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Sierra Daily

Mar 07, 2013

The Hockey Stick Gets Sharper

Ellesmere islandThat the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed unnaturally since the dawn of the industrial era is accepted by anyone who follows climate issues (except, maybe, by those who think Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe is on to something with his “hoax” claims). Now researchers from Oregon State University and Harvard have looked at data going back 11,300 years and confirmed that, yep, we’re in the middle of a massive heat spike. The study, posted today in the journal Science, concludes that temperatures have risen steadily since the end of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago, “leaving us now with a global temperature higher than those during 90% of the entire Holocene.” 

According to Candace Major, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences, which co-funded the research, “This research shows that we’ve experienced almost the same range of temperature change since the beginning of the industrial revolution as over the previous 11,000 years of Earth history – but this change happened a lot more quickly.”

“The work reveals a fresh, and very long climate ‘hockey stick,’” writes the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin, referencing the now-familiar graph of global temperature changes. Revkin adds: “While the researchers, led by Shaun Marcott of Oregon State, conclude that the globe’s current average temperature has not exceeded the warmth that persisted for thousands of years after the last ice age ended, they say it will do so in this century under almost every postulated scenario for greenhouse gas emissions.” That conclusion is underscored by Penn State climatologist Michael Mann, who told Revkin: “The rate of warming appears to be unprecedented as far back as the authors are able to go (to the boundary with the last ice age). And the rate of warming appears to have no analog in the past, as far back as the authors are able to go.”

As if to underscore that sobering news, a recent study concludes that Canada’s Arctic glaciers are melting fast, and the process could be unstoppable. Published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers concluded that 10 percent of Canada's Arctic glaciers may vanish by the end of the century, adding 1.4 inches to sea-level rise. According to lead author Dr. Jan Lenaerts of Utrecht University, "Even if we assume that global warming is not happening quite so fast, it is still highly likely that the ice is going to melt at an alarming rate. The chances of it growing back are very slim."

Image of Ellesmere Island, Canada by iStock/jerom400.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

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