Erik Larson

Jan 24, 2009

Antarctica conundrum... solved at last?

Apparently, the Antarctica conundrum has been solved . Antarctica is now believed to be uniformly warming, according to Eric J. Steig at the University of Washington. The new evidence comes from interpolating the measurements of relatively isolated weather stations using satellite data. Some of those stations had been recording cooling temperatures, leading to the hypothesis that Antarctica was cooling in some regions, and warming in others.

I’m skeptical of “interpolation” techniques that run counter to the conclusions drawn from review of actual physical readings, but I won’t be so bold as to declare this latest twist in the ongoing Global Warming discussion suspect. How would I know? We’ll have to let the experts evaluate the findings over time, and communicate to us the validity and significance of this latest piece of the puzzle.

What I will offer, in the meantime, is a “meta” observation about how discussions about Global Warming typically go, this latest about Antarctica a prime example: if there is evidence of cooling somewhere (especially at the poles, which are in general more sensitive to the factors thought to lead to climate change), GW proponents are quick to invoke language about complexity, pointing out that we should expect local cooling even when the mean temperature of the Earth is increasing. When such evidence is debunked, however, or at least called into question, the GW crowd breathes a collective sigh of relief, and points to the latest warming as clear evidence for the global warming theory. In other words, when some Region A is believed to be cooling, it’s argued that this is consistent with Global Warming. And when the science then suggests that Region A is in fact warming, the new finding then fixes the prior problem with Region A appearing to cool. But I thought it wasn’t a problem? Such strategies justifiably encourage a healthy scepticism from the discerning public, who might begin to wonder what evidence would ever be counted against the theory by its proponents.

Steig’s results were published Thursday in the journal Nature.