Next century's most important place in the world--Greenland?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:58 PM GMT on December 21, 2007

If one had to pick the region of the world most likely to influence the course of human history this century, the Middle East would be the obvious choice, due to its political volatility and rich oil resources. However, the Middle East may have a significant challenger next century from a seemingly unlikely place--Greenland. Why Greenland? Well, the Greenland ice sheet holds enough water to raise global sea level 7 meters (23 feet). There are worrisome signs that the ice sheet might be more vulnerable than we thought to significant melting near the end of the century, according to research results presented at last week's annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. The meeting is the world's largest annual gathering of climate change scientists.

For climate change scientists, Greenland is clearly the most important place in the world. You could tell this by the way glaciers with unpronounceable names like "Kangerdlugssuaq" rolled off their tongues in a smooth, practiced manner at talks given at the AGU meeting. At least 120 presentations focused on the Arctic or Greenland, and fully 52 of these concerned Greenland. I attended roughly 20 of these talks, and most of the presenters made it clear that they were quite concerned about the future of Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet, particularly in light of the astounding Arctic sea ice melt that occurred in 2007. A number of these talks raised the possibility that we've reached a tipping point in the Arctic. A complete loss of summertime sea ice may occur between 2013 and 2040, three of the presenters said, with the resulting warming dooming the Greenland ice sheet to a slow but inevitable melting process over a period of centuries. None of the presenters expressed the view that the current melting of the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic sea ice was due to a natural cycle that would completely halt or reverse in the next few years or decades.

At a talk on "The Recent Arctic Warm Period", Dr. Jim Overland, an Arctic expert with NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, didn't offer his view on whether a tipping point had been reached. Instead, he asked the audience to vote. The options he presented:

* A The melt back of Arctic sea ice observed in 2007 is permanent and will not lessen.
* B Ice coverage will partially recover but continue to decrease.
* C The ice would recover to 1980s levels but then continue to decline over the coming century.

Both Options A and B had audience support, but only one brave soul voted for the most conservative option C.

Figure 1. A research submarine breaks through the Arctic ice. Image credit: Bernard Coakley.

The latest news from Greenland
I was amazed see the tremendous breadth and intensity of research efforts focused on Greenland and the Arctic, presented at AGU. Extra funding has been given to research efforts as part of the International Polar Year (IPY) program, scheduled to run March 2007 through 2009. Satellites like Icesat and GRACE measure the extent of Greenland's ice from above, aided by a fleet of small and large research aircraft. Scientists now have unmanned aircraft that can use runways or be launched by slingshot that can measure the extent of Greenland's melt water lakes. The air armada will be joined next year by the Total Pole Airship, the first blimp used for Arctic studies. Manned and unmanned submarines measure the thickness of the sea ice surrounding the island, and both permanent and temporary bases dotted across Greenland and the polar sea ice house scientists doing land-based studies. Ships and buoys also add data from the ocean areas.

A short list of the results presented at AGU all point to an ice sheet in peril:

- Melting of snow above 2000 meters elevation on Greenland reached a new record in 2007 (Tedesco, 2007).

- Leigh Stearns of the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute showed that the contribution of Greenland melting to global sea level rise has doubled in the last five years. According to the 2007 IPCC report (see Figure 4.18), Greenland may account for as much as 10% of the total global annual sea rise of about 3-4 mm/year (approximately 1.5 inches per decade).

- Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) have warmed over 5° C (9° F) over the waters west of Greenland since 1990 (Figure 1, to the right). This has caused the ice-free season to increase by over 60 days per year along the coast.

- The Greenland ice sheet has experienced conditions as warm as those today in the past. Lowell et al. (2007) found organic remains in eastern Greenland that had just been exposed by melting ice, and dated these remains at between A.D. 800 to 1014. Thus, this portion of Greenland was ice-free about 1000 years ago, and temperatures were presumably similar to today's. Erik the Red took advantage of this warm period to establish the first Norse settlements in Greenland around 950 A.D. However, the climate cooled after 1200 A.D., and the Norse settlements disappeared by 1550.

For more information, see our new Greenland feature on our expanding climate change page.

Jeff Masters

Lowell, T.V., et al., 2007, Organic Remains from the Istorvet Ice Cap, Liverpool Land, East Greenland: A Record of Late Holocene Climate Change,, Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract C13A-04.

Stearns, L.A., and G.S. Hamilton, 2007, New States of Behavior: Current Status of Outlet Glaciers in Southeast Greenland and the Potential for Similar Changes Elsewhere, Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract C13A-06.

Tedesco, M., "A New Record in 2007 for Melting in Greenland," EOS, 88:39, 2007, 383.

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543. BahaHurican
3:43 PM EST on December 23, 2007
539. MichaelSTL 1:50 PM EST on December 23, 2007

Sorry, STL, I didn't use the right tense. When I wrote that message I was thinking about what I had been reading about the Medieval Warm Period. So far, what I've seen supports a warming in the N. ATL area, with potentially a drying in the US SW and Central America that might represent some kind of La Niña-like long-term trend. But there isn't a lot available in the internet about weather trends in other areas - Australia, Africa, Asia S. America - to confirm that the warming trend at the time was global.

I think we have enough available for now to support the current period as one of global warming.
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541. rmh9903
8:11 PM GMT on December 23, 2007
MichaelSTL Problem with your map and all the ones that say we are in great danager is they are made by computers and we really truely don't know whats happening. Think of it this way... How often are the forcasting computers right? Its funny I found a few months ago a article Al Gore wrote in 1999 about GW and he said it was happening and such but at a rate that we have 200 years to correct it and all that. Then in 2001 it was 175 years, then it dropped to 150 years, then just last week he stated we have less then 50 years before all hell breaks loose. Shoot at this rate we are all going to be dead by 2010 if we don't stop creating Co2. Better tell nature that too since nature makes more then we do.
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540. Patrap
2:02 PM CST on December 23, 2007
Aliens 'obsessed with Earth's weather'

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Last Updated: 4:01pm GMT 21/12/2007

A view of Earth showing cloud and temperature
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 140204
538. lindenii
6:29 PM GMT on December 23, 2007
536. BahaHurican 5:14 PM GMT on December 23, 2007

I'm getting a red error button. That's a sure sign it's not working properly LOL.

I think it's an issue with my Java that I will have to work out later.

I hate it when that happens.


Have you tried using a differet browser to see if things got any better?

On a really fussy site I go to IE and the problem usually goes away. Of course, along with IE comes all those dailers viruses and bots, which is why I prefer Netscape 7.2 or higher.
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536. BahaHurican
12:11 PM EST on December 23, 2007

I'm getting a red error button. That's a sure sign it's not working properly LOL.

I think it's an issue with my Java that I will have to work out later.
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535. BahaHurican
11:23 AM EST on December 23, 2007
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533. lindenii
4:49 PM GMT on December 23, 2007
It may depend on which browser you are using.
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532. lindenii
4:48 PM GMT on December 23, 2007
Baha, re the map.

I thought I had the same problem too.

Until I noticed the bar at the very bottom of the screen. The same one as the START button.

Any way, I noticed the name of the screen when it first loaded when I chose The Bahamas and then when I chose Everglades, nothing seemed to happen. That is until I clicked on the icon for the original screen that had displayed the Bahamas and, lo and behold, there it was.
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531. sebastianjer
11:16 AM EST on December 23, 2007
Just go here

Member Since: August 26, 2005 Posts: 1030 Comments: 11197
530. BahaHurican
11:02 AM EST on December 23, 2007
528. sebastianjer 10:22 AM EST on December 23, 2007
520. BahaHurican 2:05 AM EST on December 23, 2007 Hide this comment.
Anybody have any idea where I can find info about Asian / SubSaharan African climatology for the last two millenia?

Earlier you were asking about studies done on the medieval warm period throughout the world. Here is a great link that shows pretty much all of them. When you have time take a look at the charts showing what the consensus, lol of the studies show. Medieval Warm Period Project

Thanks seb. I saw this earlier, but I'm still not getting the map to work properly.
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529. Weather456
11:54 AM AST on December 23, 2007
GM to all, cant stay:

Please visit my blog for the

Western Atlantic Synopsis and Special Weather Image of the Day
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528. sebastianjer
10:21 AM EST on December 23, 2007
520. BahaHurican 2:05 AM EST on December 23, 2007 Hide this comment.
Anybody have any idea where I can find info about Asian / SubSaharan African climatology for the last two millenia?

Earlier you were asking about studies done on the medieval warm period throughout the world. Here is a great link that shows pretty much all of them. When you have time take a look at the charts showing what the consensus, lol of the studies show. Medieval Warm Period Project
Member Since: August 26, 2005 Posts: 1030 Comments: 11197
527. latitude25
9:50 AM EST on December 23, 2007
morning Linden

It's sorta made up.

Grand Isle is sinking.
Saying sea levels are rising, without saying that the barrier islands are sinking faster

Well you decide if it's misleading on purpose


""From the Mississippi border to the Texas state line, Louisiana is losing its protective fringe of marshes and barrier islands faster than any place in the U.S. Since the 1930s some 1,900 square miles (4,900 square kilometers) of coastal wetlands—a swath nearly the size of Delaware or almost twice that of Luxembourg—have vanished beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Despite nearly half a billion dollars spent over the past decade to stem the tide, the state continues to lose about 25 square miles (65 square kilometers) of land each year, roughly one acre every 33 minutes.

A cocktail of natural and human factors is putting the coast under. Delta soils naturally compact and sink over time, eventually giving way to open water unless fresh layers of sediment offset the subsidence. ""
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526. lindenii
2:29 PM GMT on December 23, 2007
350. Patrap 4:21 PM GMT on December 22, 2007

* At Grand Isle, Louisiana, sea level already is rising by 41 inches per century, and is likely to rise another 55 inches by 2100.

Everywhere I look, all the charts suggest a sea level rise of only 7.87 inches in the last century. How can Grand Isle have a sea level rise of 41 inches per century while the rest of the world is experiencing only just under 8 inches.

Perhaps your source is a wee bit over-enthusiastic and tends to make up stuff. What do you think?
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525. cg2916
8:03 AM EST on December 23, 2007
I don't really think Greenland will be that important.
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522. BahaHurican
2:05 AM EST on December 23, 2007

Some other things I read there (responses by bloggers, I guess) did bring in those issues, and they talked a lot as well about the effects of warmer temps on Californian wine.

His point was that vines grown in England is not a particularly good way of proving whether GW is manmade.

Another point I have been seeing circulated as I read is that of a kind of semi-millenial oscillation of temperatures: a gradual increase in temperatures between say just before the end of the BC period and about 450, followed by a cold period, followed by this warming period where the Norse lived in Greenland, and then by what is called the Little Ice Age. Something like this makes a lot of sense to me.

My concern is whether the warming trend is genuinely global - i. e. everywhere is warming at the same time - or whether the warming in one area of the planet is being offset by cooling in another. If, say, the Artic is melting, is the Antartic becoming correspondingly cooler?
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520. BahaHurican
12:53 AM EST on December 23, 2007
Anybody have any idea where I can find info about Asian / SubSaharan African climatology for the last two millenia? Just about everything out there seems to be related to the European, or at best a few reports from the American, record. What about records of volcanic eruptions worldwide? I'm really curious now about what is available on this earlier period of potential warming that may fall within recorded histories outside the Roman sphere.

Even suggestions on what topics to search for would be welcome.
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518. BahaHurican
12:44 AM EST on December 23, 2007
Did somebody mention earlier the presence of vineyards in England?

However, for the sake of argument, let's assume that climate is actually the dominant control - so what does the history of English vineyards show?

The earliest documentation that is better than anecdotal is from the Domesday Book (1087) - an early census that the new Norman king commissioned to assess his new English dominions, including the size of farms, population etc. Being relatively 'frenchified', the Normans (who had originally come from Viking stock) were quite keen on wine drinking (rather than mead or ale) and so made special note of existing vineyards and where the many new vines were being planted. Sources differ a little on how many vineyards are included in the book: Selley quotes Unwin (J. Wine Research, 1990 (subscription)) who records 46 vineyards across Southern England (42 unambiguous sites, 4 less direct), but other claims (unsourced) range up to 52. Lamb's 1977 book has a few more from other various sources and anecdotally there are more still, and so clearly this is a minimum number.

Of the Domesday vineyards, all appear to lie below a line from Ely (Cambridgeshire) to Gloucestershire. Since the Book covers all of England up to the river Tees (north of Yorkshire), there is therefore reason to think that there weren't many vineyards north of that line. Lamb reports two vineyards to the north (Lincoln and Leeds, Yorkshire) at some point between 1000 and 1300 AD, and Selley even reports a Scottish vineyard operating in the 12th Century. However, it's probably not sensible to rely too much on these single reports since they don't necessarily come with evidence for successful or sustained wine production. Indeed, there is one lone vineyard reported in Derbyshire (further north than any Domesday vineyard) in the 16th Century when all other reports were restricted to the South-east of England.

Wine making never completely died out in England, there were always a few die-hard viticulturists willing to give it a go, but production clearly declined after the 13th Century, had a brief resurgence in the 17th and 18th Centuries, only to decline to historic lows in the 19th Century when only 8 vineyards are recorded. Contemporary popular sentiment towards English (and Welsh) wine can be well judged by a comment in 'Punch' (a satirical magazine) that the wine would require 4 people to drink it - one victim, two to hold him down, and one other to pour the wine down his throat.

Unremarked by most oenophiles though, English and Welsh wine production started to have a renaissance in the 1950s. By 1977, there were 124 reasonable-sized vineyards in production - more than at any other time over the previous millennium. This resurgence was also unremarked upon by Lamb, who wrote in that same year that the English climate (the average of 1921-1950 to be precise) remained about a degree too cold for wine production. Thus the myth of the non-existant English wine industry was born and thrust headlong into the climate change debate…

Since 1977, a further 200 or so vineyards have opened (currently 400 and counting) and they cover a much more extensive area than the recorded medieval vineyards, extending out to Cornwall, and up to Lancashire and Yorkshire where the (currently) most northerly commercial vineyard sits. So with the sole exception of one 'rather improbably' located 12th Century Scottish vineyard (and strictly speaking that doesn't count, it not being in England 'n' all…), English vineyards have almost certainly exceeded the extent of medieval cultivation. And I hear (from normally reliable sources) they are actually producing a pretty decent selection of white wines.

So what should one conclude from this? Well, one shouldn't be too dogmatic that English temperatures are now obviously above a medieval peak - the impact of confounding factors in wine production precludes such a clear conclusion (and I am pretty agnostic with regards to the rest of the evidence of whether northern Europe was warmer 1000 years than today). However, one can conclude that those who are using the medieval English vineyards as a 'counter-proof' to the idea of present day global warming are just blowing smoke (or possibly drinking too much Californian). If they are a good proxy, then England is warmer now, and if they are not…. well, why talk about them in this context at all?
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517. BahaHurican
9:58 PM EST on December 22, 2007
Medieval Global Warming
A controversy over 14th century climate shows the peril of letting politics shape the scientific debate.

This is probably the most even-handed response the the GW issue (the political aspect of it) I have seen so far. This guy is saying his "gut" feels like GW is a response to manmade influences, but the scientific evidence, to him, wasn't there. This was back in 2003; wonder if he still feels that way.
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516. catastropheadjuster
4:00 AM GMT on December 23, 2007
Hey Adrian, How ya doing? This is the first time I have been on in almost 3 weeks. Been working alot of hours lately.
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515. hurricane23
10:32 PM EST on December 22, 2007
Take care buddy if i dont here from you again have a great christmas with family. Adrian
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514. Weather456
11:31 PM AST on December 22, 2007
512. hurricane23 11:29 PM AST on December 22, 2007 Hide this comment.
Almost forgot i took some pics with Max Mayfield a few days ago at a AMS meeting i attended about a week ago i'll have those up possibly tommorow.

Looking forward.
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513. Weather456
11:29 PM AST on December 22, 2007
see u guys later...I don't know when i will be could be 2morrow or Wednesday.
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512. hurricane23
10:28 PM EST on December 22, 2007
Almost forgot i took some pics with Max Mayfield a few days ago at a AMS meeting i attended about a week ago i'll have those up possibly tommorow.
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511. Weather456
11:25 PM AST on December 22, 2007
I'm into scary movies but havnt seen that one.
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510. hurricane23
10:22 PM EST on December 22, 2007
Yea for sure will smith is one of my favorite actors.Dont know if your into scary movies but have you seen the mist by steven king?
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509. Weather456
11:20 PM AST on December 22, 2007
doing fine and giving thanks. Any movie with Will Smith has to be aight.
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508. hurricane23
10:18 PM EST on December 22, 2007
Hey 456!

Been kinda busy lately working on my weather station and some other projects around the house.Just got home from the movies with the wife i went to see iam a legend from will smith which actually turned out to be pretty good.

How you been?
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507. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
3:12 AM GMT on December 23, 2007
Mauritius Meteorological Services

Tropical Disturbance Summary 0000z 23DEC

Tropical Disturbance, Ex Dama
25.0S 89.0E - 1000 hPa

moving south at 4 knots


Tropical Disturbance, Ex Celina
20.6S 50.3E - 1004 hPa

moving slowly westward.
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506. Weather456
11:17 PM AST on December 22, 2007
hey h23.....happy holidays!
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505. jpritch
3:08 AM GMT on December 23, 2007
We had a good heat-up-the-house oven dinner here. Roasted root veggies (beets, baby turnips, potatoes, garlic, onion), and chicken breasts with olive oil, a lemon slice, a sprig of rosemary, and a bit of dijon mustard, wrapped in the beet green leaves and baked. Yum!
Member Since: June 28, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 291
504. Weather456
11:12 PM AST on December 22, 2007
2007 will go down as one of the worst hurricane seasons for the Caribbean since 2004. The Caribbean suffered more deaths in 2007 than 2005. The landfalls of Dean and Felix made a record along with the devastation brought by Noel and Olga. It just goes to show only a few storms are needed to make a season bad. My heart goes out to my fellow brothers and sisters and hope in 2008 we can have better warning and communication systems in Hispaniola and parts of Central America.
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503. hurricane23
10:13 PM EST on December 22, 2007
Good evening!

Anyone on?
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502. Weather456
11:07 PM AST on December 22, 2007
Celina...making a comeback?

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501. latitude25
10:01 PM EST on December 22, 2007
"the summer and winter European temperatures for the late 21st century are
anticipated to greatly exceed the warmth of the past century",

Right in line with what the climate models predict.
When they plug in their estimates about CO2 rising, etc
The models are programmed to make predictions based on assumptions about CO2.
Member Since: August 24, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3654
500. latitude25
9:56 PM EST on December 22, 2007
Here is their conclusion:

It's just a hypothesis only time will tell if it sticks or slides down the wall.

But their conclusion was based on making assumptions, designing a hypothesis to prove those assumptions, and then using climate models based on assumtions to qualify their hypothesis.
Member Since: August 24, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3654
499. BahaHurican
9:49 PM EST on December 22, 2007
Hmmm. While the writers of that piece clearly believe greenhouse emmissions are responsible for the rapid increase in the last 150 years, they also don't seem at all convinced that the results are particularly abnormal. If anything, they seem to be implying that the "Little Ice Age" was the interruption to the current trend rather than this warming being an abrupt departure from the norm.

And while they make suggestions about the future ("the summer and winter European temperatures for the late 21st century are
anticipated to greatly exceed the warmth of the past century", they don't seem to be suggesting what we should do about it, or even IF we should do something about it.

I still think there is a lot we don't know about that last warm period which could potentially be of use to us right now.
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498. latitude25
9:53 PM EST on December 22, 2007
Four gold stars!!

Thank you!

I won't tell you what I had for dinner, I'm embarrassed. Your's sounds a whole lot better.
Member Since: August 24, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3654
497. Weather456
10:43 PM AST on December 22, 2007

Their self absorbed attitude is really kind of inconsiderate. If you are visiting the blog using a dial-up access instead of a DSL or faster connection, the time to get the blog going can often take several minutes. Minimizing those bloggers with a penchant for 'cut and paste' to a grey bar, for example, means you can look at their 'cut and paste' prowess at your leisure.

Anyway, isn't about time a little consideration was given those of us with dial-up access.

Jeff Masters have a separate blog for dial up users.
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496. BahaHurican
9:33 PM EST on December 22, 2007
Here is their conclusion:

In agreement with previous studies, our results show a
clear increase in European temperature during the last 150
years. This is mainly caused by the warming effect of the increase
in greenhouse gas concentrations, which is only partly
compensated by the cooling effect associated with the increase
in sulphate aerosol load. Nevertheless, in contrast
to hemispheric-scale annual temperatures, there is no compelling
evidence from either empirical proxy evidence or
model simulation results that the European summer temperature
during the last 25 years of the 20th century were the
highest of the past millennium. This is largely due to the local
negative radiative forcing caused by land-cover changes.
The impact of this forcing at hemispheric scale has been underlined
in recent studies. However, because of the large deforestation
in Europe, land-use changes imply a larger negative
temperature anomaly over Europe than on a global scale
(e.g., Bertrand et al., 2003; Bauer et al., 2003; Matthews et
al., 2004; Feddema et al., 2005; Brovkin et al., 2006). The
term “Medieval Warm Period”, of limited meaning at hemispheric
scale (Jones and Mann, 2004; Bradley et al., 2003;
Goosse et al., 2005a; Osborn and Briffa, 2006), nonetheless
thus appears reasonable as applied specifically to summer
European temperatures, the region the term was originally
applied to. In winter, our results are less definitive, and firm
conclusions are not possible. Indeed, because of the large
warming during the 20th century, the simulated forced response
of the system reached a clear maximum at the end of
the second millennium. Nevertheless, the uncertainties are
still too large to argue with a reasonable confidence that the
highest winter temperatures of the past millennium were observed
during this period.
The contribution of orbital forcing has been relatively
small for the last 1000 years, leading to temperature changes
averaged over Europe smaller than 0.15C for all seasons.
For the last 6000 years, however, a reduction of northern
hemispheric summer insolation leads to a summer cooling
for Europe of more than 1.5C as documented by a transient
Holocene simulation performed with ECBILT-CLIOVECODE
(Renssen et al., 2005). The winter temperatures
are more stable in the model. Therefore, on long time-scales
as well, the summer temperatures and seasonal contrast of
European temperatures has been decreasing. This simulated
summer temperature decrease is in good agreement with previous
modelling studies (e.g., Masson et al., 1999) and with
available proxy records over the European continent which
generally exhibit a decrease of summer temperature over the
last 6000 years, except for the areas close to the Mediterranean
regions (e.g., Davies et al., 2003; Kim et al., 2004).

While this doesn't really answer the question of global warming, it does suggest that the probability of the current warming trend being at least partially a return to normal in Europe is quite high. I wish there was some way to ascertain whether a similar period in other parts of the world showed a similar warming or a contrasting cooling across the time range discussed.
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495. latitude25
9:34 PM EST on December 22, 2007
They may have a point, but so far it's hard for me to see what all they are basing it on.

Baha, the link you posted they explained what they wanted to do.
Sorta in double speak, but they did do it.
They designed a hypothesis, based on man's contribution to CO2 (an assumption) to explain something that had not been explained that way before.
Then used the same models for GW, to get the same results.

""as it preceded the modern rise in anthropogenic green-house
gas concentrations, the existence of such a past period
of warmth provides a classical counterargument against an-thropogenic
impacts on modern climate change. In this con-text,
the goal of the present study is to describe a plausible
explanation of the causes of those particular conditions that
likely occurred in Europe at the beginning of the second mil-lennium""

""While climate reconstructions are required for an estima-tion
of the level of past climate variability, they can not be
used directly to assess the physical causes of the recorded
temperature variations. For this purpose, climate model sim-ulations
that are forced by estimates of past natural and an-thropogenic
radiative perturbations may be used. Therefore,
we apply here the ECBILT-CLIO-VECODE global climate
model of intermediate complexity to identify the causes of
European climate change over the past millennium

2 Model and forcing description
The version of the model ECBILT-CLIO-VECODE used
here is identical to the one used in some recent studies""

Member Since: August 24, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3654
494. jpritch
2:35 AM GMT on December 23, 2007
lindenii, you can probably set your browser preferences to not automatically load images.
Member Since: June 28, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 291

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