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May 5, 2013

Cherry picking through climate-science data

Cherry picking does not necessarily mean going to an orchard and doing just that. However, climate science and its research data seem to be ripe for the same process. One definition of “cherry picking” is to highlight or extract “data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion” of data that might contradict a point of view. 

Let’s look at the 42-year global air-temperature graph labeled “How ‘Skeptics’ View Global Warming.” One could draw a line, and some have, using small segments of eight, 10 or 12 years worth of data and get a straight or even a downward sloping line as illustrated here. This approach could allow one to say that global warming has stopped or even that cooling has occurred.

However, let’s look at the chart with exactly the same data labeled “How Realists View Global Warming.” Scientists generally agree that it is best to use at least 30 years worth of data, if the data is available, when trying to interpret what is under study to find the long-term signal. It’s pretty clear from this second graph that our planet is still warming when all of the data over the past 42 years is taken into account.

Greenhouse gases don’t take a vacation and just stop doing what the physics requires of them: They continuously absorb infrared energy and return it to Earth’s planetary systems. So where has some of this heat energy gone? If not increasing surface atmosphere or air temperatures, then where? 

The answer appears to be in the oceans. We have to remember that oceans cover about 70 percent of the planet to an average depth of about 10,000 feet. Our atmosphere with this extra energy, or heat, continually passes over this water surface and releases this energy to the cooler water. According to the second law of thermodynamics, heat energy always flows from regions of high temperature to regions of cold temperatures; never the reverse. 

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