What's Hot? 1998.
Its official now. The
announcement has been made and the arm has been raised: 1998 is the new holder of the
title of "the warmest year." The claim is being made that this year is not just
the warmest of the last 150 years (the period confined to thermometer measurements), but
is indeed the undisputed heavyweight champion of the last millennium.
While most apocalysts are touting
this as evidence that dreaded anthropogenic global warming is upon us, we think it has
other, less dire, implications.
Not only was 1998 warm, but it broke
the old record in the surface temperature history by 0.15°C. This might not sound like
much, but consider that during the string of previous records, new ones usually only
topped the existing ones by a couple hundredths of a degree or so. Such a large step, like
that of 1998, is generally not what is expected from a gradual global warming, but is more
indicative of some sort of definable climate event, in this case El Niņo.
The warmth in 1998 is not just
limited to surface records; it also shows up in both the satellite and weather balloon
data sets. This, in itself, is unusual, since the satellites and weather balloons, which
measure temperatures throughout the lower atmosphere, have not shown the warming trend
that is present in the surface temperature record for the past 20 years (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Global
annual temperatures as recorded in the three temperature recordssurface, satellite,
and weather balloon. The data have been adjusted to the same starting value in 1979, the
year that satellite records began. The values for 1998 represent our best estimates.
This discrepancy between the surface
and the lower atmosphere is not predicted by any of the General Circulation Models (GCMs)
used to project the future climate under conditions of an increasing anthropogenic
greenhouse effect. In fact, it is currently one of the hottest topics of debate in the
climate change arena, with the satellite and weather-balloon records coming under
increasing attack by those who are wedded to the model results.
But the warmth of 1998 may shed some
new light on this discrepancy. The presence of this years major El Niņo was clearly
observable and documented to have large-scale effectseffects not only felt at the
surface, but observable throughout the lower atmosphere, as all three of the temperature
data sets attest. The same can be said of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the spring of
1991. That time, the addition of volcanic ash to the upper parts of the atmosphere acted
to cool the earth, and the effect was recorded by the surface thermometers, as well as
throughout the lower atmosphere by weather balloons and satellites. Events such as these
are proof that when something acts to alter the earths temperature, our system of
temperature sensors accurately records it.
Now, contrast this with the claims of
a warming caused by an increased greenhouse effect. Again, this warming is forecast to
occur at the surface and throughout the lower atmosphere. Current GCMs project that the
warming over the last 20 years because of this effect should have been about 0.36°C.
Supporters of the GCM results point to a warming in the surface record of nearly this
amount during this time as proof that the models are working correctly.
But the observations from both the
satellites and the weather balloons do not corroborate this temperature change. In fact,
these two independent sets of observations dont show much of a temperature change at
all, and they are very similar to each other year in and year out. This lends credence to
the temperatures they are measuring, suggesting that theyre real and are different
from those measured at the surface.
What this all means is that we have
an established temperature sensor network that has been proven to work by observing
temperature variations caused by real perturbations of the earths atmospheric
system, yet is unable to capture the hypothesized changes due to an increased greenhouse
effect. This news is a powerful indication that something is amiss with our current
understanding of how anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere affect
We feel strongly that political
policy should follow scientific understanding, not precede it. And the temperatures of
1998 make it patently obvious that our scientific understanding of this issue is far from
Cities on Fire
Albert Gore, the Environmental Vice
President who would be the Environmental President, is only one millennial election away
from getting to sit behind the Big Desk.
But it seems unlikely that the
millennial Senate is going to grant him the Kyoto Protocol, which requires some type of
financial mechanism (i.e. taxes) that discourages energy use so much that you would prefer
a cooler home in the winter and a warmer one in the summer, a smaller car, and more
expensive meals. Switch the cat from canned food to crunchies.
Talk about politically incorrect!
This will force a Senatorial end-run. Many D.C. insiders expect the EPA to declare carbon
dioxide a pollutant and subsequently subject the citizenry to "regulation without
legislation" (the 21st-century version of "Taxation without
Representation," sans the inherent charm). But that case is hard to make, considering
CO2 is as natural as breathing and makes our planet greener. If it caused
people to die, however, the EPA could step in and save the day.
A small group of international
researchers has been working hard to demonstrate that disproportionately more people will
die if CO2 continues to increase. In that vein, a recent Nature piece by
NOAA researchers Gaffen and Ross created a pre-Christmas page one stir amidst other
pressing news. They determined that the "apparent temperature" (a measure of
discomfort that combines temperature, humidity, and wind) and a "threshold
temperature" (the temperature beyond which people die disproportionately in some
cities) have been increasing in many U.S. metropolitan areas.
This research confirms that surface
temperature and humidity in and around major cities have generally been on the rise. The
implication is that this may be related to global warming and that more people will die if
something isnt done to stop it. But everyone knows that city temperatures rise
compared to the countryside whether or not the planet warms. Its the byproduct of
economic activity like building high rises and making things. (In our Nations
Capital, its the waste heat from all the money changing hands.)
Which makes us wonder 1) why people
who live in the hottest places (Miami and Phoenix) have no excess mortality on hot
days; and 2) why people who live in cities are healthier than people who live in the
surrounding rural areas.
We suggest that the answers are 1)
adaptation and 2) infrastructure. Would this nation really be healthier without cities?
Many of the environmental idealists pushing Kyoto think so, but hard data argue to the
contrary. We might make an exception for D.C.
Kalkstein, L.S., and
R.E. Davis, 1989, Weather and human mortality: An evaluation of demographic and
interregional responses in the United States. Annals of the Association of American
Geography, 79, 4464.
D.J. and R.J. Ross, 1998, Increased summertime heat stress in the U.S. Nature, 396,