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Streak of Warm Months Cited in Debate

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Streak of Warm Months Cited in Debate

Item #d98aug35

Vice President Al Gore and several scientists presented a press conference in mid-July [reported by R. Monastersky in Science News (4) 52-53 (July 25, 1998) and available at] to announce that the global average surface temperature for June was the highest for that month since 1880 when records started being kept. In fact, they pointed out, each month this year has posted global temperature records. The purpose of the conference was to urge Congress to adopt policies to curb emissions of greenhouse gases in accordance with the treaty adopted last December in Kyoto, Japan. Deliberations of the treaty are currently stalled in committee in the Senate.

Tom Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center, noted that El Niño helped warm the Earth during the past year but that conditions in the tropical west Pacific Ocean cooled off significantly in June and are currently in a La Niña, which is cooling the surface of the Pacific Ocean and the air above it. Karl was quoted as saying, “There’s absolutely no question. Clearly, we have very compelling evidence to suggest that global temperatures are indeed warming.”

In addition to setting temperature records, the months of April, May, and June were the driest on record for Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Texas. Karl said that “these conditions provide a taste of what will happen more frequently as the climate warms.” According to computer models, events that would be expected to occur every thousand years in a stable climate would occur every three years in a greenhouse climate. Moreover, more frequent weather extremes, such as droughts and heavy rainfall, not only can be expected but are already occurring, according to analyses of historical weather records.

Other climatologists, like George H. Taylor, the state climatologist of Oregon, dispute some of the numbers. “I think many of the temperature records are questionable,” says Taylor. “The quality of data in many foreign countries is rather poor, and data are sparse in many areas of the world.” Others criticize the Kyoto Protocol because, they say, the treaty allows developing nations to continue to emit greenhouse gases without some of the restrictions placed on industrialized nations and because it might slow the U.S. economy.

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