That’s the title of a recent leading article in the UK’s Independent, which observes:

“…the inconvenient truth is that, whatever errors or over-statements individuals may make in this debate, the overwhelming body of climate science still shows that man-made climate change is real. Our report today, of solid and robust research measuring changes in temperature in our planet’s great oceans and seas, demonstrates that.”

The report referred to concerns new authoritative findings regarding ocean warming from global research led by the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Independent’s science editor, Steve Connor, writes in his companion article:

“The world’s oceans are warming up and the rise is both significant and real, according to one of the most comprehensive studies into marine temperature data gathered over the past two decades. Measuring the temperature of the oceans has not been easy, but the scientists behind the latest study believe there is now incontrovertible evidence to show that the top few hundred metres of the sea are warming – and that this temperature rise is consistent with man-made climate change.”

“Rising ocean temperatures are important because the sea is a huge “sink” for global heat and carbon dioxide – its capacity to store heat is about 1,000 times greater than the atmosphere. Warmer water is less able to absorb the extra carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels, and as seawater warms it also expands, causing a rise in sea levels. The temperature measurements were gathered using devices originally developed by the military to estimate the speed of underwater sonar signals.”

Meanwhile, America’s most prestigious science body, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), has just released its most comprehensive study yet undertaken on climate change. From its media release:

“Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for — and in many cases is already affecting — a broad range of human and natural systems,” the report concludes.  It calls for a new era of climate change science where an emphasis is placed on “fundamental, use-inspired” research, which not only improves understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change but also is useful to decision makers at the local, regional, national, and international levels acting to limit and adapt to climate change.”

The NAS panels concluded that ocean levels could rise by as much as 5 feet by the end of the century, compared with the IPCC estimate of a foot and a half increase. And, consequently, in an observation about adaptation that’s especially pertinent to New Zealand, NAS recommends:

“Although much of the response to climate change will occur at local and regional levels, a national adaptation strategy is needed to facilitate cooperation and collaboration across all lines of government and between government and other key parties, including the private sector, community organizations, and nongovernmental organizations.  As part of this strategy, the federal government should provide technical and scientific resources that are lacking at the local or regional scale, incentives for local and state authorities to begin adaptation planning, guidance across jurisdictions, and support of scientific research to expand knowledge of impacts and adaptation.”

“Adapting to climate change will be an ongoing, iterative process, the report says, and will involve decision makers at every scale of government and all parts of society.  A first step is to identify vulnerabilities to climate change impacts and begin to examine adaptation options that will improve resilience.  To build the scientific knowledge base and provide a basis for increasingly effective action in the future, adaptation efforts should be monitored and analyzed to judge successes, problems, and unintended consequences.  The report also calls for research to develop new adaptation options and a better understanding of vulnerabilities and impacts on smaller spatial scales.”

Two voices of concern that should resonate strongly in ocean-bound New Zealand!

Tom Belford

P.S. Here are links to the full set of NAS reports, as well as the webcast and video announcing the findings.

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6 Comments

  1. When it comes to ‘Causation’

    Steve Conner states: “this temperature rise is consistent with man-made climate change.”

    NAS report states “is caused largely by human activities,”
    and wins the prize for verbiage but of course will need lots of funding to “build the scientific knowledge base and provide a basis for increasingly effective action in the future, adaptation efforts should be monitored and analyzed to judge successes, problems, and unintended consequences – is it not that the current scientific knowledge already provides the basis for the skeptics and alarmists?

    Both very scientific terms – consistent with – and caused largely by.

    Lets not ignore the Kyoto, Copenhagen and Mexican bun fights that we are already paying for in one form or another ands adds little effect other than adding to ‘Mans footprint’ and providing a great overseas junket for a few.

    Few alarmists would not accept that changes are taking place but the argument “Is man causing it?” remains.

  2. As a reporter I think you would be well aware of the potential and real difficulties associated with using qualitative summaries of data and the unequivocal need always to go to source … unfortunately in this situation a modicum of statistical knowledge and ability to critically assay the source research are required.

    My understanding is that the greater temperature increases (relative to other sources) cited by NOAA are 'due to the fact that they are willing to extrapolate 1200 km across the Arctic into regions where they may have no data,' and that this has been acknowledged by them.

    'Inconveniently persistent truth' – I think it has a tad more to do with, 'if you say it first, say it often enough and say it last,' folk will end up believing that somewhere therein lies a 'persistent truth,' be it that it does or does not becomes irrelevant.

  3. Seriously, how does anyone conclude that climate change is "caused largely by human activities" when we know massive, catastrophic climate change has gone on for billions of years before humans appeared on the scene? The only thing the climate ever does is change.

    The only question is the degree to which we're affecting it.

    It's tempting to view nature as being far too immense for us to have any real effect, but Earth is a chaotic system with vast and terrible feedback loops which may not take much to unbalance. For the same reason, there may be no way to fix, reduce or stop any damage we have actually done.

    With all the money flying around this issue, there's good reason to be as suspicious of the "climate change is all our fault" crowd as the "it's not happening at all" crowd.

  4. why is money always used as a determinator of whether something is justified? fact is, change is happening, and it takes money to do the research to find out what where when and by whom – why is this seen as a negative? surely you sceptical gentlemen would really like to know … or are you already so convinced otherwise you’re happy to die ignorant?

    (though convinced by what or whom i cannot fathom…..)

  5. Bruce – of course money is a determinator – it is taxpayers money that has been funding the research over the last 15 or so years and in spite of what Al Gore professes the Science is not settled. None of the research shows a provable linkage between Manmade CO2 and the Earths temperature variations.

    So i may die unconvinced but certainly not ignorant and will continue to push for a better spend for my taxpayer dollars.

    Logic convinces me that Kyoto was a totally inefficient way to use a dollar to bring about 40 cents of good in 100 years time, and if you can post a major benefit in dollar value, of the Copenhagen talk fest, i would be surprised.

  6. there we go again. i'd really like to know what would be a "better spend" than saving the planet. and i don't "just" mean re climate change; there's loss of biodiversity, desertification/soil depletion, over-fishing, water shortages, many of course driven by over-population… are these the "better spends" you mean? somehow, i doubt it.

    money is an artificial construct of no intrinsic value. the health of the Earth is a primary reality of all-important worth. there is no sane rationale for attempting to judge one against the other.

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