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Rants, Raves, Interesting Science & Awful Puns
June 22, 2003

More Globes Warming

Looking For Everything But The Obvious

Mike Sissons calls attention to the November, 2002, issue of Liberty magazine, in which scientists from Lowell University, MIT, the University of Paris, and NASA JPL report three bodies in the Solar System other than Earth -- Mars, Triton, and Pluto -- as exhibiting measurable warming in recent years. The January, 2002, issue of Science News describes the rate of erosion of the northern polar ice cap of Mars as "phenomenal." Imagine the panic if this had been observed on Earth. (Jim Locker says to add Neptune also: see Sky and Telescope, Neptune's Forecast: A Cloudy Summer, by J. Kelly Beatty - August 2003 issue, page 22)

The simplest explanation that applies to all would be an increase in the Sun's output. The June 18, 2003, issue of Physics News Update (No. 642) reports a study by researchers at Duke University and the Army Research Office that finds evidence linking solar flare activity with changes in the Earth's temperature. Despite giving them plenty of time to think about it, there hasn't been a word -- as far as I'm aware -- about the possibility of such a connection from the Global Warming lobby.

The warming that Earth seems to have been experiencing for about the last 300 years represents a recovery from the "Little Ice Age" of the 17th century and is part of a long natural cycle that goes back to include the "climatic optimum" of around 1100 AD, when Greenland was green and colonized by the Danes, and an even warmer period around 4,500 years ago. An interesting aspect is that these periods of warming appear to have preceded increases in carbon dioxide, suggesting that rising temperature triggers the release of carbon from such reservoirs as Arctic permafrost. The roughly one degree rise of the last century happened before 1940, whereas the CO2 increase came later, raising the legitimate question of whether human activity had anything to do with it at all. So, the "connection" that the environmentalists claim is indeed real. But as usual, they get it the wrong way around.

Although the clearest correlation with these variations is solar activity, the seemingly obvious conclusion was resisted by the scientific establishment until the early 1990s because the idea that the Sun could vary went against prevailing theory. The astronomer William Herschel suspected it as early as 1801. In the absence of any means of direct measurement at the time, he suggested using the price of wheat as an indicator of sunspot activity. He was laughed at, of course. But the records in retrospect show him to have been absolutely right.

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