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Global Warming I


The phrase ‘global warming’ is pretty ubiquitous these days. So are ‘greenhouse gases’ and ‘greenhouse effect’. And over the course of the past week, ‘Kyoto’ (not simply in the sense of the city in Japan, but in the sense of the 1992 Kyoto Treaty and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that were drafted in this city last decade) has been pretty ubiquitous too.


Far less often heard, at least outside climatological circles, is another phrase, intrinsically linked to the ones above: ‘anthropogenic warming’. As in human-produced warming. Carrying on the work they’ve been doing for a number of years into the detection and measurement of what they call the anthropogenic climate changes in this planet’s oceans, several researchers made landmark presentations at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington this past Friday, the 18th. Most important was a report of the findings of an as-yet-unpublished study by Tim Barnett of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California that claims to have found the “first clear evidence of human-produced warming in the world’s oceans” (here quoting a Scripps Institution’s media release, as a text of Barnett’s remarks is unavailable at this time).

To continue quoting the same media release:

Barnett and his colleagues used computer models of climate to calculate human-produced warming over the last 40 years in the world’s oceans. In all of the ocean basins, the warming signal found in the upper 700 meters predicted by the models corresponded to the measurements obtained at sea with confidence exceeding 95 percent. The correspondence was especially strong in the upper 500 meters of the water column.

It is this high degree of visual agreement and statistical significance that leads Barnett to conclude that the warming is the product of human influence. Efforts to explain the ocean changes through naturally occurring variations in the climate or external forces- such as solar or volcanic factors–did not come close to reproducing the observed warming.

“The climate is telling us an internally consistent story,” another of Barnett’s collaborators in the study, Benjamin Santer of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, explains. “We’ve observed warming of the Earth’s land surface and oceans, cooling of the stratosphere, an increase in height of the tropopause [i.e., the boundary regions between the troposphere and the stratosphere], retreat of Arctic sea ice, and widespread melting of glaciers. These changes are difficult to reconcile with purely natural causes.” (Media Release, Feb. 18.)

What I find so compelling about this particular body of work (from what little I’ve been able to find about it to this point, anyway) is that the two principal global warming models the researchers used in this case, namely, the U.S. Global Change Research Program‘s Parallel Climate Model and the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research‘s HadCM3, were able to account for—not what may happen on this planet over the next 40 or 400 years, but what already has happened to ocean temperatures over the past 40 years, based on some 7 million temperature readings at various depths. You see? The climate models are telling us that ocean temperatures—the planet’s great bodies of water being like heat sinks, and where some 90 percent of its surface heat winds up—should have turned out exactly the way that observation shows they in fact have turned out. Not just in a bathtub, either. But globally. So the models’ predictive capacities are sound.

Now. As you all know, the Kyoto Protocol went into effect this past Wednesday, February 16—exactly 90 days after the 55th state ratified the Protocol, according to its design. (Though see Article 25 of the Protocol: It’s actually a little more complicated than this.) Note, additionally, that the U.S. Government signed both the Kyoto Treaty (June 12, 1992) and the Kyoto Protocol (Nov. 12, 1998). But though the U.S. Government also ratified the Kyoto Treaty (Oct. 15, 1992), it has neither ratified nor taken any steps to accede to the Protocol—along with Australia, the only holdouts among the world’s rich countries, accounting for some 30 percent of its greenhouse emissions, while 141 other countries have agreed to participate in the Protocol’s birth-pangs.

Well. I know that reporting on the Kyoto Protocol was widespread when its effective date of February 16 arrived. To cite just a handful of ultra-mainstream American examples:

Kyoto Pact Takes Effect Without U.S.,” Miguel Bustillo, Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2005
Mixed Feelings as Kyoto Pact Takes Effect,” Mark Landler, New York Times, February 16, 2005
Kyoto Treaty Takes Effect Today,” Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, February 16, 2005
World warms to Kyoto, but research will save the day,” Roy Spencer, USA Today, February 17, 2005
The U.S. Warms the Bench,” Editorial, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2005

But what about the landmark findings of the Scripps Institution’s and Lawrence Livermore’s researchers? After all, the release and publicizing of these findings came right on the heels of the Kyoto Procol’s effective date, at the annual gathering of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science, in the capital of the country that spews out more greenhouse gases by far than any other on the planet, yet whose political leadership rejects even the spirit of curbing its emissions—let alone turning it into the law of the land.

Who noticed? Who didn’t?

Ocean, Arctic Studies Show Global Warming Is Real,” Maggie Fox, Reuters, February 17, 2005

Study: Humans cause of warming,” Bob Keefe, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 18, 2005
Ocean warming, fossil fuel gases linked,” Bruce Lieberman, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 18, 2005
Scientists worry about evidence of melting Arctic ice,” Seth Borenstein, Seattle Times, February 18, 2005

“US scientists say man has caused global warming and warn over the Gulf Stream,” Clive Cookson, Financial Times, February 19, 2005 [$$$$$$---see below]
“Can Bush come in from the cold over global warming?” Fiona Harvey, Financial Times, February 19, 2005 [$$$$$$---see below]
Oceans of evidence for global warming,” Tim Radford, The Guardian, February 19, 2005
The Final Proof: Global Warming Is a Man-Made Disaster,” Steve Connor, The Independent, February 19, 2005
Global Warming: Why Bush Advisers Fight the Evidence on Climate Change,” Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, February 19, 2005
“A Conspiracy Theory that Grows More Implausible by the Day,” Editorial, The Independent, February 19, 2005 [$$$$$$---see below]
“Scientists warn on climate change effect,” Dick Ahlstrom, Irish Times, February 19, 2005 [$$$$$$---see below]
New global warming evidence presented,” David Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle, February 19, 2005
Why global warming is not natural,” Mark Henderson, The Times, February 19, 2005
Warming signs in the deep blue sea,” Peter Calamai, Toronto Star, February 19, 2005

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Homepage)

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (a.k.a. Kyoto Treaty), May 9, 1992 (For the current Status of Ratification)

Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (a.k.a. Kyoto Protocol), December 11, 1997 (For the current Status of Ratification)
The Kyoto Protocol’s Emission Targets

Scripps Researchers Find Clear Evidence of Human-Produced Warming in World’s Oceans” (Media Release), February 17, 2005
Scientists advance in detection and attribution of climate change” (Media Release), February 18, 2005

Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, United Kingdom
U.S. Global Change Research Program

Observed Impacts of Global Climate Change in the U.S., Camille Parmesan and Hector Galbraith, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, November, 2004

Postscript. Although the Washington Post mentioned one of the presentations on global warming at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting (“Science Notebook,” Feb. 20), the Post managed to miss the crucial presentation by the Scripps Institution’s and Lawrence Livermore’s researchers last Friday, the 18th.

FYA (“For your archives”): Am depositing here copies of articles that I know exist but for which I cannot provide you with weblinks—-their sources having sequestered them behind the $$$$$$ barrier.

Financial Times (London, England)
February 19, 2005 Saturday
London Edition 3
SECTION: FRONT PAGE – FIRST SECTION; Pg. 1
HEADLINE: US scientists say man has caused global warming and warn over the Gulf Stream
BYLINE: By CLIVE COOKSON
DATELINE: WASHINGTON

Leading US climate researchers yesterday released “the most compelling evidence yet” that human activities are responsible for global warming.

They said their work should “wipe out” claims by sceptics that warming is due to non-human factors such as natural climatic fluctuations or variations in solar or volcanic activity.

Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California have been working for several years with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to analyse the effects of global warming on the oceans.

They used computer modelling combined with millions of temperature and salinity readings, taken around the world at different depths over five decades.

The researchers released their conclusions yesterday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington. The study found the “warming signals” in the oceans could only have been produced by the build-up of man-made CO in the atmosphere. Non-human factors would have produced quite different effects. Tim Barnett, the Scripps project leader, said previous studies into human activities and global warming had looked for evidence in the atmosphere.

“But the atmosphere is the worst place to look for a global warming signal,” he said.

“Ninety per cent of the energy from global warming has gone into the oceans and the oceans show its fingerprint much better than the atmosphere.” Prof Barnett added: “The debate over whether there is a global warming signal is over now, at least for rational people.”

The Scripps scientists also looked at the likely climatic effects of warming. They highlighted the long-term impact on regional summer water supplies, which would be severely reduced in places such as western China and the Andes which depend on rivers fed by melting snow and glaciers.

The conference also heard a gloomy analysis of the way the North Atlantic is reacting to global warming from Ruth Curry of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Her new study showed that vast amounts of fresh water – more than 20,000 cubic kilometres – have been added to the northern ocean over the past 40 years because the Arctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting.

According to Dr Curry, the resulting change in the sea’s salinity balance threatens to shut down the Ocean Conveyor Belt, which transfers heat from the tropics towards the polar regions through currents such as the Gulf Stream.

If that happened, winter temperatures in northern Europe would fall by several degrees. The possible failure of the North Atlantic conveyor was fictionalised last year in the film The Day After Tomorrow.

Dr Curry said the accumulation of fresh water in the upper ocean layers since the 1990s meant that the threat should be taken seriously.

Financial Times (London, England)
February 19, 2005 Saturday
London Edition 3
SECTION: FRONT PAGE – FIRST SECTION; Pg. 1
HEADLINE: US scientists say man has caused global warming and warn over the Gulf Stream
BYLINE: By CLIVE COOKSON
DATELINE: WASHINGTON

Leading US climate researchers yesterday released “the most compelling evidence yet” that human activities are responsible for global warming.

They said their work should “wipe out” claims by sceptics that warming is due to non-human factors such as natural climatic fluctuations or variations in solar or volcanic activity.

Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California have been working for several years with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to analyse the effects of global warming on the oceans.

They used computer modelling combined with millions of temperature and salinity readings, taken around the world at different depths over five decades.

The researchers released their conclusions yesterday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington. The study found the “warming signals” in the oceans could only have been produced by the build-up of man-made CO in the atmosphere. Non-human factors would have produced quite different effects. Tim Barnett, the Scripps project leader, said previous studies into human activities and global warming had looked for evidence in the atmosphere.

“But the atmosphere is the worst place to look for a global warming signal,” he said.

“Ninety per cent of the energy from global warming has gone into the oceans and the oceans show its fingerprint much better than the atmosphere.” Prof Barnett added: “The debate over whether there is a global warming signal is over now, at least for rational people.”

The Scripps scientists also looked at the likely climatic effects of warming. They highlighted the long-term impact on regional summer water supplies, which would be severely reduced in places such as western China and the Andes which depend on rivers fed by melting snow and glaciers.

The conference also heard a gloomy analysis of the way the North Atlantic is reacting to global warming from Ruth Curry of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Her new study showed that vast amounts of fresh water – more than 20,000 cubic kilometres – have been added to the northern ocean over the past 40 years because the Arctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting.

According to Dr Curry, the resulting change in the sea’s salinity balance threatens to shut down the Ocean Conveyor Belt, which transfers heat from the tropics towards the polar regions through currents such as the Gulf Stream.

If that happened, winter temperatures in northern Europe would fall by several degrees. The possible failure of the North Atlantic conveyor was fictionalised last year in the film The Day After Tomorrow.

Dr Curry said the accumulation of fresh water in the upper ocean layers since the 1990s meant that the threat should be taken seriously.

The Independent (London)
February 19, 2005, Saturday
SECTION: First Edition; COMMENT; Pg. 36
HEADLINE: LEADING ARTICLE: A CONSPIRACY THEORY THAT GROWS MORE IMPLAUSIBLE BY THE DAY

IT IS appropriate that in the week in which the Kyoto Protocol finally came into effect, we have been given irrefutable proof that the earth is heating up at an unnatural rate – and that is being caused by human actions. Dr Tim Barnett, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, presented a paper to a prestigious scientific conference in Washington this week that ought to dispel any lingering doubts over mankind’s responsibility for climate change.

Dr Barnett argues that climate models based on air temperatures are not always reliable. The real place to look for evidence of global warming, he says, is in the oceans. Having analysed millions of temperature readings made by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Dr Barnett has discovered that, over the past 40 years, the world’s oceans have been steadily warming up. This cannot be explained by natural phenomena such as changes in solar activity, volcanic eruptions or long-term, cyclical, changes in our climate.

The only explanation for the rise is the massive increase in greenhouse emissions produced by humans over the past four decades. Dr Barnett’s conclusion leaves no room for doubt: “The debate over whether or not there is a global warming signal is now over, at least for rational people.”

Another presentation to the conference spelt out, once again, the dangers of global warming. Ruth Curry of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution points out that ice is receding everywhere. For humans, this will mean drought where major water sources are fed by snow or glacial melt. In the Andes and western China, millions will be left without adequate water during the summer. For animal life, the consequences will be even more severe. Seals, walruses and polar bears – their natural habitats shrinking fast – are on the road to extinction.

It is somewhat ironic that such compelling evidence for the existence and dangers of manmade climate change should have been presented in the capital of the United States. That nation’s government, alone among developed countries, still stubbornly refuses to accept the international scientific consensus on global warming. Many prominent figures in Washington have convinced themselves that “global warming” is a fiction, and that international attempts to control emissions are secretly aimed at sabotaging the American economy. This, of course, is a conspiracy theory that suits vested business interests in the US.

The main responsibility of our own Government now is to exert intense pressure on the US to wake up to the reality of climate change. It was encouraging that Sir Emyr Jones Parry, the British ambassador to the UN, made no bones about America’s duty when he spoke out this week. But will Mr Blair be so candid with his friend George Bush, when the Prime Minister chairs meetings of the G8 later this year? We will have to wait to find out. But as this latest research confirms beyond doubt, global warming will soon drastically change our way of life for the worse. If we wait too long, we will bitterly regret it.

The Irish Times
February 19, 2005
SECTION: World; Other World Stories; Pg. 10
HEADLINE: Scientists warn on climate change effect
BYLINE: Dick Ahlstrom in Washington

US: Global warming is upon us and with it will come major changes that cannot easily be reversed. Sea level rise, damage to existing food webs and radical changes to weather patterns are the inevitable consequence.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual science meeting under way in Washington DC yesterday heard a particularly bleak assessment of the realities of climate change. A collection of speakers stressed over and again that the climate change being seen today is a result of human activity and not natural variability or solar effects.

Climate models from the UK and US as well as actual measurements were used to conduct a detailed look at climate change, said Prof Tim Barnett of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California.

Natural variability was examined as a cause and “the answer was clearly No”, he said. Volcanic activity and an increase in solar energy output were also studied but again, the answer was “not a chance”, Prof Barnett said.

“The debate about whether there is or is not global warming is over. There is no doubt,” he told the AAAS meeting.

For many years the reality was hidden as scientists watched for rising atmospheric temperatures as a sign. All the while the oceans were masking atmospheric temperature change by mopping up 90 per cent of the heat energy delivered by global warming.

“The real action is in the oceans. The temperature is not the key here, it is the energy that has gone into the seas,” Prof Barnett stated.

That energy figure has actually been calculated. The oceans have picked up an estimated 1022 joules, he said. This was equivalent to all the electricity needed to power the state of California for the next 200,000 years, he said.

These changes were causing disruption to the existing water cycle in which moisture is taken from the sea surface and deposited as rain, according to Prof Sharon Smith of the University of Miami.

This, plus the loss of a water source from glaciers and snow melt in the mountains, would leave the western US without water within 20 years.

Vast amounts of fresh water were flowing into the north Atlantic due to ice melt, which could alter existing ocean currents, the so-called “Ocean Conveyor Belt”, she said.

There was also evidence of instability at the edges of the Greenland ice sheet.

If it melted, the ice held enough water to raise sea level by a colossal 7 metres.

New figures showed the Arctic has lost 20,000 cubic kilometres of ice over the 30 years from 1965 to 1995, she said. The annual loss is now estimated to be about 5,000 cubic metres. “The ice in the Arctic is diminishing fast.”

Prof Ruth Curry of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution described impacts of climate change on the Arctic food web.

Algae growing in the ice represented an enormous biomass that would be lost if the ice went. “Once the ice is gone it will not come back.”

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