Archive for March 2012
A team of researchers led by J. Lelieveld has published a study in the latest issue of the journal Climatic Change that compares Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections of the late twenty-first century climate in the Near East and Eastern Europe with 500-year records of its climatic past. By comparing these different datasets the study concludes that a gradual warming of 3.5-7 degrees Celsius is probable in the century between 1961-1990 and 2070-2099. Lelieveld and his fellow scholars acknowledge that the region is diverse, but with extreme climatic events already common the influence of a warmer climate will likely be especially severe. Daytime maximum temperatures will probably increase most rapidly in the northern periphery of the region, with hot summers that were extreme in the historical record becoming the norm by the conclusion of the twenty-first century. The study describes how precipitation in most seasons will likely decrease in southern Europe, while it may increase in the Arabian Gulf. Lelieveld and the other co-authors conclude that the climatic changes anticipated in the coming century will exacerbate heat stress, particularly in urban areas, while increasing shortages of fresh water in the Levant. Ultimately the article reveals with particular clarity how the consideration of climates undertaken by historical climatologists relates to a better understanding of a warmer future.
As published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, a team of scientists led by Colin Morice has updated HadCRUT, one of the three major global temperature records used by climatologists. Compiled by the Hadley Centre of the UK Meteorological Office and the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, HadCRUT dates back to 1850 and relies on direct observation. Although the previous version was plagued by a lack of Arctic sources, the new record fills that gap by using observations from over observation stations across the rapidly warming Arctic. Meanwhile, the more accurate electronic sensors ships now use to detect sea surface temperature revealed a systematic anomaly in the way data was collected in the past. Differences in buckets used aboard ships and variations in the locations where data was collected have were corrected as scientists recalculated the older data. However, while HadCRUT is now more accurate and more comprehensive than ever before, the bottom line remains unchanged. As described on BBC News, the new version agrees with the old in recording a warming of 0.75C (1.4F) since 1900.
Richard Primack, a biologist at Boston University, has used the journals of Henry David Thoreau and another naturalist to reconstruct the flowering dates of common plant species in mid to late nineteenth century Massachusetts. Primack compared these records to today’s flowering patterns in an article published in the February 2012 issue of the journal BioScience, arguing that 43 species now flower an average of 7 days earlier than they did in Thoreau’s time. Thoreau wrote just after the conclusion of the Little Ice Age; since then temperatures have risen by 2.4 degrees Celsius in urban areas like metropolitan Boston, which includes Thoreau’s Concord. While some species are capable of changing their flowering times in response to the shifting climate, their less flexible counterparts are vanishing from Massachusetts. In fact, Thoreau described some 21 different species of orchid, and just 6 remain today. ”What that result tells us is climate change is not only affecting flowering time but also affecting the abundance of species in Concord,” Primack concluded. “Warming temperature is causing some species to be winners and some species to be losers.” Primack’s study has received significant media attention, part of an ongoing surge in the profile of work related to historical climatology. One of the most fascinating aspects of that media attention: the reference to volunteers tracking seasonal events for the USA National Phenological Network, whose efforts may corroborate some Primack’s claims regarding early flowering times in today’s Massachusetts. Crunching numbers is often an important part of both scientific and historical research; outsourcing that work to eager volunteers on the internet offers some very exciting possibilities for future study.
“In 1969, an icebreaking tanker, the SS Manhattan, was commissioned by Humble Oil to transit the Northwest Passage in order to test the logistical and economic feasibility of an all-marine transportation system for Alaska North Slope crude oil. Proposed as an alternative to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the Manhattan made two voyages to the North American Arctic and collected volumes of scientific data on ice conditions and the behavior of ships in ice. The Manhattan ultimately demonstrated the impracticality of moving crude oil using icebreaking ships.
Breaking Ice for Arctic Oil details this historic voyage, establishing its significant impact on the future of marine traffic and resource development in the Arctic and setting the stage for the current oil crisis.”
Ross Coen works at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He has published numerous articles on Alaska and arctic history in the Northern Review, Alaska Magazine, Alaska History, and other publications.
The American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) will host its annual conference in Madison, Wisconsin this year, March 28-31. For the second year in a row, the conference will include a breakfast meeting for climate history, on Saturday, March 31, 7:15AM. In addition there will be several papers on climate and history and panels including “Northward Course of Empires: Cold Climate and Other Limits,”Nature by Numbers: Natural Hazard Insurance in Historical Perspective,” and “Hunger:The Challenges of Historical Famines,” as well as a workshop on indigenous media and climate change.
A new article by Richard Black of BBC News examines the development of the discipline of historical climatology “in the last couple of decades” by exploring the attempts of a team under Fernando Dominguez-Castro to reconstruct the weather of ancient Baghdad (here). The article describes some of the methodologies used by historical climatologists, and mentions sources from ship logbooks to parish ledgers of grape harvests. In recent years journalists from outlets like BBC news or The Guardian have devoted considerable attention to studies relevant to historical climatology, and it is encouraging to see that the workings of the discipline and the kind of work undertaken by its scholars have begun to find a voice in the mainstream media.