Climate Science Watch Weekly Update, August 16


A brief update on research findings and events we’re keeping track of this week.

Post by Alexa Jay and Rebeka Ryvola

Climate change in the news

Over the weekend, a front-page story in the New York Times discussed the connection between the recent spate of extreme weather events worldwide and global warming.  The Times referenced this summer’s heat waves in the eastern United States, parts of Africa and eastern Asia, and in particular Russia, where massive forest fires have burned through large areas of the country.  Intense flooding in Pakistan has killed more than a thousand people and displaced millions, and the U.N. reports that a shortage of aid funds is leaving some six million people at risk from potentially lethal waterborne diseases.
Photo credit: Akhtar Soomro/REUTERS

In a warming world, events of this magnitude may become commonplace, with serious implications for human security worldwide.

“Theory suggests that a world warming up because of [greenhouse] gases will feature heavier rainstorms in summer, bigger snowstorms in winter, more intense droughts in at least some places and more record-breaking heat waves. Scientists and government reports say the statistical evidence shows that much of this is starting to happen,” the Times said.

Climate and weather observation

World Meteorological Organization

A recent World Meteorological Organization (WMO) statement similarly weighed recent weather extremes against IPCC predictions for a warming climate.

Despite the long time scale required to gauge whether individual extreme events can be attributed to climate change, recent “severe weather-related events”—including the Pakistan floods, Russian fires, and calving of the Greenland glacier, among many others—are consistent with IPCC projections of increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, the statement said.

About whether this recent cluster of extreme weather could be attributed to natural variance, the WMO statemenmt says: “Climate extremes have always existed, but all the events cited above compare with, or exceed in intensity, duration or geographical extent, the previous largest historical events.”  Further, these events have led to an “unprecedented loss in human life and property.”


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the combined global land and ocean surface temperature average for July was the second warmest on record, and the global average land surface temperature for July and January-July average was the warmest on record.


Last week, NASA released data showing that average surface temperature in July 2010 in the Northern Hemisphere broke the previous record for July set in 2005.  Nick Sundt at WWF has more details.

Climate Denier Arguments

An interesting August 16 cross-post on Climate Progress from Skeptical Science app creator John Cook investigates the causes of the mid 20th century cooling period. The scientific papers featured by Cook show how it’s possible that global temperature decreased in the 1950s while CO2 emissions continued to increase.

Global dimming and brightening, phenomena caused by “various factors can affect how much sunlight gets through to the Earth’s surface, with the amount of aerosols in the atmosphere being the main contributor”. The findings in the papers presented here dispute the often-used argument that the mid-century increases in CO2 are not matched by simultaneous increases in temperature.

The above GISS figure illustrates how the presence of aerosols from pollutants in the atmosphere contributed to cooling as CO2 continued to accumulate in the atmosphere “while we were sleeping.” Once those pollutants were regulated and the aerosols diminished, the effects of increased atmospheric CO2 became apparent.

See here for John Cook’s full Climate Progress post.

Upcoming Events

America’s Climate Choices: Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change Webinar
August 17, 1-2 PM EDT
Dr. Diana Liverman will present the findings in Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change, the newest report in the America’s Climate Choices suite of studies, which focuses on climate change information needs, information systems, and communications.  Dr. Liverman is Co-director, Institute of the Environment, University of Arizona and Senior Research Fellow, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University.
RSVP for the webinar here.

You can also RSVP for a webinar next week on the findings of another America’s Climate Choices report:

Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change
August 23, 2-3 PM EDT
Dr. Thomas Wilbanks of Oak Ridge National Laboratory will present the main findings of Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change.  He will be joined by Dr. Gary Yohe, a professor at Wesleyan University, and Dr. Claudia Mengelt, Study Director, National Research Council.

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