Myth vs. Fact Regarding the "Hockey Stick"

(1) In drawing conclusions regarding past regional temperature changes from proxy records, it is essential to assess proxy data for actual sensitivity to past temperature variability. In some cases (Soon and Baliunas, 2003, Soon et al, 2003) a global ‘warm anomaly’ has been defined for any period during which various regions appear to indicate climate anomalies that can be classified as being either ‘warm’, ‘wet’, or ‘dry’ relative to ’20th century’ conditions. Such a criterion could be used to define any period of climate as ‘warm’ or ‘cold’, and thus cannot meaningfully characterize past large-scale surface temperature changes.

(2) It is essential to distinguish (e.g. by compositing or otherwise assimilating different proxy information in a consistent manner—e.g., Jones et al., 1998; Mann et al., 1998, 1999; Briffa et al., 2001) between regional temperature changes and changes in global or hemispheric mean temperature. Specific periods of cold and warmth differ from region to region over the globe (see Jones and Mann, 2004), as changes in atmospheric circulation over time exhibit a wave-like character, ensuring that certain regions tend to warm (due, for example, to a southerly flow in the Northern Hemisphere winter mid-latitudes) when other regions cool (due to the corresponding northerly flow that must occur elsewhere). Truly representative estimates of global or hemispheric average temperature must therefore average temperature changes over a sufficiently large number of distinct regions to average out such offsetting regional changes. The specification of a warm period, therefore requires that warm anomalies in different regions should be truly synchronous and not merely required to occur within a very broad interval in time, such as AD 800-1300 (as in Soon et al, 2003; Soon and Baliunas, 2003).

MYTH #3: The "Hockey Stick" studies claim that the 20th century on the whole is the warmest period of the past 1000 years.

This is a mis-characterization of the actual scientific conclusions. Numerous studies suggest that hemispheric mean warmth for the late 20th century (that is, the past few decades) appears to exceed the warmth of any comparable length period over the past thousand years or longer, taking into account the uncertainties in the estimates (see Figure 1 in “Temperature Variations in Past Centuries and The So-Called ‘Hockey Stick'”). On the other hand, in the context of the long-term reconstructions, the early 20th century appears to have been a relatively cold period while the mid 20th century was comparable in warmth, by most estimates, to peak Medieval warmth (i.e., the so-called “Medieval Warm Period”). It is not the average 20th century warmth, but the magnitude of warming during the 20th century, and the level of warmth observed during the past few decades, which appear to be anomalous in a long-term context. Studies such as those of Soon and associates (Soon and Baliunas, 2003; Soon et al, 2003) that consider only ‘20th century’ conditions, or interpret past temperature changes using evidence incapable of resolving trends in recent decades , cannot meaningfully address the question of whether late 20th century warmth is anomalous in a long-term and large-scale context.

MYTH #4: Errors in the "Hockey Stick" undermine the conclusion that late 20th century hemispheric warmth is anomalous.

This statement embraces at least two distinct falsehoods. The first falsehood holds that the “Hockey Stick” is the result of one analysis or the analysis of one group of researchers (i.e., that of Mann et al, 1998 and Mann et al, 1999). However, as discussed in the response to Myth #1 above, the basic conclusions of Mann et al (1998,1999) are affirmed in multiple independent studies. Thus, even if there were errors in the Mann et al (1998) reconstruction, numerous other studies independently support the conclusion of anomalous late 20th century hemispheric-scale warmth.

Page 2 of 4 | Previous page | Next page