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NASA Climate Scientist Explains 15-Year ‘Global Warming Hiatus’

Benjamin Fearnow
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HAMPTON, Va. (WNEW) – A NASA scientist described a recent “global warming hiatus” that shows Earth’s surface temperatures warming at a slower rate than previous decades – but it is still warming.

Norman Loeb delivered a lecture entitled, “The Recent Pause in Global Warming: A Temporary Blip or Something More Permanent?” at the NASA Langley Research Center auditorium on Tuesday. The talk addressed challenges to scientists and increased skepticism among climate change skeptics due to the recent “hiatus” of global warming.

The federal space agency climate scientist explored research into a slow-down in surface warming over the last 15 years referred to as the “Global Warming Hiatus.” In recent years, the global mean surface temperature on Earth has increased at a rate that is about one-third of that from the past 60 years.

The global warming hiatus occurred despite record-breaking temperatures in the 2000s, retreating Arctic sea ice, rising sea levels and a record high global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to a statement released by NASA.

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“Opinions vary about the hiatus, as some view it as evidence that man-made global warming is a myth,” NASA said in a press release. “Others explain that it is simply due to climate variability that is temporarily masking a longer-term temperature trend.”

“The question is what’s driving it?” said Loeb, according to the Virginian-Pilot. But his answer reflected the complexity of climate science and did not rule out either scenario based upon the last 15 years of the “global warming hiatus.”

Loeb said that changes in solar radiation, water vapor and aerosol particles in the air have likely played a role, but a major factor may be an El Nino-like pattern of climate variability that has historically coincided with a slowing in global warming. Loeb noted that a rise in global temperatures slowed in the 1940s as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation climate pattern was active – a pattern that similarly lasted 20-30 years.

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“For average climate records, 30 years is like one data point,” said Loeb, reiterating that while the Earth is warming more slowly, it is still warming. “It’s really forcing us to look at our models and observations and ask questions.”

In the global warming slowdown of the past 15 years, Loeb points out that the temperature is rising at nearly one-third the rate as before. The average temperature in the U.S. has risen about 1.5 degrees since the beginning of the 1900s.

Loeb holds a doctorate in in atmospheric sciences from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and is an atmospheric scientist in the Science Directorate at NASA Langley. Loeb is also the principal investigator of a satellite project called Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES).

Benjamin Fearnow

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