What is an alarm? Dictionary.com says it's "…a device that serves to call attention, to rouse from sleep, or to warn of fire, smoke, an intruder, etc." Also, "…any sound, outcry, or information intended to warn of approaching danger: Paul Revere raced through the countryside raising the alarm that the British were coming."
When do you turn off an alarm? When everybody concerned is awake and aware of the coming danger.
Late last week climate scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) announced that climate models showing a greater rise in global temperature are likely more accurate than those showing a lesser rise.
The findings of the NASA-funded research, published in Science, were touted as helpful in narrowing the range for projections of global warming in coming decades and centuries.
"There is a striking relationship between how well climate models simulate relative humidity in key areas and how much warming they show in response to increasing carbon dioxide," said NCAR scientist John Fasullo, one of the authors of the study, quoted in a press release.
The climate models that most accurately captured complex moisture processes and clouds also showed the greatest amounts of warming as society emits more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
"Given how fundamental these processes are to clouds and the overall global climate," Fasullo said, "our findings indicate that warming is likely to be on the high side of current projections."
This is good news because there are more than a score of global climate models in use by scientists and they give a range of projections. A reality check a good thing.
But this is also a reminder of how conservative and non-alarmist scientists are about climate change. Researchers don't fly off the handle and make dire predictions. In fact they have been underestimating the rate of climate change and global warming ever since it was discovered. And that's odd, because one of the frequent accusations made by climate science deniers is that scientists are too alarmist.
If anything, this study and a recent presentations at the annual meeting of Geological Society of America, underscore that a little more Revere-like alarmism may be a really good idea. It's even patriotic.
A roller coaster from the Seaside Amusement Park stands in the Atlantic
Ocean after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the Seaside Heights boardwalk
where it stood. (Julie Dermansky, Corbis)
Each star indicates one of 16 leading global climate models. The left axis ("warming") corresponds to the amount of warming in degrees Celsius produced by each model when carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are doubled over preindustrial values. The bottom axis shows May-to-August relative humidity for a portion of the upper atmosphere between about 10° and 25° south latitude. (Credit: UCAR. Image by Carlye Calvin, based on Fasullo and Trenberth, Science, 2012.)