We all know the scientific paradigm for investigation. Collect data, devise a hypothesis that explains it, test it against further observations or experiment, revise the hypothesis as needed. Rinse and repeat. Here’s a perfect example.
Claire Parkinson, now a senior climate change scientist at NASA, first began studying global warming’s impact on Arctic sea ice in 1978, when she was a promising new researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Back then, what she and a colleague found was not only groundbreaking, it pretty accurately predicted what is happening now in the Arctic, as sea ice levels break record low after record low.
In the following year, 1979, the first of a series of satellites which monitor the polar icepacks was launched. You will recall their data is frequently published here on these pages.
The Arctic’s ice influences important systems, like ocean currents and the jet stream. As it disappears, the impacts worldwide could spread less like a ripple and more like a tidal wave.
The link between climate change and the dwindling Arctic ice pack is well established now, particularly after years of precipitous declines. January 2017 had the lowest levels of sea ice on historical record, and according to NASA, the ice is receding at a rate of 13.8 percent every decade. But in the 1970s, when Parkinson began her work, it was a novel concept. There was a growing understanding in scientific circles that the burning of fossil fuels was causing an increase in atmospheric CO2 in part thanks to the Keeling Curve, which was published in 1958. But average global temperatures had actually declined from the 1940s to the 1970s, as other forms of pollution counteracted the greenhouse effect.
Scientists were coming to the same conclusion that Parkinson and Kellogg did, including Exxon’s own in-house scientists.
NASA scientist James Hansen issued a stark warning to Congress in 1988. But it wasn’t until 1999 that the concept of manmade global warming’s impact on ice started to gain traction, Parkinson said.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist that reference to Dr Hansen. I know how our resident denialists feel about him. In fact, I first heard about him right here on the Zone!
That year, two studies were released that finally permeated the mainstream consciousness. The first, published by Parkinson and others at NASA, drew from roughly 20 years of satellite data and showed that the Arctic’s ice was decreasing by an average of 2.8 percent each decade, and as much as 10.5 percent in some areas. (It’s significantly higher now.) A few months later, another study was published by the University of Washington based on submarine observations that showed that the ice wasn’t just shrinking—it was also becoming thinner.
Even though that’s essentially what Parkinson and Kellogg had predicted in 1979, these two studies were based on observation, rather than a model, and came during an era of increased awareness of climate change. With their publication, suddenly the world recognized the threat that warming posed to the ice pack.
Well, maybe “the world” recognized the threat, but there are those who toil tirelessly to deny and obstruct our knowledge of it, and discredit those who try to warn us, to even impugn their motives and integrity. This obstruction and slander is disguised as genuine scientific conservatism and skepticism, but we all know better now. It has been put in place and promoted (at great expense) in order to further a political and economic agenda, and for no other reason.
You know who you are. And so do we.