Spring Forward

Jan 21, 2009 1:50pm

It seems counterintuitive to publish studies about climate change on the day after an inauguration that took place in 28-degree weather, but there are two being released today in Nature. First, there’s news from Antarctica that you may either find warming or a little chilling.  Contrary to popular belief, say scientists, the Antarctic has gradually been getting warmer.  Eric Steig of the University of Washington and his colleagues combined satellite and ground-based temperature readings, and say previous summaries were thrown off by the limited location of weather stations.  "Simple explanations don’t capture the complexity of climate," Steig said in a statement. "The thing you hear all the time is that Antarctica is cooling and that’s not the case. If anything it’s the reverse, but it’s more complex than that. Antarctica isn’t warming at the same rate everywhere, and while some areas have been cooling for a long time the evidence shows the continent as a whole is getting warmer." There’s more HERE from the University of Washington, and you can click on the NASA computer image above to enlarge it.  Redder means warmer. In the second paper, Alexander Stine of the University of California, Berkeley, et al report that since 1954, the seasons have actually moved up a little.  They now begin 1.7 days earlier, on average, at least on land outside the tropics in the northern hemisphere, where the researchers say weather records have been the most reliable.  More from Berkeley is HERE. The differences between summer and winter have become slightly less pronounced, they write, though there are substantial variations from place to place. There’s something for everyone in this paper.  "Few of the climate models presented by the International Panel on Climate Change reproduce the observed decrease in amplitude," they write, "and none reproduce the shift towards earlier seasons."  But David Thomson of Queen’s University in Ontario, in an accompanying commentary, says, "independent of any shortcomings in the models, we must remember that the observational evidence of human influence on the climate system is overwhelming.  Stine and colleagues’ paper adds to that evidence."

One last thing: There’s been comment lately over whether scientists have shifted to the term "climate change" from "global warming" because it seemed more politically correct.  In my experience, at least, "climate change" has been more common over the last 20 years because it’s regarded as more accurate.  (Other phrases, such as "anthropogenically-enhanced greenhouse warming" or "global change" never caught on because they were too clunky or too bland.)  John Holdren, President Obama’s choice for science adviser, (his Harvard bio is HERE) has said several times in my presence that he prefers "climate disruption."  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has a decent blog post on the semantics of the whole thing HERE.

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