PLEASE NOTE:


*

CCNet 111/2000 - 31 October 2000
--------------------------------


"If ISS succeeds over the next few years, and other small and large
platforms are established in 10-20 years by other entities both
governmental and commercial, continuous human presence beyond Earth
may become a perpetual state. As I type these words, these may be the last
few moments in the history of this planet when all earthborn life was
restricted to Earth itself. Building a permanent space station may be THAT
significant, and is one more reason to wish the project well. What
brought us this far is 'runway behind us' and arguments over routes and
strategies is a subject for future historians. It's what ahead of us
- if we're clever and bold enough - that needs concentration on at this
hour."
        -- Jim Oberg, 30 October 2000


"It must be tempting this week, especially for the inhabitants of
Bognor Regis and Selsey, to believe that the weather is getting more
extreme. It has already passed into folklore that global warming means
wetter downpours, windier storms and drier droughts. But is it true? Lots
of journalists and environmentalists say it is. Newsweek predicted "more
floods, worse hurricanes" because of global warming. [...] Of
course, journalists and environmentalists have a vested interest in
claiming such a link, because weather leads to stories about climate. To
persuade a journalist to quote him, an environmentalist needs to say
something alarming; to persuade a news editor to run his story, a reporter
needs to include such quotes. So there is an inherent bias: you are
unlikely to read of anyone saying that nothing much has changed and
that the latest storm has nothing to do with climate change."
    -- Matt Ridley, 31 October 2000


(1) JAPANESE SPACEGUARD TEAM DISCOVER LARGE APOLLO-TYPE ASTEROID
    Duncan Steel <D.I.Steel@salford.ac.uk>

(2) EPOCHAL CHANGE IN HUMAN HISTORY
    James Oberg <JamesOberg@aol.com>

(3) DOD FIREBALL DETECTION
    Peter Brown <pbrown@julian.uwo.ca>

(4) DID ASTEROIDS SUPPLY EARTH'S WATER?
    Sky & Telescope 29 October 2000

(5) LUNAR CRATER RAYS: ANCIENT OR MODERN?
    Sky & Telescope, 27 October 2000

(6) LATEST RESEARCH SHOWS PACIFIC SEA LEVELS NOT RISING
    SpaceDaily, 28 October 2000

(7) CURRENT EXTINCTION TURNS OUT TO BE A SLOW PROCESS
    Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

(8) PANSPERMIA
    Michael Paine <mpaine@tpgi.com.au>

(9) AND FINALLY: WEATHER AND CLIMATE ARE DIFFERENT THINGS
    The Daily Telegraph, 31 October 2000

==============
(1) JAPANESE SPACEGUARD TEAM DISCOVER LARGE APOLLO-TYPE ASTEROID

From Duncan Steel <D.I.Steel@salford.ac.uk>

Dear Benny,

Few people yet seem to have noticed the discovery of a very large
Apollo-type asteroid on October 21st by the Japan Spaceguard team at Bisei.
This has been designated 2000 UV13. For information see MPEC 2000-U34 at:
http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/mpec/K00/K00U34.html

This object has an absolute magnitude H=13.5, which would make it between 5
and 12 km in size, depending on the albedo one assumes; see:
http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/lists/Sizes.html

Looking down the list of Apollos at:
http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/lists/Apollosq.html I find only (1866)
Sisyphus with H=13.0 which appears to be brighter (and, one assumes,
larger). (Note that 2000 UV13 is given as having H=13.3 on that web page.)

On MPEC 2000-U34 it is stated that 2000 UV13 was discovered using the 0.5-m
telescope at Bisei; David Asher tells me that in fact the discovery was made
using the 0.25-m system there, which is noteworthy in itself.

In modelling the population of NEAs down to some set size, many assumptions
need to be made, and they are not always valid. As Al Harris pointed out at
the IAU General Assembly in August, to that time the discoveries of NEAs
larger than a few kilometres in size represented 108% of the total number
indicated by his modelling. I guess 2000 UV13 skews this super-completeness
value still higher. But of course it may simply be a singular object that
happened to have slipped through the fence until now.

Congratulations to the team at Bisei on their BIG discovery.

Duncan Steel

===========
(2) EPOCHAL CHANGE IN HUMAN HISTORY

From James Oberg <JamesOberg@aol.com>

Last Few Hours in History of Unmanned Space?

If ISS succeeds over the next few years, and other small and large platforms
are established in 10-20 years by other entities both governmental and
commercial, continuous human presence beyond Earth may become a perpetual
state. As I type these words, these may be the last few moments in the
history of this planet when all earthborn life was restricted to Earth
itself. Building a permanent space station may be THAT significant, and is
one more reason to wish the project well. What brought us this far is
"runway behind us" and arguments over routes and strategies is a subject for
future historians. It's what ahead of us -- if we're clever and bold enough
-- that needs concentration on at this hour.

Jim Oberg
www.jamesoberg.com
Houston, Texas
October 30, 2000

===========
(3) DOD FIREBALL DETECTION

From Peter Brown <pbrown@julian.uwo.ca>

Fireball Detection

IR sensors aboard DOD satellites detected the impact of two day time bolides
over the Czech Republic. The first occurred on 6 May 2000 at 11:54:52.545
UTC and the second on 10 May
2000 at 17:15:22.787 UTC. The 6 May object was first detected at 50.42
degrees North Latitude, 17.95 degrees East Longitude at an altitude of
approximately 36 km. It followed a nearly flat trajectory, inclined 2
degrees to the horizontal on a heading of 146 degrees. It was last detected
at 49.64 degrees N, 18.76 degrees E at an altitude of approximately 33 km.
The object was simultaneously detected by space based visible wavelength
sensors operated by the DOE.
The observed peak intensity was 1.05 X 10^10 Watts/ster. The total energy
was 2.5 X 10^10 Joules.

The 10 May object was first detected at 48.53 degrees N, 16.38 degrees E at
an altitude of approximately 55 km. It had a relatively steep trajectory,
inclined 57 degrees to the horizontal on a heading of 113 degrees. It was
last detected at 48.49 degrees N, 16.53 degrees E, at approximately 38 km
altitude. This object was also detected simultaneously by visible wavelength
sensors operated by the Department of Energy. The peak intensity was also
1.05 X 10^10 Watts/ster, but the total energy was a bit less at 1.9 X 10^10
Joules.

**************************************************************************
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS SATELLITE BOLIDE RELEASE AND ALL PREVIOUS

SUCH RELEASES CAN BE FOUND ON THE WWW AT
http://phobos.astro.uwo.ca/~pbrown/usaf.html
*********************************************************************

Dr. Peter Brown
Assistant Professor
Meteor Physics Group
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario
N6A 3K7
Canada

http://phobos.astro.uwo.ca/~pbrown
Voice:1-519-661-2111 x86458
Fax:1-519-661-4085
email:pbrown@julian.uwo.ca
Meteor Astronomy Lab : 1-519-661-2111 x84744
Meteor Physics Lab :   1-519-850-2385

============
(4) DID ASTEROIDS SUPPLY EARTH'S WATER?

From Sky & Telescope 29 October 2000
http://www.skypub.com/news/news.shtml

Why is our planet so wet? This question has perplexed scientists for
decades, because the Earth formed in an environment too hot for water to
condense directly from the solar nebula. One long-held view was that a swarm
of comets entered the inner solar system at the end of the planets'
assembly, bombarding the terrestrial worlds roughly 4 billion years ago
during what's termed the "late heavy bombardment." Since comets contain lots
of water, they could easily have delivered oceans' worth of the stuff to
Earth. However the theory has several flaws. Most importantly, the ratio of
deuterium to hyrdrogen in cometary water is much higher than the D/H ratio
in our oceans. And as yet there is no compelling explanation for how and why
so many comets could have arrived in such a geologically brief time (roughly
100 million years). Moreover, the Moon's cratering record can be explained
by an abrupt falloff in the impact rate, rather than a late pulse.

At an international meeting of planetary scientists last week, a team of
dynamicists led by Alessandro Morbidelli and Jean-Marc Petit (Nice
Observatory, France) suggested that primitive asteroids -- not comets --
were the source of Earth's oceans. According to their model, early in the
planetary-accretion process Jupiter had already grown so large that its
gravitational force was altering the orbits of virtually everything in the
region now known as the asteroid belt. At the time the belt was densely
packed with planetary embryos and asteroids, many containing up to 10
percent water, but in just a few tens of millions of years more than 99
percent of these accretional leftovers had been cleared out. Some were drawn
into Jupiter, others were ejected from the solar system, and more still were
cast into the Sun.

Computer simulations by Morbidelli's team reveal that several of the belt's
largest escapees should have collided with the nascent inner planets. By
then Earth had become massive enough to keep most of the collisional ejecta
from being lost to space, so the impactors contributed their considerable
bulk to our planet's growth and supplied more than enough water to fill its
oceans.

Meanwhile, about 5 percent of the asteroid belt's survivors ended up in
"excited" orbits with large inclinations and eccentricities. In the final
stages of planetary accretion, thousands of these objects rained down on the
inner planets with velocities that averaged 30 kilometers (20 miles) per
second. Coming in so fast, they packed a tremendous wallop: on the young
Moon, for example, even modest 400-meter objects blasted out craters 10 km
(6 miles) across.

Comets are not entirely ruled out by this hypothesis. According to
Morbidelli and Petit, perhaps one tenth of Earth's water could have arrived
via dirty snowballs without skewing the D/H ratio too much. Moreover, the
researchers note that if the late heavy bombardment was in fact a sudden
pulse of colliding objects, rather than a gradually subsiding storm, then
comets would likely have been the dominant source.

Copyright 2000, Sky & Telescope

================
(5) LUNAR CRATER RAYS: ANCIENT OR MODERN?

From Sky & Telescope, 27 October 2000
http://www.skypub.com/news/news.shtml
 
The bright, petal-shaped ray systems surrounding lunar craters like
Copernicus and Tycho are more than fascinating telescopic targets. Planetary
geologists use them as time markers to help establish the sequence of lunar
history -- a chronology that relies in part on the belief that rays surround
young craters but not old ones. Lunar material darkens with time as the iron
in its minerals becomes less oxidized after exposure to space. So once a
crater forms, its rays presumably fade to invisibility over several hundred
million years.

But new results are challenging these long-held assumptions. A team of
investigators led by B. Ray Hawke (University of Hawaii) reassessed several
rayed lunar craters using data from the Clementine mission. They judged the
rays' maturity using not just brightness as the sole criterion but also
their iron and titanium content and the ratio of their color intensity at
deep red and near-infrared wavelengths. They find that some rays form when
bright highlands material is thrown from the impact site and splashes onto
darker plains, as occurred around the 20-kilometer-wide crater Lichtenberg.
Other ray systems arise from the plains themselves, because chunks ejected
from the main crater stir up the surface on which they fall. The bright
tails of Messier and Messier A are examples of recently exposed mare
material.

Distinguishing between these two origins is critical to determining a
crater's age, because Lichtenberg-type rays, which contain lots of highlands
debris, will never darken completely. "We've assumed that rayed craters are
all younger than about 800 million years," Hawke explains. "But these
bright, mature ray systems could be 2, 2, or even 3 billion years old."
This has serious implications for how geologists decipher lunar history, he
warns. If further work shows that many crater rays are extremely old instead
of relatively young, the whole chronology of the Moon's surface evolution
will need to be revised.

Copyright 2000, Sky & Telescope

=============
(6) LATEST RESEARCH SHOWS PACIFIC SEA LEVELS NOT RISING

From Space Daily, 28 October 2000
http://www.spacedaily.com/news/001028051438.nd4vw2r6.html

TARAWA, Kiribati (AFP) - October 28th, 2000 - The latest scientific research
has shown Pacific Ocean sea levels are not rising, it was announced
Saturday. Dr Wolfgang Scherer, director of Australias National Tidal
Facility, told journalists covering the Pacific Islands Forum here that data
gathered over the past nine years showed no evidence of sea levels
increasing.

Under an Australian aid programme in association with the South Pacific
Regional Environment Programme, automatic sea level and climate observation
stations installed in 11 island countries had been feeding data via
satellite back to his project base in Adelaide.

While there was mounting evidence of oceans warming to some extent, he said,
no evidence existed of sea levels rising. Scherer said ocean response times
to change were slow and could take hundreds of years.

"There are interactions between the atmosphere and oceans, some of which we
understand and some we do not understand," he said. "But we have no evidence
of sea levels rising."

FULL STORY at http://www.spacedaily.com/news/001028051438.nd4vw2r6.html

==============
(7) CURRENT EXTINCTION TURNS OUT TO BE A SLOW PROCESS

From Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

From The New York Times, 24 October 2000
[ http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/24/science/24EXTI.html ]

Extinction Turns Out to Be a Slow, Slow Process
By ANDREW C. REVKIN

Scientists studying the planet's stressed-out rain forests, rivers, reefs,
deserts and islands are increasingly confronting a new kind of species --
the living dead. They are extant, but, in almost every way, are already
extinct.

There is the Javan rhinoceros, reduced to 70 or so animals split between a
tiny tract in Indonesia and another in Vietnam. There is the golden Vizcacha
rat, which was recently discovered along one edge of a remote salt flat in
northwest Argentina, just in time for its discoverers to see its tiny
habitat being replaced by irrigated olive orchards.

Then there is the Hawaiian po'ouli. The number of these black-masked
honeycreepers on the mountains of Maui has dropped from about 200 in the
1970's to just 3 today. Each inhabits a separate bit of mountainside,
unaware it is not alone. Scientists do not know the sex of the birds.

Such species, to borrow a bleak phrase from emergency-room doctors, are
circling the drain. But they have been able to persist far longer than the
experts studying them ever anticipated.

It turns out that many species on their last legs -- or wings or bellies or
roots -- somehow find ways to adapt, albeit temporarily, to stark changes in
their surroundings. Lonely hearts occasionally find each other to bear a few
more offspring and so keep a unique genetic branch on the tree of life
growing just a little bit longer.

They have come to symbolize the challenges faced by biologists who are
studying and trying to save endangered species. Extinction has proved to be
complex and sometimes excruciatingly slow, often tantalizing
conservationists with the prospect of bringing a fading species back.

Some, like the Puerto Rican parrot, which has rebounded after seeing its
population fall to just 12 birds, do seem capable of recovering. But others
do not, even when they stare a biologist in the face.

Dr. Stuart L. Pimm, an extinction expert at Columbia University, pointed to
the example of the po'ouli, whose last known members were tracked down
several years ago by two of his postdoctoral students after three years of
slogging through sodden forests.

"There is an extraordinary sense of loss when you see wonderful animals and
plants and you know you may be the last people to see them," Dr. Pimm said.
"The po'ouli lingered below 10 or 20 individuals for years. It's rather like
looking at some old, beloved relative who you know is simply not going to
last another year or two. You don't know exactly when old uncle Joe is going
to die."

In fact, the dogged quality of life in its end stages has come as a slight
embarrassment to more than a few ecologists and conservation biologists. Two
decades ago, in studies like the Carter administration's Global 2000 Report,
many experts were predicting that some 20 percent of the world's species at
that time would be erased by now -- largely because of the accelerating,
intensifying impact of humans on the landscape.

That may well be happening, but no one has proved it. In fact, often as not
-- at least for conspicuous creatures like birds and mammals -- an isolated
few specimens tend to pop up just when scientists have decided they cannot
possibly still exist.

There is a growing realization among ecologists that the endgame for species
is not nearly as straightforward as it is portrayed in mathematical models.
These predict extinction rates by crunching the density of species in a
habitat, the size of the habitat and the rate at which it is destroyed. The
discrepancy between theory and reality has led some biologists to call for a
change in the way conservationists describe the extinction process to the
public, and in the way that scientists study it.

A growing group of paleontologists and ecologists are calling for a new push
to improve the data behind estimates and to stop making broad statements
comparing current events to past cataclysmic extinction spasms like the one
that erased the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Those comparisons, they say,
implied a level of clarity in the science that just does not exist. They add
that scientists should emphasize that extinction itself happens over a span
that is always going to be hard to measure or comprehend.

"In thinking about global extinction we've got to free ourselves from this
human time scale," said Dr. John Alroy, an ecologist at the National Center
for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis of the University of California at
Santa Barbara. "To a species, a human lifetime is a little flicker."

Human-caused extinctions are happening, Dr. Alroy said, and he is one of
many biologists who are convinced that the pace is rapidly accelerating. It
is just that this wave of biological losses is building but has yet to break. 

Only in retrospect, when some future culture -- human or otherwise --
examines the fossil record, will the die-off be evident as a substantial
pruning of the branches of the tree of life, he said. "For the entire
remaining duration of life on earth," he said, "this event we're responsible
for is clearly going to show up as a signature."

Instead of focusing on the nearly immeasurable moment when a species ceases
to exist, he and other biologists say, science should focus harder on the
forces that lead toward extinction -- the destruction or fragmentation of
habitat, the introduction of invasive species, the appropriation of water or
other vital resources.

Dr. Alroy is one of dozens of scientists who are essentially trying to forge
a new discipline, extinction biology, incorporating ideas from field
studies, genetics, ecology and paleontology.

They are seeking to know -- up close and in current time -- a process that
formerly was almost exclusively studied by paleontologists digging through
dusty layers of fossils. Mostly, they are trying to develop an agenda to
improve the scientific underpinnings that could clarify why some species
last and others do not.

Part of the difficulty in extending extinction science from the past into
the present lies in figuring out how to reconcile the clues left by past
comings and goings of species with those providing hints of what may be
happening to existing species.

The main tool used by biologists to calculate current extinction rates is a
longstanding formula called the species-area curve, which gives an estimate
of species lost for a given area of habitat destroyed. Another is population
viability analysis, which uses computer models to project trends in a range
of conditions affecting isolated populations of a species and calculates the
probability of long-time survival.

"Conservation biologists see changes in the environment and estimate the
impact on species, while paleontologists see a record of change in species
and try to match what environmental issues drove those changes," said Dr.
David Jablonski, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago. "The
fundamental problem in all this is the ways we estimate extinction
intensities are totally different."

Many conservation biologists and groups have compared the current extinction
episode with the five great dyings that punctuate the fossil record, but Dr.
Jablonski and many paleontologists say the data are so different -- and so
incomplete in both realms -- that there is no way to relate past extinctions
to whatever is happening now.

Much more needs to be done to mesh the two disciplines, he said, adding,
"Often, I'm the token paleontologist at conservation biology meetings." That
has to change, he said.

A central challenge frustrating scientists studying the most imperiled
species is that they are just nibbling at the edges of the world's
biological diversity, a fact borne out in the vast gap between the number of
species classified by science -- fewer than 2 million -- and the latest
far-flung estimates of what is out there: anywhere from 7 million to more
than 100 million, depending on who is counting.

The complexity of extinction, and the vastness of the biosphere, have
prompted many scientists to call for a large increase in the number of
biologists working both in the field and in museums or laboratories to
clarify the relationships and characteristics of the planet's myriad
endangered life forms.

Dr. Edward O. Wilson, an entomologist and ecologist at Harvard University
who helped invent the current methods of estimating extinction rates,
published an essay in Science last month calling for a large effort to
improve mapping of biodiversity around the world.

"Right now we spend between $150 million and $200 million a year in the
United States on studying global fauna and flora," Dr. Wilson said. "That's
just dabbling. Compared to the magnitude of the problem, it's chump change."

He and other biologists acknowledge that the need comes just as the
explosion of advances in genetics and molecular biology is attracting some
of biology's brightest young minds -- and a lot of the available grants and
government money.

"If you say I want to go out and look for new mammals that have never been
found, it's hard to get support," said Dr. Michael A. Mares, a mammalogist
and director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum at the
University of Oklahoma. It was Dr. Mares whose team recently discovered the
golden Vizcacha rat living on the edge of salt flats.

The nocturnal rodent eats a desert plant that is four times as salty as sea
water. Dr. Mares discovered it while working far from the "biodiversity hot
spots" that have become a prime focus of conservationists lately. Even in
remote Argentinian deserts, pressure from agriculture is intruding, he said.

While areas with the most species and the most threats are clearly vital to
protect, he said, someone has to keep looking on the fringes.

"In this very isolated valley, you've got the possibility of three or four
species and one genus disappearing with very little habitat damage," he
said. "These are not charismatic species," he added. "But they play an
important role in the ecosystem and do some very interesting things."

Other biologists stress the importance, at the same time, of improving
understanding of what is happening close to home, in places like the woods
tucked amid American suburbs. Extinction and endangerment are not limited to
faraway tropics, said Dr. David B. Wake, a biologist at the University of
California, Berkeley, who divides his time between the cloud forests of
Costa Rica, the suburbs of Southern California and the stream-laced mountains of
the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Wake, whose work in Costa Rica 15 years ago first hinted that a
substantial die-off of frogs and other amphibians was taking place, said
that salamanders tucked in moist pockets of woodlands in Southern California
contained enormous genetic diversity.

Now, though, isolated populations are being quietly rooted out with each
advance of roads and subdivisions, he said. "I've watched this happen," he
said. "I've seen these tiny spots going out. A cougar or bird couldn't exist
there, but salamanders can. The challenge for the future is not that we're
losing all these species in the rain forest; we're losing them in our
backyards."

Finally, some scientists say, for extinction biology to gain more
credibility, more work is needed to improve the basic taxonomic data
determining just what is a species. Last year, Dr. Ross D. E. MacPhee, the
curator of mammals at the American Museum of Natural History, published an
analysis of the mammal extinctions in the 1996 Red List, a quadrennial
roster of the planet's intensive care ward published by the World
Conservation Union, and found dozens of instances in which species on the
list either were not extinct or were misidentified -- and also of extinct
species that the list had missed. A separate analysis of data for fish
extinctions produced similar findings.

Some biologists stress that concern over the current turmoil in the natural
world should be tempered with the awareness that change, sometimes a lot of
it -- including extinctions and new bursts of speciation -- is an essential
part of the ferment of life on earth.

And life can prove quite tough and adaptable. Puerto Rico, which lost 97
percent of its forests in the centuries following European settlement, is
almost completely forested again, local scientists say, with a mix of exotic
and native species. And sometimes species, with a little help, do pull back
from the brink. The ginkgo tree was nearly extinct in its home range of
China, preserved only on the grounds of a few monasteries. Now it has spread
around the world and is ensconced in some rather unforgiving ecosystems,
including Brooklyn.

Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company

===============
(8) PANSPERMIA

From Michael Paine <mpaine@tpgi.com.au>

I would like to make some comments about the 'panspermia' items appears in
CCNet on 27 October.

Firstly, HOW LIFE CAN JUMP BETWEEN PLANETS discusses the finding that
Martian meteorite ALH84001 was ejected from Mars without severe heating from
the impact event. Jay Melosh showed theoretically how this could occur over
a decade ago. I have likened it to shaking crumbs off a
picnic blanket (he may shudder at that). See
http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/astronomy/rocks_fromspace_991108.html
and
http://www1.tpgi.com.au/users/tps-seti/swaprock.html

Secondly, the report of fossilized microorganisms in Russian lunar samples
is very exciting but, despite extraordinary isolation efforts, there could
be concerns about contamination. In a 1999 paper 'Contamination of the
Murchison Meteorite' Andrew Steele and collegues write "The fact that fungi
cold grow extensively on a  coated sample within a sealed SEM [scanning
electron microscope] box is ominous. It then brings into doubt  meteorite
storage methods and maybe the
protocols for meteorite storage should be looked at again." The same
concerns might apply to storage of lunar sample. See links at
http://www1.tpgi.com.au/users/tps-seti/reading.html#ez8b

regards
Michael Paine

=============
(9) AND FINALLY: WEATHER AND CLIMATE ARE DIFFERENT THINGS

From The Daily Telegraph, 31 October 2000
http://www.dailytelegraph.co.uk/dt?ac=002830376029449&rtmo=lnFnQAot&atmo=HHHH22NL&pg=/00/10/31/do03.html

By Matt Ridley

IT must be tempting this week, especially for the inhabitants of Bognor
Regis and Selsey, to believe that the weather is getting more extreme. It
has already passed into folklore that global warming means wetter downpours,
windier storms and drier droughts. But is it true?

Lots of journalists and environmentalists say it is. Newsweek predicted
"more floods, worse hurricanes" because of global warming. The Earth Island
Journal this year predicted "fiercer winds, deadlier floods, longer
droughts". The Global Environmental Outlook 2000 claimed that global warming
will "raise the incidence of extreme weather events, including storms and
heavy rainfall". Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and all the usual suspects
have repeatedly linked global warming and an increase in extreme weather
events.

Of course, journalists and environmentalists have a vested interest in
claiming such a link, because weather leads to stories about climate. To
persuade a journalist to quote him, an environmentalist needs to say
something alarming; to persuade a news editor to run his story, a reporter
needs to include such quotes. So there is an inherent bias: you are unlikely
to read of anyone saying that nothing much has changed and that the latest
storm has nothing to do with climate change.

Even the VIPs of global warming seem convinced of the link between global
warming and extreme weather. Vice-President Al Gore asserts that "the
portion of the annual rainfall and snowfall which falls in one-time storm
events will go up". Sir John Houghton, head of the Met Office, started his
book Global Warming with a description of Hurricane Andrew and implied that
the frequency of tropical cyclones might increase by 50 per cent if carbon
dioxide levels doubled.

Alas, there is no substantial factual basis to such claims. Extreme weather
is showing either a slight negative trend, or none at all, or a slight
positive trend, depending on what you measure and where, but, if anything,
we are living through quiet times. The number of tropical storms has risen
in the north Pacific, shown no trend in the south Pacific and fallen in the
Indian and Australian region. In the Atlantic, the average annual maximum
wind speed in cyclones has declined steadily since 1945.

"Overall, there is no evidence that extreme weather events or climate
variability has increased, in a global sense, through the 20th century,"
says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The evidence, says the
World Meteorological Organisation, "points to an expectation of little or no
change in global frequency [of cyclones]". Both these organisations believe
the evidence for man-made global warming, but admit that the evidence for
more extreme weather is not there.

It is true that weather-related insurance claims have risen exponentially in
recent years. Environmentalists are fond of citing Munich Re's estimate that
pay-outs on natural catastrophes have increased nine times since the early
1980s. But they omit to mention the company's explanation for this, which is
that there are more people, with more material possessions and more
insurance, in high-risk zones. Indeed, if Florida had been as heavily
populated in the 1920s as it is today, the damage done by hurricanes would
have been far worse then than it was in the 1990s.

In the 1970s, there was also a rush of stories in the press linking extreme
weather to climate change: rain, storms and floods were all said to be
getting worse. But in those days, the scare was global cooling. The planet
was said by scientists and environmentalists to be heading into an ice age.
How odd that we live in a Goldilocks climate that is so perfect it would
generate worse weather if it cooled, and worse weather if it warmed.

The truth is that weather and climate are different things, and the link
between them is shrouded in mystery. Impatient with acts of God, we embrace
those who offer causal explanations of storms, just as we fall for those who
tell our horoscopes.

Copyright 2000, The Daily Telegraph

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