Econintersect: Richard Muller published an article in Technology Review (October 15, 2004) which has been a poster child paper for global warming skeptics. In that paper Muller criticized the so-called “hockey stick” graphic which showed dramatic increases in global temperatures over the past century. Muller declared the interpretation to be an artifact of poor mathematics.
The Koch brothers have been identified by Climate Science Watch as leading funders of climate change skeptics and research aimed at disproving global warming and, specifically contributions to climate change from their industrial activities.The Charles Koch Charitable Foundation and Muller have participated in a comprehensive research project that has concluded that global warming is real. The project, headed by Muller, is called the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study and has conducted a rigorous examination of more than five times as many unique measuring stations as any previous study or data base. The project was conducted by a group of pre-eminent scientists that are leaders in the field of mathematical physics and statistical science. Only one of the project’s ten lead scientists is a climatologist, Judith Curry of Georgia Tech. In addition to the Koch foundation, the research was supported by Director, Office of Science, of the U.S. Department of Energy, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation and Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation. A number of small private donations have also been received, totaling 2.3% of total project costs.
Four research papers have been written and made public for review prior to completing a peer-review process for formal publication. The project web site also summarizes the objectives of the project:
The most important indicator of global warming, by far, is the land and sea surface temperature record. This has been criticized in several ways, including the choice of stations and the methods for correcting systematic errors. The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study sets out to to do a new analysis of the surface temperature record in a rigorous manner that addresses this criticism. We are using over 39,000 unique stations, which is more than five times the 7,280 stations found in the Global Historical Climatology Network Monthly data set (GHCN-M) that has served as the focus of many climate studies.
Our aim is to resolve current criticism of the former temperature analyses, and to prepare an open record that will allow rapid response to further criticism or suggestions. Our results include not only our best estimate for the global temperature change, but estimates of the uncertainties in the record.
The following graph is from the Berkeley reports:
Temperature progression has not been uniform over the last century. As seen above, there have been significant short-term temperature fluctuations, which are seen across all measurement systems examined. Most interestingly, from 2000 to 2010 a temperature plateau has occurred. In spite of blogosphere claims that the last decade disproved global warming because it had been reversed (an incorrect claim), the decade still saw rising temperatures at a slower rate than before and new global temperature records were set.
While there is less and less disagreement over the temperature record data, what is causing the temperature trends observed over the last century is not agreed upon. Many are focused on carbon containing gases that have been increasing in concentration from combustion and release from sequestered sources. But there are other occurrences that can impact temperature, including such things as the thickness of ozone layers and the amount of water vapor and other chemicals (such as sulfate aerosols from coal burning) in the atmosphere. In fact, water is the most abundant of the greenhouse gases. From The Christian Science Monitor:
Water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. By some estimates, it accounts for anywhere from 36 percent to 85 percent of the atmosphere’s greenhouse effect, depending on whether clouds are included.
Among factors besides greenhouse gases and ozone layers, solar sun spot activity affects weather. Sun spots have been in decline in recent years. In June, GEI News posted an article that reported research indicating a rare long-term cycle event known as “The Maunder Minimum” for sunspot activities might be possible in the near future. The last such occurrence was from 1645 to 1715 and corresponded to a climate period known as “The Little Ice Age”. A more recent period of low sunspot activity occurred from 1820-1825 which also corresponded to an unusually cold interlude, although not as severe as the Maunder Minimum.
Finally, anecdotal observations influence what individuals think about global warming. Last winter the number of people surveyed who thought that global warming was real went down in the eastern U.S. during a bad stretch of winter weather, while, at the same time, the number of people in Australia who said they believed in global warming went up. Australia was in the grip of a heat wave and severe drought at the time.
Sources: Technology Review, Climate Science Watch, Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature, World Meteorological Organization, The Christian Science Monitor (Warming Plateau), NASA Science News and GEI News (Mini Ice Age)