March 16, 2005

Comments on the New England Climate Change Report

Filed under: Climate History

In its report entitled “Indicators of Climate Change in the Northeast 2005,” the environmental advocacy group Clean Air-Cool Planet, in association with the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, claimed that recent climate changes in New England were caused by human activity. However, while evidence abounds showing considerable climate variability and change in the region, there’s little if any relation to human influence from a changed greenhouse effect.

Figure 1 is a 50-year temperature history for the region (using data from the New England Climate Change report) shows a rather consistent warming that resulted in a rise in the average annual temperature of a bit more than 2.5ºF.

NE Temperature History

Figure 1. A 50-year temperature history of New England.

While some might argue that this is a sure sign of human-induced global warming, they would be surprised to learn that the 50 year period depicted in Figure 1 is from 1904-1953—long before the era of rapid atmospheric composition changes!

The complete record for the region, stretching from 1899-2004, is shown in Figure 2. The overall temperature rise is 1.9ºF, but all of it occurred during the first half of the record. In fact, there has been no statistically significant temperature increase in New England during the past 75 years.

NE Temperature History

Figure 2. The annual average temperature history of New England, 1899-2004.

Nevertheless, if one merely places a trend through the entire record, which begins in 1899, the there is a statistically significant warming. That’s because of the influence of the first fifty years. Because of the timing of the warming, the more likely cause is the emergence of New England from the cold extremes marking the end of the Little Ice Age. Accompanying such a warming should be changes in the behavior of natural systems, many of which have been documented and described in the New England Climate Change report—flowers blooming earlier in the spring, a lengthening of the growing season, rivers and lakes icing out earlier, peak stream flow moving earlier in the year, etc. These observations are simply those expected to accompany rising temperatures whenever they occur. In this case, they bear no relationship to greenhouse effect changes.

Another example of this is illustrated by the region’s snowfall history. The New England Climate Change report draws attention to the annual snowfall record kept in New York’s Central Park, which has been maintained since 1880, noting, in particular, “the increased frequency of years with below average snowfall in recent decades.” Today, a visitor to the webpage of the National Weather Service Office responsible for New York City is greeted by the headline “NYC RECORD - 3 consecutive seasons with 40 inches or more of snowfall!!” Obviously, the character of New York’s snowfall record is open to various types of descriptions—not all so readily linked to anthropogenic climate change.

Consider New York’s massive urban core, which warms the central city several degrees over the nearby countryside. New York, like most nearby Atlantic Coast cities, is “marginal” for snow to begin with because of the proximity of warm water. It averages only 22 inches, similar to, say, Charlottesville, Virginia, several hundred miles to the south. Warm up that core and snow should decrease.

Linking almost all types of climate variability and change to the burning of fossil fuels is a primary strategy that is employed by global warming alarmists. But here in New England is a typical example of how they overplay their hand.

In January 2004, the New York Times published an op-ed written by Harvard’s Dr. Paul Epstein, who suggested that New England’s cold and snowy winter could be related to a change in the circulation of the Atlantic Ocean resulting from an increased greenhouse effect. Epstein suggested the same thing in the Boston Globe a year earlier during another particularly cold stretch. In neither instance, did any of the organizations affiliated with the New England Climate Change report counter Epstein’s remarks and point out there is absolutely no observational evidence in the climate history of New England to support them. In fact, the New England Climate Change report builds a strong case for winter warming—just the opposite of what Epstein suggested was occurring!

My researchers actually contacted the authors of the New England report to ask them to publicly correct Epstein, for saying something that was diametrically opposed to their document. They declined, suggesting that someone else should do that. In other words, they simply don’t care enough to correct alarmism that is completely opposed to their own research.

That truth is that variability and change is an inherent characteristic of the climate of New England, and the big warmup in the last century occurred before people could have caused it.

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