Geoscientists speak on warming, harsh winter forecasts
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 12, 2012 19:11
In a lecture hosted by the Delaware Environmental Institute Thursday, Richard Alley, geosciences professor at Pennsylvania State University, discussed his research on ice cores and the population’s perception of climate change. He also discussed the possibility of severe weather throughout the coming season.
Alley views the severe winter forecast and recent storms like Hurricane Sandy as consequences of climate change. He attributes the cold weather predictions to melting glaciers.
“We have and will always have storms,” Alley says. “But because we are melting Greenland, we are adding fresh water to the North Atlantic.”
Graduate student Penny Wagner says 99 percent of polar scientists agree that climate change is occurring and says those who disapprove with the theory are often expressive of their doubts.
Wagner says she thinks it’s easier for people who disagree with climate change to communicate their views publicly.
“People who study climate change are trying to prove something that is hard to quantify while the opposition is just trying to say that our view is wrong,” Wagner says.
Alley also spoke about his frustration when policymakers and the public are not supportive of his and other scientists’ studies on climate change.
Since 1880, average global temperature has risen by 1.5 degrees F. Greenland ice loss doubled from 1996 to 2005 and the global average sea level has risen by 4 to 8 inches in the past century, NASA’s Global Climate Change program says.
This additional water has contributed to a dilution of the ocean’s salt concentration, making it more susceptible to freezing, Alley says. The oceans, like the air surrounding them, are also experiencing a rise in temperature that National Geographic estimates to be 0.18 degrees F in the last century.
Geography professor Cathy Geiger says these factors in conjunction with each other contribute to the winter storms that are predicted for the Northeast this year.
“When you have a hot summer and then it gets cold, the environment goes through a transition state,” Geiger says. “The heat and moisture of the ocean are absorbed, but this heat and moisture has to go somewhere.”
Geiger says this atmospheric moisture is heavy and eventually must fall, typically in the form of snow. According to The Weather Channel, when a mass of cold air moves over a body of warmer water like a lake, temperature instability is created. Consequently, clouds build over the lake and then release snow on nearby land in a situation known as “the lake effect.”
Geiger says in the current situation, the arctic is behaving like one of the Great Lakes.
“It makes sense that this would lead to a great deal of winter precipitation,” Geiger says.
Dramatic storms and other changes in weather patterns are an expected part of climate change, Wagner says.
“People think that global warming is just about things getting hotter but it means a lot of things,” Wagner says. “Certain things are going to change. Certain areas are going to get hotter but this has a far reaching influence, including on storms.”