The Groundhog Oscillation: Evidence of Global Change
There is a fierce debate about whether the earth's climate is changing.
In this paper we describe an overlooked -- but reliable -- remote sensing
instrument that can provide crucially pertient information. We also describe
an extensive long-term data set that was obtained by using the instrument.
A Shadowy Observer
Every year on Groundhog Day (February
2), Phil the groundhog emerges from his burrow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania,
after a long winter's sleep. Legend has it that if Phil sees his shadow
(that is, if Groundhog Day is sunny), he dives back into his burrow, because
he knows that there will be six more weeks of winter. If Phil doesn't see
his shadow (that is, if the Groundhog Day is cloudy), he (and his adoring
public) expect spring to arrive early.
By analyzing the more-than-century-long record of Phil's observations of
his shadow, we discovered that there has been a dramatic change in the data
pattern over the past two decades. We speculate that this new pattern, which
we call the "Groundhog Oscillation," is evidence that the global
climate is indeed changing.
This new pattern also suggests that mankind should pay closer attention to what our furry friends are telling us.
The Climate Change Question: Some Background
The scientific community has for many years been investigating the question of climate change. The main objectives have been (a) to prove or disprove the existence of global-scale climate change; (b) to understand the nature and implications of such change if it is occurring; and (c) to determine the extent to which such change occurs anthropogenically (i.e., by the actions of human beings).
After much research and careful data analysis, most of the scientific community now accepts that the global climate (as measurable in aspects such as air temperature patterns, sea-surface temperature and pressure patterns, atmospheric composition, etc.) has been changing significantly over the past hundred years. (It should be noted that, as with all scientific and other questions, there are a few scientists who strongly disagree.)
The changes have apparently been increasing in magnitude during recent
decades. One such change has been evident in the past twenty years'
values of the so-called "Arctic Oscillation (AO) Index" (see Thompson
et al., 2000 for a detailed explanation). The effect is shown graphically
in Figure 1. Related research has also suggested potential global change
signatures in the Earth's middle and upper atmosphere. Studies involving
data obtained from ice core samples, tree rings, and even jellyfish populations
reveal similar climatic trends.
However, there is inherent difficulty in doing climate research. This is due to many factors, including the variance that is induced by daily weather activity and that related to local climatological variability. There is continued need for further analysis on temporally long data sets obtained by suitable instrumentation. The instrument we describe here -- Phil -- appears to offer significant advantages over the better-known alternatives.
Instrumentation and Observations
The observations made on Groundhog Day of most every year for over a century
have recorded whether Punxsutawney Phil (marmota monax, also known as the
groundhog, woodchuck, or whistle-pig; see Figure 2) "sees" or
"does not see" his shadow. Thus, the data represents a series
of binary events.
Phil's observations are ideal for global change studies, for a number of
<> There is a temporally long baseline of measurements, extending
back to approximately 1888.
<> The instrument (Phil) is relatively cheap to maintain (though at times a bit hazardous to an untrained operator).
<> The instrument does not require the unnecessary expense of being satellite or rocket borne (nor the further expense that would entail in complying with other standards (PETA, OSHA, etc.).
<> The instrument operates at middle latitudes, where upkeep and maintenance are considerably cheaper than at equatorial or high latitudes.
<> No (extensive) additional funding is required to maintain the instrument. Public donations and support are nearly sufficient to fund the entire operation (especially with the recent added support due to Phil's Hollywood movie career, which consisted of a starring role alongside Bill Murry and Andie McDowell in the film Groundhog Day).
<> The instrument is robust, light (less than 20 lbs.), small (< 3 cubic ft.), and relatively attractive.
Phil's observations are depicted graphically in Figure 3. Note that
in many of the years prior to 1975, Phil saw his shadow. In those years
Phil retreated into his burrow, where he rode out a minimum of six subsequent
additional weeks of winter (i.e., there were long winters throughout most
of the early and mid 1900's).
In the early 1980s the reported values began varying greatly from year
to year. During this period there was roughly an equal chance of Phil seeing
his shadow or not seeing his shadow. This new high variability is strikingly
different than the relatively consistent values observed in earlier decades.
We have given a name to this new, strong, persistent oscillation: the Groundhog
Oscillation (or GO, after the AO above).
Discussion and Conclusions
The Groundhog Oscillation is convincing evidence of climate change. This
finding is consistent with those of other recent studies. Compare Figure
3 with Figure 1 to see one instance of this.
This raises a number of intriguing questions. Perhaps the most puzzling is this: How is this phenomenon -- the GO - related to sea-surface changes? Phil is normally landlocked in west-central Pennsylvania, so the connection must be complex, and therefore fascinating.
To make further progress in understanding global climate change, we must
initiate additional, widespread groundhog observation programs (each calibrated
by Phil, of course). In the interest of science, we must place groundhogs
at each weather observing station worldwide. Only thus can we obtain and
analyze the complete set of data we need to understand global climate change.
It has not escaped our attention that, in Phil, we have discovered a key
for easing tensions over politically touchy scientific questions. All the
world loves a furry, cute scientific instrument.
The authors thank CG, Punxsutawney Phil, and the Inner Circle for their
contributions to this research endeavor. Information on Phil, including
his observations, can be obtained at http://www.groundhog.org/history/predictions.shtml
"Annular Modes in the Extratropical Circulation, Part II: Trends," D. W. Thompson, J., J. M. Wallace, and G. C. Hegerl, Journal of Climate, vol. 13, 2000, pp. 1018-1036.
© Copyright 2001 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)