|The Week That Was
July 7, 2001
Robert Samuelson, a liberal economist and certainly no supporter of George Bush, admits that Bush is right on all three counts to turn down the Kyoto Protocol - in the Washington Post, no less. We like especially his lead paragraph.
The Week That Was July 7, 2001 brought to you by SEPP
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany's NY Times) ran a revealing story:
Title: To deny the Greenhouse Effect is unwelcome in the state
The report starts out:
The FAZ reports that Environment Minister Juettner of the state of Niedersachsen is very displeased with the book Klimafakten published by a group of govt geologists [working for the equivalent of the US Geological Survey]. But he cannot censor it; it is going into its second edition and the publicity may increase sales. It may also help to promote its translation into other languages.
The book documents that atmospheric warming is due to solar variability rather than human activity. The Minister is very concerned that this will give the public the wrong idea. But after his initial outburst he is backpedaling his criticism of the authors.
Ah, the natives are stirring
THE EARTH'S TEMPERATURE MAY BE SELF-REGULATING
Thin, high cirrus clouds may help regulate global temperature and serve as a counter to global warming, theorize a team of scientists led by Prof. Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Their study in the March 2001 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society examines the behavior of high cirrus clouds over a large section of the western tropical Pacific Ocean. The scientists say cirrus clouds operate much as the "iris" of an eye regulates the admission of light. The clouds open in response to rising surface temperature, permitting cooling. The clouds close when the surface temperature cools to retain heat.
The study finds that high cirrus clouds decrease in thickness by about 22 percent per one degree Celsius increase in sea surface temperature; conversely, the clouds thicken when the sea surface temperature is lower.
That is because thick clouds reflect more sunlight than thin clouds back into space and help mitigate surface warming; thin clouds, conversely, don't reflect as much sunlight but are efficient in trapping heat at the surface.
Most intriguing, a 22 percent decrease in cirrus cloud cover also leads to a significant decrease in sea surface temperature of about 1.1°C.
According to some climate model forecasts, a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to a 1.2°C temperature increase. But the existence of the atmospheric heat "vent" should change that prediction to between 0.57° and 0.83°C.
The study's authors say these findings require climate modelers to scale back by as much as two-thirds the projected warming resulting from a doubling of carbon dioxide.
Source: John Carlisle, "Natural Heat Vent May Counter Global Warming," National Policy Analysis No. 336, May 2001, National Center for Public Policy Research, 777 N. Capitol St. N.E., Suite 803 Washington, D.C. 20002,(202) 371-1400; based on Richard S. Lindzen, Ming-Dah Chou and Arthur Y. Hou, " Does the Earth Have an Adaptive Infrared Iris?" Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, March 2001; as reported by the National Center for Policy Analysis (Dallas)
An international consortium of scientists has issued a revised estimate of the U.S. role in the worldwide accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a major cause of global warming.
The study, published in the June 22 issue of Science, reconciles what had appeared to be sharply conflicting measurements about the size of the U.S. "carbon sink" -- an effect that drains carbon from the air and stores it in the land.
In 1998, a Princeton-led group published a paper using atmospheric data to estimate that southern Canada, the 48 states and Mexico collectively absorb 1.4 billion tons of carbon per year, about equal to US emissions. That conclusion triggered strong criticism from scientists who believed it was an inflated figure.
The Princeton University-led research group now finds that the continental United States is currently absorbing one-third to two-thirds of a billion metric tons of carbon per year. The main reason is that U.S. trees and shrubs, which are recovering from past clearing, are drawing great volumes of carbon dioxide from the air and using the carbon to build massive tree trunks, branches and foliage. The suppression of natural forest fires also is causing an increase in vegetation.
The new study is the work of 23 scientists who initially held strongly differing views about the size of the carbon sink. At the center of the dispute was the method of measuring the sink. One approach is to take samples directly from the atmosphere and estimate gains and losses of carbon dioxide as winds blow across the country. This strategy has yielded widely varying answers depending on the exact method used. Another approach is to inventory the myriad places carbon can accumulate in the land -- including trees, soils, landfills and reservoirs -- and estimate how that inventory is changing over time. This land-based approach gave very small estimates for the carbon sink, but none accounted for all the places carbon accumulates.
The new study reconciles previous differences by including 27 different atmospheric analyses and by performing an exhaustive land-based analysis. The scientists also took special care to base their calculations on the same time period and the same geographic region, focusing exclusively on the 48 states in the years 1980 to 1989. Through this process, the researchers found that the atmosphere- and land-based assessments actually agree with each other, within the margins of uncertainty of each method. The final answer of one-third to two-thirds of a billion tons per year is lower than the controversial 1998 result, but higher than all earlier land-based estimates and some previous atmospheric estimates.
Despite the large U.S. carbon sink, the nation still pumps 800 million to 1.1 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. The new analysis eliminates the possibility that the U.S carbon sink is big enough to equal the U.S. fossil fuel release, as some had speculated following the 1998 study.
Princeton's Stephen Pacala, the lead author of the new study, emphasized that the sink will disappear over the next 50 to 100 years as U.S. ecosystems complete their recovery from past land use. "The carbon sinks are going to decrease at the same time as our fossil fuel emissions increase."
The problem is similar worldwide. Globally, the use of fossil fuels pumps 6.3 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. Another 1.6 billion tons are estimated to be released due to the widespread loss of forestland in some parts of the world. However, the oceans and land-based carbon sinks, such as the North American sink, absorb a large amount of carbon, leaving just over three billion tons to accumulate in the atmosphere each year.
There is some interplay between the U.S. carbon sink and emissions in other parts of the world. The study found that the United States absorbs 370 to 710 million tons of carbon each year, but 70 to 130 million tons of this are exported to other parts of the globe in the form of grain and other agricultural products and are released back into the atmosphere elsewhere when those products are used. Thus the total impact of the U.S. sink on worldwide carbon absorption is the removal of 300 to 580 million tons of carbon per year.
In addition to Princeton scientists, the Science paper includes authors from the University of New Hampshire, the French national research lab CNRS, the Woods Hole Research Center, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universitaet in Frankfurt, Germany, the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany, Oregon State University and the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Stanford, Calif.
Source: Princeton University
Although supercomputers have helped take much of the guesswork out of weather forecasting, climate models still have a long way to go before they can establish with any degree of certainty if and how global warming is taking place. Climatologists point to a host of variable factors which must be better understood.
That is not to say that progress hasn't been made in some limited areas. Supercomputers can model well the warming effects of carbon dioxide. But other factors less well understood do not allow mankind's use of fossil fuels to be blamed for global warming, say experts.
The processes that form clouds and determine their heat-trapping effects are complex and poorly understood.
Models can account only roughly for suspended particles, whether natural or created by people -- such as aerosols.
Ships supply wind data, but winds vary on scales from minutes to years -- so complete data can be difficult to obtain and model.
Terrains such as mountains and coasts -- which can influence regional climates -- are vaguely defined in even the best global models.
In addition, such factors as deep ocean currents, ice sheets and glaciers, land vegetation and others influence weather as they interact in varying degrees.
Although American research centers once dominated climate research, they have recently fallen behind others overseas. By many accounts, the dominant research effort is now at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, located near London.
Interestingly, the U.S. National Academy of Science reports climate research efforts in the United States were hurt in the 1990s by a Commerce Department tariff of 450 percent on Japanese supercomputers. The tariff was lifted this spring, but the limitations on climate modeling caused by the lack of computer power were vexing for American scientists.
Source: Andrew C. Revkin, "The Devil Is in the Details," New York Times, July 3, 2001, as reported by the National Center for Policy Analysis (Dallas).
We excerpt some quotes from the NYT story
Dr. S. Manabe did the pioneering work on climate models at GFDL/ NOAA since the late 1960s. Today Manabe is reported in the New York Times as saying: "The best we can do is to see how global climate and the environment are changing, keep comparing that with predictions, adjust the models and gradually increase our confidence. Only that will distinguish our predictions from those of fortunetellers."
But the models have not clearly answered a pivotal question: How sensitive is the climate to the intensifying greenhouse effect? In other words, how big is any coming climatic disruption likely to be?
A small change in the way droplets form could have a large impact on the climate, said Dr. G. Jenkins, working at the Hadley Centre in Britain. He said that Dr. Anthony Slingo, another scientist there, found a decade ago that in theory, a decrease or an increase in the size of water droplets of just 10 or 20 percent "could either halve or double the amount of climate change you'd get."
But moving beyond that general conclusion presents enormous problems. "We will of course improve our models," said Dr. Mojib Latif, the deputy director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, "but I don't really see the biggest or most important results changing in the next 10 years."
But then Latif added ominously: "In terms of policy, the models have done their job."
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