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09/07/2005

Rerun of Last Week's Column

Many, perhaps most, wives will say that there’s nothing worse
than a husband with a cold. My wife is certainly of this opinion
and I’ve had a nasty cold this past week. Accordingly, I’ve
decided to take advantage of Brian Trumbore’s suggestion that I
take a week off. The following column is repeated from last
week for those who might have missed it due to the Labor Day
holiday or the distraction of the week’s distressing news from the
Gulf Coast:

I had planned to take a vacation from writing a column this
week, especially since my wife and I just returned from a four-
day trip to Pennsylvania to visit her relatives and attend her high
school reunion. However, on the way home we heard a woman
from the Union of Concerned Scientists being interviewed on the
radio on whether the unusual number of hurricanes this year was
caused by global warming. Today, we’re experiencing the hot,
steamy weather brought to New Jersey on the outer fringes of
Katrina. After watching those horrible pictures of devastation
along the Gulf Coast, I decided to write briefly on some aspects
of hurricanes and global warming.

The concerned scientist was quick to point out that we are by no
means able to ascribe the increased number of hurricanes to
global warming. That would require much more data on climate
and hurricane frequency. She did note that the intensity of
hurricanes is strongly influenced by the temperature of the water
over which they pass. Along this line, I was shocked by a
graphic shown by one of the weather experts interviewed on
CNN. The graphic color-coded the temperature distribution of
surface water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and the
Caribbean. I hadn’t realized that the surface water temperatures
in some areas are in the 90 degrees Fahrenheit range. Such high
temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico surely contributed to the
growth in Katrina’s power after passing over Florida.

Are the high water temperatures due to global warming? I can’t
answer that question. But, if the question is raised as to whether
global warming is real, the answer in the affirmative has been put
on a firmer footing with the appearance of three papers in the
August 11 issue of Science. Many measurements of various
types have been made over the past decades that indicate the
existence of global warming. However, some critics of a global
warming scenario have pointed to the fact that satellite
measurements of temperatures in the earth’s atmosphere have
shown little warming or even some cooling. This has been true
of satellite measurements of temperatures in the atmosphere over
tropical areas. Critics could rightfully claim that such
measurements cast some doubt on the existence of true global
warming. The problem essentially was that while the surface of
the earth was demonstrably warming it appeared that the
atmosphere was cooling!

One of the great features of working in the science is that,
especially if the work is of some importance, others will try to
repeat the measurements or check to make sure they trust the
data. Well, Carl Mears and Frank Wentz of Remote Sensing
Systems in California decided to take a look at the satellite data
that had been collected since 1979. These were data that showed
a cooling, not a warming trend.

Earlier researchers found that the satellites drift in their orbits.
These researchers corrected for the drift, which throws off the
timing of the measurements. However, when Mears and Wentz
examined their data they found that the satellites were in effect
reporting nighttime temperatures as daytime temperatures!
Obviously, it’s almost always cooler at night and, as the satellites
drifted, more and more nighttime temperature was thought to be
daytime temperature. This trend towards reporting night instead
of day obviously would suggest that cooling was going on.
Mears and Wentz found an error in the mathematics used to treat
the data that led to this erroneous result. Hey, readers of this
column might remember that old Bortrum admitted to a most
embarrassing math error in his Ph.D. thesis work that was not
picked up until a couple years after publication. It happens.

When the proper treatment of the drift was factored into the
treatment of the data, sure enough, the atmosphere was warming.
But there was another problem. For some four decades, weather
balloons have been used to take measurements of atmospheric
temperatures, at night and during the day. Again, there was an
anomaly. The data indicated that the nights were warming up
while the days were cooling down! Steven Sherwood of Yale
and his colleagues at took a look at temperature data from these
balloon measurements.

Sherwood and his coworkers found another error, this time
involving an improvement in design of the temperature
measuring setup in the balloons. In retrospect, the problem was
simple. If you’re in the shade on a hot sunny day, you feel
cooler than when you stand out in the sun. Well, in the balloons
of the earlier measurements, the shielding from sunlight was not
as good as the shielding from the sunlight in the later
instruments. Because of the better shielding in the more recent
measurements, the apparent effect was that the temperatures
were lower and that cooling had occurred.

When the later, improved shielding is taken into account, the
balloon data show warming has been occurring both night and
day. Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Lab in
California is lead author of the third Science paper and he and his
colleagues show that the newly corrected balloon and satellite
data are now consistent with climate models. The case for global
warming is even stronger than ever. This certainly isn’t good
news when it comes to anticipating even more powerful storms
in the future.

Meanwhile, we can only wish those unfortunate people in
Katrina’s path all the best in the monumental tasks of reclaiming
their lives.

Allen F. Bortrum



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-09/07/2005-      
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Dr. Bortrum

09/07/2005

Rerun of Last Week's Column

Many, perhaps most, wives will say that there’s nothing worse
than a husband with a cold. My wife is certainly of this opinion
and I’ve had a nasty cold this past week. Accordingly, I’ve
decided to take advantage of Brian Trumbore’s suggestion that I
take a week off. The following column is repeated from last
week for those who might have missed it due to the Labor Day
holiday or the distraction of the week’s distressing news from the
Gulf Coast:

I had planned to take a vacation from writing a column this
week, especially since my wife and I just returned from a four-
day trip to Pennsylvania to visit her relatives and attend her high
school reunion. However, on the way home we heard a woman
from the Union of Concerned Scientists being interviewed on the
radio on whether the unusual number of hurricanes this year was
caused by global warming. Today, we’re experiencing the hot,
steamy weather brought to New Jersey on the outer fringes of
Katrina. After watching those horrible pictures of devastation
along the Gulf Coast, I decided to write briefly on some aspects
of hurricanes and global warming.

The concerned scientist was quick to point out that we are by no
means able to ascribe the increased number of hurricanes to
global warming. That would require much more data on climate
and hurricane frequency. She did note that the intensity of
hurricanes is strongly influenced by the temperature of the water
over which they pass. Along this line, I was shocked by a
graphic shown by one of the weather experts interviewed on
CNN. The graphic color-coded the temperature distribution of
surface water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and the
Caribbean. I hadn’t realized that the surface water temperatures
in some areas are in the 90 degrees Fahrenheit range. Such high
temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico surely contributed to the
growth in Katrina’s power after passing over Florida.

Are the high water temperatures due to global warming? I can’t
answer that question. But, if the question is raised as to whether
global warming is real, the answer in the affirmative has been put
on a firmer footing with the appearance of three papers in the
August 11 issue of Science. Many measurements of various
types have been made over the past decades that indicate the
existence of global warming. However, some critics of a global
warming scenario have pointed to the fact that satellite
measurements of temperatures in the earth’s atmosphere have
shown little warming or even some cooling. This has been true
of satellite measurements of temperatures in the atmosphere over
tropical areas. Critics could rightfully claim that such
measurements cast some doubt on the existence of true global
warming. The problem essentially was that while the surface of
the earth was demonstrably warming it appeared that the
atmosphere was cooling!

One of the great features of working in the science is that,
especially if the work is of some importance, others will try to
repeat the measurements or check to make sure they trust the
data. Well, Carl Mears and Frank Wentz of Remote Sensing
Systems in California decided to take a look at the satellite data
that had been collected since 1979. These were data that showed
a cooling, not a warming trend.

Earlier researchers found that the satellites drift in their orbits.
These researchers corrected for the drift, which throws off the
timing of the measurements. However, when Mears and Wentz
examined their data they found that the satellites were in effect
reporting nighttime temperatures as daytime temperatures!
Obviously, it’s almost always cooler at night and, as the satellites
drifted, more and more nighttime temperature was thought to be
daytime temperature. This trend towards reporting night instead
of day obviously would suggest that cooling was going on.
Mears and Wentz found an error in the mathematics used to treat
the data that led to this erroneous result. Hey, readers of this
column might remember that old Bortrum admitted to a most
embarrassing math error in his Ph.D. thesis work that was not
picked up until a couple years after publication. It happens.

When the proper treatment of the drift was factored into the
treatment of the data, sure enough, the atmosphere was warming.
But there was another problem. For some four decades, weather
balloons have been used to take measurements of atmospheric
temperatures, at night and during the day. Again, there was an
anomaly. The data indicated that the nights were warming up
while the days were cooling down! Steven Sherwood of Yale
and his colleagues at took a look at temperature data from these
balloon measurements.

Sherwood and his coworkers found another error, this time
involving an improvement in design of the temperature
measuring setup in the balloons. In retrospect, the problem was
simple. If you’re in the shade on a hot sunny day, you feel
cooler than when you stand out in the sun. Well, in the balloons
of the earlier measurements, the shielding from sunlight was not
as good as the shielding from the sunlight in the later
instruments. Because of the better shielding in the more recent
measurements, the apparent effect was that the temperatures
were lower and that cooling had occurred.

When the later, improved shielding is taken into account, the
balloon data show warming has been occurring both night and
day. Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Lab in
California is lead author of the third Science paper and he and his
colleagues show that the newly corrected balloon and satellite
data are now consistent with climate models. The case for global
warming is even stronger than ever. This certainly isn’t good
news when it comes to anticipating even more powerful storms
in the future.

Meanwhile, we can only wish those unfortunate people in
Katrina’s path all the best in the monumental tasks of reclaiming
their lives.

Allen F. Bortrum