Scientist find clues to different warming rates

BOULDER--Three factors--the thinning of the ozone layer, emissions from the Mt. Pinatubo volcano, and the influx of sulfate aerosols and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere--may help explain why the lowest five miles of the earth's atmosphere has not warmed as quickly as the earth's surface, say a group of scientists in a paper appearing in the February 18 issue of the journal Science. The results follow extensive data analysis and modeling studies by the 13 scientists. The team includes second author Tom Wigley and Gerald Meehl, both scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Lead author Ben Santer is at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. NCAR's primary sponsor is the National Science Foundation.

The difference in temperature trends at the surface and in the lower troposphere has intensified the climate change debate. Some have pointed to the surface data as more reliable, while others have focused on the satellite measurements. In January the National Research Council (NRC) issued a report from a team of scientists across the spectrum of climate change positions that partly reconciles the differences in data sets and offers some explanation of why the temperature trends would be different. The Santer-Wigley paper, though not published at the time, was fully taken into account in the report, says Kevin Trenberth, head of NCAR's Climate Analysis Section and a coauthor of the NRC report.

For the Science paper, the team examined three observational data sets and recent model studies to reach their conclusions. The data sources are

--a century of thermometer readings of sea surface temperatures and air temperatures a few meters above land

--a half century of radiosonde measurements of troposphere and lower stratosphere temperatures

--two decades of global observations of tropospheric temperatures (up to eight kilometers) taken by a series of sat

Contact: Anatta
National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

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