There’s a plum tree just outside the window of the kitchen. Every year it blooms for about two weeks, the bright pink blossoms filling the tree, adding a nice bit of color to our back yard. When we first moved here eight years ago, the plum tree budded in early February, and I remember thinking to myself that this seemed a little early compared to where I grew up in Mississippi. For the next several years the plum tree budded in January. This winter, however, the plum tree began sprouting buds in the third week of December.
A couple of days ago my teenage son and I were talking about nature, and he told me how ‘boring’ the Mississippi Delta was when compared to Puget Sound. I told him that each kind of land has its own language of sorts, and reminded him of the sounds of the doves, the cicadas, and the crickets in the Delta. I didn’t want to bore him, so I didn’t continue the description I had in mind which included watching the dark thunderclouds rumbling through on a hot summer afternoon, the near-constant brisk breeze of March that announces the welcome arrival of spring weather, the swarms of dragonflies hovering, swooping, crazily swerving to catch the hated mosquitoes that have always plagued the Delta since the days before it was drained, when it was just one vast swamp.
Yes, every distinct region of land has its own language (and old sailors will say the same of the seas around the world)…and as with the languages of humankind, the languages of the land are changing.
Last month Dallas got blanketed with snow…and then a great snowstorm covered almost entire northern European continent. There was an incredible satellite picture of the entire British Isles covered in the stuff. The conservative pundits and climate-change deniers made a great to-do about the wintry blast — after all, if ‘global warming’ was true, how could there be record-breaking cold weather?
Not really — it’s not that simple. Read this summary of research published by the National Academy of Sciences back in 2007:
There is some speculation that global warming could, via a shutdown or slowdown of the thermohaline circulation, trigger localized cooling in the North Atlantic and lead to cooling, or lesser warming, in that region. This would affect in particular areas like Scandinavia and Britain that are warmed by the North Atlantic drift. The chances of this near-term collapse of the circulation are unclear; there is some evidence for the short-term stability of the Gulf Stream and possible weakening of the North Atlantic drift. However, the degree of weakening, and whether it will be sufficient to shut down the circulation, is under debate. As yet, no cooling has been found in northern Europe or nearby seas.
Do you see the bolded sentences? The scientists knew what could happen and said so… and pay particular attention to the last sentence, because it looks like that cooling has been found. So is this proof of global warming?
Not really. As I said above, it’s not that simple. Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, it’s something called the Arctic Oscillation, described thusly:
In more scientific terms, the Arctic Oscillation refers to shifts in atmospheric pressure over the Arctic and the middle latitudes of the earth. In its positive phase, atmospheric pressure decreases over the Arctic and increases over the mid-latitudes. In the Arctic Oscillation's negative phase, it's just the reverse. Pressures are relatively high over the Arctic and relatively low over the mid-latitudes. In December, the Arctic Oscillation went into extreme negative mode — more negative than it's been since at least 1950. Serreze says that has affected weather all over the Northern Hemisphere. "At the very same time that we've seen these areas in the middle latitudes with sub-zero temperatures and big snow storms, the Arctic has been much, much warmer than normal." Ten to fifteen degrees warmer in some places.
So does this mean that now we don’t really have to worry about global warming? Again, not really — it’s not that simple. In the same article, Mr. Serreze points out that the extent of Arctic sea ice is already a million square kilometers below normal. And those who pay attention to news outside the U.S. may have noticed that for a second year in a row, dozens of trains have been cancelled in Melbourne, Australia, due to the heat, and in the Southern hemisphere.