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Global Warming Research Heats Things Up

Computer modeling is further evidence of human influence


Photo by Eve Kaufmann

For years now, environmental scientists have puzzled over a peculiarity of global warming: From 1998 to 2008, while the production of warming greenhouse gases increased, the temperature of the earth’s surface didn’t budge. Now Robert Kaufmann, a College of Arts & Sciences professor and chair of the department of geography & environment, has found an explanation: sulfur particles, emitted mainly from coal-burning power plants in Asia, have reflected so much solar energy away from the earth that they mitigated the warming influence of the greenhouse gases.

Working with researchers from the University of Turku in Finland and from Harvard, Kaufmann analyzed data that might influence the earth’s surface temperature collected between 1998 and 2008, including such things as greenhouse gas emissions, incoming radiation from the sun, sulfur pollution, and El Niño and La Niña warming and cooling patterns. The researchers plugged their data into a computer model, and found that it replicated the actual conditions: even while carbon dioxide increased, the surface temperature remained steady.

“We showed that a model based on the theory of anthropogenic climate change could be explained by the observed temperatures between 1999 and 2008,” says Kaufmann. “It’s a simple and elegant test of the hypothesis.”

The bad news, says Kaufmann, is that his scientific evidence that climate change is indeed influenced by human activities was “trashed by Rush Limbaugh,” whose remarks precipitated a rash of hate mail sent to Kaufmann.

What happens next, says Kaufmann, is good news and bad news. China, which doubled its coal consumption in just four years in the early 2000s, is now using scrubbers to reduce sulfur emissions, a move that will clean up the atmosphere but may also lead to a period of rapid warming.

The study was published in the July 5th edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.


9 Comments on Global Warming Research Heats Things Up

  • Anonymous on 07.25.2011 at 10:21 am

    Don’t trash talk Rush Limbaugh. We need him to keep Republicans ignorant and misinformed.

  • Anonymous on 07.25.2011 at 11:54 am

    Agenda-Driven "Science"

    Rush Limbaugh didn’t trash anyone’s scientific evidence – he merely exposed the rather obvious fact that global warming alarmists keep changing their story to accommodate data that is inconveniently incompatible with their theory. After spending years warning us that burning coal causes catstrophic warming, scientists are now claiming that it actually cooled us off. By his own admission, Professor Kaufmann went looking for something that he could plug into a model that would confirm his preconceived conclusions. To no one’s surprise, he found it. I have no doubt that he will be able to find an equally simple and elegant explanation in the event that the climate stubbornly refuses to change in the future.

  • Anonymous on 07.25.2011 at 1:33 pm

    “By his own admission, Professor Kaufmann went looking for something that he could plug into a model that would confirm his preconceived conclusions.”

    Welcome to the world, this is how science works. Researchers don’t go ambling around, randomly studying things. They have a theory or hypothesis and conduct research and experiments to prove or disprove said hypothesis. Didn’t you learn this in the second grade like the rest of us?

  • Anonymous on 07.25.2011 at 2:59 pm

    “Coal causes global warming” is a rather simplified version of climate change theory. Scientists realized some time ago that some pollutants could cool the planet significantly in addition to being bad for human health. (And no, that doesn’t make them a solution to the problem. Sulfur in the air is very, very bad for you. Unless you’d care to live by some lovely unfiltered coal plants?) Kaufmann simply pointed out that something we knew half a century ago, and dealt with then in the U.S. and didn’t think about afterwards, is coming into play again in China. Claiming that somehow invalidates anybody’s work is silly.

  • Harbinger on 07.25.2011 at 3:16 pm

    This is desperation science. It’s all falling apart, must find some sticky tape.

  • Anonymous on 07.25.2011 at 10:43 pm

    "Coal causes global warming"

    I guess in this instance sulfur particles only reflect one way ? away from earth… Hmmm if only science could construct a sulfur particle that would refract more solar energy in the other direction, then we can get back to the surface of the earth is warming thing. Sadly this is another embarrassing study for the warmer community. In digital form or human form “Models” are nice to look at, but thats about it.

  • Andrew Wolfe on 07.26.2011 at 7:48 am

    "By his own admission" makes subtle mistake

    “Researchers don’t go ambling around, randomly studying things. They have a theory or hypothesis and conduct research and experiments to prove or disprove said hypothesis.”

    This is close enough as a definition of experimental science, but it is not what anyone says Kaufmann did. Kaufmann’s data mining is informative but not conclusive insofar as it doesn’t apply another staple of experimental science, which is to control all variables except for the one under study.

    It is perplexing that climate science tries to claim the authority of science performed by scientific method and controlled experimentation. Data mining like Kaufmann’s is informative and even suggestive, …


  • Richard Welch on 11.29.2011 at 1:39 am

    The man-made warming hypothesis collapses entirely in the face of mounting evidence that CO2 does not cause warming. It actually works the other way around: natural warming increases CO2. Both the historical pattern and geopulsation theory indicate that we are now reaching the mid-peak of the present interglacial period (see Roots of Cataclysm, Algora Publ. NY 2009). This will be followed inevitably by another glacial episode of the Pleistocene, as has always been the case for the past million years or so. Of course, the notion of a CO2 uptick of ca. 100 parts per MILLION of the atmosophere materially impacting global climate is almost absurd on the face of it.

  • Jeremy Giels on 06.08.2012 at 8:43 am

    To has been well known for some time that particles can cuase cooling. This is not something new and this research confirms that. Also, research by NASA and others have shown some CO2 is absorbed into the Oceans, causing both warming and water chemistry changes. This is straight foward physics and chemistry. The Co2 is coverted to carbonic acid in the water and actually lowers the ph level.
    Paleoclimatic records confirm this. Unfortunately, the debaters and doubters are delaying any action for this crisis of our own making by bringing up issues that have been discredited time and time again. By the time we act because we are certain by the feedbacks, it will certainly be too late to alter events.
    Sorry, fossil fuels have to remain where they are or their CO2 stored not in the atmosphere. Co2 emissions last in the atmosphere for centeries (25% basicly forever). We have been repeatly warned by climate scientists we are at the danger point, and continue to ignore and smear their work. How foolish is that?

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