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Global Climate Change Digest

A Guide to Information on Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion
Published July 1988 through June 1999



Item #d96mar98

The annual spate of press reports about the previous year's global mean temperature got off to an early start this year. On the front page of the January 4, 1996, New York Times, William K. Stevens described preliminary results from the University of East Anglia (UEA), under the headline "1995 Is Hottest Year on Record As the Global Trend Resumes." Surface air temperatures measured on land and at sea showed the global mean temperature for 1995 to be 0.7° F higher than the previous annual record, established in 1990. The figure is preliminary because data from only the first 11 months of 1995 were available at the time; UEA used climatological average temperatures for the month of December.

The article presents contrasting results from two other data sets, computed on the same preliminary basis. (See also Science News, p. 23, Jan. 13 1996.) Surface air temperature data maintained by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (for land areas only) show no significant difference between the 1990 and 1995 temperatures. And satellite observations reported by John R. Christy of the University of Alabama rank 1995 only eighth in the 17-year satellite record obtained so far, even after the December data were added. (The satellite data differ from surface measurements by providing more uniform coverage over the land and ocean, and by measuring temperature through a thick layer of the lower atmosphere, not just at the surface.)

Quoted in the January 12 issue of Science (pp. 137-138), Phil Jones of UEA warns against reading too much significance into whether any particular year is a record, because the underlying trend on the decadal time scale is the key. In the same article, Thomas Karl of the National Climatic Data Center calls the business of trying to declare record-breaking years "a dangerous game," because it leaves an opening for greenhouse contrarians to exploit the first year the world cools significantly, as it will even if there is an overall upward trend.

Prominent among greenhouse contrarians in the U.S. is the Western Fuels Association, which in a February 15 press release accuses the professional environmental community of "perpetrating scientific fraud on the American people in the continuing push of their vision of apocalyptic global warming," citing the The New York Times article as an example. To counter this, Western Fuels will begin supporting a new publication—an annual State of the Climate report, to be published each Earth Day (April 22). The association already supports World Climate Report, published biweekly and edited by Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia. The last few issues of World Climate Report have discussed the 1995 temperature issue extensively. Contact the Western Fuels Assoc. at 4301 Wilson Blvd., S. 805, Arlington VA 22203 (tel: 703 907 6160; fax: 703 907 6161).

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