Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

The Hottest Century? (Science, Technology & Environment)

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

The Hottest Century? (Science, Technology & Environment)

Article excerpt

"Reconstructing Climatic and Environmental Changes of the Past 1,000 Years: A Reappraisal" by Willie Soon et al., in Energy & Environment (Mar. 2003), 5 Wates Way, Brentwood Essex CM15 9TB, United Kingdom.

The world has just put a long, hot century behind it, and now the question of where the era stands in the history of the world's climate has become an item in the debate over global warming. One influential recent study of global temperature changes over the past millennium found that, for the Northern Hemisphere at least, the 20th century was the warmest century, the 1990s the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year. These conclusions lend more weight to the argument that anthro-pogenic (human-generated) greenhouse gases have produced anomalously high temperatures. (Many other, though narrower, studies point toward this reading of climate history.) Soon, a physicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his colleagues, taking a different approach, have concluded that the 20th century was probably "not the warmest" of the millennium.

In the earlier study, Michael E. Mann, an environmental scientist at the University of Virginia, and his colleagues attempted an ambitious mathematical reconstruction of global temperature changes over the past thousand years based on various "proxy" data, such as ice core samples. Besides selecting winners (or losers) in the "warmest" category, they dismissed the conventional wisdom among climatologists that there were two previous periods of great divergence from the climate norm: the so-called Little Ice Age (1300-1900) and the Medieval Warm Period (800-1300). …

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