TCS Daily


Cold and Calculating

By Paul J. Georgia - March 6, 2003 12:00 AM

The entire northern hemisphere was recently hit by a cold snap that had many people longing for the good old days of global warming.

China, for example, experienced unusually high amounts of snowfall. Beijing, the capital city, received heavy snowfall for six consecutive days, the longest consecutive snowfall in that city in 128 years. China's largest desert, Taklimakan, received 14 inches of snow, and a 700-mile stretch of the Yellow River froze over. Vietnamese villagers, who had never seen snow in their lives, awoke to a world blanketed in white. In northern India and Bangladesh, more than 250 people died from exposure as temperatures dropped to below freezing.

In Norway, record cold temperatures combined with record high electricity prices leading to the tragic deaths of several elderly people. Finland experienced record cold temperatures, and the Baltic Sea experienced more extensive sea ice cover than had been seen in decades with ice thickness being two to eight inches greater than normal. In Russia, 40 ships were trapped in the ice in the Gulf of Finland. Moscow reached temperatures as low as -37 degrees Celsius, and as many as 23,000 people were without heat as antiquated systems broke down.

This is certainly not what one would expect in a world being warmed by the buildup of greenhouse gases. Of course, one must be careful inferring long-term climate trends from the current weather. For years, global warming spinmeisters have been making a living off cherry-picking weather events to frighten the public.

In this case, however, current weather, which is due to blasts of freezing Arctic air, coincides very well with what has been happening long term over the coldest regions of the Earth and should give pause to those pushing the global warming hypothesis. Climate models predict that warming should be most pronounced in the coldest regions of the earth. This is due to the fact that the air is very dry in those regions. The lack of water vapor, the most important greenhouse gas, makes places like Siberia, for instance, very sensitive to small changes in concentrations of other greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The earth's polar regions should, if the models are correct, be experiencing an amplified warming relative to the rest of the planet.

Several scientific studies published over the last year have shown that the opposite is occurring. A study that appeared in EOS, a publication of the American Geophysical Union, found that since 1875 the Arctic has experienced two brief periods of warming of about 15 years apiece, one beginning in 1922 and the other in 1985. The warming experienced in the first period was nearly twice a large as that of the second period and reached a higher maximum temperature, although human greenhouse gas emissions were insignificant. The current warming period, on the other hand, is "statistically indistinguishable" from the temperature trend of the entire northern hemisphere. The authors conclude that, "The air temperature and ice data do not support the proposed polar amplification of global warming." This finding "poses severe challenges to generating credible model-based projections of climate change."

Data from the Antarctic also fail to bear out climate model predictions. A study in Nature found that the Antarctic is actually cooling. According to the authors, "Climate models generally predict amplified warming in the polar regions, as observed in Antarctica's peninsula region over the second half of the 20th century." But they find that, "Our spatial analysis of Antarctic meteorological data demonstrates a net cooling on the Antarctic continent between 1966 and 2000, particularly during summer and autumn."

The Antarctic is also important because it poses a significant danger if the dramatic predicted warming were to occur. Even a one percent decrease in ice volume in the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet would raise sea level by five centimeters and further decreases could eventually raise sea level by as much as five meters. But another study published in Science, using satellite remote sensing, found, "strong evidence for ice-sheet growth (between about 10 and 40 gigatons per year)" in the Antarctic.

Recent research provides further evidence the current climate models are poor tools for predicting climate change. They cannot properly simulate today's climate. They predict greater and more rapid warming in the atmosphere than at the surface, yet the opposite is happening, and they predict amplified warming at the poles. There is no amplified warming at the North Pole and cooling at the South Pole. Maybe it's time to end our misplaced trust in the predictions of global warming models.

Paul Georgia is an environmental policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.
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