The Unanswered but Answerable Question about the Science of Climate Change

Messele Zewdie Ejeta

December 31, 2010

Waking up recently by my alarm radio to the tune of the National Public Radio’s (NPR's) Morning Edition, I heard news that Europe was getting its coldest winter since 1993. The year swiftly caught my attention because I made a quick determination as I was waking up that the winter season of 2011 is about 18 years, or one Saros cycle, from that of 1993.

According to information from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that is posted on its eclipse website, the Saros cycle is a period of 6585.3 days (18 years, 11 days, and 8 hours) that governs the periodicity and recurrence of solar eclipses. The information further suggests that two eclipses that are separated by a period of one Saros share a very similar geometry; the two eclipses occur at the same node with the moon nearly the same distance from the earth and at the same time of year. In this context, a node is defined as a point where the lunar orbit intersects the plane of the earth’s orbit.

NASA uses Saros to organize eclipses into families or series that are identified by specific patterned numbers such as 121, 126, ..., 141, 146, or 127, 132, ..., 147, 152, and so on.

My interest in these series emerged partly as a result of involvement in the study of the impact of projected climate change on state and federal water projects in California. A preliminary report of this study was completed in 2006. The uncertainty in developing hydrological data that incorporates projected climate change to study the impact has been unsettling.

Fortunately, California has a rich record of observed precipitation data that was helpful to establish a baseline for historical level hydrology, which has been characterized as statistically stationary. In concrete terms, this means that for a climate period, which is generally 30 years according to a report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the average and variation of observed precipitation data remain nearly constant.

This constancy has been ascertained through the analyses of over a century of observed precipitation data at multiple gauging stations and estimated natural streamflows of multiple watersheds in California.

The observation from these analyses led to the formulation of what I call the Paradoxical Hydrological Stationarity Problem. For example, using the precipitation data at Davis, California, where well over a century of continuous records exist, the average data for any given climate period closely approximates the corresponding data for any other climate period that has recorded data.

The paradox lies in the fact that this is a unique problem in which the moving average of a continuous subset of any n data points (30 years in this case) from a total set of N data points (over 100 years) is predictable with a very high degree of certainty whereas the variability of the individual components could not be predetermined, at least so far. The intersection of the observation of the paradoxical problem and Saros series as well as cycles led to uncovering two phenomena that may be of paramount importance to understanding climate science better. Besides furthering our understanding of climate science, the solution of this paradoxical problem can be useful for various important applications.

The first phenomenon is that based on local precipitation data in California, when the moon is nearly the same distance from the earth at the same time of year, similar hydrological conditions are observed on earth. It is therefore likely that the similarity of the snowfall in Europe, as well as hydrological and climate conditions elsewhere, in the winters of 1993 and 2011 points to this phenomenon. It should be noted here that so far while the Saros series are used as a guide for such comparisons, the basic determinant appears to point to the spatial and temporal position of the moon relative to the earth and sun.

Even though it may sound insurmountable for the layperson to know the distance of the moon from the earth at the same time of year, there are readily available proxies to achieve this objective. Solar and lunar eclipse events and the Saros series established for both the historical period and into the future can be used to get a glimpse of the whereabouts of the moon in the earth-moon-sun space during any given season.

For instance, the similarities in the positions of the moon in 1993 and 2011 in this space can be easily gleaned from these proxies. The closest Total solar eclipse to winter 1993 occurred on June 30, 1992, and belongs to a Saros series of 146 and had eclipse magnitude of 1.059. Similarly, the closest Total solar eclipse to winter 2011 occurred on July 11, 2010, which also belongs to a Saros series of 146 and had eclipse magnitude of 1.058. While both have the same Saros series of 146, nearly the same eclipse magnitudes, and are one Saros cycle apart, they occurred nearly 11 days apart in their respective years, which can be practically considered approximately the same time of year.

While the closest solar eclipse and its Saros series for a specified period, such as winters of 1993 and 2011, provide some basic information to get a good glimpse of the moon’s rotational position, looking at the priori and posterior eclipses and their characteristics may reinforce the reference for a given season or year. To this effect, there was an Annular solar eclipse of Saros series 141 and eclipse magnitude 0.918 on January 4, 1992, and another Annular solar eclipse of Saros series 128 and eclipse magnitude 0.943 on May 10, 1994. Similarly, there was an Annular solar eclipse of Saros series 141 and eclipse magnitude 0.919 on January 15, 2010, and another Annular solar eclipse of Saros series 128 and eclipse magnitude 0.9439 expected to occur on May 20, 2012. Thus, the eclipse events and their characteristics around the two winters are very similar and suggest that the moon would be about the same distance from the earth at the same time of the year during these seasons.

The analyses of regional precipitation data in California using this approach has led to, in hindsight, the prognosticative ability for regional wet and dry years (multiple manuscripts have been prepared about these analyses by this author and submitted to scientific journals for peer review and possible publication).

The second phenomenon, which seems unrelated to the first, but apparently associated with it is earthquake predictability. This phenomenon was uncovered after analyzing the gap between solar eclipse and earthquake events (greater than or equal to 7 on the Richter magnitude scale) by using over a century of datasets recorded by NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), respectively. One of the best examples to explain this gap may be the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, and solar eclipse event on January 15, 2010, a gap of about three days. Another example is the December 26, 2004, Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, which occurred on a full moon day and about two lunar cycles after the October 28, 2004, lunar eclipse. Over the past one hundred years, the average gap is about 12 days. This figure can be further refined by considering proximate alignments such as the full moon day major earthquake and tsunami approximately two lunar cycles after a solar eclipse event.

Although these initial findings are undergoing further investigations, it appears that the driver for the earthquake is tidal dynamics according to Newton’s law of universal gravitation. It has been established that this dynamics is enhanced when the moon and sun are aligned as observed from the earth.

To the extent that there is a strong association between temperature and precipitation, it is also very likely that similar temperature regimes could be felt on earth during two years when the moon’s relative position is at the same distance from earth at the same time of year.

However, whether it is the 1) inertia of differential movements of the moon around the earth and the moon and earth around the sun or 2) gradient in the radiation the earth receives according to the relative positions of the earth and moon with respect to the sun which predominantly determines earth’s climate and hydrology remains to be seen.

Nonetheless, both phenomena appear to point to the possibility of establishing a baseline for deterministic hydrology and climate. This baseline can be used to measure the marginal effect of elevated green house gases (GHGs) in earth’s atmosphere on its climate and may well be what could bring together the different views on projected climate change. These views range from looking at the science of climate change as utilitarian for non-scientific ends to proven science to humanity’s naivety in misunderstanding the effect on climate of the level of GHGs in earth’s atmosphere. The unanswered question is in regard to establishing a reference that is based on evidently deterministic physical processes instead of using the realizations caused by these processes as statistical data.

To the extent that these findings can be ascertained through further analysis on a global scale, they are probably some of the crucial advances made by pushing on the frontier of the science of climate and climate change. If we have made an important step in the realization of the movement of the earth around the sun, the realization that physical processes on earth, including hydrological variability, are associated with the cyclic movements of the earth and moon in a deterministic way marks another milestone on top of that important step. This understanding may bring the prediction of various phenomena on earth one important step closer to our predictive capability of the winter and summer seasons of a year. Afterall, future may well be a construction of our perception of the reality of a moment in the space, which may be cyclically deterministic.

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