Thursday, February 07, 2008


The Washington Post recently ran a shocking above-the-fold article warning us of "Escalating Ice Loss Found in Antarctica." A new paper by Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory shows a net loss of ice where most scientists thought the opposite would occur. The Post went full-bore with this one, spreading the article on to an entire interior page. The piece ends by noting that Rajenda Pachauri, head of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is so concerned that he's is personally going down to inspect the situation.

He should. Before he even gets to Antarctica, Pachauri is going to see something even more surprising than Rignot's finding. Despite a warming Southern Ocean, the amount of ice surrounding Antarctica is now at the highest level ever measured for this time of the year, since satellites first began to monitor it almost thirty years ago. This represents a continuation of the record set last winter (our summer).

Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, we can also look at the departure from the average for ice mass in a given month. At present, the coverage of ice surrounding Antarctica is almost exactly two million square miles above where it is historically supposed to be at this time of year. It's farther above normal than it has ever been for any month in climatologic records. Around now, because it's summer down there and the ice is headed towards its annual low point, there should be about seven million square miles of it. That means, as data in University of Illinois' web publication Cryosphere Today shows, that there is nearly 30% more ice down in Antarctica than usual for this time of the year.

All of the IPCC's models of Antarctica in the 21st century forecast a gain in ice, as a warmer surrounding ocean evaporates more water, which subsequently falls in the form of snow when it hits the continent. It's simply too cold for rain in Antarctica, and it'll stay that way for a very long time.

Concerning Antarctica as a whole, the IPCC's new climate compendium notes "the lack of warming reflected in atmospheric temperatures averaged across the region." Other studies, such as Peter Doran's in Nature in 2003, show actual cooling in recent decades. (There is a small area of significant warming in the peninsula that points towards South America, but this is less than 2% of Antarctica's total land mass.)

There's brand new evidence, just published in mid-January in Geophysical Research Letters, of a striking increase in snowfall over that peninsula. The few snowfall records that are available elsewhere in Antarctica show considerable variation from decade to decade, so discriminating the "signal" of increased snowfall caused by global warming from all the rest of the "noise" may be very difficult indeed.

We see the same problem with hurricanes and global warming. Their strength and numbers vary considerably from year to year. 2005 was the most active year ever measured in the Atlantic Basin, while 2007 was one of the weakest in history. How do you find the fingerprint of global warming amidst such variation?

So it's not warming up, and the snowfall data are equivocal, yet the continent is experiencing a net loss of ice. How can this be, and is it even important? The current hypothesis is that warmer waters beneath the surface are somehow loosening the ice. That's plausible, but again, there's precious little proof of it.

And further, the bottom line is that there is more ice than ever surrounding Antarctica.

One of the tired tropes that reverberate throughout global warming reporting is that inconvenient facts get left out. In this case, it's blatant. Midway through the Post's page-long article comes a statement that "these new findings come as the Arctic is losing ice at a dramatic rate." Wouldn't that have been an appropriate place to note that, despite a small recent loss of ice from the Antarctic landmass, the ice field surrounding Antarctica is now larger than ever measured?


1,500 Years of Cooling in the Arctic

The Arctic is melting, right? There is simply no questioning this pillar of the greenhouse scare, and images of ice melting, polar bears struggling, and indigenous people crying the blues are all part of any self-respecting presentation of global warming. Imagine a study published in a major journal showing that a location in the Arctic has "a trend of -0.3øC over the last 1,500 years." Of course, you would never have learned of such a result had you not discovered World Climate Report.

The article is forthcoming in Climate Dynamics, and the work was conducted by Hakan Grudd of Stockholm University's Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, and despite the results, the research was not funded by industry. The focus here is the Tornetrask area in northern Sweden near 68.5øN (within the Arctic Circle) where Scots pines have been growing for millennia. Grudd not only sampled living trees, but he also collected subfossil samples found as dead wood on dry ground and from submerged logs retrieved from small mountain lakes. Many other studies have shown that the pines are sensitive to summer temperatures, so in theory, the tree samples should allow a very long term and relatively accurate reconstruction of past thermal conditions.

Grudd not only measured the width of each tree ring, he also measured the density of the wood in each ring using an Itrax WoodScanner from Cox Analytical Systems (the perfect gift for the man who thinks he has everything). The obvious trick here is to link the width and density time series to the climate in the growth area. Fortunately, Grudd was able to assemble records from:

(1) "Abisko, a local record (AD 1913-2004) provided by Abisko Scientific Research Station, which is located within the Tornetrask area;

(2) Tornedalen, a long composite record (AD 1802-2002) based on a combination of historical data and synoptic station data from Haparanda approx. 350 km south-east of Tornetr„sk; and

(3) Bottenviken, a regional record (AD 1860-2004) provided by the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute and based on data from six synoptic stations in northern Sweden."

He used fairly standard multivariate statistical methods to link the climate records to the width and density measurements, and just like magic, response functions are developed to estimate summer temperatures from the tree ring data that extend back 1,500 years.

As seen in Figure 1, the region has definitely been warming over the past century, and a case could be made for a warming of nearly 2øC over the past 100 years. Come to think of it, that could be a great headline "Arctic Warming Confirmed!" However, Grudd explains:

"The late-twentieth century is not exceptionally warm in the new Tornetrask record: On decadal-to-century timescales, periods around AD 750, 1000, 1400, and 1750 were all equally warm, or warmer. The warmest summers in this new reconstruction occur in a 200-year period centred on AD 1000. A `Medieval Warm Period' is supported by other paleoclimate evidence from northern Fennoscandia, although the new tree-ring evidence from Tornetrask suggests that this period was much warmer than previously recognised." (emphasis added)

We will leave you with this very interesting conclusion from Grudd's research: "The new Tornetrask summer temperature reconstruction shows a trend of -0.3øC over the last 1,500 years." [i.e. a trend of minus three tenths of one degree Celsius -- i.e. no significant trend at all but a trend that is in the direction of COOLING, not warming]


Journal abstract follows:

Tornetrask tree-ring width and density AD 500-2004: a test of climatic sensitivity and a new 1500-year reconstruction of north Fennoscandian summers

By Grudd, H.


This paper presents updated tree-ring width (TRW) and maximum density (MXD) from Tornetrask in northern Sweden, now covering the period ad 500-2004. By including data from relatively young trees for the most recent period, a previously noted decline in recent MXD is eliminated. Non-climatological growth trends in the data are removed using Regional Curve Standardization (RCS), thus producing TRW and MXD chronologies with preserved low-frequency variability. The chronologies are calibrated using local and regional instrumental climate records. A bootstrapped response function analysis using regional climate data shows that tree growth is forced by April-August temperatures and that the regression weights for MXD are much stronger than for TRW.

The robustness of the reconstruction equation is verified by independent temperature data and shows that 63-64% of the instrumental inter-annual variation is captured by the tree-ring data. This is a significant improvement compared to previously published reconstructions based on tree-ring data from Tornetrask. A divergence phenomenon around ad 1800, expressed as an increase in TRW that is not paralleled by temperature and MXD, is most likely an effect of major changes in the density of the pine population at this northern tree-line site. The bias introduced by this TRW phenomenon is assessed by producing a summer temperature reconstruction based on MXD exclusively.

The new data show generally higher temperature estimates than previous reconstructions based on Tornetrask tree-ring data. The late-twentieth century, however, is not exceptionally warm in the new record: On decadal-to-centennial timescales, periods around ad 750, 1000, 1400, and 1750 were equally warm, or warmer. The 200-year long warm period centered on ad 1000 was significantly warmer than the late-twentieth century (p < 0.05) and is supported by other local and regional paleoclimate data. The new tree-ring evidence from Tornetrask suggests that this "Medieval Warm Period" in northern Fennoscandia was much warmer than previously recognized.

Climate Dynamics, 2008. See also here for full paper.

Challenging the American Geophysical Union's Official Position on Global Warming

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) document entitled Human Impacts on Climate begins with the statement that "the earth's climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming." It sounds ominous, doesn't it? But if mere warming or cooling is a sign of being out of balance, one could truthfully say that earth's climate is almost always "out of balance," which suggests that its current condition is actually normal.

The second declaration of the document says that many components of the climate system "are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural." And unnatural climate change sounds even more ominous. But is this really the case?

Enlarging upon the claim that earth's current climate is unnatural, the recently revised position statement -- which was adopted by the AGU Council on 14 December 2007 -- says that "evidence from most oceans and all continents except Antarctica shows warming attributable to human activities."

Now if one is talking about localized human activities, such as urbanization, this contention is clearly correct. But when one is talking about regions as large as oceans and continents -- which, by definition, is what is involved in global warming -- the situation is much more murky. And, again, there is still the problem of how to determine what is natural warming and what may be of anthropogenic origin.

One way of approaching this dilemma is to compare climatic conditions over the past century with those of the thousands of years that preceded it, when the use of fossil fuels was non-existent. The AGU Council does this in their second paragraph, where they speak of "recent millennia of relatively stable climate." They use this characterization in order to make it appear that the planet has subsequently experienced unnatural warmth, which climate alarmists typically characterize as being unprecedented.

In employing this characterization, however, the AGU Council refuses to recognize reality, for it was much warmer than it is nowadays over thousands of years during the Climatic Optimum of the mid-Holocene; and it was also warmer than it is currently during the centuries-long Medieval Warm Period of only one millennium ago, as demonstrated by the voluminous and continually-accumulating evidence for this warmer-than-current period of earth's climatic history in our Medieval Warm Period Project, where we report how medieval warmth has been detected on all continents during a period of time when the atmosphere's CO2 concentration was fully 100 ppm less than it is today.

These palaeoclimate findings clearly indicate that earth's current temperature is not in any way unnatural; and they demonstrate that today's much-less-dramatic warmth (compared to that of "recent millennia of relative stable climate") need not have been caused by its current elevated level of CO2.

The AGU Council next describes some of the climatic projections that are used to scare people into believing we must act decisively and soon if we are to prevent the mother-of-all-catastrophes. To their credit, however, they note that "with such projections, there are many sources of scientific uncertainty." But to their discredit, they add that "none are known that could make the impact of climate change inconsequential," implying there is nothing that can significantly change the model-based projections.

In reality, however, there could well be several factors -- all largely unknown to them -- that may in fact be able to do what the Council essentially infers is impossible. When faced with the amazing complexity of nature, therefore, humility is much to be preferred over hubris.

In much the same vein, the AGU document states "there can be surprises that may cause more dramatic disruptions than anticipated from the most probable model projections." Again, this is true; but it is equally true that there can be surprises that may cause less dramatic disruptions than anticipated from the most probable model projections. In fact, there can be surprises that may actually change the projections from something hurtful to something helpful. Indeed, that is the essence of surprises: they are things that are totally unexpected. And as everyone knows, surprises happen!

In light of these several observations, the leadership of the American Geophysical Union would do well to restrict themselves to purely scientific matters and not delve into policy prescriptions, as they do in the final paragraph of their official statement.

If the science of the subject ever becomes clear, the people of the world will know what to do about it; they are not dumb. Therefore, to try to tell them how to act now, when the science is not clear, is actually an admission of that fact, i.e., the fact that the science is not clear, just as it is also an indication of the possibility that something other than science alone may have prompted the Council's recent reaffirmation of their "position" on this scientific matter.



David Suzuki delivered a scathing and powerful speech to a packed house at McGill Thursday night, calling on young people and business leaders to reverse the demise of ecology at the hand of shortsighted economic theory. Suzuki, an award-winning Canadian scientist, environmentalist, and broadcaster, kicked off the McGill Business Conference on Sustainability by addressing the conference's theme of "looking backward and moving forward." "The only guide for our future is our past, and we don't look back," he said.

Suzuki underlined the importance of looking backward by explaining that, because the past 50 years have seen a boom in technology and population expansion, ideas of economic growth have been skewed. "That means you have lived your entire lives in a completely unsustainable period," Suzuki said to the young audience. "You all think [economic] growth and change is normal. It's not."

He said we need to do more to look forward, as well. He cited a brochure from 1992 entitled "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity", signed by over 600 of the world's top scientists, that expressed the seriousness of modern threats to the environment. "No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished," he read from the brochure.

He noted that no major news outlets deemed the story newsworthy at the time. "If that brochure was frightening, the response of the media was terrifying," Suzuki said, adding that the media was instead preoccupied with celebrity figures.

He urged today's youth to speak out against politicians complicit in climate change, even suggesting they look for a legal way to throw our current political leaders in jail for ignoring science - drawing rounds of cheering and applause. Suzuki said that politicians, who never see beyond the next election, are committing a criminal act by ignoring science.


British villagers fight plans for huge 'eco towns'

Grand plans to build a host of eco-friendly, carbon neutral towns hit another snag yesterday as hundreds of locals turned out in Warwickshire to protest against a development in their area. Dozens of proposed sites have been put forward across the country for what the Government hopes will be a new generation of environmentally friendly developments, and ministers want building to start on 10 projects by 2020. But protesters nationwide say the schemes will put too much pressure on local services.

Yesterday it was the turn of 300 people living near a proposed development of former Ministry of Defence land at Long Marston, near Stratford, to air their grievance in a march. "It would be devastating for the villages of south Warwickshire. It would be putting a new town smack bang in the middle of nowhere where there's no infrastructure at all," said the group's spokesman, Myles Pollock, who lives in the nearby village of Clifford Chambers. "We all need houses. In this district we have already built the number of houses required by the Government by 2011. You can't say we are not against building houses. It's just a matter of where."

Developers want to construct 6,000 homes on the site, exploiting what officials describe as "the potential to create a complete new settlement to achieve zero carbon development and more sustainable living using the best new design and architecture". Villagers fear this will lead to congestion in the area and say tens of millions of pounds would be needed for new roads, schools and doctors' surgeries to make the scheme viable.

Izzi Seccombe, a Warwickshire county councillor, said: "Eco may be eco within its community, but they all have to travel outside, and there is a very large rural area they will have to travel through to get to any employment or major leisure centres or towns. This area is a thread of very many rural villages. We have a lot of cohesion within those communities. Planning 6,000-plus houses on a piece of paper does not build community cohesion in an instant like that."

This is the latest in a string of protests. Opposition has been voiced in places such as Grovewood in Derbyshire and Stoughton in Leicestershire.

The Government has set out a range of criteria for the towns, which will have up to 20,000 new homes. They should be carbon-neutral, using the latest environmental design and technology to create more sustainable homes. They should set a standard in at least one area of environment technology, and provide affordable housing within 30 to 50 per cent of the site. The new towns should have "a separate and distinct identity" but good links to surrounding towns and cities in terms of jobs, transport and services, as well as a range of facilities including a secondary school, shopping, offices and leisure centres.

Responding to Conservative criticism of the plans, Harriet Harman, Leader of the Commons, told MPs: "We believe that it is a priority that we have more affordable housing. There are too many people who can't afford to rent the housing they need, can't afford to buy the home they aspire too. We are going to back people's aspirations that they can have the housing they need, and it would be very disappointing if the official Opposition try and stand in the way of people's aspirations for decent housing."

John Deegan, from one of the developers involved in the Long Marston plans, said: "The proposal is for a completely new settlement involving 6,000 new houses, new secondary and primary schools, lots of new employment. There will also be investment of well over œ100m in infrastructure to support the town and to relieve Stratford."



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1 comment:

carbonneutral said...

COOL, the sky isn't falling after all ;)