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What Scientists Say, What People Endure

August 2, 2010 – It seems a barrage of earthshaking information is being loosed upon us these days. First the report of the International Polar Year Oslo Science Conference, in which Arctic scientists state that a feedback loop has been established that allows climate change to perpetuate itself. Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued their annual report. I haven’t read the report in its entirety; it’s 218 pages long. Realizing that lay people would find the whole report onerous to read, the NOAA was kind enough to issue an executive summary of the report simultaneously (what they refer to as “Highlights”). It is a vitally important document – too late in coming, critically important nonetheless. I’d like to point out what I view as constituting the very core of the report, the information around which the rest of the report revolves.

On page two of The State of the Climate, 2009: Highlights, the authors (of which there are more than 300, from 48 countries) begin, beneath the heading “How we know the world has warmed” by saying “A comprehensive review of key climate indicators … all tell the same story: global warming is undeniable.” Finally! An American organization with the chutzpah to put it in print. The evidence, as they present it, IS undeniable. Those key indicators, of which there are ten in all, include surface air temperature, humidity, sea surface temperature, the amount of sea ice, and ocean heat content. Graphs on page three depict the obvious: while temperatures are going up, snow cover, glaciers, and sea ice are disappearing.

On page four we learn that “Recent studies show … more than 90 percent of the warming that’s happened on earth during the past 50 years has gone into the oceans.” Sea level rise, occurring at slightly more than 1/8 in./yr., is the result of the oceans’ warm waters expanding, accompanied by increasing water volume, a result of land-based ice melting. The oceans will retain their increased warmth for some time, because water maintains its temperature more steadily than the air. Finally, on page five, under the heading “Decade-to-Decade Warming,” the report tells us that “Each of the last three decades has been much warmer than the decade before it, with each one setting a new and significant record for the highest global temperature.” The remaining pages contain less important, though still interesting, information.

You can find the report in both these places:
Arndt, D. S., M. O. Baringer, and M. R. Johnson, Eds., 2010: State of the Climate in 2009. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 91 (6), S1-S224, and
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/bams-state-of-the-climate .

In the meantime, there has been a summer-long heat wave in many places across the globe. The parched landscape in Russia is tinder dry. Fires rage out of control, and five hundred villages have been evacuated. California is also ablaze during what has now become known as the “fire season.” Flooding in Pakistan has taken 1,500 lives. Flooding in China has long since reached historic proportions, with 38 million people displaced by it. Our local Fox channel now includes, as part of the 10:00 news, a segment called “Extreme Weather.”

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