Is a Sweltering Summer Proof of Global Warming?

Is a Sweltering Summer Proof of Global Warming?

Susan Cosier
Published: 09/03/2010
It’s hot. So hot that sweat beads on your forehead the minute you leave air-conditioned confines. So hot that ice cream melts down the sides of your cone faster than you can eat it. In fact, many of those in the East have sweated their way through June, July, and August, and this summer has been the hottest on record in New York City and Washington, D.C., according to the National Weather Service. Despite the heat, scientists say that tying the short-term hot spells to long-term climate change is an exasperating challenge.
 
“In most places, weather can change from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Climate, however, is the average of weather over time and space,” NASA writes about the difference between weather and climate. Just because this summer has been particularly hot—okay, really hot—doesn’t mean that it’s possible to attribute that weather to a warming climate.
 
Yet the five hottest years ever recorded since record keeping began in 1880 happened in the last decade, NASA reports, indicating that the earth is heating up.
 
“The long-term trend of warming is unmistakable, and at least one figure from last month can be said to add to the mounting evidence that climate change is firmly upon us,” an AFP article states. “June was the 304th consecutive month with a global surface temperature above the 20th-century average, the NOAA reported. The most recent month to dip below that average was February 1985, more than a quarter century ago.”
 
Those floods in Pakistan, the heat wave (and fires) in Russia, and that small island, er, iceberg that calved off of Greenland maybe just be indicators of our changing climate, but still scientists are reluctant to definitively say that the events can be attributed to global warming.
 
“If you ask me as a person, do I think the Russian heat wave has to do with climate change, the answer is yes,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climate researcher with NASA in New York, in a New York Times story. “If you ask me as a scientist whether I have proved it, the answer is no — at least not yet.”
 
Extreme weather and melting poles are things that scientists with the IPCC observed and connect with a warming planet, stating that it’s very likely that humans contributed the greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which are responsible for those consequences.
 
“The climate is changing,” said Jay Lawrimore, chief of climate analysis at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., in the Times article. “Extreme events are occurring with greater frequency, and in many cases with greater intensity.” And the heat? It’s “consistent with our understanding of how the climate responds to increasing greenhouse gases,” Lawrimore said.
 
On the Pew Center on Global Climate Change’s blog, Jay Gulledge, senior scientist and director of the science and impacts program there also offers some interesting comments when writing about extreme weather events in recent years.
 
“As every dutiful scientist does, I stopped short of blaming those individual weather events on global warming, but I am also careful to point out that it is scientifically unsound to claim that the confluence of extreme weather events in recent years is not associated with global warming,” he says.
 
A few hot months of sultry days and nights could be evidence of a larger trend, so we may just have to get used to the heat, extreme weather, and melting glaciers. Maybe an ice cream would help.

 

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