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May 1, 2011

Earth's climate system: a study in process

Sometimes new information and data comes to our attention that may surprise us or make us uncomfortable: it may not fit with our impression or experience. The chart here of the March 2011 Monthly Global Temperature might do just that. The data indicates that this past March was the 13th warmest on record over the last 131 years. On a local level, we had lots of snow, wind and cold weather. On a global basis, however, the warming trend of the recent decades continues with January and February 2011, also well above the 20th century averages.

The chart also includes the data for each month of last year (see the right hand bar of each pair), showing that every month had a higher global temperature than the 1901-2000 monthly average. This is consistent with the known chemistry and physics of the warming effects of greenhouse gases (GHG's) and the fact that these GHG levels in the atmosphere continue to increase. The data was collected by the National Climate Data Center within NOAA and illustrated here by CO2Now.org.

When large amounts of data is available, as is the case with monthly global temperatures, scientists can make clear interpretations and comparisons when new data is acquired. Many times when new data is being developed, however, no data base exists to compare it with. Let's look at one organization, The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, who is doing just that.

This research institute was established in Germany in 1980 as a public foundation. It has a budget of more than $140 million, a staff exceeding 900, and is mostly funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Its "research mission is to improve our understanding of ocean-ice-atmosphere interactions, the animal and plant kingdoms of the Arctic and Antarctic … within the Earth's climate system." Their website has much more information and detail on the full range of their research efforts.

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