A report in November from a group of students of the Arctic, "Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) 2004," projects that warming of the Arctic will lead to disastrous results for indigenous people and animals.
Unfortunately, the report and its press release are internally inconsistent and based on false assumptions and previously identified inaccurate research.
The report argues:
- Winter temperatures in part of the Arctic have risen over the last 50 years.
- Temperature rise is the result of human fossil fuel consumption (see figure 1) -- a view challenged by Khilyuk and Chilingar, and myself.
- The temperature rise will accelerate over the next decades.
- If their scenario is correct, that the inevitable result will be melting of the Greenland ice sheet and flooding of the world's low-lying coasts.
The conclusions are based on the assumptions that:
- The 2000 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was correct.
- All of the temperature data around the Arctic are of similar quality.
- The computer models used to make temperature projections accurately simulate the processes at work and correctly project those 100 years into the future.
As the basis for the ACIA warming scenario, the validity of the IPCC report is fundamental to the analysis performed by the ACIA. The IPCC report, which assigned global climate change to human emissions from fossil fuel use and agriculture, is presently being challenged by results from an array of studies on the influence of variables such as solar irradiance. Not least of these is a fundamental and critical reanalysis of the work by Mann et al (1999), which provided the basis for the interpretation of recent accelerated heating.
This piece of research flew against recorded human history (Lamb 1995) and was questioned by reviewers of the IPCC draft -- but not only was it included by the IPCC, it became the centerpiece for concluding that there was discernible human influence on climate.
Recent literature has discredited that report and thus, the IPCC conclusion (Esper et al 2002; Soon et al, 2003; McIntyre and McKitrick, 2004).
Temperature data varies in quality around the Arctic.
While data of Canada and the United States may be of good quality and internally consistent, there is question about the data quality of the former Soviet Union. The closing of weather stations there and the degradation of data consistency -- and possibly quality -- raises concerns about the surface station database used to determine recent temperature changes.
Temperature data compiled for the Mys Smidta station on Russia's east Arctic coast illustrates the nature of data reported and used for some Arctic locations in the last decade. In addition, although the ACIA report concludes that there is general warming, the report illustrates for the central and eastern Canadian Arctic, Greenland and the adjacent seas (Sub-Region IV) that temperatures have cooled by 2 degrees Celsius over the last 50 years.
This suggests that the temperature variability does not reflect a global or polar trend, but rather can be related to data issues and redistribution of heat.
Adverse impact projections for these areas that data indicate cooling are based solely on computer models that predict warming of 4-7 degrees Celsius.
All of the ACIA projections are based on forward computer models, and therefore the accuracy and reliability of these models are crucial to conclusions drawn from their projections.
Global Circulation Models have not yet been successful in back modeling of recorded climate history through the Little Ice Age and into the Medieval Climate Optimum (to about A.D. 900). This inability to model pre-industrial revolution climate change probably is a result of not recognizing that solar and orbital variability, not human emissions, drive climate change (for instance, see Bond et al, 2001; and Zahn, 2002; also Fischer et al, 1999).
Models empirically fit to parameters in which greenhouse gases are the primary drivers of climate change and will not be successful in modeling past climates.
In an effort to counter this argument, Mann et al (1999) claimed that there was no global medieval warm period prior to the Little Ice Age -- a claim now discredited by both restudy of their database and by new studies (Esper et al 2002; Soon et al, 2003; McIntyre and McKitrick, 2004).
The ACIA report presents a projection of impacts that would result if temperature increases occur as projected by the modeled warming trend they adopted from the IPCC. The understanding of potential impacts provides some utility for planning possible response to global warming.
However, the computer models for predicting temperature increase, the amount of temperature increase and the cause for temperature increase are beyond the scope of the impact assessment and data and are still very much involved in scientific examination, testing and debate.
Arctic and Northern Hemisphere civilization has arisen in the last 10,000 years in response to natural global warming. Trying to project where further warming will change conditions provides utility but would be more useful if it more thoroughly examined impacts presented by a range of temperature change conditions -- including cooling, moderate warming and even extreme warming.
For example, the study did not address the impacts of continued cooling in the Canadian Arctic sub-region if the cooling trends exhibited over the last 50 years continue.
Until the proposition that human activities and emissions control global climate is proven, and it is quantitatively demonstrated how human activity changes will affect climate (and concomitantly how those activity changes will affect humans and the globe), the assignment of cause and the prediction of the effects of mitigation efforts is questionable and may have to bear responsibility for misdirecting resources needed to deal with warming or cooling over which we have no control. It is clear that the climate changes.
It is wise for us to evaluate how possible climate changes may affect the environment and our lives. It is potentially irresponsible to assign blame and advise specific action before we have understanding.
If governments are convinced that humans can prevent climate change simply by reducing energy use, then no effective mitigation will result. People will suffer, both in the Arctic and elsewhere, and we will have sacrificed proper planning and mitigation to the altar of humanocentric theology.