Thursday, March 22, 2012

Global Warming, is it causing the warm temperatures we've seen this Winter and Spring?

Hi it's Rebecca again, As I said on my fan page the other day, several people have been asking me if the above average temperatures are a result of global warming?  It's a very good question, many areas across the United States and parts of northern Canada  are seeing temperatures 20 to nearly 40 degrees above average.  A large ridge of high pressure and the northern placement of the jet stream is largely responsible for the warm temperatures seen in this region for the last few weeks. Also, the Winter of 2011-2012 was very warm. The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) named this  winter ( December, January and February) the fourth-warmest for the lower 48. As a side note the winter of 1999-2000 was the warmest on record). Above-average temperatures were most noteworthy  across the Northern Plains, Midwest, Southeast and Northeast. The NCDC said twenty-seven states had winter temperatures that ranked among their 10 warmest on record. In fact the state of New Mexico was the only state that had winter temperatures below the 20th century average. I want to apologise for the length of the post. But it is a vast and complicated subject. I kept it as brief as I could.

So it's easy to see why the question of global warming comes up. I've been giving answers like, La Nina (ocean currents), the Jet Stream, (upper air patterns), and other reasons  have been the cause of these things. I will touch on these reason is a bit...Anyway, this blog post will take a deeper look on what's been going on, what the heck is global warming anyway, take a look at green house gases, and a few other things as well. The post will deal with the scientific and historical  side of things, it will try to keep away from the  political side as much as possible.  I will present the facts as I see them, and leave the meaning up to you.  

What the heck is global warming?

Global warming is when the Earth heats up (the temperature rises). It happens when the Sun's solar energy is trapped in the Earth's atmosphere. The heat and light cause the planet to warm up, which increases the temperature. Generically speaking, "Global Warming" means that the Earth is getting a little warmer each year. The greenhouse effect is not just found on Earth. It occurs for all planetary atmospheres containing greenhouse gases, and is responsible for them being warmer than would be the case otherwise. The greenhouse effect is a natural byproduct of a living biosphere like the Earth.  If left unchecked, it would lead to something called the runaway greenhouse effect, when the atmosphere gets so hot, that the oceans would boil. Some feel, the runaway greenhouse effect involving carbon dioxide and water vapor may have occurred on our sister planet Venus.

What are green house gasses?

The name comes from the effects you would see in a real greenhouse. The Sun's energy gets trapped inside the greenhouse by the glass. Thereby keeping the environment warm enough for plants to stay alive even in the dead of winter.  The process is the same for the Earth (see fig 1), without a greenhouse effect the planet would not be able to  sustain life as we know it.

                                                                                   Fig 1


 Gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect include:

Water vapor. The most abundant greenhouse gas, but importantly, it acts as a feedback to the climate. Water vapor increases as the Earth's atmosphere warms, but so does the possibility of clouds and precipitation, making these some of the most important feedback mechanisms to the greenhouse effect.

Carbon dioxide (CO2). A minor but very important component of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide is released through natural processes such as respiration and volcano eruptions and through human activities such as deforestation, land use changes, and burning fossil fuels. Naturally occurring CO2 has a seasonal cycle.  CO2 is a natural component of Earth’s atmosphere and a key ingredient in photosynthesis. during photosynthesis CO2 is used by the plants during the growing cycle, then the plants release the CO2 as a respiration byproduct throughout most of the year. Both exchanges are more or less equal.  Without carbon dioxide all life on Earth would cease to exist

Methane (CH4). Naturally occurring terrestrial CH4 emissions are dominated by wetlands where anaerobic decay of organic material results in production and release of CH4. Other natural CH4 sources include wild fires in both forests and grasslands, and wild animals and domestic livestock. Humans activities that contribute to atmospheric CH4 include the decomposition of wastes in landfills and  agriculture ( especially rice cultivation).   On a molecule-for-molecule basis, CH4 is a far more active greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but also one which is much less abundant in the atmosphere.

Nitrous oxide. Naturally occurring terrestrial N2O emissions are primarily due to microbial action in soils especially in tropical region. However once again human activities contribute to N2O production.  Farming cultivation practices, particularly the use of commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production, and biomass burning.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These greenhouse gases don't occur in nature. CFC's are synthetic compounds used in a number of applications,  primarily in aerosols. They also contribute to destruction of the ozone layer However they are largely regulated in production and release to the atmosphere by international agreement.  

Now that we know what greenhouse gases are; let's look at how much human's effect the balance.  With all the hoopla you might think we  contribute a majority of these gases. However,  here are the statics, humans only  contribute about .28% of the gases that cause the  greenhouse effect. Water vapor makes up about 95% of the greenhouse effect. CO2 and other trace gases round out the greenhouse gases at about 5% for all of them. Of that 5%, only 3% is CO2, and most of that is natural. Again, our contribution to the greenhouse effect is a paltry .28%. I bet that got your attention.

 Looking below you will be able to see what gases make up our atmosphere.  

                                                   Atmospheric Composition

                Permantent gases in the atmosphere by percent are:
    Nitrogen    78.1%
   Oxygen      20.9%
   (Note that these two permanent gases together comprise 99% of the atmosphere)
  Argon        0.9%
   Neon         0.002%
   Helium       0.0005%
   Krypton      0.0001%            
   Hydrogen     0.00005%
 Variable gases in the atmosphere and typical percentage values are:
   Water vapor     0 to 4%
   Carbon Dioxide  0.035%
   Methane         0.0002%
   Ozone           0.000004%

Water vapor varies from 0% over deserts and locations with temperatures below freezing to 4% over oceans.
The percentage of these gases is not constant; they very with attitude.

I should add, everything in the atmosphere, including dust, contribute to the "Green House" effect.

Global Warming and history.

The main argument that is currently popular with global warming supporters is :  The Industrial Revolution and the increasing industrialization since then, coupled with the explosive human population growth, as primary factors that are contributing to increases in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  and is the reason the Earth's temperatures have risen over the last 100 years  As you can see in the above graphic of the atmospheres composition, humans do contribute greenhouse gases. There is no doubt that it is helping warm things up. However, with such infinitesimally small amounts, it is most likely numerous interrelated links that are causing the average global temperatures and  carbon dioxide to be on the increase.

Looking at the charts below, you can see that there have been plenty of times the Earth's average temperatures have been warmer than they currently are (see fig 2). 

                                                                                        Fig 2


          Fig 4

                                                                                          Fig 5

In figure 4 you can see there have been over 40 periods of warming and cooling since 1480 AD. Over 92% of the timeline was  before the industrial era.  Most of the time line from 1480 AD until now was  before CO2 emissions could possibly be a factor during the times of warming.

In fig 3 you can see the two most recent warm-ups (before the current one) were the Medieval and Roman warm periods.    The Roman Warm Period (RWP) has been proposed as a period of unusually warm weather in Europe and the North Atlantic that ran from approximately 250 BC to 400 AD.  Scientists have determined that Between 230 BC and 40 AD there was a period of exceptional warmth in Iceland that was coincident with the RWP in Europe that ran from 200 BC to 400 AD. Most of the time Paleo-climate Modelling is done with such things as tree rings and ice core data. The problem with tree rings is the rings can only tell average annual temperatures. However, a new technique to reconstruct past temperatures has been developed by scientists at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada and Durham University, England, using the shells of bivalve molluscs. The Scientists used oxygen isotopes in the shells to measure the temperatures of the time. William Patterson, lead author of the study This Icelandic shell data series suggests that the RWP had higher temperatures that those recorded in modern times. I won't bore you with the details. But, the paper can be found online here.

I will take a little historical side trip. The Viking Period took place from the ninth century to the middle of the eleventh. it was during this time that the Norwegian Vikings were raiding and exploring vast areas of Europe, and even parts of the Mediterranean sea. The Vikings  were settled between 865 AD – 930 AD in Greenland and Iceland. However, they were forced to abandon the settlements because of the return of extremely cold conditions, The cool period was prolonged. Western settlement in Greenland was abandoned by 1360 AD and by 1450 AD settlements in the east were abandoned as well. This time frame matches well with figure 5.

Figure 5 also shows that the Dark Ages were during another cold period. Around 410 AD the cooler temperatures returned, The era called the Dark Ages, corresponds with the  cold period between 400 AD and 600 AD.

After the Dark Ages Cold Period another warm period emerged, this one was called the Medieval Warm Period. during this warm period Europe had a cultural awakening. The awakening led to one of the greatest ages of invention and discovery ever known, The Renaissance, this period ran from around the 14th to about the 17th centuries.

The Medieval Warm Period was followed by another cooler period which is often referred to as the Little Ice Age. It lasted from about the mid to late 1300s into the late 1800s, almost 500 years. During this cold period, the brutally cold winters of the  American Revolution were fought. In Europe, it led to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and his invasion and deadly retreat out of Russia during the brutal winter of 1812, the French Revolution of 1830, and numerous other revolutions across the European Continent. Many feel the Little Ice Age lead to the Industrial Revolution and the beginning of our modern way of life.  

One more little historical side trip, a hundred years ago, following the end of the Little Ice Age Cool Period, RMS Titanic hit an iceberg that was released as the next  global warming period began to be felt.   The sinking of the Titanic caused the deaths of 1,517 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.

The Sun and Global Warming.

I don't like speaking in absolutes, But I will give myself exception this one time. We all know, that without the Sun, the Earth would be a chunk of rocky ice in space. The sun is 750 times bigger than all of the planets in our solar system put together. Another thing we all know is the sun is extremely hot. The sun's surface temperature is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. And one more thing we all know,  the Sun is what  warms the Earth, this is easily demonstrated, go outside on a partly cloudy day, when a cloud comes between you and the Sun, you feel the temperature drop a few degrees.  Because of all of this, when the Sun gets hotter, the Earth gets hotter, and visa versa. If you've been following my blog post, most of you know that I'm a big believe in cycles when it comes to weather and climate. The Sun also has cycles.  These cycles go from the more familiar 11 year sunspot cycle to ones that last for millions of years.

The Solar Cycle (Solar Magnetic Activity Cycle). This cycle is what is commonly known as the Sunspot Cycle; it has a  period of about 11 years (see fig 6).  The cycle of solar activity is characterized by the rise and fall in the numbers, surface area, and placement of sunspots. When the sunspot activity is high it's  called the Solar Maximum, while the period of fewer sunspots is called the Solar Minimum. It reverses itself in both hemispheres from one sunspot cycle to the next. Therefore a full cycle takes around 22 years. The Suns magnetic field varies greatly during the cycle, During the solar maximum, the magnetic field is strong, so the Suns surface temperature is higher. On the other hand, during solar minimum, the field is weak, so the surface temperature is lower.  Since the Sun is responsible for how warm the Earth gets; well I think you can see where I going with this.  This whole spiel has been heading for one place, The Maunder Minimum.

The Maunder Minimum was a period  that the Sun went through a period of inactivity. it occurred in the late 17th century roughly  between 1645 to 1715 (see fig 7).  During this time very few sunspots were seen. If you look at fig 5 you will see that is about the time of the Little Ice Age. Many feel the Maunder Minimum played a big part in causing the Little Ice Age. I'm sure the AO and NAO had a part to play as well.  Looking at ice core samples, there is evidence that the Sun has had similar periods of inactivity in the more distant past. Clearly there is a link between the solar cycle and  terrestrial climate. A lot more research need to be done in this area. there is one more cycle I what to briefly touch on, the Milankovitch Cycle.

Milankovitch Cycle, in the early part of the 20th century, Mulitin Milankovitch  developing a mathematical theory of climate based on the seasonal and latitudinal variations of solar radiation received by the Earth. The Milankovitch Cycle is based on three principles: Variations in the Earth's orbital eccentricity, Changes in obliquity, and Precession.

  1. Variations in the Earth's orbital eccentricity....this is the shape of the orbit around the sun.
  2. Changes in obliquity....changes that the Earth's axis makes, the in the angle of the axis vs. the plane of Earth's orbit.
  3. Precession....This is the  change in the direction of the Earth's axis of rotation. Imagine how a top spins, as it slows down the tops axis angle changes to its plain of movement. in other words the top wobbles. Figure 8 shows an illustration of the Milakovitch Cycle.

The Milankovitch Cycle can be directly tied to the timing of the Great Ice Ages.

Could there be other longer term cycles that we know nothing about, because they've never been observed?  Absolutely!

                                                                                      Fig 6

                                                                                      Fig 7

                                                                                      Fig 8

The earth has warmed and cooled in cycles for millions of years. The Sun has a huge impact  on our climate. Russian Academy of Sciences, Dr. Dmitriev has said "our entire solar system has been changing. His research has found that every planet in our solar system, the sun and even our moon are experiencing increases in energy field, changes in luminosity and even changes in atmosphere". Other scientists have verified his findings. The Sun causes a vast majority of the global warming we see; some place it as high as 99%. Billions of years ago, the sun was much cooler than it is now....over time the sun will continue to get hotter. I will now discuss a little about ice cores and what they show about solar cycles, polar ice amounts, and global warming.   

Ice Cores

                                                                                      Fig 9

Figure 9  shows data from two different core drilling sites in the Antarctic. The one in blue (EPICA) is managed by the European Union. The green one (Vostak) is managed by Russia. The red one shows the ice volume at that point in the same period

The graph shows that Earth's  overall temperature swings from 6 degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit)  warmer to almost 9 degrees Celsius (48 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than our current temperature. From this graph, it's easy to see the ice volume is directly proportional to temperature.  The warmer the overall temperature the less ice by volume you have.  As you can see there is a regular pattern. This covers 450,000 years, humans have been producing CO2 for a little more than100 years. The  percentage of our contribution to this graph is  0.022222222222222223%. this shows that  these temperature swings have nothing to do with humans. Besides the Sun there are other factors going on that we don't understand.

Fig 10 show generally the same data.

                                                                                     Fig 10

Besides ice volume being directly proportional to temperature, the graph also shows a cycle that is almost like clockwork. It seems the cooling cycles run for 80,000 years followed by a  warming cycle that last around 20,000 years. It seems you can set your clock by the ice age cycle (fig 10). In fact since we came out of the last Great Ice Age about 20,000 years ago....we look to be due for another great ice age. in the next 1000 -2000 years.

NASA ice core data

NOAA ice core data

Vostok Antarctica ice core data

There is a lot of evidence that we have been cooling off over the past 20 years. Here is temperature data from the Pacific Northwest. it shows that temperatures have cooled off starting in 1992 thru 2012 by -1.0 to -1.5 degrees F. At least for the Pacific Northwest.


Hanford (khms):

10 yrs (1992-2001) mean (deg F):  54.4

10 yrs (2002-2011) mean 53.7 -0.7

5 yrs (2007-2011) mean 53.0 -1.4


Corvallis agrimet:

10 yrs (1992-2001) mean (deg F):  52.8

10 yrs (2002-2011) mean 52.3 -0.5

5 yrs (2007-2011) mean 51.7 -1.1


Forest Grove agrimet:

10 yrs (1992-2001) mean (deg F):  52.9

10 yrs (2002-2011) mean 52.4 -0.5

5 yrs (2007-2011) mean 51.8 -1.1


Eugene (keug):

10 yrs (1992-2001) mean (deg F):  52.9

10 yrs (2002-2011) mean 52.5 -0.4

5 yrs (2007-2011) mean 51.9 -1.0


Portland (kpdx):

10 yrs (1992-2001) mean (deg F):  54.6

10 yrs (2002-2011) mean 54.4 -0.2

5 yrs (2007-2011) mean 53.7 -0.9


Salem (ksle):

10 yrs (1992-2001) mean temperature (deg F):  53.4

10 yrs (2002-2011) mean temperature:  53.2 -0.2

5 yrs (2007-2011) mean temperature:  52.9 -0.5

The facts that I have shown show that the burning of fossil fuels,  is not the cause for our current global warming issues. ( Because of lack of time, I didn't show all the data.). However, the data shows that these warming and cooling cycles are a natural product for our Planet. We humans have only been burning fossil fuels for less than 150 years. The warming and cooling cycle has been going on for millions of years.

One last thing before I conclude, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a scientific intergovernmental body first established in 1988 by two United Nations organizations and has since been endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly.  Its mission is to provide comprehensive scientific assessments of current scientific, technical and socio-economic information worldwide about the risk of climate change caused by human activity, its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences, and possible options for adapting to these consequences or mitigating the effects. The IPCC is run by politicians, in 2007 the IPCC published a report on their findings on global warming. The report made the future look grim. However, the report ended up having to be retracted, due to inflated statics, and half truths. One of the falsehoods has about solar forcing. The paper halved the maximum likely influence of solar forcing on warming over the past 250 years from 40% to 20%. This was based on a reanalysis of the likely changes in solar forcing since the 17th century. Most of the time when we hear of global warming dangers, it comes from politicians and not scientist.  I know the scientific community is a little divided on the subject, There are scientists on both side of the isle. I'm not going to make a political statement, But I think we owe it to ourselves to let science find the answers and not politicians. there is more than enough junk science on both sides. we owe it to ourselves, to find the facts. and let science find the answers to this highly complex problem.

links to  papers and articles  on the Suns influence on the Earths temperatures and other global warming issues.

Paper on pattern of stange errors in solar and climate data
Site with many links to lots of global warning information.

So if it's not  global warming, why was the Winter and so far this spring so warm?  As I've been saying on my weather page and this blog  We've had a Jet Stream that has stayed north of the lower 48 for the most part. The Jet has been very fast, this has keep the pattern zonal.  This along with a positive AO and a positive NAO. These oscillations are normal, atypically long, but not  unprecedented. because we had and still have a positive NAO. it's preventing arctic air from making big moves into the US. And as I said in a earlier blog post, the early start for the severe season is because of the warm winter.  
Let me close by saying, as I said, the main argument that is currently popular with global warming supporters is :   industrialization and human activities are the primary factors that are contributing to increases in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I have presented information; that shows this can't be the case. As I also said, we are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. But, the amount is so small that it makes no difference in the long run .  IMO,  Mankind for all his technological might, is a babe in the woods, when compared to the power of Earth's oceans and ecosystem, Sun, and other immense forces both known and unknown.  Short of a complete nuclear war, the human race simply doesn't have the power or the understanding to change the climate on a global scale.

I've shown you the facts. it's up to you to decide what to make of them.  I hope you enjoyed reading this, maybe even learning a thing or two.



  1. this is the best write-up i've ever read on this............great job

  2. Thank you, I'm happy that you liked it.

  3. Hi Rebecca, some great information here! I'd love to use it in my report but I was wondering what qualifications you have? My teacher demands we include qualifications in our research journal. Thanks.

  4. Hey where did you get your graphs from?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. The graphs came from NOAA and general web sources.

  7. I'm glad you think so..I'm a meteorologist and I've been a storm chaser for 12 years. I studied meteorology at Texas A&M. and have coauthored a few papers, the latest one was "The November 17th 2010 Tornado and Microburst in Columbia County, NY A rare early morning severe weather event for the Mid-Hudson Valley" with Andrew L. Gregorio, a Meteorologist, WTEN-TV.

  8. You know whats up! Thanks for the info.


Thank you for taking the time to comment, I will answer as soon as I can.