Last week a post here noted the falling appetite in mass media for fundamental, and disturbing, news on the science of climate change and global warming. It referred to the low pickup of news of the kind that ten or five years ago would, my gut tells me, have gotten a lot more attention. One reason for less coverage is that recurring news becomes old news, and that's no news. Another may be the media are discouraged and cowed by vociferous ridicule and contempt from usually conservative, contrarian politicians, bloggers, and columnists. It's hard to sort out which is dominant, but my guess is the latter.
Another example is on the wires, barely, today. Yesterday in Nature Geosciences arrived a report, from a five-person team led by a University of Michigan man, that the positive reinforcement of rising temperature in the Arctic appears to be dramatically larger than is assumed in most of the big global circulation models. Those are the things that climatologists use to estimate the future course of things, and are often derided as just guesses (by people out for the grant money, some say). Maybe so, but these guesses' error bars go both ways - low as well as high. The reason for the paper's conclusion appears to be underestimation of the impact of shrinking snow and ice cover above the Arctic circle.
The story is not easy to report in a deeply explanatory way. The paper is full of references to the change in solar forcing in terms of watts per square meter with big uncertainties, and plots of various models and ways of measuring the world's actual performance. It also breaks on a Sunday so, even with an advance press release, it would easily have evaded notice of many journalists and their editors. Again, why it has so little coverage could arise from a melange of factors aside from global warming attention saturation and bludgeoning from special interest groups. But coverage sure is scant.
- Los Angeles Times (blog) Margot Roosevelt: The melting Artic: a bigger-than-estimated impact on climate ;
- Reuters - Alister Doyle: Thaw of Earth's ice sunshade may stoke warming ;
- Ann Arbor.com - Heather Lockwood: University of Michigan study indicates Earth's shrinking snow and ice cover exacerbate global warming more than models predict ; Looks like a light rewrite of the press release.
The plot up right is from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. The big freeze-up of the Arctic Ocean is underway, but note that for this time of year it is the lowest it's ever been measured to be. (That plot goes to Jan. 2. An updated plot of this year, through yesterday, shows we're still at a record low for the date). When the sun comes up again up there, it may have a record head start on clearing the ice for next summers' tanker traffic.
By the way, this paper on an albedo slump in the far Arctic offers a dramatic contrast to a hypothesis, mentioned in this earlier post, that recent frigid weather in Europe and the US Atlantic Seaboard is due to MORE snow in high latitudes but distinctly sub-Arctic parts of Siberia and places like that. One would love to hear the authors of these two analyses explain how they contradict or complement one another.
- Charlie Petit
Grist for the Mill: U. Michigan Press Release ;