Thu, Jul 24, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Global warming exhibits patchiness


Residents cross a flooded rice field after Typhoon Imbudo hit San Jose town in Nueva Ecija province, northern Philippines yesterday. Jon Ove Hagen, professor of glaciology at Oslo University, said most glacial melting is causing climatic change.


With the world sweltering through one of the hottest years on record, some icy bastions have been getting frostier in defiance of global warming.

The rare cool spots, also from Canada to China, cause headaches for policy makers seeking to impose expensive measures to curb emissions from cars and factories blamed for blanketing the globe and driving up temperatures.

"We are disrupting the entire climate system," said Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the UN's main panel on climate change. "It's not as though there is going to be a uniform warming of the entire planet."

He said that signs of global warming are overwhelming, from a heat wave in India this year with temperatures up to 49?C that killed 1,500 people, to prolonged drought in Australia.

"There are also many of these [cooling anomalies]. But merely to cite one as evidence that there is no warming is not rational," he said of lingering skepticism to the broad consensus that human pollution is warming the planet.

And experts say that apparent anomalies, such as the growth of glaciers in Norway in the 1990s, can often be explained by a wider picture of global warming because of increased snowfall.

"When the oceans get warmer, you get more evaporation so you create more clouds. Then you can have more precipitation and in some areas it can be in the form of snow," said Josefino Comiso, a senior scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre.

He said that his research, for instance, indicated that snow was getting deeper over higher parts of Greenland. Ice and snow in some regions of Antarctica was also getting thicker. "Some climate models suggest these effects," he said.

In other areas, global warming seems to be catching up with some of the icy exceptions.

The Briksdal glacier in west Norway, for instance, has receded about 130m since a peak in 2000 when it was splintering birch trees on ground that had been free of ice for decades.

"It's shrunk a lot, though in the middle of the 17th century is was 1.5km longer than now," said Frode Briksdal, a glacier guide whose family has long lived in the area.

Climate experts say that recent hotter summers are melting the ice despite more snowfall in winter that is adding to the overall mass of the glaciers.

The UN's World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says that 1998 was the hottest year since records began in 1860, followed by last year and the previous. It says the rise in global average surface temperatures since 1900 exceeds 0.6?C.

So far this year, temperatures have also been high in many regions. The WMO says that average surface temperatures in May were the second highest on record.

But some question the view of Pachauri's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that human activity is driving global warming. Many sceptics point out experts were predicting a new Ice Age in the 1970s after a long cold spell.

"There is an idea among the public that the `science is settled,'" said James Schlesinger, a Republican and former US Energy Secretary. "We are in danger of prematurely embracing certitudes."

Schlesinger said in a recent speech that the IPCC focused too narrowly on factors like human emissions of gases such as carbon dioxide, volcanoes and an 11-year sunspot cycle.

Jon Ove Hagen, professor of glaciology at Oslo University, said most glaciers from Alaska to the Himalayas were melting.

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