Media Misleads Audience on Climate Change Impact Report :  Published February 2007 All Rights Reserved


Media Misleads Audience on Climate Change Impact Report

(By meteorologist Jeffrey Allen Miller, publisher of Think & Ask, NY)  Analysis of historical climate data is largely based upon fact -- especially since data collection continues to improve. Projecting future trends from historical data is a scientific guess and one certainly worth funding, following, and collaborating upon with all parties across governments, the science industry, and private enterprise.

Earth scientists have a solid understanding of earth's present condition, however (and as with nature itself) earth does surprise. The media does not, so reader caution is advised when reading The New York Times' account of climate change published 2 February 2007.

In the latest global warming (or climate change) summary report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2 February 2007, while some research aspects of the report confirmed earlier suggested global climate shifts, once again the scientists did not address micro- or macro-climate issues.

Translation: This report offers you -- on Main Street anywhere on earth -- no specific value. Do you run to higher ground from pending sea level rise? No. Do you build a home with 10-foot-thick walls to protect the structure from pending and disastrous winds? No. Do you stay informed? Yes, you should, because climate change is not steady state and there is time to adapt. (Don't trust the media in the United States to say so.)

Climate in your town

The latest scientific discussion on climate change centered upon temperature and precipitation increases or decreases by region -- arctic or polar, subtropical, tropical, North/South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia -- oceanic, and severe weather predictions.

Do wine growers in California's Napa Valley benefit from this specific report? No. Regions of the world with distinct microclimates today are on their own, because science of climate change focuses on global not local.

As for the media --at this time in the United States not a single mainstream press agency has an on-staff meteorologist as a reporter-- they do not have the in-house knowledge to discuss macro and microclimate issues for your hometown.

It is up to you to demand of your media that they employ experts, not journalists, to bring climate change information, future predictions, and relevant research application to the local level. 

Report summary

After reviewing the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) there was no outstanding new information other than having narrowed the effects of predicting continental and oceanic temperature changes through the 2090-decade.

IPCC specifically assessed details from extensive research collected during the past six years. The study included more sophisticated analyses of data, improvements in understanding of processes and their simulation in models, and more extensive exploration of uncertainty.

Authors wrote, "Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years. The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture."

One interesting note from the research was that in analyzing balloon-borne and satellite measurements of lower- and mid-troposphere temperatures, results showed warming rates that are similar to those of the surface temperature." This data cleared-up earlier studies, which were not conclusive for the higher atmospheric levels.

Translation: When you fly at higher altitudes and the pilot enjoys a little joke by announcing the outside temperature at...37-degrees 'below zero,' in future this may be more like 33-degrees below zero.  It is and will remain - below zero.

Factor the unknown

What remains uncertain --and is certainly only going to be a guess from all points of study-- is the relationship between warmer surface temperatures and evaporation.

"The average atmospheric water vapor content has increased since at least the 1980s over land and ocean as well as in the upper troposphere," the scientists concluded. "The increase is broadly consistent with the extra water vapor that warmer air can hold."

So, translation? This is a huge issue that must be addressed when predicting future climate change. The warmer the atmosphere (relatively speaking) more evaporation occurs. Picture a pot of water boiling on the stove --the temperature is capped for water but evaporation occurs at a faster rate -- it sends moisture into the air and as this example is applied to lakes, rivers, and ocean water the result produces a mass of moisture that rises, cools, and forms cloud cover.   Should earth's water become so warm that all bodies steam? In such an extreme example, the sun would be hidden by a global deck of clouds, thus moderating the temperature at the surface.

This factor plays a significant role in macroclimates and will indeed mean to that Napa Valley wine grower whether or not those grape vines grown today will survive in 20 or 50 years.

The sea

Oceans are a major climate influence and it moderates the range of global climate temperature.

"Observations since 1961 show that the average temperature of the global ocean has increased to depths of at least 3,000 meters and that the ocean has been absorbing more than 80 percent of the heat added to the climate system.

"Such warming causes seawater to expand, contributing to sea level rise," authors of the report concluded.

While melting polar ice will play an important role in adding fresh water to ocean bodies, the warming of water itself too adds bulk and thus spreads out further than sea level today. Evaporation scenarios are not factored into the study. Would a warmer climate and warmer ocean temperatures mean faster rates of evaporation? Faster evaporation means more cloud cover and less sunshine available to heat the body of water more so than at steady state. Scientists have not addressed these questions as the answers apply to climate change.

There is "insufficient evidence" to determine whether trends exist in the meridional overturning circulation of the global ocean, authors concluded, which means that it is not possible yet to predict future trends of ocean currents today.

Precipitation and temperatures

Long-term trends (from 1900 to 2005)  have been observed in precipitation amounts across many large regions. Significantly increased precipitation has been observed in eastern parts of North and South America, northern Europe, and northern and central Asia. Drying has been observed in the Sahel, the Mediterranean, southern Africa and parts of southern Asia. Precipitation is highly variable spatially and temporally, and data are limited in some regions.

"Long-term trends have not been observed for the other large regions assessed," the report concluded.

As rainfall is one of the most valuable resources, whether or not it falls as snow, is perhaps the most important issue facing humans should climate change scenarios work out as stated in February 2007. (Which they won't, remember what is stated at the top of this story -- nothing is steady state and future projections are only guesses based upon what we know. What we know in 2020 will likely change.) Future studies must be more comprehensive on precipitation estimates than region-based, and updated frequently as new data is analyzed.

The scientists concluded that: "There is no clear trend in the annual numbers of tropical cyclones." Meaning, there is no accurate prediction to state whether hurricanes would become more or less plentiful in years ahead. However, scientists held to the argument that when hurricanes do develop, their intensity would be more severe.

There is an old story about hurricanes -- these compact organisms are earth's way of releasing heat into the atmosphere...consider them to be rather like the tropical zone's air conditioning system. One would think that the warmer the tropics become, the more hurricanes develop in order to release heat. It remains uncertain however how much the tropics would actually warm up -- as the bulk of warming on earth is (and has been for some time) more evident in the polar regions.

More to come, since there is improved understanding of projected patterns of precipitation on a global scale. "Increases in the amount of precipitation are very likely in high-latitudes (polar regions,) while decreases are likely in most subtropical land regions (by as much as about 20 percent by 2100,) which is a continuation of recent trends.

The most recent time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present day was about 125,000 years ago, in which scientists estimate sea level rose 4 to 6 meters from today's level. Polar studies indicated that temperatures were about 3C to 5C higher than present.

Without specifying areas, the group concluded that "warmer and fewer cold days and night over most land areas," and "warmer and more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas" is "virtually certain."

The global average increase by 2090 "is likely to be in the range 2C to 4.5C with a best estimate of about 3C, and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5C. Values substantially higher than 4.5C cannot be excluded, but agreement of models with observations is not as good for those values.

Projected warming in the 21st century shows scenario-independent geographical patterns similar to those observed over the past several decades. Warming is expected to be greatest over land and at most high northern latitudes, and least over the Southern Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic ocean

From years 2000 to 2020 the scientist predict warming of about 0.2 centigrade per decade with a chance of adding another 0.1 centigrade should concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols increase.

"Water vapor changes represent the largest feedback affecting climate sensitivity and are now better understood...but cloud feedback remains the largest source of uncertainty," scientists concluded.

"It is very unlikely that climate changes of at least the seven centuries prior to 1950 were due to variability generated within the climate system alone. A significant fraction of the reconstructed Northern Hemisphere inter-decadal temperature variability over those centuries is very likely attributable to volcanic eruptions and changes in solar irradiance, and it is likely that anthropogenic forcing contributed to the early 20th century warming evident in these records."

Volcanic eruptions of course --one of earth's many surprises-- cannot be factored into the long-term predictions yet. However,  in the event of a major volcanic eruption, historical data indicates major cooling follows even though it is temporary.

There is insufficient evidence to determine whether trends exist to enhance frequency and intensity of tornadoes, hail, lightning, and dust storms.

Scientists concluded that (in general) heat waves (more so in frequency) and heavy rainfall events were "very likely" over "most areas."

Droughts, more intense tropical storms, higher sea levels were all rated as "likely."


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