Study Says Greenhouse Warming Was Main Cause of Unusual Heat in 2006
WASHINGTON -- Warming caused by human activity was the biggest factor in unusually high temperatures recorded in 2006 in the United States, according to a report by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The analysis, released Tuesday, is being published in the September issue of Geophysical Research Letters, published by the American Geophysical Union.
In January, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center reported that 2006 was the warmest year on record over the 48 contiguous states with an average temperature 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal and 0.07 degree warmer than 1998, the previous warmest year on record.
In May, however, NOAA revised the 2006 ranking to second warmest after updated statistics showed the year was actually .08 F cooler than was 1998.
At the time the agency said it was not clear how much of the warming was a result of greenhouse gas-induced climate change and how much resulted from the El Nino warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean that was under way.
"We wanted to find out whether it was pure coincidence that the two warmest years on record both coincided with El Nino events," Martin Hoerling, of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Colorado, said in a statement.
His study looked at the effects of El Nino in the past as well as that of the release of gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by human industrial activities.
The analysis of past El Nino events in the 20th century found that the result was a slightly colder than normal annual average temperature over the 48 contiguous states.
To double-check that, the researchers conducted two sets of 50-year computer simulations of U.S. climate, with and without the influences of El Nino. They again found a slight cooling across the nation when El Nino was present.
Then they looked at the effect of the increased greenhouse gases, which are given that name because they can help trap heat from the sun somewhat like a greenhouse traps heat.
They ran 42 different tests using complex computer models to simulate changes in the atmosphere under various conditions and concluded that the "2006 warmth was primarily due to human influences."
While Hoerling's study focused on the United States, NOAA also tracks world climate. Worldwide, 2005 was the warmest year on record, topping 1998, according to the agency.
The research was supported by NOAA's office of Global Programs.
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Source: Associated Press