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Wednesday 15 June 2011

Del Boy And The Not Very New Ice Age

[Update at end of post]

Over at the bear pit of Maily Telegraph blogland, James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole has received good news – or, more concisely, news of the kind he wants to hear. There is a new ice age around the corner, and he can be certain on this occasion because top American scientists say so.

Sad to say, Del Boy should know better than to restrict his sources to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a denialist lobby group that is reluctant to reveal its funding, and Anthony Watts’ blog, both of which have selectively interpreted a press conference at the Southwest Research Institute.

What scientists from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) have shown is that solar activity may be, as they have put it, “going on hiatus”. This means that there are likely to be less sunspots in the near future. So why is the denial lobby so excited over it?

Well, there has been mention of the “Maunder Minimum”, a period between 1645 and 1715 where there was very little sunspot activity, and this was also a period of more severe winters. So the denialists have duly added two and two, and obtained a result rather larger than four.

What they haven’t done is to reproduce graphs such as the one above, which shows sunspot area during each eleven year solar rotation. As can be seen, the greatest activity of recent times occurred just before 1960, and that peak hasn’t returned since, although temperatures have risen.

And what the GWPF (which has reproduced an article from The Register, yet another source that tends to require double checking beforehand) and Watts have not published sheds a little more light on the temperature debate: statements like “It has not been proven whether there is a causal connection between low sunspot activity and cold winters”, for example.

In fact, the scientists’ conclusions are non-committal, as in this paragraph: “Hill said that some researchers say that the Sun’s activity can also play a role in climate change, but in his opinion, the evidence is not clear-cut. Altrock commented he doesn’t want to stick his neck out about how the Sun’s declining activity could affect Earth’s climate, and Penn added that Cycle 25 may provide a good opportunity to find out if the activity on the Sun contributes to climate change on Earth”.

But, for the denialists, that some scientists said something might happen that once coincided with a period of cold winters is enough for them to declare victory. Life’s simple when all you do is to sit on the sidelines and heckle.

[UPDATE: Not all those in Telegraph blogland are of one mind on this issue, as the generally sound Tom Chivers has demonstrated today. He's a brave man: I fully expect Delingpole's disciples to be on his case in short order]

1 comment:

Rob said...

It's also telling that Delingpole, Watts et al insist that our knowledge of & ability to model the Earth's climate is not good enough to predict future warming or attribute current warming to CO2. But at the same time our knowledge of & ability to model the Earth's climate *is* good enough to predict future cooling based on a (partial report of a) prediction of activity in the Sun's interior.

It just seems a little inconsistent.