Sept. 23, 2019
TO THE EDITOR:
We are writing in response to the editorial of Sept. 4th, entitled “No global warming,” published just as Hurricane Dorian was approaching our coast. We are writing in our capacities as directors of the Duke, UNC and N.C. State laboratories here in Carteret County. We would like to set the record straight about the science of climate change and the impact of these changes on hurricanes.
The editorial quoted John Hinderaker, a trial lawyer who writes for the blog site PowerLine, suggesting that U.S. temperatures may be cooler today than they were in the early 20th century. That is factually incorrect. The editorial claims that the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) shows no evidence of warming. However, since the USCRN came on line in 2008 and temperature records are inherently noisy from year to year, an 11-year long dataset is unlikely to show a significant trend. Rather, the USCRN is intended to provide a good climate record for the future.
So, here are the facts. The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62º Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human made emissions into the atmosphere. The evidence for these changes comes from a huge amount of data collected by satellites, ocean observing systems, and land based stations.
This is not just our view, but a scientific consensus supported by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists. The position that our climate is changing rapidly, and that these changes are driven by human activities, is supported by a vast number of scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Medical Association and the American Chemical Society, to name but a few.
Much of this increased heat has been absorbed by the upper layer of the world’s oceans, which have warmed more than 0.4º Fahrenheit since 1969. The combination of warmer oceans and a warmer atmosphere provides more heat to fuel hurricanes and more moisture carrying capacity, leading to stronger and wetter storms. This is particularly true in the western North Atlantic, where we see a strong signal of increased sea surface temperatures over the past half century.
We should have a robust debate about what to do about climate change here in Carteret County, where we are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and to coastal storms. But that debate should start from a common understanding of what science tells us about climate change. And the science is clear — the earth is warming rapidly. It is up to us to decide what to do about it.
If you are interested in learning more, a good place to start is the NASA web site on Global Climate Change https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/.
ANDY READ, director, Duke University Marine Laboratory
RICK LUETTICH, director, UNC-CH, Institute of Marine Sciences
director, N.C. State
University, Center for Marine Sciences and Technology