Sunday, March 07, 2010

A U.S. president describes climate change: a puzzle

Here is a puzzle for you.

First, in order to produce some keywords, let me recall that I have been to dozens of academic and physics facilities in the U.S. Many of them were named after someone, including the Busch Campus, the Varian Hall, the Jefferson Lab, the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, the Pupin Hall, the Elliot House, and Roosevelt Street (which is here in Pilsen but you will forgive me).

That's enough to confuse you.

Now, I am talking about a U.S. president who wrote a letter on December 11th, '09, nine months after he left the presidency. In his message to Nathaniel Chapman, a physician and professor in Philadelphia, he said:
The change which has taken place in our climate is one of those facts which all men of years are sensible of and yet none can prove by regular evidence. They can only appeal to each other’s general observation for the fact.

I remember that when I was a small boy, say sixty years ago, snows were frequent and deep in every winter, to my knee very often, to my waist sometimes, and that they covered the earth long. And I remember while yet young to have heard from very old men that in their youth the winters had been still colder, with deeper and longer snows. In the year '72, thirty-seven years ago, we had a snow two feet deep in the Champain parts of this state, and three feet in the counties next below the mountains...

While I lived at Washington, I kept a Diary, and by recurring to that I observe that from the winter of '02-'03 to that of '08-'09 inclusive, the average fall of snow of the seven winters was only 14½ inches, and that the ground was covered but sixteen days in each winter on average of the whole. The maximum in any one winter during that period was 21 inches fall, and 34 days on the ground, the minimum was 4½ inches fall and two days on the ground...

Williams in his history of Vermont has an essay on the change in the climate of Europe, Asia and Africa.
Now, your goal is to find out who wrote it. But in order for you not to instantly reveal the full answer to others, you should write a fast (Echo) comment with the following content:
day of the week when the Dec 11th '09 letter was written; one letter of the last name of the former U.S. president that hasn't yet been written by others before you (those who wrote a wrong day of the week shall be ignored by you)
This algorithm should help you to prove that you have the right answer while allowing others to try to solve the puzzle without seeing your correct answer. The name of the president has already appeared in the text above. ;-) Find the right answer and think about the consequences! When the last letter of the last name is written in the fast comments, you can start a regular unconstrained discussions. :-)

Via NewsMax


It was Thomas Jefferson: see e.g. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, page 488.

His writing style and the ability to measure snow precipitation - probably more accurately than NASA's GISS today :-) - reveals that it couldn't have been a modern president. Equally importantly, the text shows that similar multi-decadal changes of the climate that those we observed recently occurred 200 years ago, too.

That's despite the fact that the world's population reached 1 billion in 1810 and, more importantly, the man-made CO2 emissions were pretty much zero - or more than 100 times lower than today.

It may also be interesting to compare the absolute numbers for the snow precipitation with the present era.

When Jefferson lived in the D.C., he measured the average snowfall by winter to be 14.5 inches, while the interval was from 4.5 to 21 inches. In the modern decades, the average total snow precipitation per year (season) is exactly 14.7 inches (see the extreme right, annual column), identical as it used to be during Jefferson's years in Washington!

For many decades, Jefferson actually measured wind, precipitation, and his temperature in his home in Monticello, Virginia. His motivation was his belief that meteorology was one of the least advanced sciences. His salary was $3,500 but he provided us with a comparable amount of information as the modern field whose budget is many billion dollars a year.

In fact, I am not able to get the corresponding modern data from the places in Virginia (?) to compare them with Jefferson's data. Try it. ;-)

We have already studied Jefferson's quote when he was old, from 1809. But let's look at his Notes on Virginia I, vol.3 (Correspondence 1780-1782) (paragraph 1205):
A change in our climate however is taking place very sensibly. Both heats and colds are become much more moderate within the memory even of the middle-aged.  Snows are less frequent and less deep. They do not often lie, below the mountains, more than one, two, or three days, and very rarely a week.  They are remembered to have been formerly frequent, deep, and of long continuance.

The elderly inform me the earth used to be covered with snow about three months in every year.  The rivers, which then seldom failed to freeze over in the course of the winter, scarcely ever do so now.  This change has produced an unfortunate fluctuation between heat and cold, in the spring of the year, which is very fatal to fruits. From the year 1741 to 1769, an interval of twenty-eight years, there was no instance of fruit killed by the frost in the neighbourhood of Monticello.  An intense cold, produced by constant snows, kept the buds locked up till the sun could obtain, in the spring of the year, so fixed an ascendency as to dissolve those snows, and protect the buds, during their developement, from every danger of returning cold.

The accumulated snows of the winter remaining to be dissolved all together in the spring, produced those overflowings of our rivers, so frequent then, and so rare now.
It sounds just like the impressions people were expressing recently, doesn't it?

By the way, in his texts from 1780-1782, he also gives a table of temperatures from Central Europe. Well, I can assure you that the data in the table are much warmer than Prague today. For example, Prague oscillates around the freezing point in January these days. In the table, January is given as 38.5-44 degrees Fahrenheit which is almost 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer!

Not sure what kind of "middle parts of Europe" he was referring to and not sure why such a careful scientists didn't try to be a little bit more accurate about the location. It may have been Italy.

1 comment:

  1. In 1962, U.S. President Kennedy told a gathering of Nobel laureates at the White House that it was "...probably the greatest concentration of talent and genius in this house except for perhaps those times when Thomas Jefferson ate alone."