Friday, April 16, 2010

Warmest March and a Cold Winter: science agencies explain a climate conundrum

This winter's harsh weather has provided fodder for those who debunk the issue of global warming and climate change. In fact, with any brief fluctuation in weather patterns, opponents of climate change jump on the chance to dismiss the big picture climate patterns that are being closely monitored by many scientific and federal agencies. Of course, along with that comes the cries of conspiracies supported by foul-mouth online comments that I won't even bother addressing.

With Washington D.C. experiencing heavy snows recently, climate change critic Sen. James Inhofe and his family constructed an igloo near the US capitol. As reported by Geoff Mohan in the Los Angeles Times, what the senator fails to appreciate is the explanation for this winter's weather given by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (no whacko organization here): Arctic
oscillation, a cyclical change in air pressure over the Arctic that alters weather patterns in the northern hemisphere. While this oscillation was somewhat varied over the past century, changing from positive (drier) to negative (colder) phases, since the 1970s it has favored the positive phase. But this year there was a switch to the negative phase.

There will always be climate fluctuations, but one must look towards the larger trends. And that is what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), another non-partisan federal agency not prone to exaggeration, did with its just-released Global Climate Analysis for March 2010. Seems last month was, globally, the warmest March on record with the first quarter of the year being the fourth warmest 1st quarter on record. "On record" means going back to 1880.

So often we miss the bigger picture because we get wrapped up in day-to-day events that may actually represent anomalies or minor fluctuations. In essence, we miss the forest for the trees. And despite what might be said about some studies from scientists who may or may not have been wholly accurate with their research, there are plenty of respected agencies and research groups that are reaching and supporting the scientific conclusions that celebrity spokespeople, like Vice President Al Gore, have attempted to bring to the public's attention only to be pilloried as self-serving opportunists.

We miss the forest for the trees. And someday we could miss the forest because there are no trees.

Read the LA Times article.
Read the NOAA report summary.
Read the NSIDC explanation of Arctic oscillation.
View this Nat Geo video on climate change:

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