Site icon Conservation news

Average temperatures climbing faster than thought in North America

Average temperatures climbing faster than thought in North America

Average temperatures climbing faster than thought in North America
Oregon State University news release
November 27, 2005

MONGABAY SUMMARY: Tree rings and borehole drill samples have added to the evidence that average temperatures in North America have risen steadily in the past 150 years according to a new study by researchers at Oregon State University and the University of Utah. In their paper published in Journal of Geophysical Research, scientists found that average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere increased about 1.5 degrees since the beginning of the industrial revolution when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations began to increase sharply.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A temperature analysis of more than 600 boreholes from throughout the Northern Hemisphere suggests that the Earth’s climate may be warming at a higher rate than tree-ring analysis and other methods had led scientists to believe.

“If we’re right, these boreholes are showing that the Earth is more sensitive to whatever is forcing the climatic change,” said Robert N. Harris, an associate professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University and a principal investigator in the study.

Results of the research by Harris and colleague David S. Chapman of the University of Utah were just published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The researchers also will present their data in December at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Borehole temperatures have been measured since the 1920s, but only recently has this temperature analysis been applied to global warming studies. Unlike most “proxy” methods to reconstruct climate models, which depend entirely on statistical analysis, borehole temperature research is based on the physics of heat diffusion.

Harris offers an analogy to describe how it works.

Average global temperatures 1850-2000

Earlier research using different methodology found a smaller increase in global temperatures over the past 150 years.

This image shows the instrumental record of global average temperatures as compiled by the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia and the Hadley Centre of the UK Meteorological Office. Data set TaveGL2v was used. The most recent documentation for this data set is Jones, P.D. and Moberg, A. (2003) “Hemispheric and large-scale surface air temperature variations: An extensive revision and an update to 2001”. Journal of Climate, 16, 206-223.

This figure was originally prepared by “Dragons flight” of Wikipedia and is licensed under the GFDL.

“On a smaller scale, it’s similar to underground pipes freezing in the spring instead of during the coldest part of winter,” he said. “It takes time for the cold winter temperatures to propagate through the ground. Similarly, if you put one end of a steel poker into a fire, and hold the other end, the heat propagates toward your hand.

“If at some later time you take a series of temperature measurements along the length of the rod, you would be able to estimate the temperature of the fire and how long the poker had been in the fire. The distance the poker had warmed is related to time, and the amount of warming is related to the temperature of the fire.”

In the ground, rocks are such poor conductors of heat that the effect of a changing surface temperature 500 years ago is felt at a depth of about 200 meters, Harris says. The scientists make careful temperature measurements in boreholes that are as deep as 500 meters. These temperatures reflect the adjacent rock and tell the researchers how temperatures have changed over long periods of time.

What the research cannot tell scientists is what the temperature may have been for a particular year, Harris said.

Global annual fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions

Global annual fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions, in million metric tons of carbon, as reported by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center.

Original data: Marland, G., T.A. Boden, and R. J. Andres. 2003. “Global, Regional, and National CO2 Emissions.” In Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn., U.S.A.]

The data is originally presented in terms of solid (e.g. coal), liquid (e.g. petroleum), gas (i.e. natural gas) fuels, and separate terms for cement production and gas flaring (i.e. natural gas last during oil and gas mining). In the plotted figure, the gas flaring (the smallest of all categories) was added to the total for natural gas. Note that the carbon dioxide releases from cement production result from the thermal decomposition of limestone into lime, and so technically are not a fossil fuel source.

This figure was originally prepared by “Dragons flight” of Wikipedia and is licensed under the GFDL.

“Heat diffusion causes the signal to get smeared out, so the deeper you look, the smaller the signal,” he pointed out. “Eventually, the signal is lost in background noise. This process also means that you only get multi-year averages.”

Harris and Chapman examined temperature data from boreholes throughout the Northern Hemisphere, which helps eliminate regional anomalies in their findings. They estimate that the Earth has warmed 1.1 degrees C. over the past 500 years – more than double the 0.4- to 0.5-degree estimates suggested by most tree-ring analysis.

In their article, they say the difference may be that tree-ring analysis primarily reflects temperatures when trees are actively growing during the warm season, but doesn’t reflect changes in winter temperatures. Much of the annual warming recorded by instruments over the past 100 years has occurred during the winter season, they add.

The boreholes used in the research were generated from a variety of sources, including mineral exploration, dry water wells and those done specifically for the temperature research. The best environment for drilling, Harris says, is where the rock is solid and impermeable, limiting advection.

A typical borehole may be six inches in diameter and 200 meters deep. Much deeper and the temperature differences become too minute to pick up, Harris said. However, that depth allows them to take measurements that go back about 500 years – or roughly the time Columbus was first approaching the New World.

“We know by comparative data that borehole analysis, as remarkable as it may seem, really works,” Harris said. “For the periods of overlap when we can compare with recorded temperature data, the correlation is excellent. Beyond that, it is simply a matter of applying the physics of heat diffusion. “And those measurements tell us the Earth is warming faster than we previously thought.”

About the OSU College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences: COAS is internationally recognized for its faculty, research and facilities, including state-of-the-art computing infrastructure to support real-time ocean/atmosphere observation and prediction. The college is a leader in the study of the Earth as an integrated system, providing scientific understanding to address complex environmental challenges.

This is a modified news release from Oregon State University that appeared on Nov. 14 as “BOREHOLE” DATA SUGGEST EARTH’S WARMING AT FASTER PACE.

Exit mobile version