Top climate story of 2008: Arctic sea ice loss

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:03 PM GMT on January 12, 2009

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The top climate story of 2008, as it was in 2007, was the extraordinary summertime sea ice retreat in the Arctic. For the second consecutive year, we experienced the opening of the fabled Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic waters. Explorers have been attempting to sail the Northwest Passage since 1497, and 2007 and 2008 are the only known years the passage has been ice-free. In addition, 2008 saw the simultaneous opening of the Northeast Passage along the coast of Russia. This meant that for the first time in recorded history, the Arctic ice cap was an island--one could completely circumnavigate the Arctic Ocean in ice-free waters. Although the summer ice extent in 2008 finished 9% higher than 2007's record minimum, it was still an extraordinary 34% below average, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Furthermore, the ice was thinner at the September 2008 minimum compared to 2007, so the total ice volume (thickness times area) was probably at its lowest point in recorded history in 2008.

Figure 1. Daily arctic sea ice extent for September 12, 2008. The date of the 2008 minimum (white) is overlaid on September 16, 2007--last year's minimum extent (dark gray). Light gray shading indicates the region where ice occurred in both 2007 and 008. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Arctic "perfect storm" of summer weather in 2007 did not repeat in 2008
The summer of 2007 saw a "perfect storm" of weather conditions favorable for ice loss. Unusually strong high pressure over the Arctic led to clear skies and plenty of sunshine. Arctic winds, which usually blow in a circular fashion around the Pole, instead blew from the south, injecting large amounts of warm air into the Arctic. How unusual were these conditions? Well, at last month's meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world's largest scientific conference on climate change, J.E. Kay of the National Center for Atmospheric Research showed that Arctic surface pressure in the summer of 2007 was the fourth highest since 1948. Cloud cover at Barrow, Alaska was the sixth lowest. This suggests that once every 10-20 years a "perfect storm" of weather conditions highly favorable for ice loss invades the Arctic. The last two times such conditions existed was 1977 and 1987.

The 2008 melting season began in March with slightly greater ice extent than had been measured in previous years, thanks to a relatively cold winter during 2007-2008. However, since so much ice had melted during the summer of 2007, most of the March 2008 ice was thin first-year ice, which extended all the way to the North Pole. The total ice volume in the Arctic in March 2008 was lower than what the record-breaking year of 2007 had seen. This led to speculation that a new record minimum would be set in 2008, and Santa's Workshop would plunge into the ocean as ice melted at the North Pole. However, the "perfect storm" of summertime weather conditions did not materialize in 2008. From May through July, cooler temperatures and winds less favorable to ice loss occurred. When very warm temperatures moved into the Arctic in August, the ice loss rate accelerated to levels higher than in 2007. However, with sunlight waning, ice loss was not able to reach the levels seen in 2007. Arctic temperatures in the summer of 2008 were up to 4°C cooler along the Siberian coast than in 2007 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Difference in surface temperature (°C) between the summer of 2008 and the summer of 2007. Blues and purples indicate areas where is was cooler in 2008. The biggest change was over the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia, where exceptionally sunny weather with southerly winds in 2007 caused record-breaking warmth. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.

The future of arctic sea ice
Climate models have done a poor job predicting the recent record loss of arctic sea ice (Figure 3). None of the models used to formulate the official word on climate, the 2007 United Nations IPCC report, foresaw the shocking drop of 2007-2008. At the December 2008 AGU meeting, Wieslaw Maslowski of the Navy Postgraduate School hypothesized that the reason for this was the models' improper handling of ocean currents and how they transport heat. He blamed 60% of the melting during the past decade on heat brought in by ocean currents, and projected that summertime arctic sea ice would completely disappear by 2016. Dr. Jim Overland of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory was more conservative, projecting a 2030 demise of arctic sea ice. He thought we would be "hanging around where we are for a while", and thought it would take two more unusual summers like the "perfect storm" of 2007 to push the system to an ice-free state. He further noted that while summertime air temperatures have been near record levels the past few years in the Arctic, there has been one period of comparable warmth, in the 1930s and 1940s. The year 1941 still ranks as the warmest year in the Arctic, though 2007 was virtually tied with it. However, the warmth of the 1930s and 1940s was different than the current warming, and was caused by the Siberian High moving unusually far east over Europe, driving warm, southerly winds over Greenland. The warmth in the past decade, in contrast, is associated with a warming of the entire planet, and is not due to an unusual pressure pattern driving warm air into the region. This means that the current warming is accompanied by much warmer ocean waters, which have helped caused much of the arctic sea ice loss the past two years by melting the ice from beneath.

Figure 3. Arctic sea ice extent from observations (thick orange line) and 13 model forecasts used to formulate the 2007 IPCC report (light lines). The thick black line is the multi-model ensemble mean, with the standard deviation plotted as a dashed black line. Image has been updated to include the observed 2007 and 2008 measurements. Image credit: Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast by Stroeve et al., 2007.

The impact on the jet stream
The unprecedented melting of arctic sea ice the past two summers has undoubtedly had a significant impact on the early winter weather over the Northern Hemisphere. Several modeling studies presented at the December AGU meeting showed that sea ice melt on this scale is capable of injecting enough heat into the atmosphere to result in a major shift in the jet stream. Dr. Overland remarked that the early cold winter over North America this winter, and the exceptionally cold and snowy early winter in China last winter, were likely related to arctic sea ice loss. The sea ice loss induced a strong poleward flow of warm air over eastern Siberia, and a return flow of cold air from the Pole developed to compensate. Thus regions on either side of eastern Siberia--China and North America--have gotten unusually cold and snowy winters as a result.

The impact on sea level rise
The loss of arctic sea ice will have little impact on sea level rise over the next few decades. Since the ice is already floating in the ocean, melting it does not change sea level much--just like when ice melting in a glass of water will not change the level of liquid in the glass. In the case of sea ice, there is a slight sea level rise, since the fresh melt water is less dense than the salty ocean water it displaces. If all the world's sea ice melted, it would raise global sea level by only 4 mm. This is a tiny figure compared to the 20 feet of sea level rise that would occur from complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet--which is on land.

The impact on melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet
The big concern with arctic sea ice melt is the warmer temperatures it will bring to the Arctic, which will bring about an accelerated melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet. As the sea ice melts, the resulting warmer average temperatures will increase the amount of dark, sunlight-absorbing water at the pole, leading to further increases in temperature and more melting of sea ice, in a positive feedback loop. As temperatures warm, partial melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet will raise global sea levels. While no one is expecting 20 feet of sea level rise from the total melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet for many centuries, even one meter (3.3 feet) of sea level rise due to the partial melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet can cause a lot of trouble. The official word on climate, the 2007 IPCC report, predicted only a 0.6-1.9 foot sea level rise by 2100, due to melting of the Greenland ice sheet and other factors. These estimates did not include detailed models of ice flow dynamics of glaciers, on the grounds that understanding of the relevant processes was too limited for reliable model estimates. The IPCC estimates were also made before the shocking and unexpected loss of arctic sea ice of the past two summers. In light of these factors, a large number of climate scientists now believe the IPCC estimates of sea level rise this century are much too low. The most recent major paper on sea level rise, published this month by Grinsted et al., concluded that there was a "low probability" that sea level rise would be in the range forecast by the IPCC, and predicted a 0.9 - 1.3 meter (3 - 4.3 feet) rise by 2100. Pfeffer et al. last month concluded that a "most likely" range of sea level rise by 2100 is 2.6 - 6.6 feet (0.8 - 2.0 meters). Their estimates came from a detailed analysis of the processes the IPCC said were understood too poorly to model--the ice flow dynamics of glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. The authors caution that "substantial uncertainties" exist in their estimates, and that the cost of building higher levees to protect against sea level rise is not trivial. Other recent estimates of sea level rise include 1.6 - 4.6 feet (0.5 - 1.4 meters) by Rahmstorf (2007).

What would 3 feet of sea level rise mean?
Rising sea levels will lead to permanent and intermittent flooding in low-lying coastal areas across the world. A global sea level rise of .9 meters (3 feet) would affect 100 million people worldwide, mostly in Asia. The impact of hurricane storm surges will significantly increase as a result of sea level rise. Given a 3 foot rise in sea level, Hurricane Ike's storm surge would have overwhelmed the levees in Port Arthur, Texas, flooding the city and its important oil refineries. Galveston's sea wall would have been overtopped and possibly destroyed, allowing destruction of large portions of Galveston. Levees in New Orleans would have been overtopped, resulting in widespread flooding there, as well. I'll have a full analysis of who's at risk, and what the risks are, in a series of forthcoming blog posts this year.

What can we do?
One reasonable suggestion, presented by Trish Quinn of NOAA at the December 2008 AGU meeting, would be to limit the amount of crop residue burning that goes on in Eastern Europe and Asia each year. These fires generate large amounts of black soot that blows into the Arctic. These black particles on the white ice leads to a significant amount of warming during the summer months, when the black particles absorb sunlight.

For more information
The wunderground sea level rise page has detailed background info on sea level rise.
The wunderground Northwest Passage page is also a good reference. has a nice post summarizing the recent sea level research.

I'll have a new blog post Wednesday or Thursday.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting pearlandaggie:
Obviously, I can spell ....ginuine?? varibles??

just messin' with ya! :)

I have to keep ya'll on your toes... LOL. You caught me.
Member Since: August 18, 2007 Posts: 5 Comments: 1807
Obviously, I can spell ....ginuine?? varibles??

just messin' with ya! :)
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
I guess technically I'm not just talking about carbon dioxide though.
Define:Pollution...In industry, disposal of waste products into air, water, and land.

CO2 = waste product?

Consensus is a good thing, consensus is a good thing, consensus is a good thing....

Professor denies global warming theory

Physics professor William Happer GS ’64 has some tough words for scientists who believe that carbon dioxide is causing global warming.

“This is George Orwell. This is the ‘Germans are the master race. The Jews are the scum of the earth.’ It’s that kind of propaganda,” Happer, the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics, said in an interview. “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Every time you exhale, you exhale air that has 4 percent carbon dioxide. To say that that’s a pollutant just boggles my mind. What used to be science has turned into a cult.”

Happer served as director of the Office of Energy Research in the U.S. Department of Energy under President George H.W. Bush and was subsequently fired by Vice President Al Gore, reportedly for his refusal to support Gore’s views on climate change. He asked last month to be added to a list of global warming dissenters in a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee report. The list includes more than 650 experts who challenge the belief that human activity is contributing to global warming...

entire story
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I see that some have skewed my posts to suit themselves and start a blog war. Never once did I say I didn't believe in climatic change. Climate change and Global warming two totally different monsters. Global warming is equated to human induced heating of the Earth's atmosphere. Provide ginuine, hard proof of this and you may change my mind. Climate change does happen, but happens for many other reasons than just human interaction and influence. As far as a non-believer in global warming being someone who doesn't look outside, let's just say is this way. I look at all the varibles contributing to climate change and any effect it would have on the environment, as a whole. You can't just look at the human factor and say humans are the only cause of climate change. That, my friend, would be a close-minded observation. Instead, take all varibles into account, including humans, then make your conclusion.

Just for information, I do live near the coast. The Mississippi coast, for that matter. No, I'm no dumb redneck. Obviously, I can spell and have enough smarts about me to gather all the facts before I open my mouth.

Research your topic first, then come up with a conclusion. Don't come at me with a conclusion and then try to make the research you did on the topic fit in such a way that it supports your conclusion. That's backwards and will always doom you for failure.
Member Since: August 18, 2007 Posts: 5 Comments: 1807
Quoting pearlandaggie:
a true exercise in bovine scatology....LOL

LOL - Stormin Norman.
Member Since: April 5, 2007 Posts: 83 Comments: 12345
a true exercise in bovine scatology....LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Ask the question of yourself, to what end shall I argue? For what purpose am I so impassioned?

'cause it's day 10 without sugar!!!!!!!!!!!!
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 318 Comments: 31947
South Florida StormWatch
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Quoting Inyo:
Because we do not like the possibility of energy socialism.

Wait, but relying on the politically unstable middle east for our very survival is somehow better?

Better than some senators and a president deciding how far from my job I can live, what I can drive, the settings on my thermostat, and who makes a profit? Yes, although just slightly.

Alternative energy that is feasible and effective will be profit driven. Alternative energy that is not feasible nor effective will be tax-break and government grant driven.

Until viable alternatives are developed by those that can compete with petroleum, how about we start making good use of our resources in the US? We have a lot here that hasn't been drilled for.
Do California, Florida, and the rest think that "relying on the politically unstable middle east for our very survival is somehow better?"
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105. Inyo
Because we do not like the possibility of energy socialism.

Wait, but relying on the politically unstable middle east for our very survival is somehow better?
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Quoting pearlandaggie:
Happy Belated New Year, Atmo!

oh, and Amen, Brother! :)

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Thanks Gulf - I won't be slapping you. :)

Saw this series on The History Channel a few weeks back. Not too long ago, it was really cold out there...

Little Ice Age: Big Chill
An Original Documentary
Member Since: April 5, 2007 Posts: 83 Comments: 12345
Happy Belated New Year, Atmo!

oh, and Amen, Brother! :)
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting sunlakedude:
Why is it that people who deny that Global Warming is taking place, the Global Warming Deniers, are almost always political conservatives and often of the Far Right spectrum? I've wondered about this for a long time. Could it be because conservatives fear change and the future? So, one of the ways to deal with fear is denial. So, if we are afraid that mankind could actually cause the planet to warm which would be a change, we simply deny that it is taking place. Is that what's going on here?

Because we do not like the possibility of energy socialism. And that based on quality measurement of our planet for less than one whole cycle of the PDO (read: satellite era that does not cover more than a 1/2 cycle of the longer climate cycles). Pin point measurements at runways, on buildings, etc. are too suspect for showing the marginal changes in the last 100 years. Drilling cores in pin point locations, while too few and far between, show that today's temps and CO2 concentration are not a new thing.

Just as the supreme court requires a compelling reason to limit someone's rights (think leftist for that one, but a good thing nonetheless), we ask for compelling and undeniable evidence supporting political controls on energy. Thus far that evidence is by no means undeniable nor compelling.

Are we fans of pollution? No. Do we want the middle East in control of our energy? No. Do we think that OPEC should be dealt with as if it were a drug cartel sometimes? Yes.

We just cannot stand the notion of political controls on energy consumption without some terrifically compelling reasons. The end results would have to put us back to the 1700s in energy usage to have a measurable effect anyway.

So to try such a thing is exceedingly silly in it's own right, speaking of silly.
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THE CHIEF REASON for skepticism at the official position on “global warming” is the overwhelming weight of evidence that the UN’s climate panel, the IPCC, prodigiously exaggerates both the supposed causes and the imagined consequences of anthropogenic “global warming”; that too many of the exaggerations can be demonstrated to have been deliberate; and that the IPCC and other official sources have continued to rely even upon those exaggerations that have been definitively demonstrated in the literature to have been deliberate.

Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
i suppose the converse question should also be asked....
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Why is it that people who deny that Global Warming is taking place, the Global Warming Deniers, are almost always political conservatives and often of the Far Right spectrum?

Bob is not a right-winger. (See GetReal's blog.)
Member Since: April 5, 2007 Posts: 83 Comments: 12345
Gulf - sounds like you are equating "climate change" as a religion? You either believe it, or you don't?
Member Since: April 5, 2007 Posts: 83 Comments: 12345
Why is it that people who deny that Global Warming is taking place, the Global Warming Deniers, are almost always political conservatives and often of the Far Right spectrum? I've wondered about this for a long time. Could it be because conservatives fear change and the future? So, one of the ways to deal with fear is denial. So, if we are afraid that mankind could actually cause the planet to warm which would be a change, we simply deny that it is taking place. Is that what's going on here?
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I didnt realize when I cut & pasted that article, that I only did the 3rd page. Here's a link if anyone cares to read the first two pages of it. It is interesting.....
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CO2 is not pollution...
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
The truth is science can always improve and will never fully explain such large systems. As people, scientists can and will analyze data with pre-concieved ideas and feelings and may not come to the most correct conclusion. As responsible members of a world community we owe it to the children of this planet to reduce our pollution and negative impacts infavor of a more sustainable approach.
yo Gulfy....

Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 318 Comments: 31947
otherwise known as running scared......LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
79. agreed...i wasn't knocking your post...only that this guy is trying to sell doom and sensationalism like some other person we whom could that be?
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
69. Yes, we should. You are by simply posting your reply. In fact, as organism all we can do is interpret our sensory experience and react to those feelings.

I don't have any idea who that author is. I don't know if its credible or not. Intersting tho. He could be the biggest crackpot of all.

Just something else to throw into the debate.
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77. per Steven Milloy, this is what he had to say about that article and the author's credentials...

This item was also submitted to by Fegel, an author unknown to us but apparently from Portland, Oregon. He appears to be a frequent contributor to Pravda and has anti-American, anti-Israeli rants scattered about the web, sometimes under the handle "cloudmessenger". His scientific credentials, if any, are unknown.
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
I posted this earlier on the previous blog. I think its worth re-posting so here it is again for those who may have missed it. Things that make you go hmmmmm:

This from PRAVDA.

I found this at Accuweather. JB's column.
Apparently russian scientists arn't buying GW.

Earth on the Brink of an Ice Age
Front page / Science / Planet Earth
1/11/2009 Source: Pravda.Ru

Pages: 123

The graph of the Vostok ice core data shows that the Ice Age maximums and the warm interglacials occur within a regular cyclic pattern, the graph-line of which is similar to the rhythm of a heartbeat on an electrocardiogram tracing. The Vostok data graph also shows that changes in global CO2 levels lag behind global temperature changes by about eight hundred years. What that indicates is that global temperatures precede or cause global CO2 changes, and not the reverse. In other words, increasing atmospheric CO2 is not causing global temperature to rise; instead the natural cyclic increase in global temperature is causing global CO2 to rise.

The reason that global CO2 levels rise and fall in response to the global temperature is because cold water is capable of retaining more CO2 than warm water. That is why carbonated beverages loose their carbonation, or CO2, when stored in a warm environment. We store our carbonated soft drinks, wine, and beer in a cool place to prevent them from loosing their ‘fizz’, which is a feature of their carbonation, or CO2 content. The earth is currently warming as a result of the natural Ice Age cycle, and as the oceans get warmer, they release increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Because the release of CO2 by the warming oceans lags behind the changes in the earth’s temperature, we should expect to see global CO2 levels continue to rise for another eight hundred years after the end of the earth’s current Interglacial warm period. We should already be eight hundred years into the coming Ice Age before global CO2 levels begin to drop in response to the increased chilling of the world’s oceans.

The Vostok ice core data graph reveals that global CO2 levels regularly rose and fell in a direct response to the natural cycle of Ice Age minimums and maximums during the past four hundred and twenty thousand years. Within that natural cycle, about every 110,000 years global temperatures, followed by global CO2 levels, have peaked at approximately the same levels which they are at today.

About 325,000 years ago, at the peak of a warm interglacial, global temperature and CO2 levels were higher than they are today. Today we are again at the peak, and near to the end, of a warm interglacial, and the earth is now due to enter the next Ice Age. If we are lucky, we may have a few years to prepare for it. The Ice Age will return, as it always has, in its regular and natural cycle, with or without any influence from the effects of AGW.

The AGW theory is based on data that is drawn from a ridiculously narrow span of time and it demonstrates a wanton disregard for the ‘big picture’ of long-term climate change. The data from paleoclimatology, including ice cores, sea sediments, geology, paleobotany and zoology, indicate that we are on the verge of entering another Ice Age, and the data also shows that severe and lasting climate change can occur within only a few years. While concern over the dubious threat of Anthropogenic Global Warming continues to distract the attention of people throughout the world, the very real threat of the approaching and inevitable Ice Age, which will render large parts of the Northern Hemisphere uninhabitable, is being foolishly ignored.

Gregory F. Fegel

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"2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved, according to the Telegraph's Christopher Booker. Sceptics have long argued that there are other explanations for climate change other than man-made CO2 and here we look at some of the arguments put forward by those who believe that global warming is all a hoax.

Temperatures are falling, not rising

As Christopher Booker says in his review of 2008, temperatures have been dropping in a wholly unpredicted way over the past year. Last winter, the northern hemisphere saw its greatest snow cover since 1966, which in the northern US states and Canada was dubbed the "winter from hell". This winter looks set to be even worse.

The earth was hotter 1,000 years ago

Evidence from all over the world indicates that the earth was hotter 1,000 years ago than it is today. Research shows that temperatures were higher in what is known as the Mediaeval Warming period than they were in the 1990s

The earth's surface temperature is not at record levels

According to Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies analysis of surface air temperature measurements, the meteorological December 2007 to November 2008 was the coolest year since 2000. Their data has also shown that the hottest decade of the 20th century was not the 1990s but the 1930s.

Ice is not disappearing

Arctic website Crysophere Today reported that Arctic ice volume was 500,000 sq km greater than this time last year. Additionally, Antarctic sea-ice this year reached its highest level since satellite records began in 1979. Polar bear numbers are also at record levels.

Himalayan glaciers

A report by the UN Environment Program this year claimed that the cause of melting glaciers in the Himalayas was not global warming but the local warming effect of a vast "atmospheric brown cloud" over that region, made up of soot particles from Asia's dramatically increased burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

Temperatures are still dropping

Nasa satellite readings on global temperatures from the University of Alabama show that August was the fourth month this year when temperatures fell below their 30-year average, ie since satellite records began. November 2008 in the USA was only the 39th warmest since records began 113 years ago."

Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 318 Comments: 31947
75. Inyo
On a less controversial and less warm note, I am considering moving from California to Burlington, Vermont next year, for graduate school. Looks like the lows there on Thursday will be -10 to -15. It is currently 80 degrees where I am now. I'll tell you one thing: a degree or two of warming is NOT going to make Vermont winters warm!
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NEwxguy, too bad this coastal is too far east and doesn't rapidly strengthen enough to bring us some accumulating snows. After this past weekend storm debacle, I'm sure Mother Nature will repay us at some point in the future, when is the question.
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73. Inyo
Quoting fire831rescue:
I had to log in for this one. Oh, boy. The Global Warming debate all over again. I bet Al Gore is having a field day reading this... LOL. IMHO, there is no such thing as GW. I believe we are going through a natural cycle. Is kinda funny. Global warming yet the Earth's temps are actually dropping. Hmmmm.

But the earth's temperatures aren't actually dropping, with the possible exception of the last couple of months. You should be more specific: you may not believe that humans are causing the warming temperatures, or you may believe that human factors are dwarfed by natural ones. But to deny that on average the world is warming significantly in the last few years is silly.
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This January doesn't surprise me too much,last January here in the northeast we were much above normal,and many times the following year will be opposite.
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 896 Comments: 16202
where to begin...such sweeping generalities ("the majority of the informed people on the earth") applied to a phantom menace for the good of our posterity without meager, let alone concrete evidence to justify the whole thing...guess we'll have to use feelings to guide our judgment.
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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