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Unsettled Science
What a Cooling Antarctica Means for Climate Science

Antarctica spent most of the second half of the 20th century warming, a fact that inspired a steady stream of doomsaying pronouncements from the Chicken Littles of the world. Loath as we are to let facts get in the way of a good story, we’d be remiss not to note that over the past two decades, our southernmost continent has actually been cooling, sending scientists scrambling for explanations and silencing the shouts of environmentalists who just twenty years ago were convinced that we’d be seeing an ice-free South pole by now. As Reuters reports, a group of researchers think they’ve figured out what’s behind this recent cooling effect down there:

[A] shift to colder winds and more sea ice since then have brought a chill to [Antarctica] despite the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the scientists wrote in the journal Nature. […]

Since about 1998, local air temperatures have fallen about 0.5 degree Celsius (0.9 Fahrenheit) a decade, roughly the rate at which they had previously been warming since about 1950. Stabilization of the ozone hole over Antarctica, which shields the planet from ultra-violet rays and has been damaged by man-made chemicals, may partly explain the shift in winds that led to the cooling, the study said. […]

“The increase of greenhouse gases … is being overwhelmed in this part of the Antarctic” by natural variations in the local climate, said lead author John Turner of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). “We’re certainly not saying that global warming has stopped. On the contrary,” he told a telephone news conference on the study. “We’re highlighting the complexity of climate change.”

That last quote by the study’s lead author is particularly important, and if we unpack it we can get to the frustrating core of the modern environmental movement’s relationship with science.

First, let’s be clear: this latest research doesn’t “disprove” climate change. Average global surface temperatures are still rising, and at a general level we can understand why: a higher concentration of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are trapping more of the sun’s radiation in our atmosphere. We can also recognize that humans are responsible for a huge amount of those emissions, and point to that as a real problem that needs addressing.

But—and here is where most greens lose both policymakers and the general public—the details of climate change, where the proverbial devil is, are far less clear. Our planet’s climate is necessarily global in scope, but it’s also bewilderingly complex at every level, with complicated relationships between variables creating feedback loops and ripple effects, many (if not most) of which we still don’t understand. There’s a clear need to devote more time and effort into deepening our knowledge of our climate, but just because we can identify some mechanics at a macro level doesn’t mean the job is somehow done. Climate science is nowhere near “settled,” and it’s downright irresponsible to suggest that it might be.

And yet that’s precisely what greens have been doing, so eager to browbeat skeptics and the public more generally into submission that they run roughshod over the real nuance of climate change, the more detailed topography of the problem that any scientist will tell you is inherent to serious research. If they want to be taken seriously, environmentalists need to acknowledge the wrinkles that still exist in climate science, because the alternative only loses them credibility. Declaring the issue done and dusted only serves to feed the ranks of climate deniers when new research like Antarctic cooling comes to light.

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  • Andrew Allison

    As evidenced by the actual data, the increase of greenhouse gases is being overwhelmed by natural variations worldwide. Before pointing to the current forecasts for this year, recall that as the world stubbornly refused to do as it was told by so-called “climate scientists” the time required for a climate signal was steadily extended, from five years to 10, to 15 and finally to 30 by the cult of AGW.

  • Fat_Man

    “Average global surface temperatures are still rising”

    Not since the El Nino ended.

    “higher concentration of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are trapping more of the sun’s radiation in our atmosphere”

    Not at all clear. It is a kitchen science version of climate dynamics that is assumed by the warmista’s models, but has not been verified in the real world. Indeed model predictions for the last 20 years have far out run reality.

  • CaliforniaStark

    Actually, as the El Nino ends and is replaced by an La Nina weather pattern, there has been a drop in temperature over the last two months. In fact, according to some experts, it is the largest temperature fall in the 37+ years of the satellite record. It is likely to continue, and we may enter another “pause” period of little or no warming. If this happens, the global warming scare may share the same fate as the Bird Flu pandemic, Y2k millennium doomsday, and the global cooling scares — and the world will move on to fear of a new apocalyptic boogeyman event.

    http://www.vencoreweather.com/blog/2016/6/15/120-pm-la-nina-is-coming-and-global-temperatures-are-responding

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I’ve never bought into the whole “Ozone Depletion” BS. Anyone that knows chemistry, knows that High Energy UV light (Ionizing radiation) from the Sun splits the Diatomic O2 molecule, creating a Free Radical Oxygen atom, which in turn combines with another O2 molecule to create Ozone O3 [the adsorption of the Ionizing radiation is done by the O2 molecule, which makes up 21% of the atmosphere, and the Ozone layer is a byproduct and does nothing to protect life from the sun’s (Ionizing radiation)]. The so called “Hole in the Ozone” occurs at the Magnetic South Pole, in the Antarctic Winter, when the Sun doesn’t shine for months. We are talking about a place that the Ionizing radiation doesn’t reach as it has already passed through the atmosphere on a tangent, and the behavior of an electrically charged molecule (Ionized) in a magnetic field. So, little ionizing radiation is present, and a magnetic field is affecting the position and movement of any charged particles. So if you are looking for an Ozone layer at that time and place, you aren’t going to find it, but that has nothing to do with CFC’s.
    It is my contention that a “Hole in the Ozone” has always been a characteristic of the South Pole in Winter, and its finding and use as an excuse for the banning of CFC’s was a convenient way to generate donations from the scientifically illiterate masses, and funding from the equally ignorant Politicians.

  • Jim__L

    “Average global surface temperatures are still rising,”

    Debatable, according to how you measure / calibrate the myriad datapoints.

    “and at a general level we can understand why: a higher concentration of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are trapping more of the sun’s radiation in our atmosphere.”

    Not quite. A little bit of the re-radiated heat from Earth (according to its blackbody spectrum) is blocked by a small amount of greenhouse gasses, and therefore trapped in the atmosphere. But not very much heat — not enough to cause any discernible warming.

    “We can also recognize that humans are responsible for a huge amount of those emissions, and point to that as a real problem that needs addressing.”

    No, not enough to cause discernible warming. The contribution of CO2 is marginal.

    “Our planet’s climate is necessarily global in scope, but it’s also bewilderingly complex at every level, with complicated relationships between variables creating feedback loops and ripple effects, many (if not most) of which we still don’t understand.”

    Whether there is any discernible warming does not depend on CO2 or CH4 (methane.) It depends on what sort of feedback loops marginally increased CO2 / CH4 levels (which are NOT by themselves capable of warming the globe discernibly) cause in other atmospheric gasses, such as water vapor.

    Those feedback loops are poorly understood. Those are what the warmists have discovered to panic about, and they’ve been panicking since Mann’s infamous “hockey-stick”.

    Without those feedback effects, “runaway global warming” does not happen. The amount of warming caused by CO2 itself is miniscule — which is why you see all those articles that say, “recent dips in CO2 production will only reduce the degree of warming by a tiny amount”. They only raised it by a tiny amount in the first place.

    The real question is, what sort of feedback loops will those reductions prevent? The answer is, we aren’t even sure those feedback loops are anything other than artifacts of our (non-predictive!) climate models.

    Considering the fact that those climate models are systems of nonlinear differential equations, those models are BY DEFINITION CHAOTIC. People have long understood that weather is chaotic, and therefore cannot be predicted with any certainty. What people don’t seem to have gotten is, **climate is chaotic too**.

    I have worked with computer models before. You can basically make the numbers dance — make them say anything you want — especially when chaos is involved.

    Global Warming is basically a religion. Weather is one thing that human beings, at our current level of technology, cannot master — so the warmists are dealing with that by making sacrifices. It’s nothing more than superstition in the face of something they can’t predict, understand, or substantially control, but they don’t actually have the humility to admit they cannot predict, understand, or control it — so they play politics, they play the consensus game, and don’t even notice that they’ve left science behind some time ago.

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