TCS Daily

Great Alaska Shootout II

By Willie Soon - February 10, 2003 12:00 AM

Frustrated with an inability to achieve their political aims through legislation, climate change alarmists are trying new tactics.

In the February issue of Scientific American, an article titled "Greenhouse suits" tells us that litigation is now "a [popular] tool against global warming." Activist organizations like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, as well as city governments of Boulder, Colorado and Oakland, California are serving as plaintiffs in lawsuits filed against large energy producers, automakers and others. The suits allege that greenhouse gases such as CO2 emitted by the products of these businesses are responsible for catastrophic - and costly - global warming.

Large financial concerns such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) are targeted as well. Why? Because OPIC provided $32 billion in loans for oil industry related investments (which the article says will "ultimately result in the emission of 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide") but only $1.3 billion for renewable-energy projects.

Scientific American pointed to Alaska as the best case study for the plaintiffs to use in crafting their arguments. The magazine claims that "average temperatures [in Alaska] have risen by about two degrees Celsius since 1970" and that "two coastal villages, Kivalina and Shishmaref have suffered from erosion."

The "once-solid layer of permafrost that protected [Kivalina and Shishmaref] is now thawing," the article says. Thinning sea ice and melting glaciers also allegedly contribute to the problems the villagers face.

The former Greenpeace "climate campaigner" Dan Ritzman explained that "the western Arctic is warming faster than any other place on the planet, so we wanted to look at the impacts.

"The feeling is that people who live out there are the canary in the coal mine for global warming," he said.

But how does that "feeling" square with the scientific reality? It doesn't. (See in particular an earlier installment on this debate, The Great Alaskan Shootout.)

What the Records Say

Consider the temperature records for Kotzebue and Nome, the two nearest stations to Kivalina and Shishmaref, respectively. You can find them on the TCS interactive map.

TCS interactive Click on the map to learn more

Ignore for a moment the large natural warming shift that occurred around 1976-1977 - known as the Great Pacific Climate Shift event. The temperature trends for the two stations since the shift demonstrate a cooling at a rate of about 0.7 degree Celsius per decade. This cooling is exactly opposite what one would expect according to climate model predictions of strong human-made warming, especially considering the fact that anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been increasing rapidly during that same period.

As for the warming in the 1970s - the Great Pacific Climate Shift - climatologists consider the shift as part of a natural pattern of climate change that is related to conditions in the northern Pacific Ocean. It is part of a pattern that has been observed for over 100 years, so it predates the period of any substantial increase in the atmospheric level of man-made carbon dioxide. In other words, that warming is not related to man-made climate change.

This information won't likely satisfy the climate alarmists. They point to the 600 Inupiat Eskimo villagers from Shishmaref and 400 residents of Kivalina facing the threat of an invading sea. It's true that low-lying places like the long barrier reefs of Kivalina and Shishmaref are vulnerable to small shifts in the surrounding relative sea level or storm surges. And the residents of Shishmaref elected to relocate to a new place about five miles away, but they are facing serious financial costs for relocation, estimated to be $100 million.

What is prompting the changes in their surroundings?

While we are unable to locate the sea-level records at these two northwestern Alaska locations, the charts below show the up-to-date tide-gauge measurements of the relative sea-level for four stations surrounding the Alaskan coast.

CHARTS---Relative sea level measurements from tide-gauges located at Unalaska Island, and Adak Island (by Sweeper Cove), Prudhoe Bay, Nome. (Courtesy of the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level at the Proudman Oceanography Laboratory, UK). Note that sea level has been falling, rather than rising, as expected from greenhouse gas warming theory since the 1960s for two of the longer records (at Unalaska and Adak Islands).

There are two significant points about the charts above. First, the seasonal changes of the sea level at these four stations - Prudhoe Bay, Nome, Unalaska Island, Adak Island - are large, ranging from 200 mm (about 8 inches) to 500 mm (about 20 inches). Second, from the two longer records (Unalaska and Adak Islands), the relative sea level fell by about 200 to 300 mm over the last 40 years.

Thus, it is hardly convincing to suggest that sea level changes seen around the Alaskan coast are related to the warming conditions. If the melting glaciers were pouring more water to the seas, then why would the sea level fall instead of rise? Possibly because the beach erosion for some of the low-lying coastlines around Alaska has geological origins - such as tectonic plate shifting - and not climate origins.

Scientific American is correct that Alaska is instructive for those interested in understanding what is happening to the Earth's climate, but not in the way its editors and authors think. Alaska's climate offers an excellent example of natural variability at work. Rather than demonstrate human-made global warming, the climate and geological situation in Alaska suggests that the claims of climate alarmists are similar to the southern Alaskan coast - all wet.

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