The recent retreat of ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula has been widely attributed to warming atmospheric temperatures. There is, however, little published work describing the response of glacier margin positions to this regional climate change. In the paper Retreating Glacier Fronts on the Antarctic Peninsula over the Past Half-Century published this week in Science, we presented new data describing trends in 244 marine glacier fronts on the Antarctic Peninsula over the last 50 years. The data come from matching archives of over 2000 aerial photographs of the Antarctic Peninsula to satellite images, and represent about three years of work by Alison Cook. The work was carried out at British Antarctic Survey, but was funded by the US Geological Survey, as part of a larger programme to map change in the coastline of all Antarctica.
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One of the most common mistakes that we have observed in discussions of climate and atmospheric change is confusion between the rather separate concepts of ozone depletion and global warming. This isn’t necessarily surprising given the scant information that most people pick up from the media. However, for many years meteorologists have been fighting a rearguard action to persuade people that the globe isn’t warming because there is more sun coming through the ozone hole. There are however important connections between the two issues that complicate potential actions that we might take to alleviate the different problems. This week, for instance, a new IPCC report was released that looked at the greenhouse warming potential of many of the replacement chemicals (HFCs and HCFCs) that were used to replace CFCs in aerosol cans and refrigeration units under the Montreal Protocol (and subsequent amendments).
Whenever three or more contrarians are gathered together, one will inevitably claim that water vapour is being unjustly neglected by ‘IPCC’ scientists. “Why isn’t water vapour acknowledged as a greenhouse gas?”, “Why does anyone even care about the other greenhouse gases since water vapour is 98% of the effect?”, “Why isn’t water vapour included in climate models?”, “Why isn’t included on the forcings bar charts?” etc. Any mainstream scientist present will trot out the standard response that water vapour is indeed an important greenhouse gas, it is included in all climate models, but it is a feedback and not a forcing. From personal experience, I am aware that these distinctions are not clear to many, and so here is a more in-depth response (see also this other attempt).
A “consensus view” amongst climate scientists holds that the Northern Hemisphere will be warming this month, as spring is coming. This is thought to be due to the Earth’s orbit around the sun and the inclination of the Earth’s axis, tilting the Northern Hemisphere progressively towards the sun throughout March and April and increasing the amount of solar radiation received at northern latitudes.
In a new novel, State of Euphoria, bestselling author Michael Crikey uncovers major flaws in this theory and warns against false hopes for the arrival of spring.
[Read more…] about Doubts about the Advent of Spring
One of the most visually compelling examples of recent climate change is the retreat of glaciers in mountain regions. In the U.S. this is perhaps most famously observed in Glacier National Park, where the terminus of glaciers have retreated by several kilometers in the past century, and could be gone before the next century (see e.g. the USGS web site, here, and here). In Europe, where there is abundant historical information (in the form of paintings, photographs, as well as more formal record-keeping), retreat has been virtually monotonic since the mid 19th century (see e.g. images of the glaciers at Chamonix). These changes are extremely well documented, and no serious person questions that they demonstrate long term warming of climate in these regions. New work published in Science (“Extracting a Climate Signal from 169 Glacier Records”) highlights these results, and uses them to make a new estimate of global temperature history since about 1600 A.D., which agrees rather well with previous, independent temperature reconstructions.
Guest commentary from David Archer (U. Chicago)
The notion is pervasive in the popular and scientific literature that the lifetime of anthropogenic CO2 released to the atmosphere is some fuzzy number measured most conveniently in decades or centuries. The reality is that the CO2 from a gallon out of every tank of gas will continue to affect climate for tens and even hundreds of thousands of years into the future.
The primary purpose of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) is to assess the available scientific knowledge about climate change, not to initiate new research. The next IPCC report (Assessment Report 4, or AR4) is due in 2007, and in order to update of the state of knowledge it will only consider papers published in peer-review scientific journals between 2000 and papers submitted by May 1st 2005 (must be accepted before December 2005). It is essential that the papers be published in scientific quality journals in order to ensure the credibility of the results. Nevertheless the IPCC reports undergo several additional reviews and revisions involving a large number of independent referees. Thus, the IPCC reports undergo a more stringent review process than common papers in the scientific literature.
This is the first of two pieces on the recent IPCC workshop in Hawaii, This brought together independent researchers from all over the world to analyse computer model simulations of the last 150 years and to assess whether they are actually any good.
Guest commentary from Natassa Romanou (Columbia University)
During the first 3 days of March 2005, balmy downtown Honolulu in Hawaii was buzzing with agile scientists conversing, chatting, announcing, briefing and informing about IPCC assessment reports, climate models, model evaluations, climate sensitivities and feedbacks. These were the participants of the Climate Model Evaluation Project workshop (CMEP) and came here from most (if not all) the major, most prestigious climate research laboratories of the world, including; The US labs National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the British Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction, the German Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, the French Centre National de Recherches Meteorologiques and the IPSL/LMD/LSCE, the Australian CSIRO Atmospheric Research, the Chinese Institute of Atmospheric Physics, the Russian Institute for Numerical Mathematics and the Japanese Meteorological Research Institute. This meeting was sponsored by the benevolent NSF, NOAA, NASA and DOE.
Guest Commentary by Drew Shindell (NASA GISS)
The current winter and early spring have been extremely cold in the Arctic stratosphere, leading to the potential for substantial ozone depletion there. This has been alluded to recently in the press (Sitnews, Seattle Post Intelligencer), but what’s the likely outcome, and why is it happening?
Of possible interest to our readers, there was an interview yesterday on the BBC (“Today Programme”) regarding the supposed controversy about the “Hockey Stick”: A climate scientist Professor Michael Mann suggests global warming is caused by mankind (mp3 file). Also available on the BBC website is the real audio file of the interview.