December 6, 2008

Global Warming Remains a Threat Despite Cool 2008

Average global temperatures for 2008 should come close to 14.3C, the coolest since 2000 and 0.14C below the average temperature for 2001-07, according to preliminary estimates due for release next week by the Met Office.  

However, climate scientists say that doesn't mean that global warming is on the decline.

"Absolutely not," said Dr Peter Stott of the Met Office's Hadley Centre.

"If we are going to understand climate change we need to look at long-term trends," he said during an interview with Britain's The Guardian.

Oxford University Professor Myles Allen, who runs the Web site climateprediction.net, worries that climate change skeptics might read too much into the figures.

"You can bet your life there will be a lot of fuss about what a cold year it is. Actually no, its not been that cold a year, but the human memory is not very long, we are used to warm years," he told The Guardian.

"Even in the 80s [this year] would have felt like a warm year."

And compared with two hundred years ago, 2008 would be considered a scorcher.

 "For [Charles] Dickens this would have been an extremely warm year," Prof Allen said, adding that without human-induced warming there would have been only a one percent annual chance of ever seeing average temperatures this warm.

Alternatively,  in the current climate there is a roughly ten percent chance of having a year this cool.

At the beginning of the year, the Met Office had forecast an annual global average temperature of 14.37C for 2008, cooler than recent years because of a La Niña event. La Niña is a phenomenon characterized by colder than normal ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, the mirror image of the El Niño cycle.  

Allen presented the data on this year's global average temperature yesterday at the Appleton Space Conference at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.  The 14.3C figure is based on data from January to October, while the Met Office's formal announcement next week will include data from November.

"[The figure] will differ from it, but it won't differ massively," the Guardian quoted Scott as saying.

"We would expect the number to go up rather than down because the early parts of the year were still under the La Niña conditions." If the final figure is near 14.3C, it would make 2008 the tenth hottest year on record. The hottest was 1998, due to a very strong El Niño,  followed by 2005, 2003 and 2002.

The Met Office figures were obtained with help from a variety of measurements from satellites, ground weather stations and buoys. The data was then jointly compiled by the Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit.

In March, climate scientists from Kiel University forecasted that natural variation would conceal the 0.3C warming predicted by the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change over the next ten years. They said that global temperatures would remain constant until 2015, after which they would begin to rise again at an accelerating rate.


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