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Climate Change May Be Less Severe Than Predicted

July 31, 2011

A University of Alabama climatologist is claiming that temperature-monitoring satellites have revealed “a huge discrepancy” between global warming predictions and the actual levels of heat contained within the atmosphere.

Dr. Roy Spencer, identified by AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein as “a prominent climate skeptic,” claims that NASA satellite readings between 2000 and 2011 show, in the words of Daily Mail reporter Tamara Cohen, “far smaller temperature rises than six climate models which are used by international governments and corporations to predict changes to our climate in the future.”

According to Cohen, Spencer believes that the Earth releases far more heat into space than experts had previously thought, meaning that carbon dioxide emissions do not, in actuality, trap as much heat as many scientists have asserted.

“The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show,” he said, according to the Daily Mail. “There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans.”

Critics responded quickly and scathingly to Spencer’s claims. Cohen reports that many believe “his research is over too short a period to draw conclusions and ignores other factors,” while Borenstein adds that “several mainstream climate scientists call the study’s conclusions off-base and overstated.”

“Climate change skeptics, most of whom are not scientists, are touting the study, saying it blasts gaping holes in global warming theory and shows that future warming will be less than feared,” the AP reporter adds, noting that the journal which published the paper, Remote Sensing, typically focuses on “the nuts-and-bolts of satellite data and not interpreting the climate.”

But, he says, “at least 10 climate scientists reached by The Associated Press found technical or theoretical faults with Spencer’s study or its conclusions. They criticized the short time period he studied and his failure to consider the effects of the ocean and other factors.”

Richard Somerville, a scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, told Borenstein that the paper was “very bad” and “demonstrably wrong.”

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Kerry Emanuel defended Spencer’s findings, stating that the work was cautious and focused on finding problems associated with forecasting heat feedback, and that those criticizing the Alabama scientist’s report  are misinterpreting his findings.

Those findings, the AP reports, are the result of a cause-and-effect analysis of clouds and warming. According to Spencer, over the past decade, he believed that variations in cloud cover were a cause, not an effect, of warming temperatures, resulting in mainstream climate models not squaring up with his findings.

In his study, Spencer used a simplified model that did not factor in oceanic heat or El Nino, Borenstein says, and concluded that the role of clouds in heating was “an unresolved problem.”

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Dr. David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation said that Spencer’s study was “interesting” and that it “correctly states that the computer models of climate have many flaws and have been unable to explain how the earth has warmed up in recent decades,” but he added “only time will tell if its analysis–that the earth radiates more heat out into space than we thought–stands up.”

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