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Climate study, funded in part by conservative group, confirms global warming

The latest global warming results confirm those from earlier, independent studies by scientists at NASA and elsewhere that came under fire from skeptics in an episode known as 'climategate.'

By Staff writer / October 21, 2011

Ice chunks float in the Arctic Ocean as the sun sets near Barrow, Alaska. The Arctic is a thermostat against overheating and a barometer of change, but now its own protective ozone layer that keeps out damaging ultraviolet radiation has thinned to record levels, the U.N. weather agency has said.

Beth Ipsen/AP

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A new climate study shows that since the mid-1950s, global average temperatures over land have risen by 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.6 degrees Fahrenheit), confirming previous studies that have found a climate that has been warming – in fits and starts – since around 1900.

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Most climate scientists attribute warming since the mid-1950, at least to some degree, to carbon dioxide emissions from human activities – burning coal, oil, and to a lesser extent gas, and from land-use changes.

The latest results mirror those from earlier, independent studies by scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research in Britain, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

These previous efforts, however, came under fire from some climate-change skeptics who said they had detected serious flaws in the analytical methods and temperature records the three groups used.

The new research, which has yet to be formally published but which appears in four papers posted on BerkeleyEarth.org, uses new analytical techniques and a much larger set of records than the previous studies did.

Indeed, the new approach to analyzing temperatures records allowed the team to make use of partial and older records previous studies had rejected as unusable, explains Richard Muller, a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who coordinated the effort.

In the end, the team's result shows that the earlier studies "were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate-change skeptics did not seriously affect" the conclusions these studies reached, said Dr. Muller, who some climate activists have labeled a global-warming skeptic.

The approach embodied in the main work "is very valuable, but may also need some refinement," says Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo.

Besides confirming the temperature trend, the Berkeley group says it was able to rule out the urban heat-island effect as a significant contributor to global warming.

And it was able to show that even with a large number of critical US recording stations operating inaccurately, those stations still showed long-term trends that were consistent with more reliable stations.

In essence, any given measuring station may be off compared with surrounding stations. But if it's off by a consistent amount, long-term trends will still show up.

The study also highlighted the regional differences in temperature trends that can lead people to say: What global warming?

Over the past 70 years, the team found that about one-third of the measuring stations in its global sample indicated cooling trends. Two-thirds showed warming trends, with warm regions more than offsetting cool regions in developing a global average.

Money for the new study, dubbed the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, came from five foundations, including one established by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and another from the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, widely seen as a source of money for conservative organizations and initiatives that have fought efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

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