AGW Flare Up

November 1, 2011 0 Comments

For a the more comprehensive October recap be sure to check Tony’s blog post from yesterday. The most interesting thing about the month besides the rather extreme difference between the first 10 days and the last 3 weeks (very warm vs. very normal for Oct.), is the fact that we hit 80 degrees three different times. It is mildly interesting that we hit 80 degrees but no more, but more remarkable is that we hit the mark 3 different times. I took a look back (to 1974) in our paper records here at the weather office and found that three 80 degree days in October is quite rare. It happened this year and only one other time in the last 37 years. In 2007 we had consecutive high temps in October of 80, 83, and 84. From what I researched, it looks like we hit 80 in October about once every 5 years. During those years, we usually hit 80 once or twice, but three times seems rare.

For those that work in climate forecasting and/or are suffering from confirmation bias, I am sure this would be evidence of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). To what degree AGW is influencing the temperatures, I cannot say with certainty, but it should not be unexpected because temperatures have been trending upward for the last couple of decades. The trend seems to have stabilized over the last ten years, but we are still near the apex of recent warming, so having three 80 degree days in October should not be too big of a surprise.

Speaking of temperatures briefly stabilizing, this topic has created another minor firestorm in the AGW discussion, and it intersects nicely with my recent post about generating better understanding and more civil debate about AGW.

The newest controversy revolves around a recent study by someone labeled as a “AGW skeptic” – professor Richard Muller of Berkeley. The study re-analyzed old temperature records and confirmed that the average global temperature has gone up by nearly a degree since 1950. For most people, this is hardly earth-shattering. From gardeners, to outdoorsmen, to amateur meteorologists keeping weather records in their backyards, most people will tell you that winters were much colder back in the 1950s, 1960s, and much of the 1970s. Even a majority of hard-core AGW skeptics acknowledge and increase in temperatures, even after factoring in the urban heat island effect and other anomalies.

In the original article, Professor Muller also acknowledged that they did not try to explain why the temperature had warmed  – how much was natural vs. human caused. Unfortunately, many headlines in mainstream media outlets and some internet commentary ran like wild with this study, proclaiming that AGW is 100% real, it is all caused by humans, skeptics are morons, and what-not. In this charged debate, this type of back-and-forth happens, and now it is coming back. I am unaware of professor Muller’s political persuasion or AGW stance and he might not deserve to be drawing so much attention, but another researcher has pointed out some defects in the study. It has to do with the last decade of the temperature record. The paper published by Muller seems to show temperatures continuing to increase – and very dramatically at that – during the 2000 to 2006 time frame. Most objective temperature records and analyses clearly demonstrate that temps have been fairly level during the 2000 to 2010 time frame. Why was the Muller temperature graph cut off at 2006? Why did they use a 10 year moving average? There might be some legitimate reasons, but unfortunately it gives the impression that the data is being manipulated once again. One prominent AGW writer and skeptic has written some wry commentary about this here. Another professor from Georgia Tech (Judith Curry) has commented as well, saying that there is no reason to not say that the warming has stopped (during the last decade) and that it detracts from the credibility of the data. I would agree. There is no reason to try to cover up or ignore the fact that global temps have not been warming much over the last decade, if at all. Heck, even the sea level went down quite a bit last year, contrary to most expectations. This does not mean that there has been no warming of the planet at all or that the sea level rise is a myth. Even if AGW theory and predictions were 100% correct, there will still be years and maybe decades when natural cycles of the sun, earth, and oceans will cause the global temperature to go down. I know that many mainstream AGW theorists have acknowleged this, which is proper and good. It is too bad that extremists try to make every data point a political wedge.

A very similar thing happened with the seeming attempt to wash the medieval warm period and the little ice age from the climate record. Professor Mann’s infamous “hockey stick” graph made it look as if there was barely any temperature change for the past few millennia, then all of a sudden the temperature surged in just the last 100 years. The medieval warm period and the little ice age are probably the most extensively documented major climate trends in written human history. There should be little doubt that they occurred in much of the northern hemisphere. Maybe one could quibble about the degree or the global or regional nature of the warming and cooling, but by seemingly washing it from the record, professor Mann invited controversy. There were certainly large parts of the globe that were as warm or warmer during the medieval warm period than they are now.

So what!? Maybe the globe was warmer around the year 1000 and the little ice age was real. If it is the record, it is the record. It doesn’t mean AGW theory is total bunk. It doesn’t mean that temperatures are not going to rise anymore. I don’t understand the attempt to massage the data, that is, unless someone is pushing a political/economic agenda, which is often the case (on all sides of the issue). Well, as I have mentioned before, the hockey stick graph controversy has followed professor Mann ever since. Not releasing his tax-payer funded emails is not helping. A few people recently protested Mann when he gave a talk in Minneapolis. Disturbingly in this LiveScience article about the protest, once again the medieval warm period is being give the short end of the stick (pun intended). Here is what is written:

“The signs referenced a time about 800 to 1,000 years ago when, scientific research indicates, a combination of natural forces appear to have brought on a period of planetary warmth comparable to the toasty mid-20th century”

Appear!? Most climatologists agree that there is no “appearance” about it. The record is pretty solid.

Have a pleasant Tuesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.

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