Sunday, July 30, 2006

Antarctica is still cold

The debate on climate change is rife with humbug. Scientists are often caught in the middle. Here are examples of fallacies based on the work of associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Peter Doran. He tries to set the record straight with this article - Cold, Hard Facts:

In January 2002, a research paper about Antarctic temperatures, of which I was the lead author, appeared in the journal Nature. At the time, the Antarctic Peninsula was warming, and many people assumed that meant the climate on the entire continent was heating up, as the Arctic was. But the Antarctic Peninsula represents only about 15 percent of the continent’s land mass…

My research colleagues and I found that from 1996 to 2000, one small, ice-free area of the Antarctic mainland had actually cooled. Our report also analyzed temperatures for the mainland in such a way as to remove the influence of the peninsula warming and found that, from 1966 to 2000, more of the continent had cooled than had warmed. Our summary statement pointed out how the cooling trend posed challenges to models of Antarctic climate and ecosystem change.

Newspaper and television reports focused on this part of the paper. And many news and opinion writers linked our study with another bit of polar research published that month, in Science, showing that part of Antarctica’s ice sheet had been thickening — and erroneously concluded that the earth was not warming at all. “Scientific findings run counter to theory of global warming,” said a headline on an editorial in The San Diego Union-Tribune. One conservative commentator wrote, “It’s ironic that two studies suggesting that a new Ice Age may be under way may end the global warming debate.”

The fallacy he points out here is a False Attribution. Doran and his colleagues concluded that: "…the cooling trend posed challenges to models of Antarctic climate and ecosystem change." Not that global warming was "disproved". He continues to explain what they thought their results meant, and that their thinking was ignored. That is, global warming "skeptics" Stacked the Deck:

Our study did find that 58 percent of Antarctica cooled from 1966 to 2000. But during that period, the rest of the continent was warming. And climate models created since our paper was published have suggested a link between the lack of significant warming in Antarctica and the ozone hole over that continent. These models, conspicuously missing from the warming-skeptic literature, suggest that as the ozone hole heals — thanks to worldwide bans on ozone-destroying chemicals — all of Antarctica is likely to warm with the rest of the planet…

And yet more deck stacking:

Also missing from the skeptics’ arguments is the debate over our conclusions. Another group of researchers who took a different approach found no clear cooling trend in Antarctica. We still stand by our results for the period we analyzed, but unbiased reporting would acknowledge differences of scientific opinion.

A good point. Though opinionators often use the difference in scientific opinion to attack the whole field - creating an Exaggerated Conflict. Science proceeds by testing ideas and moving forward. Within any field there will be conflicting studies and anomalous results. A few studies that don't fit entirely well within the theory do not conclusively refute that theory. We have to look at the entire evidence in the field to make a judgment. Moreover, a multi-variable science such as climatology is dealing with a super-complex system that will throw up localised trends that go against the overall trend. The Earth itself does this - it is organised and seemingly "disproves" the second law of thermodynamics. But the Earth is a tiny bit of order (decreasing entropy) in a major bit of disorder (increasing entropy). Ie. a small part of a much larger system which is going against the overall trend.

Doran's final words:

In the meantime, I would like to remove my name from the list of scientists who dispute global warming. I know my coauthors would as well.

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