Ecocentric

This Just In: The Earth is Warming!

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OK, that was a tiny bit snarky, but you have to forgive me. The evidence of a warming planet has been around about 20 years now, and despite what you hear from some quarters about global cooling, that evidence has continued to strengthen. What’s important about a new report titled “State of the Climate in 2009,” just released by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in the form of a 224-page supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society is that it shows exactly how the planet is warming.

Here’s a video by my Climate Central colleague Heidi Cullen on what the report contains:

Unlike the approximately semi-decadal reports from the IPCC, that’s pretty much all State of the Climate claims to do. “This report is not about attribution or projection,” said co-author Walt Meier, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, in a press conference earlier today. That means that it doesn’t make any claims about humans being the cause of much of the warming (although the authors clearly recognize that we are) and doesn’t project that the world will keep warming (although they clearly understand that it will). It’s all about the actual measurements, from, as the NCDC’s Tom Karl said at the press conference, “weather stations, satellites, buoys, ships at sea, observatories, field expeditions, submersibles. Every bit of monitoring capability we can get our hands on.”

The result is a portrait of a warming planet, from the stratosphere to the oceans. The latter, it turns out, is where 93.4% of the extra heat trapped by greenhouse gases has been stored—an ominous sign, because that much of that heat will eventually be released back into the atmosphere. “There’s a substantial amount of energy running around in there,” Karl said.

“State of the Climate” identifies a list of some 30 specific indicators that show how the warming is playing out, and focuses most sharply on ten: air temperature over the land, air temperature over the sea, sea-surface temperature sea level, temperature in the troposphere, ocean heat content (where that whopping 93.4% comes from) and something called “specific humidity”, which has to do with the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. You can explore these interactively on the report website.

The reason it all matters is that, while this particular report doesn’t go into what caused global warming and where it’s headed, the data laid out here in exhaustive detail is crucial to nailing down these crucial questions. And, acknowledged Meier, “part of the driver for this report is the tendency of people to get into arguments over smaller and smaller details of climate science.” When you step back and look at the big picture, he said, taking data and analyses from more than 300 different scientists operating independently, it becomes clear that it would be very difficult for one small group to skew the results, as some skeptics insist is happening. The data, he says,  “are screaming that the world is warming.”

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