mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
Settled Science
Study Says Climate Change Is Making Snow Melt Slower

We are constantly learning new things about our climate. That was true before industrialized society started pumping out unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs), and it’s doubly true now as our climate is changing (in large part thanks to those aforementioned GHGs). A study published this week reveals an interesting quirk of climate change: it’s making snow melt sooner in the year, but that snow is actually melting slower than it used to. The AP reports:

Scientists have long known the annual snowmelt is starting sooner as the climate warms. New research by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, found that when the snow begins to melt earlier in the season, it dissipates more slowly than it does in late spring or summer, in part because the angle of the early year sun is lower so its rays are less intense.

The sun’s intensity is particularly important because the energy in direct sunlight is the biggest driver of snowmelt, said Keith Musselman, the lead researcher. Another factor that slows the snowmelt in the early season is the fact that nights are still cooler.

The conclusions, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, could help explain why computer models show rivers fed by mountain snow are expected to run lower in a warming climate, even if rainfall increases as snowfall decreases, said Musselman, a post-doctoral fellow at the Boulder research center.

The study itself didn’t say much about the broader implications of this new phenomenon, but the lead researcher pointed out that a slowdown in snowmelt could end up being used by plants or evaporating before making its way into rivers. That could spell big trouble for parts of the world where people rely on this annual meltwater for human consumption (in one form or another).

Those effects certainly deserve further scrutiny, but for the time being let’s focus on the fact that now, in February 2017, we are learning surprising and in some ways counterintuitive components of the immensely complex system that is our planet’s climate. There are so many variables to account for here, and even more interrelationships between those variables. The fact that snow melting earlier in the year might melt slower because it’s getting less direct sunlight is a perfect example of this complexity, and it’s a reminder to us all of just how difficult it is to get a firm grasp on this subject.

So yes, we can acknowledge that GHGs are leading to rising surface temperatures, and that humans are partly culpable for that, but those that claim that this entire field of science is somehow “settled” (looking at you, greens) only set themselves up to look foolish when study after study comes out refining our understanding of our climate. Over-confident environmentalists have made it a habit to exaggerate the confidence researchers have in modeling and predicting what comes next for climate change, and in so doing they’ve not only made themselves look foolish, they’ve made climate deniers out of plenty of skeptical people.

Features Icon
Features
show comments
  • FriendlyGoat

    Pollsters, lobbyists, legislators and the White House will determine the conclusions on climate science (in this country anyway) for the foreseeable future.

    • Tom

      So, as per usual?

      • FriendlyGoat

        “Usual” would be for scientists to tell truth about scientific matters to the politicians and (importantly) tell truth to the citizens who respond to polls—–not for politicians and citizens (in polls) to tell scientists what the “truth” is by virtue of whatever they read from spinners.

        • Jim__L

          Spinners like Al Gore?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Sure—-all the left spinners and all the right spinners.

  • CaliforniaStark

    Are Dorothy and Toto in your fantasy? This post takes one study, which has never been verified by further research, and creates an alternative reality. Is the author aware that most scientific studies fall by the wayside over the years after further research and additional analysis?

  • Arkeygeezer

    “So yes, we can acknowledge that GHGs are leading to rising surface temperatures, and that humans are partly culpable for that”

    You can, I don’t.

    No one has yet explained how carbon dioxide (CO2) which constitutes about 0.04% (equal to 400 parts per million; ppm) by volume of the Earth’s atmosphere and is exhaled by all mammals, and volcanic eruptions of the Earth itself, is causing rising surface temperatures all over the globe.

    • Jim__L

      It’s possible to run the numbers — CO2 is transparent to a large chunk of the solar spectrum, which warms up the ground. However, it’s opaque to a certain chunk of Earth’s infra-red blackbody spectrum. So, instead of that radiation escaping into space, emissions from Earth warm up the CO2 in the atmosphere instead.

      You can calculate the amount of energy absorbed based on the sun’s spectrum, the Earth’s spectrum, and the partial pressure of CO2 (pre-industrial, current-day, and projected.) However, when you do this calculation, you get an infinitesimal amount of warming — far less than the 2 degrees or so that climate models project.

      By the way, these small numbers are conveniently and deceitfully used by climatologists to claim modest projected reductions in CO2 are “not enough to make a difference”. It’s a hysteresis error — instead of what they’re claiming, if an increase in CO2 of X causes projected temperatures to go up Y, then a decrease in CO2 of X should cause temperatures to go *down* Y. This is how you know that they’re pretty much in it for some Gaia-worshiping anti-industrial religion, rather than any rational (or even sane) approach to policy.

      In any case, global warming alarmists have to posit some chaotic “runaway greenhouse effect” (like we see on Venus), which their models can predict. This, despite the fact that their models have a worse predictive record than chicken bones at this point. Also, chaotic effects are by nature not predictable — climatologists would have you believe that weather is chaotic but climate is not, even though both are governed by systems of nonlinear differential equations, which is basically all you have to have for chaos.

      Since we can’t rely on models, let’s rely on evidence. Earth’s past history indicates that despite *higher* levels of CO2 in the past than anything that is likely from fossil fuel burning, we’ve never had a runaway greenhouse. (In fact, we’ve had ice ages instead — and we’re about due for another one, if you look at the record.)

      All this boils down to whether or not Mann’s “Hockey Stick” mindworm (subsequently comprehensively debunked) bored into these climatologists’ heads, or the heads of their teachers. If so, they’re still frantically trying to fit the data to their pet theory. It’s a case study in how irrational people can be, when they’ve convinced themselves they’re perfectly rational.

      • Arkeygeezer

        “……chaotic “runaway greenhouse effect” (like we see on Venus)”
        The comparison with earth’s atmosphere with that of Venus is the basis of this nonsense.

        Venus’ atmosphere is composed of 96% Carbon dioxide, 3.5% Nitrogen, and less than 1% Carbon monoxide, argon, sulfur dioxide, and water vapor. There is no Oxygen, standing water, or plant life on Venus.

        Earths atmosphere is 78.08% Nitrogen, 20.95% Oxygen, 0.93% Argon, 0.038% Carbon dioxide, and about 1% water vapor. There are oceans of water and plenty of plant and animal life on Earth.

        If there were a rate of increase of CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere, it would take a very long time for CO2 to go from 0.038% to 96% of our atmosphere. It ain’t going to happen anytime soon.

        • Jim__L

          The example of Venus is simply to show that the greenhouse effect is demonstrably real. You’re absolutely right about the fact that Venus and Earth are, as they say, worlds apart.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service