Friday, December 16, 2005

Warming Trend

According to one government report, by NASA's Goddard Institute, 2005 was the hottest year on record. By the measure of two others, it was the second hottest, and hottest in the northern hemisphere. The others were by NOAA and the United Kingdom's Meteorological Institute.

The three teams used the same set of ocean and land temperature records, but they analyzed the data and compensated for gaps in the climatic record differently. As a result, NASA scientists estimate that 2005 average global land and sea temperatures were 1.04 degrees Fahrenheit above average, just beating out 1998's 1-degree elevation. NOAA researchers, by contrast, say this year's global average is 1.06 degrees Fahrenheit above average, compared with 1.1 degrees in 1998....

Scientists said yesterday that these differences should not detract from their common conclusion that the world is experiencing serious climate change, driven in part by human activity. Researchers recently found by drilling ice cores that there is a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than in any time in the last 650,000 years, which reflects that humans are burning an increased amount of fossil fuels to power automobiles and utilities.

The Earth has warmed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century, with 1 degree of this increase occurring in the past 30 years. This climate change has brought unusually prolonged droughts in some regions and heavy precipitation in others, while the Arctic's sea ice has shrunk to its lowest level since observers started using satellite records in 1979.

James Hansen, who directs NASA's Goddard Institute, said this year's statistics were particularly significant because in 1998 the world experienced El Nio, which drove up temperatures dramatically. This year, by contrast, the world reached record levels without such a dramatic climatic event.

The finding that there was more heat - and therefore more energy - in the atmosphere is not unexpected. We had far more hurricanes and tropical storms than normal; this season broke the record by far. Such storms do not materialize from nowhere. They need to feed off energy to maintain strength and grow.

The remaining question is what will be done (and to some extent, what can be done) about the problem of global warming. Unfortunately our current leaders have kept their heads in the sand so that the largest producer of greenhouse gases refuses to be part of the solution.