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Long winter raises climate questions

Posted on 04.10.2013

Four days after the start of spring, a winter storm crossed central Indiana, dropping enough snow to cause a two-hour delay at the University of Indianapolis.
Other weather phenomena have taken place over the previous year. Some blamed these on global warming, while others viewed it as just another weather pattern.
Faculty Adjunct Aaron Pierce from the  UIndy physics department said that he believes the big misconceptions come from thinking on a small scale.
“For global climate change to be identified there needs to be a progressive trending change in a climate of a region,” Pierce said. “And we’ll see that with decades worth of data, which is varying not necessarily in just the amount of storms that are happening, but throughout the entire spectrum of weather relating to temperature, to rainfall amounts, to even pressure. But a single weather event is not a good indicator of climate change.”

Springtime at UIndy began with heavy snowfall, causing classes prior to 10 a.m. on March 24 to be canceled. Photo by Kelbi Ervin.

Springtime at UIndy began with heavy snowfall, causing classes prior to 10 a.m. on March 24 to be canceled. Photo by Kelbi Ervin.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that 2012 was the warmest year on record in the United States by a wide margin. NOAA also said that two-thirds of the contiguous United States was in a drought by the end of September 2012. The Palmer Drought Severity Index of 55 percent in June 2012 was the largest since December 1956. The drought also resulted in a multi-billion dollar agricultural disaster.
A commonly discussed reason for these phenomena is that carbon dioxide from man-made emissions has warmed the atmosphere and oceans, which has led to the extreme weather and raised sea levels.
According to Andrew Baker, a lecturer in geography at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, this could be one possible explanation, but based on the short amount of time in which the data have been taken, it is difficult to say whether this is normal or an effect of temperature increases.
“That would make sense, because obviously hurricanes strengthen because of temperature,” Baker said. “But once again, has that temperature been increasing before humans were around? Or is this something that’s increasing more now that humans are around?”
Baker said that the data have only been recorded since the late 1800s, so answering these questions is difficult because there is no telling what things were like a few thousand years ago. Baker said he has not leaned toward either side in the debate about whether or not humans have caused a major change in Earth’s climate.
Looking at the future, Pierce said that predicting weather may be easy to do in a weekly forecast, but more than educated guesses on a yearly scale is impossible.
“It’s kind of a toss-up,” Pierce said. “It’s not uncommon to have a dry year. It’s not uncommon to have a wet year.”
When it comes to whether or not humans have the capability to help prevent climate change, Baker said that he believes humans do and working globally can help.
“In the old days, it was the United States and Europe trying to come up with ideas and trying to come up with solutions to problems. Now because of globalization, you have China, India,  parts of the Middle-East and all these different areas that are coming up with solutions to problems,” he said. “That is something positive about globalization—that you get more ideas and more discussions…”
Pierce said that in order to begin improving how we take care of the Earth, people need to begin changing their thought processes and habits. He also said that  young-adults,  especially, should care more about this issue, because their descendents will be most affected.
“You will see the changes come in to play in potentially dramatic fashion in our lifetime,” Pierce said. “It [the effects of climate change in our lifetime] will pale in comparison to how it will affect generations from now, and we need to think bigger picture here.”


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