Study: US Weather Stations Exaggerated Warming In Western Mountains

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The world may be warming, but not as much as some U.S. weather stations have shown. A new University of Montana study found that western U.S. weather stations have been showing more warming in the temperature record than has actually been observed.

The Snowpack Telemetry (SNOTEL) station network, the country’s main mountain climate station network, has shown that high elevations are seeing temperatures rise more quickly than lower elevations, harming snowpack and water resources. But Montana Climate Office researcher Jared Oyler found that western mountain temperatures were inflated between 217 and 562 percent.

Oyler’s analysis of SNOTEL weather stations says the “extreme warming observed at higher elevations is the result of systematic artifacts and not climatic conditions.” When these “artifacts” are removed, SNOTEL data shows there is no accelerated warming in western U.S. mountains.

“With artifacts removed, the network’s 1991–2012 minimum temperature trend… is statistically indistinguishable from lower elevation trends,” writes Oyler. “Moreover, longer-term widely used gridded climate products propagate the spurious temperature trend, thereby amplifying 1981–2012 western US elevation-dependent warming by +217 to +562%.”

“In the context of a warming climate, this artificial amplification of mountain climate trends has likely compromised our ability to accurately attribute climate change impacts across the mountainous western US,” Oyler writes in his study.

So what caused this artificial warming? It turns out that sensor changes have biased SNOTEL temperature readings. The SNOTEL network consists of 700 weather stations that monitor temperature and snowpack in western mountains ranges. Scientists use these weather stations to study the impacts of global warming on mountain hydrology and ecology.

“Observations from other station networks clearly show that the western U.S. has experienced regional warming,” Oyler said. “But to assess current and future climate change impacts to snowpack and important mountain ecosystem processes, we need accurate observations from the high elevation areas only covered by the SNOTEL network.”

For years, climate scientists have been saying global warming will harm skiing and snowboarding as snowpacks in the mountains decrease. Some scientists went so far as to say children growing up in the 21st century may never experience snow.

“Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” Dr. David Viner, a scientist with the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia, told the UK Independent in 2000.

Viner predicted that global warming would make snow a “very rare and exciting event.” In 2004, Viner once again predicted there would soon be no snow in the Scottish mountains.

“Unfortunately, it’s just getting too hot for the Scottish ski industry,” Viner told the UK Guardian in 2004. “It is very vulnerable to climate change; the resorts have always been marginal in terms of snow and, as the rate of climate change increases, it is hard to see a long-term future.”

“Adam Watson, from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, believes the industry has no more than 20 years left,” the Guardian reported in the same article.

[h/t Watts Up With That]

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