I would almost count it unethical that the New Scientist has a thing that looks like a blog post (an article you can comment on) that has some science in it, but that you have to be a paid subscriber to comment on. WTF New Scientist? What are you trying to pull?
But that’s OK, I’ve got a blog and can comment here.
Link between global warming and drought questioned
14 November 2012 by Fred Pearce
THE world has been suffering more droughts in recent decades, and climate change will bring many more, according to received wisdom.
“Received Wisdom” means stuff we were told, passed down to us from authority or tradition, that we accept generally unquestioned and that becomes part of our belief system even if the science or other data does not support it. Pearce either thinks that the global warming-drought link was made up and passed on (by whom? I don’t know) as opposed to being the result of consideration and research by involved and knowledgeable scientists, or he does not know what “Received Wisdom” means. Either way, this should be clarified.
Now it is being challenged by an analysis that questions a key index on which it is based.
Predictions of megadroughts affecting Africa and the western side of North America may be wrong. We could even be headed for wetter times, says Justin Sheffield of Princeton University.
What you are seeing here is a misdirection used by many climate change science denialists, having to do with the time frame of global warming. Droughts affecting Africa are predicted? Sorry, guy, but they’ve happened already and are in progress now. The link between global warming and drought has to do with the regional water cycle, and the idea that if things warm up you get more evaporation in some regions and higher concentration of rainfall, so drought and floods ensue. If you look at the temperature-specific effects of global warming by region, you’ll see that certain areas of Africa and souther hemisphere land masses show more warmth earlier, and they also show more drought earlier. The idea that the effects of global warming are something of the future is a standard denialist lie, and I’m thinking Fred Pearce doesn’t know that. Droughts in Africa, the circum Mediterranean region, and Australia are old news, and the link to global warming is highly likely.
The problem with the PDSI, says Sheffield, is that it does not directly measure drought. Instead, it looks at the difference between precipitation and evaporation. But since evaporation rates are hard to determine, it uses temperature as a proxy, on the assumption that evaporation rises as it gets hotter.
Mostly, that is a reasonable assumption, holding ambient moisture in the air constant, because of physics and stuff.
Sheffield points out that temperature is only one factor influencing evaporation. He inferred evaporation rates using the Penman-Monteith equation, which includes factors such as wind speed and humidity, and found “little change in global drought over the past 60 years” (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature11575). His new calculations back up his own previous analysis that the most significant of recent droughts mostly occurred in the 1950s and 60s, before global warming got going.
If global warming increases evaporation and changes the water cycle to cause drought, then why have we ruled out droughts in the 50s and 60s as irrelevant? There is a general pattern. Climate on a round planet with a sun (like this one) will tend to be driven by equatorial factors, and similarly, the effects of global warming have probably worked their way out from the equator. Ruling out drought in the 50s and 60s, one hundred years after the start of wholesale burning of coal, is rather absurd. Some effects of Global Warming have become very strong in recent decades, especially in the Arctic, but others have been more slow and steady during the entire time of industrial burning of mainly coal. Sea level rise should give a good indicator of whether or not Global Warming is a thing that only counts from 1970, as the article implies. Let’s have a look at that:
I chose that graph because it is one used by global warming denialists to deny that global warming is real by pointing out that an alleged change that would come with global warming happened before their imagined start of climate change (recently). But no, this is a phenomenon that has been going on for a while.
So, no, major events that have fundamentally changed the distribution of bioms in the 1950s and 60s near the Equator can not be disassociated from this process.
It may well be that the PDSI is not the best measurement for drought, but the arguments made here by the New “Scientist” reek of global warming denialist illogic. I look forward to a spirited discussion among actual drought experts over the coming days. If there is something interesting, I’ll report back.
Meanwhile, New Scientist, you should let people comment on the stuff you put out freely. Paid-to-comment in a world where no one else does that produces the appearance of bias. I would think you would not want to do that.