Climate Change Heating Up or Cooling Down

Meteorological developments in the 1970s—both practical and theoretical—were primarily due to improvements in computer capacity, which allowed modelers to include more atmospheric variables. Improvements in remote sensing devices, especially satellites and weather radar, improved meteorologists' ability to track storm systems and to collect more data in smaller time increments over wider geographic areas. As a result, routine and tropical predictions continued to improve and cover longer forecast periods.

In climatology, the Earth was either heating up or cooling down, depending on one's point of view. Drought and crop failures in Africa in the early 1970s focused public attention on climate change. Almost no one still thought of climate as static. Desertification was rapidly stripping away vegetation and a food crisis seemed likely. While the anecdotal evidence pointed to a warming Earth, further analysis of global temperature data showed a cooling trend from the 1940s. Concerns about warming gave way to concerns about cooling due to natural or human-produced particles and aerosols thrown up into the atmosphere. These events opened up the possibility that the Sun's energy might be significantly blocked by particles, thus leading to rapid cooling and a return of ice age conditions. Scientists pointed out that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would offset cooling with greenhouse warming. Any consensus about cooling that may have existed in scientific circles at the beginning of the decade evaporated when two New Zealand scientists reported that temperatures were definitely warming in the Southern Hemisphere. Scientists might not have agreed about whether global temperatures were rising or falling, but they did agree that the scientific and public debate about climate change was heating up.

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