The American Geophysical Union–a group of scientists among whom are many of the most respected names in global warming studies–held their annual fall meeting in San Francisco this week. The weather that greeted them had little warmth to boast, however: the Bay Area has seen dangerous, record-setting cold temperatures this week.
The AGU holds regular seasonal conferences in which top scientists from all earth and interplanetary science fields participate. This year’s meeting, beginning on December 9th and concluding on Friday, included several exhibitions on space exploration, extreme weather events, and studies on the impact of various natural energy resource gathering techniques on the planet. It also included a panel on the Arctic and the dangers of a “sustained warming trend in the region,” as well as a panel dedicated to the findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The full list of events for the weekend is on AGU’s website.
The panels had varying takes on the impact of global warming. The panel on the climate changes of the Arctic revealed particularly intriguing information about the planet’s climate. As reported in Time this past summer, “much of the Arctic was cooler than it had been in years,” something conference participant David M. Kennedy called “a bit of a break in 2013 from the recent string of record-breaking warmth.” He hastened to explain, however, that the good news was, as Time puts it, still “a bad one historically.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations panelists stood out in the conference for what they didn’t reveal: information on how clouds affect climate change; they admitted the scientific community significantly lacks such research. Other events at the conference attempted to pinpoint specific solutions for the climate change issue, including how to reduce methane and other toxic emissions. (The answer? Nuclear power.)
In a classic case of the Gore Effect, these global warming presentations occurred in a month seeing record colds in the city of San Francisco. Temperatures in San José fell to a record-shattering 30 degrees Fahrenheit–so low that it has caused deaths by hypothermia in the area. The cold also caused serious issues with black ice on the roads, not something with which the usual Bay Area driver must contend. The cold weather was not limited to the Bay Area, however. Over 2,000 temperature records were shattered nationwide.
The scientific community has faced increased problems in explaining the slowing of the global warming trend in the past several years when their numbers appeared to have predicted a much steadier increase. Even reports by the IPCC–a group present at the AGU conference–demonstrate that the globe failed to reach the temperatures expected due to carbon dioxide emissions this year, as well as how the benefits of an increase in plant life and crops from a steadying warming trend would outweigh the harm of climate change. Some studies have even speculated that humans have a much smaller impact on climate change than previously believed.
The reality of such cold temperatures amid calls of potential disturbances thanks to record heat are certainly not ideal for climate scientists. However, what these record cold temperatures mean for climate change theorists is yet to be seen. Given that they occurred during this year’s AGU meeting, we might expect a study by the fall meeting in 2014 that attempts to explain this precipitous temperature drop in the context of larger-scale climate change.