My academic interest at university was in Economics and Geography. I taught social sciences in high schools for ten years after 1967 while developing a stoneware pottery business on the side. As a potter I became familiar with the notion of heat work. I left teaching to plant vines and make wine while making a living as a full time potter. I had never intended to be a farmer but the environmental aspects of plant husbandry became a consuming interest in particular after the publication of John Gladstone’s ‘Viticulture and Environment’ the first thorough investigation of the factors responsible for grape and wine character that link to quality outcomes. Gladstones was a plant breeder, a gardener and a keen student of climate. He had to base his analysis on the use of daily temperature maxima and minima, a real handicap. He had no computer, no spreadsheet and no Google.
In the early 1990’s I set out to find a truly great site to plant vines. I needed to describe the ripening period thermal environment in great vine sites in the month prior to harvest. There is not much difference in the composition of green grapes but large differences in the composition of grapes at the point of harvest. I discovered that all great vine sites manage to avoid excessive heat in the ripening cycle. The clue is to choose a site where the ripening cycle naturally falls in autumn when the heat of summer is over. This involved a lot of work with temperature data taken at 20 minute intervals, that I collected with electronic loggers in small housings that I set up across the south west of the state of Western Australia. I located hourly data taken at airports close to overseas vine sites. In the process of processing the data I became familiar with the use of spreadsheets. A guy who was accustomed to work in the fields started to spend long hours in front of a computer screen.
In the vineyard it was plain that no two seasons were the same. Crop levels depended on leaf area at fruit set. Cool springs resulted in reduced crops. Heat in mid season advanced the harvest date so that sugar levels escalated before flavours were mature. Each grape variety has a different growing season heat requirement to bring fruit to maturity. In each instance these requirements can be reduced to numbers. The vine itself can be characterised in numbers.
Growing season temperatures are highly variable and seemed to be falling in this part of the world. That set me on a quest to work out where temperatures were increasing and by how much. At this point I became aware of the fact that warming rates are diverse. Parts of the Southern Hemisphere like Antarctica and Southern Chile had been cooling for fifty years or more. My curiosity was aroused.
I discovered reanalysis data at http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/cgi-bin/data/timeseries/timeseries1.pl about 2006 which is about ten years after it became available. That opened up a world of data at my fingertips and I dug in becoming familiar with the temperature profile of the atmosphere cross the globe. The biggest swings in temperature were occurring in high latitudes and the swing in temperature was greater in the upper stratosphere than anywhere else. Furthermore, it was very plain that swings in the lower stratosphere and upper troposphere were much greater than at the surface. There was the answer: Cloud cover variation explained the flux in the temperature at the surface. Simple. That led me back to the poles to try and work out why temperature variation was so great in high latitudes. The data showed trends. The sort of trends that I discovered could not be generated from within the climate system.
We can learn a lot about the mechanics of the climate system just by looking at what has happened in the atmosphere over time. All one needs is a little curiosity, a facility with spreadsheets and a lot of determination. The mechanism was at first quite baffling. There is a strong hemispheric component to temperature change. It was plain that the variations that were occurring were unrelated to the steady increase in greenhouse gases of anthropogenic origin.
The big breakthrough came when I started to look at the evolution of temperature by the month across the decades. That enables one to look at the broad swell of change and not be confused by the short term chop. Looking closely I discovered that the stratosphere is actually a very different sort of place to the stratosphere that is described in the literature. The clincher was the the discovery that the stratosphere indelibly stamps its mark on the surface temperature record. Variability in surface temperature is clearly coincidental with the time of the year, in fact the particular month where variability is most extreme in either the Arctic or the Antarctic.
Meanwhile a lot of great academic work had been done on the Annular modes of surface pressure variation. I could see that the task was to find out what was behind the variation in the annular modes and I already had a pretty good idea of what that might be.
The stratosphere that I describe in this work is ‘different’. Many people who are unfamiliar with the data will no doubt find it difficult to accept that the picture that I paint is accurate. That is the problem that we face when we get too far out in front of the crowd.
Many problems are solved by people beavering away alone without the support of colleagues and institutions working in their own time with no prospect of reward other than to have ones ideas accepted as a fair description of reality. In many cases that too is denied. There are no conferences to attend in far away places. No correspondence with anyone sharing the same interest. It’s a lonely task but nevertheless worthwhile. The worth of it in this case comes back to economics and the maximization of human welfare….and that takes me back to my beginnings as an undergraduate.