Thursday, 28 July 2016

A Response to 'Crisis on High' - A Rational Interpretation of the Climate Change in China Story Appearing on the ABC Lateline Program

Dear Lateline,

There are a number of significant problems with your story Crisis on High that dealt with Climate Change (Global Warming) in the mountainous "Third Pole" region on the Chinese side of the Tibetan Plateau.

The story points out that glaciers have disappeared or retreated in the last 50 years and that temperatures have increased at a greater rate than the rest of China.

In regard to the first point, according to Global Temperature records, the 1960s (50 years previously) was a time of Global Cooling. From the 1940s to the late 70s there was a 30 year period of cooling. If one measured the glacial ice extent at a cooling maximum and compared it to a warmer period you would expect a huge difference.

Furthermore, in the interests of making a fair assessment of this 50 year glacial ice loss, we must consider the 1930s which were the hottest years for the Northern Hemisphere during the 20th Century (if we use US temperature records as a guide). The fact is we do not have data from the Chinese covering this hot period for the Tibetan Plateau region.

Compared to the 1930s, how much more ice has been lost ?

I suspect that the particle contamination (dust and soot) cited in the story, has contributed to a further loss of ice than experienced in the 1930s. The darkened glaciers are now absorbing more heat and melting faster then they otherwise would. The Chinese estimated that 50% of the ice loss was due to this particle contamination.

So what would the glaciers look like today if not for the contamination? How would they compare to the 1930s? Would the melting be of a similar extent? We don't actually know.

This second point raised in the story dealt with the fact that the temperatures in the mountains have increased at a faster rate than elsewhere in China. So why should the temperatures in the mountains be increasing at a faster rate than the rest of the country?

The answer is very simple - it is also due to the particle (dust and soot) pollution that, as stated previously, has contributed to an estimated 50% of the ice loss. Rather than having clean, sun-reflecting ice the glaciers are now slightly darked and therefore absorb more heat from the sun.

Many of the glaciers have disappeared or retraced to leave open, heat-absorbing ground. The lack of ice would necessarily mean an increase in temperatures.

In other areas of China, where there is no ice, the temperatures should increase pretty much uniformly, except of course due to urbanisation causing 'Heat Island Effects.'

The loss of water or ice is important. Consider the Lake District in the UK. In the Northern Hemisphere this latitude is quite habitable (around 50 degrees North). However, on the same latitude in the Southern Hemisphere, in Argentina, the environment is much cooler and inhospitable. The difference is due to the fact that the southern region of our planet has a lot more water, that tends to keep temperatures lower, whilst the northern portion of our planet has a lot of land mass then tends to increase temperatures.

The loss of ice in the Tibetan Plateau has caused a rise in temperature out of proportion to the rest of China.

The fact that soot and dust has caused at least half the ice loss and contributed to the temperature increase begs the question as to how great an impact CO2 increase is having by itself. And because both the Arctic Sea Ice and the Greenland Ice sheet are in a period of growth, one would assume that the CO2 increase is not having as significant effect as claimed by many experts (since real world observations trump hypotheticals). The experts repeatedly predicted that there would be no summer Ice in the Arctic at this time (by 2016) and yet it is now growing compared to recent years.

Admittedly the Earth has heated over the last few decades, and over the last century since the end of the Little Ice Age. The question raised here is the extent of our influence on natural climate cycles and how we must contend with missing data or false assumptions while considering other explanations for what is happening outside of a solely anthropogenic global warming model.

[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, July 28th, 2016.]

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