Lessons about global warming from Alaska

Summary:  This story about global warming in Alaska has many lessons for us.  About our climate, our news media, about how we process information about our world.  It’s a classic application of our methodology, close examination of a small subject to learn large lessons.

Alaska Climate Science Center

Alaska Climate Science Center

This is the annual deviation from the 1949-2011 average. The black line is the 5-year moving average.

3 December 1973

3 December 1973. Past fads always look silly.



  1. Introduction
  2. In 2009 Alaska’s scientists looked at their climate
  3. What do they see today?
  4. Other posts about climate forecasts
  5. Some vital things to remember about global warming!
  6. For More Information

No “baked Alaska” puns, please.


(1)  Introduction

In May 2009 I posted A look at the temperature record of Alaska – any sign of global warming?., describing research from the Alaska Climate Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  This evoked the usual anti-intellectual response from global warming believers, considering scientists who disagree with their dogma to be charlatans — and directing personal insults to anyone citing these scientists.

The point of that post was to show that the news media’s narrative about global warming consisted of a narrow slice of climate science work, carefully limited to mold public opinion. Most obviously, areas with warming receive publicity (they’re climate); unusually cold receive little (just weather). Worse, local news media often attribute changes in local flora and fauna to warming — even if their local area has none, or even cooled.

As an antidote we post about large areas with stable or even falling temperatures during the “pause” in warming of the past (roughly) 14 years, and describe the strong influence of factors other than rising CO2 on Earth’s ever-changing climate. More broadly, the FM website provides real journalism, showing that although there is a broad consensus among climate scientists, there are also large areas of disagreement — doing so by citing scientists actual words and showing the data.

My conclusion:  the narrative that “the science is settled” is false, propaganda to prematurely close off further debate and force premature policy actions.  More research is needed — better funded and with third-party reviews.  Eventually we will have the necessary answers, provided either by scientists or the climate.

Read these posts (or other sources) to see the full picture; then decide for yourself.

(2)  In 2009 Alaska’s scientists looked at their climate

Here is the March 2009 Temperature Change in Alaska page from the website of the Alaska Climate Research Center. Here is what they said at the start of 2009; how has three more years of data changed their views?  Their attribution of temperature trends to the PDO attracted much criticism from lay warmistas; now the role of these cycles (eg, PDO, ADO, ENSO) is accepted, if still widely underestimated.  (red emphasis added)

The topic of climate change has attracted widespread attention in recent years and is an issue that numerous scientists study on various time and space scales. One thing for sure is that the earth’s climate has and will continue to change as a result of various natural and anthropogenic forcing mechanisms.

This page features the trends in mean annual and seasonal temperatures for Alaska’s first-order observing stations since 1949, the time period for which the most reliable meteorological data are available. The temperature change varies from one climatic zone to another as well as for different seasons. If a linear trend is taken through mean annual temperatures, the average change over the last 6 decades is 3.1°F.

… Considering just a linear trend can mask some important variability characteristics in the time series. The figure at right shows clearly that this trend is non-linear: a linear trend might have been expected from the fairly steady observed increase of CO2 during this time period.

The figure {see graph at the top of this post} shows the temperature departure from the long-term mean (1949-2008) for all stations. It can be seen that there are large variations from year to year and the 5-year moving average demonstrates large increase in 1976. The period 1949 to 1975 was substantially colder than the period from 1977 to 2008, however since 1977 little additional warming has occurred in Alaska with the exception of Barrow and a few other locations.

The stepwise shift appearing in the temperature data in 1976 corresponds to a phase shift of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation from a negative phase to a positive phase. Synoptic conditions with the positive phase tend to consist of increased southerly flow and warm air advection into Alaska during the winter, resulting in positive temperature anomalies.

24 December 1979

24 December 1979. It’s about the energy crisis. Not global cooling. No matter how often the anti-warmistas say so.


(3)  Update: what do they see today?

How has the ACRC’s “Alaska Temperature” page changed since March 2009?

  • The end dates changed from 2008 to 2011.
  • The “average change over the last 6 decades” changed from 3.1°F to 3.0°F.
  • They still say “since 1977 little additional warming has occurred in Alaska”

Last year they published a study with more detailed analysis: “The First Decade of the New Century: A Cooling Trend for Most of Alaska“, G. Wendler, L. Chen and B. Moore, Open Atmospheric Science Journal, 2012 — Abstract:

During the first decade of the 21st century most of Alaska experienced a cooling shift, modifying the long-term warming trend, which has been about twice the global change up to this time. All of Alaska cooled with the exception of Northern Regions. This trend was caused by a change in sign of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which became dominantly negative, weakening the Aleutian Low. This weakening results in less relatively warm air being advected from the Northern Pacific.

This transport is especially important in winter when the solar radiation is weak. It is during this period that the strongest cooling was observed. In addition, the cooling was especially pronounced in Western Alaska, closest to the area of the center of the Aleutian Low. The changes seen in the reanalyzed data were confirmed from surface observations, both in the decrease of the North-South atmospheric pressure gradient, as well as the decrease in the mean wind speeds for stations located in the Bering Sea area.

(4)  Other posts about climate forecasts

  1. More forecasts of a global cooling cycle
  2. More about the forecast for flooded cities in the late 21st century
  3. Looking into the past for guidance about warnings of future climate apocalypses
  4. What can climate scientists tell about the drivers of future warming?
  5. What can climate scientists tell us about the drivers of future warming?  – part two of two
  6. Checking up on past forecasts about climate change, a guide to the future
  7. An optimistic &  successful (so far) forecast by an eminent climate scientist

(5)  Some vital things to remember about global warming!

While cheering madly (ie, irrationally, emotionally, hysterically) for their faction of scientists, laypeople often lose sight of the big picture — the key elements for making public policy.

The major global temperature measurement systems tell — broadly speaking — the same story since the late 1970s: two decades of warming, followed by a pause.

This is consistent with the larger firm conclusions of climate scientists: two centuries of warming, coming in pulses (ie, waves), with anthropogenic factors becoming the largest (not the only) drivers since roughly 1950.


(6)  For more information

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

Posts on the FM site about global cooling:

  1. More forecasts of a global cooling cycle, 15 July 2008
  2. Good news about global warming!, 21 October 2008
  3. One of the most interesting sources of news about science and nature!, 27 October 2008
  4. An important letter sent to the President about the danger of climate change, 21 October 2009
  5. About those headlines from the past century about global cooling…, 2 November 2009
  6. A look at global warming written in a cooler and more skeptical time, giving us a better understanding of climate science, 23 November 2009
  7. The facts about the 1970’s Global Cooling scare, 7 December 2009