A funny thing happened in 1998. In that year, one measure of global temperatures reached an historical peak (but only since good record keeping has been in place). The doom and gloom global warming alarmist pointed to the decade of the 1990s as evidence that we were all going to suffer dire consequences if we continued belching carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These climate experts became the darlings of the media and research dollars started filling their coffers. “See, I told you so!” was their banner. But wait. Things took a turn. The climate started doing something very strange. It started cooling. For the next decade things weren’t going according to plan for the alarmists. We earthlings continued pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a record-breaking pace but the earth was cooling. Newspaper headlines all over the word were reporting record low temperatures. Record setting winter storms and frigid temperatures were crippling Europe, Asia and North America. China was especially hard hit. In January of 2008 it even snowed in Baghdad–no one in living memory could ever remember such an event.
This was becoming very troubling to the global warming alarmist. News outlets all over the world were seeking out the “experts” to explain what was going on. Their scripted response was that everyone should just calm down and stop confusing the weather with the climate. The plummeting temperatures were a temporary blip. They assured us that the earth was still warming but as the years went by and temperatures remained below expectations it became increasing more difficult to convince a growing number of people that we were all going to eventually fry.
The real climate scientists were not alarmed like their brethren in the global warming camp. They were well-versed in a climate phenomenon known as multi decade oscillations (MDOs). They knew that historically, mid-oceanic water temperatures in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans oscillate in 20-30 year patterns of warm and then cold sequences. The data for these oscillations goes back hundreds of years. They also knew that these MDOs along with the even more important sun were real drivers of climate change and not the miniscule concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Quietly, and under the radar, scientific papers were being published about the latest MDO data. In 2008, the draft of a wonderfully written paper by Don J Easterbrook of the Department of Geology at Western Washington University was brought to my attention (1). I call it wonderful because it is one of those rare scientific papers in which someone only moderately schooled in the language of science could easily grasp its message. The paper, Global Cooling is Here, very clearly documents the association between oscillations in ocean currents and climate fluctuations. Here is the conclusion to his paper:
Global warming (i.e., the warming since 1977) is over. The minute increase of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere (0.008%) was not the cause of the warming–it was a continuation of natural cycles that occurred over the past 500 years.
The PDO cool mode has replaced the warm mode in the Pacific Ocean, virtually assuring us of about 30 years of global cooling, perhaps much deeper than the global cooling from about 1945 to 1977. Just how much cooler the global climate will be during the cool cycle is uncertain. Recent solar changes suggest that it could be fairly severe, perhaps more like the 1880 to 1915 cool cycle than the more moderate 1945-1977 cool cycle. A more drastic cooling, similar to that during the Dalton and Maunder minimums, could plunge the Earth into another Little Ice Age, but only time will tell if that is likely.
The unfortunate aspect to Easterbrook’s paper is that it was published by the Centre for Research on Globalization which has some outlandish political leanings. I always hesitate referring such papers because instead of commenting on the content, critics use the association with a political group as an easy way to dismiss the science. But then there is Dr. Mojib Latif.
Professor Mojib Latif is a leading member of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He is not just one of the names loosely attached to the organization; he is a major player and one of the lead authors of IPCC assessment reports. In a scientific paper (2) Dr. Latif outlines the science behind these MDOs and their effect on the climate. In public interviews and in a warning given at an IPCC conference in Geneva Dr. Latif admitted that the world has gone into a cold mode that will likely offset the IPCC’s predictions of continued warming. Dr. Latif expects 20 to30 years of temporary cooling due to these ocean current oscillations and that is why temperatures across many parts of the globe have been so gosh darn cold. “Winters like this one (2008-09), “ said Dr. Latif, “will become much more likely. All this may last two decades or longer. The extreme retreats we have seen in glaciers and sea ice will come to a halt. For the time being, global warming has paused.“ What’s more, Dr. Latif says that much of the warming–as much as 50%– that occurred from 1980 to 2000 (< 0.1 C) and during earlier years was due to these natural cycles. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Dr. Latif has reversed his position on global warming. Others have erroneously reported so. He is still in the global warming camp but this admission has significance for me on a couple of levels. First, if we are in for a 20 to 30 year period of cooling following which things will start to heat up again that means that in about 50 years we will be right back to where we are today! So why the panic? Secondly, and more importantly, if you look at the predictions made by the IPCC back in 1997 the graph shows no such dip in global temperatures over this time period. It doesn’t even show a plateau. Instead it shows a steady, escalating increase in global temperatures. So the IPCC does have egg on its face, despite their cries of the unknowing, ignorant masses and deniers (us) confusing weather with climate.
Are we really in for a period of global cooling? Some interesting work by Anastasios Tsonis, head of the University of Wisconsin Atmospheric Sciences Group demonstrates that the world’s MDOs move together in synchronized ways across the globe, shifting the climate from a warm mode to a cold mode and back again in 20 to 30-year cycles (3). Unless you are a real climate geek don’t try to read this paper. However, in an interview with the British, Daily Mail, Dr. Tsonis said:
They (MDOs) amount to massive rearrangements in the dominant patterns of the weather and their shifts explain all the major changes in world temperatures during the 20th and 21st centuries. We have such a change now and can therefore expect 20 or 30 years of cooler temperatures. The period from 1915 to 1940 saw a strong warm mode, reflected in rising temperatures. But from 1940 until the late Seventies, the last MDO cold-mode era, the world cooled, despite the fact that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere continued to rise.
Dr. Tsonis said that toward the end of the last cold mode, the world’s media were preoccupied by fears of freezing. A Time Magazine cover story even predicted the coming of a new ice age. Ironically, the magazine article claimed that the coming ice age may have an anthropogenic cause, saying: “Man may be somewhat responsible–as a result of farming and fuel burning which is blocking more and more sunlight from reaching and heating the Earth.” In fairness to Dr. Tsonis it should be pointed out that he does not deny that global warming is occurring. He just doesn’t know how much is due to human activity and the greenhouse effect. He does not fall into the camp of the alarmist though. That is clear. He goes on to say:
I do not believe in catastrophe theories. Man-made warming is balanced by the natural cycles, and I do not trust the computer models which state that if CO2 reaches a particular level then temperatures and sea levels will rise by a given amount. These models cannot be trusted to predict the weather for a week, yet they are running them to give readings for 100 years.
At a 2008 International Conference on Climate Change in New York, Dr. William M. Gray, professor emeritus from Colorado State University told the audience that a natural cycle of ocean water temperatures was responsible for some global warming that has taken place. However, he said that that those same cycles mean that a period of cooling would begin within 10 years. “We should begin to see cooling coming on,” Gray said. “I’m willing to make a big financial bet on it. In 10 years, I expect the globe to be somewhat cooler than it is now, because this ocean effect will dominate over the human-induced CO2 effect and I believe the solar effect and the land-use effect. I think this is likely bigger.” “I may not be around by that time,” Gray continued (he was 79 at the time), “but I’ve asked some of my students to put dandelions on my grave if that happens.”
I take a more aggressive stance than either Dr. Tsonis or Dr. Gray. I think they overestimate the effect of human induced CO2 in the atmosphere. I believe it to be immeasurably small. But that will be the subject of another essay.
You might be wondering why I am bringing up this (relatively) old news. I mean we are talking about events from a year or two ago. Well, I am glad you are wondering. For the past couple of years many of us have had some fun pointing out the cold spells gripping many parts of the world. Personally, I took particular delight reporting how iguanas were falling out of the trees in Florida because the winter was so cold there last year. I took even more delight reporting how President Obama, after attending the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December had a hard time returning to Washington, D.C. because it was in the middle of its worst blizzard in decades. I knew what I was reporting was weather and not climate but still it was fun. The reason I engaged in this was because during the warm 1990s the global warming alarmist used every report of a warm spell or seasonal drought (weather) as evidence for global warming. Well, true to form, and just as I predicted, they are back. It looks like 2010 may turn out to be a warmer than usual year by some tiny amount and already the alarmist are claiming the past summer heat waves in New England and Russia are signs of global warming. Of course, they make no mention of the record low temperatures simultaneously being reported for the West Coast of the US, much of Australia, and most of South America.
- F. Alvarez-Garcia, M. Latif, and A. Biastoch (2008): On multidecadal and quasi-decadal North Atlantic variability. J. Climate, 21, 3433-3452.
- Anastasios A. Tsonis, Kyle Swanson, and Sergey Kravtsov (2007): A new dynamical mechanism for major climate shifts. Geophysical Research Letters, 34, L13705.