Posted by: David Carlson | December 11, 2008

Climate and climate change

December 10 marks the beginning of a seasonal pattern. When I first moved to Little Marais in 2001, I analized the daily frequency of snowfall in Northeast Minnesota, and found that every day from December 10 to January 17 there is a 30 percent chance for one or more inches of snow. My analysis covered data records for 10 years from several reporting stations available online from the State Climatology Office. I’m sure that office has more complete statistics than what I used, but my results prove to be useful. This year’s pattern started about a week early.

I provide daily observations to that statewide database. There are over 1300 such observers. There is a grid of sensors collecting detailed hourly temperatures throughout this northeast region. The Department of Transportation has its own sensors monitoring precipitation, including snowfall.

I have no doubt that rapid climate change is real. None of my following comments supports delay or second guessing of the urgent need to go green.

Climate data collection and analysis has improved dramatically in the past 10 years. Some of the weaknesses in the data remain the same, but do not change the results or conclusions. For example, I have three weather stations within 200 feet of each other, and there can be as much as a fifteen degree temperature difference between them due to Lake Superior lake effect. The difference is even more extreme as you move one or more miles inland. I make a judgment about representative data whenever I send a report.
Inland automated weather stations do not make judgments. The official National Weather Service data for nearby Silver Bay is from an airport located three miles inland, essentially in a protected mountain valley. Likewise, the Two Harbors readings are from an inland airport. Grand Marais has two automated stations. The one at the harbor reports similar conditions to mine in the winter, but the surface temperature of the lake often is warmer here from July through September, and it makes a difference. The airport at Grand Marais is several miles inland and over 1000 feet elevation above the lake. This hour the lakeside station is 8 degrees warmer than the airport. On an extremely cold day, the difference can be greater than 30 degrees.
What data should we use to conclude that the average global temperature has changed by one degree?

The State Climatology Office has methods to resolve the extremes and the differences. Satellite sensors provide detailed accurate information. There is little doubt about what’s happening in climate now. Other means are required to analize conditions over the past 16,000 years, which is the period you need to cover in my region.

I mentioned in my blog entry on Economics that the Sun is the Major Force influencing our climate. I don’t think that gets enough press. There are plenty of climatologists who contribute on solar activity and the Earth’s responses. Another subject I haven’t seen in the press, but probably has coverage if I did a search, is the potential massive release of methane gas from melting arctic tundra. What and when does that add to the greenhouse? What about the unusual warming of the deep ocean floor of the Pacific? Was that short-term or current? It’s my armchair guess that these forces are major contributors to rapid climate change, more rapid than burning rain forests and spewing industry in China, India, and the U.S.

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