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Is the climate warming or cooling?

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Shanta Barley | 12:57 UK time, Tuesday, 7 July 2009

You may have heard that the climate has been 'cooling' since 1998. And you would be right, according to new research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

But you'd be wrong to think that the recent 'cold snap' is evidence that global warming is science fiction, say David Easterling and Michael Wehner, who are based at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, respectively.

'Claims that global warming is not occurring that are derived from a cooling observed over such short time periods ... are misleading', the researchers warn.

Why the defensiveness? Because there have been rather a lot of these 'cold snaps'. There was one in 1977-1985 and another one between 1981-1989. Oh yes and there'll probably be one in 2016-2031, if the study's models are correct.

Cold snaps are to be expected as the planet warms, Easterling and Wehner hasten to add: the climate system is naturally very variable, and volcanic explosions sporadically pump the atmosphere full of climate-cooling particles, which reflect sunlight back into space.

'It is reasonable to expect that the natural variability of the real climate system can and likely will produce multi-year periods of sustained "cooling" ... even in the presence of long-term anthropogenic forced warming', the researchers conclude.

So: expect chills interspersed with your 'hot flushes', Mother Nature. The doctor says they're perfectly natural.


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