New Study: "Humans Are Responsible" for Warming Even Antarctica

By Eliza Strickland | October 31, 2008 11:01 am

icebergA new analysis of Antarctic weather conditions has found that human-caused global warming is to blame for the changing climate at the south pole, according to a new study. In its landmark Fourth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared in 2007 that human influence on climate “has been detected in every continent except Antarctica” [Nature News]. Now, researchers have evidence that even that final frontier is feeling the heat from human activities.

In the study, published in Nature Geoscience [subscription required], researchers compared 100 years of Antarctic and Arctic climate records to the results of two sets of computerized climate models. Both sets factored in the effects of natural phenomena, such [as] volcanic eruptions and solar sunspot cycles, but only one set factored in the consequences of human activities that can affect climate, such as rising levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and fluctuations in the amount of ozone in the stratosphere. It was the models which included human factors that most closely matched the temperature profiles recorded at the poles. “For me, it can’t be more clear that human activity is responsible” [New Scientist], said study coauthor Alexey Karpechko.

The report may go some way towards silencing climate skeptics who point to evidence that most of Antarctica has been cooling for some time. “There is strong warming in the Antarctic peninsula,” Karpechko said. “But for several decades there has been a slight cooling of the rest of the continent. This slight cooling is due to circulation changes which are partly caused by ozone depletion. This is why there has been a bit of confusion as to what is happening in Antarctica” [CNN]. But as the ozone layer continues to recover, Karpechko says, the warming trend for the entire continent of Antarctica will grow more obvious.

Global warming could have drastic impacts on the creatures that inhabit Antarctica’s icy landscape, and could impact the rest of the planet as well: Higher temperatures could melt ice sheets and cause a dramatic rise in sea levels. But while Karpechko says the findings ought to act as an alarm bell, he also doesn’t expect everyone to be convinced. “Some people are waiting for the science to say that a particular heat wave is caused by humans. But attributing specific effects to human activities is much more difficult than attributing global changes. I don’t know if we should wait for that because it will be too late. I see from the data that there is warming. This is really frightening” [CNN].

Related Content:
80beats: Expedition Sets Off for Antarctic Mountains That “Shouldn’t Be There”
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DISCOVER: The Ground Zero of Climate Change is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

Image: Sandy Briggs

  • Ken

    Ha Ha!!! Once again these “scientists” need to input the new data into their special computer climate models. What a laugh, anyone can show a link to anything with a model. I love the “anthropogenic forcings” part, a theory which has never been proved in any way! These guys are funny! Where did they buy their science degrees, I want one too! Then they claim that a link is the same as proof. Ha Ha! This is from the Comedy Channel, right? C’mon, it’s the Comedy Channel isn’t it.

  • Steve

    re: Ken

    Spoken like a true Bush supporter…

  • Jack

    Sorry, but no true scientist would accept printout from a computer model as scientific proof. This latest study still leaves no answers to these critical issues:
    1. The greenhouse gas signature is still missing, even with measurable increases in CO2 over the past few decades. The models did not predict that and so how can they be trusted?
    2. Surface temperatures have not risen since 2001 even though China, India, Europe and the USA continue to increase CO2 and other “greenhouse gases”. Some data show a decline in global temperatures. If rising CO2 causes increased temperatures, why are they declining?
    3. CO2 has already affected temperture about all it can. Doubling CO2 will not make much difference. Why should we destroy western economies when there is no significant relationship between use of carbon-based fuels and temperatures?

  • Anna

    Correlation is easy! Causality is not! After all everyone who eats tomatoes dies. Correlation 1.0; Causeality….hmm, another matter altogether. I hypothesize it’s due to all the couch potato and cell phone acitivity…maybe I can get a grant.

  • Beonda Pale

    I’d bet my paycheck that Ken, Jack and Anna didn’t read the study before posting their knee jerk reactions to it

  • Joyce

    Personally, I am conveniced that the earth surface is warming up..think about it, there are 7.2 billion people on planet Earth with a average body temperature of 98.6F….plus all the dogs and cats with average body temperatures of about 100F, it doesn’t include all the other animals in the world. Then with carbon dioxide problem, plant more plants. Plants take in carbon dioxide and put out oxygen.

  • Gary Dale

    Whether one believes that humans are responsible or not, only a complete idiot would risk doing nothing to minimize human impacts. After all, the existence of human civilization is at risk.

    All of human civilization developed since the last ice age. This period is unique in the climate records as being both warm and stable. Even the medieval warming and the little ice age are barely noticeable, despite the profound impacts they had on our nations.

    The carbon levels in our atmosphere climbing to levels never seen during the entire time mammals have dominated. We’re not talking some abstract economic exercise here. If we do nothing and are wrong, we face catastrophic climate change that all of our vaunted science and technology may be powerless to save us from.

  • Greg

    The earth has warmed and cool all by itself through out the eons of time. While the earth was frozen in the ice ages of the past, or tropical world wide during the Jurassic period; the planet can definitely take care of itself. It is not that humans will go extinct with the changes, but like the other species on this planet , we will have to adapt. We may not be able to sustain the size of our population, but in just a few generations even that can be adjusted. We live about 6-9 decades, the planet lives on. What ever we decide, the planet lives on. We should be more concerned about ending wars, the largest destroyer of humanity, then the outcome of global warming or cooling.

  • Mike

    Of course Greg’s right that wars are a more serious threat to the entire human race. On the other hand, one can hardly blame us for being self interested. Nor could we expect climatologists to give up their science to work on game-theory models of human self preservation…

    In fairness to the scientists, within modeling, as opposed to regular reductionist approaches, at least they have “control models” to which to compare models of human impact. Words like “proof” are highly loaded. And causation here is assumed to be contributory, not total. Given the test of “more likely than not” with plenty of future modeling adjustments – this probably passes the test.

    On Greg’s track, however, from a policy perspective it matters little whether the model is correct about human contibution to the problem. Continued warming will be disastrous, and the impacts will be as much local as they are global. Be prepared.

  • sheryl

    I have read numerous articles on this subject and seen many before and after pictures of global warming. Almost all the scientists now agree that global warming is indeed real. It would be nice to deny the fact that it is not real as such news is frighting. But to continue to deny the obvious and not take action is suicide for us and for our children and grandchildren. We need to stop it now! Not when people decide they can afford it. There are simple things we all can do to slow it down like recycle, ride a bicycle to work, not burn trash or wood, plant a tree etc. We can also pressure our senators and represenatives into doing something by writing to them, emailing them and calling them. We can pressure business’s who pollute the most by refusing to buy their products. We are not helpless.So try to do your part today.

  • Bob

    Someone out there correct me (and I’m sure you will) but I believe that 20 yrs ago I read where the whole human population, if given 2 sq ft per, would occupy an area the size of the city of Tallahassee. That opened my eyes to how small we are and our limited impact on this huge globe. BUT– I still think that we need to change how we do business. I’m a Republican and want to be prudent on our handling of our resources. I have grandchildren who need a chance at the same quality of life that I have enjoyed. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the whole global community would be forced to cooperate in order to survive?

  • wallace

    when i was in highschool they told us that we were on the verge of another ice age. give it a couple of years it will work itself out. i dont think the sky is falling yet. not all scientists believe in the “science” of global warming. the computer models can not compute all the variables needed to accurately predict such a global event. as a matter of being a good citizen of the planet, i do agree we should not do things that trash our living place. im just not ready to throw away civilization and the free society we live in for a hypothesis.

  • Gary Dale

    Wallace is wrong in stating that we used to be told we were on the verge of another ice age. What we were taught was that, based on the frequency of ice ages in the past, we were due for one. That’s hardly the same thing. He is also wrong that not all scientists believe in global warming. Climatologists have come to a measured agreement on the topic, as recorded in the latest IPCC report, that it is happening and that human activity is responsible.

    I don’t think I want to ever drive with him since he appears ready to run red lights in the name of freedom rather than submit to the hypothesis that the rules of the road are there to prevent accidents.


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