Climate Red Herrings

Most scientists agree that Earth is getting warmer — but measurements of climate change can be misleading. How one scientist studies glaciers to learn about climate change. Most scientists now believe that Earth’s climate is warming . . .

Computer models suggest the effects will be most visible at the high latitudes — as these regions grow warmer and wetter. What’s not clear is the best way to monitor Earth’s temperature rise. You can’t just place a thermometer on a front porch in Juneau, Alaska. If a field behind the house turns into a parking lot, for example, it’ll impact the local temperature. That’s one reason Keith Echelmeyer at the University of Alaska studies glaciers.

Keith Echelmeyer: They’re a very good, a very representative, way of measuring climate change compared to, say, towns and villages in the north. The temperature that you measured through time in, say, some village or something — it changes with where the weather station is and how much the runway is paved at the airport and all those things that are very influenced by people and changes with people.

Echelmeyer has tracked the behavior of some 100 glaciers all over Alaska in the last 10 years. He’s looked at glaciers high in the mountains as well as glaciers at sea level. Seeing glaciers melt in a wide range of environments helps subtract out local changes. More about glaciers and global climate change — on the next article.

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