There is certainly no dispute regarding the fact that climate changes, and does so for many reasons. In fact the past century has witnessed two distinct periods of warming and cooling. The first warming occurred between 1900 and 1945. Since CO2 levels were relatively low then compared with now, and didn’t change much, they couldn’t have been the cause before 1950.
The second warming shift began in 1975 and rose at quite a constant rate until 1998, a strong Pacific Ocean El Niño year…although this later warming is reported only by surface thermometers, not satellites, and is legitimately disputed by some. (There’s some background on this in my June 18 column.)
Incidentally, about half of all estimated warming since 1900 occurred before the mid-1940s despite continuously rising CO2 levels since that time. As for continued warming (up until a recent 17-year “pause”), we have been witnessing a pretty constant trend of temperature increases ever since the last “Little Ice Age” (not a true Ice Age) ended in about 1850.
Eugene Robinson cited a January 2 article in the journal Nature arguing that human-generated carbon emissions will lead to even greater warming than was previously anticipated. This will allegedly result from the impact of warming on cloud cover causing average global temperatures to possibly rise a full 7° F by the end of the century.
The study’s lead author, Steven Sherwood of the University of New South Wales, told the Guardian newspaper that this: “would likely be catastrophic rather than simply dangerous” and “would make life difficult, if not impossible, in much the tropics.”
Some other January articles posted in Nature might be noted as well. For example, an unsigned editorial in the January 16 issue titled “Cool Heads Needed”, warns that unusual cold weather doesn’t prove or disprove the theory of that anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming that “climate skeptics” have “celebrated”. It also theorizes that “global warming might in fact be contributing to the string of abnormally cold U.S. winters in recent years”, yet also observes that “the average global temperature… has plateaued since 1998.”
The editorial admits that: “plenty of questions remain … Exactly how sensitive is Earth’s climate system to increasing atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases?” It finally concludes that “if the past is any indication, we may have to live with a fair degree of uncertainty.”
Another Nature journal article of the same date titled “The Case of the Missing Heat” by Jeff Tollefson reviews research on why “the warming stalled” in 1998. He reports “the pause has persisted, sparking a minor crisis of confidence in the field.”
Tollefson then claims that: “climate skeptics have seized on the temperature trends as evidence that global warming has ground to a halt. Climate scientists, meanwhile, know that the heat must be building up somewhere in the climate system, but they have struggled to explain where it is going, if not into the atmosphere.”
Then his wrenching dilemma: “Some have begun to wonder whether there is something amiss in their [climate] models.”
Something amiss in their models…is that truly possible? Golly, I thought only radical “skeptics” entertained that rash possibility!
And by the way, there are also some really smart climate scientists who believe that the global climate warming “pause” we have been experiencing since the time most of today’s high school students were born will not only continue, but now introduces a much longer-term cooling cycle. As I discussed in my January 21 column, Dr. Habibullo Abdussamatov who heads Russia’s prestigious Pulkovo Observatory in St. Petersburg predicts that: “after the maximum of solar Cycle-24, from approximately 2014, we can expect the start of the next bicentennial cycle of deep cooling with a Little Ice Age in 2055 plus or minus 11 years” (the 19th to occur in the past 7,500 years).
Abdussamatov and others primarily link their cooling predictions to a 100-year record low number of sunspots. Periods of reduced sunspot activity correlate with increased cloud-forming influences of cosmic rays. More clouds tend to make conditions cooler, while fewer often cause warming. He points out that Earth has experienced such occurrences five times over the last 1,000 years, and that: “A global freeze will come about regardless of whether or not industrialized countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions. The common view of Man’s industrial activity is a deciding factor in global warming has emerged from a misinterpretation of cause and effect.”
But back to that “polar vortex” thing. As Eugene Robinson and other members of the Four-Alarm Fire Brigade insist, with the planet obviously in flames, those numbing temperatures over much of the country (the ones we “skeptics/denialists” are so eager to flaunt) must be an anomaly…a rare exception… certainly not something that can be correlated with any natural climate change that would suggest a possible cooling trend. Giving it a special, exotic-sounding name is a great way to distinguish this from a common old run-of-the-mill weather phenomenon.
Actually however, it’s really not such a new name after all. And the warministas are right that it apparently has nothing to do with global warming, with human fossil-burning carbon emissions, or with flatulent cattle and kangaroos either for that matter.
Princeton University physicist Dr. Will Happer provides a good thumbnail sketch of the physics involved in an interview posted on Marc Morano’s Climate Depot website. Emphasizing that polar vortices have been around forever, he explains: “The poles have little sunshine even in summer, but especially in winter, like now in the Arctic. So the air over the poles rapidly gets bitterly cold because of radiation to dark space, with negligible replenishment of heat from sunlight.”
Dr. Happer continues: “The sinking cold air is replaced by warmer air flowing in from the south at high altitudes. Since the Earth is rotating, the air flowing in from the south has to start rotating faster to the west, just like a figure skater rotates faster if she pulls in her arms. This forms the polar vortex. The extremely cold air at the bottom of the vortex can be carried south by meanders of the jet stream at the ends of the vortex.”
Happer concludes that “we will have to live with polar vortices as long as the sun shines and the Earth rotates.”
My meteorologist friend Joe Bastardi notes two fairly recent examples when Arctic polar vortices dropped blasts of very cold air into the U.S. One occurred during January 1977, and the other came along at the time of President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in January 1985…when Chicago’s temperatures then reached a record low of 28°F below zero.
As a matter of fact, a polar vortex back in 1777 can potentially be credited with influencing the course of American history. That was just before the Battle of Princeton when Cornwallis’s men marched south of New York City in an attempt to trap George Washington’s small Continental Army in Trenton. Fortunately for the home team, a vortex swept across New Jersey which enabled Washington to avoid encirclement by evacuating his troops and artillery over frozen roads. Upon reaching Princeton, they successfully attacked the British garrison.
Can we thank climate change, global warming, or even global cooling for that? Well, while it did occur near the end of that last Little Ice Age, probably not. But let’s at least finally give that polar vortex some long overdue recognition.