusual sequences of below average river flow i.e. droughts that were the cause of the problem. Instead of going back to the drawing board, stochastic hydrologists tried to quantify these sequences mathematically. They failed to appreciate that mathematics is poor exploratory tool. How can you define a drought mathematically?

The Joseph effect

For more than 40 years international hydrologists struggled with this problem. They called this anomaly the Joseph Effect. Unfortunately they did not follow Joseph’s example. They should have searched for regular sequences in the data in the first instance. Only after they had identified them, should they have described them mathematically.

I have struggled with this problem ever since my technical report Long-range prediction of river flow was published by the Department of Water Affairs in 1978. I reported that there was a clear, synchronous relationship between the sunspot cycles and periodic changes in river flow. However, this was not strong enough for practical applications.

Years later, I carried out serial correlation analyses. Surprise, surprise. There was a statistically significant 21-year serial correlation but no 11-year or even a 1-year serial correlation. This meant that there is a stronger relationship between this year’s river flow and the river flow 21 years ago, than the relationship with last year’s river flow! It also confirmed the linkage between river flow and the double sunspot cycle, and not the single sunspot cycle.

I was making progress.

There was still one hurdle to cross. The 21-year periodicity was well-established. But something was missing. For prediction purposes we need to know when the 21-year sequences begin.

My Eureka experience

My inspiration came while attending a performance of the Bach Choir at UNISA. My mind wandered. There was an article in the morning’s newspaper reporting flooding in the Karoo. I recalled earlier floods in Beaufort West and Laingsburg. There was a predictable periodicity in these occurrences.

Back to the flood data. It was all there!

These problems can only be solved by introducing an additional solar-related time unit. It is the solar period of 21 years.

• One day = night plus day.
• One year = winter plus summer.
• One period = wet cycle plus dry cycle, (the Joseph Effect).

It is interesting to note that Joseph based his prophesy on seven-year cycles while modern analyses demonstrate that the cycle lengths are in fact eleven years. Climate alarmists deny their existence.

Much has happened since then. The upper panel of the figure below shows the statistically significant 21-year periodicity in the Vaal River at Vaal Dam. The lower panel illustrates the nature of the alternating wet and dry, 11-year cycles. The two half-periods coincide with solar cycles 23 and 24. We have now entered period year 14. There is much to be learned from this simple diagram.

How can any sane person believe that all these characteristics required for advanced water resource analyses can be determined by applying global climate models? They even deny the periodicity in the data that has been reported ever since biblical times and is clearly illustrated in this figure. Their claims that climate change will ‘intensify the hydrological cycle’ and increase damaging floods and droughts are complete nonsense. How do they get away with it?

When scientists are silenced by colleagues, administrators, editors and funders who think that simply asking certain questions is inappropriate, the process begins to resemble religion rather than science. Under such a regime, we risk losing a generation of desperately needed research.
–Stephen Ceci and Wendy M. Williams, The scientific truth must be pursued, Nature, 12 February 2009.
[Quoted in CCNet.]


Will Alexander


1. Kobie Hyman - February 16, 2009

Dear Sir

Do you perhaps have an email address?

2. honestclimate - February 17, 2009

Hi Kobie

You can reach Prof Alexander on the below email address.
Also, to anyone who wants to be added to his climate distribution list, you can email him on the address below.


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