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1970’s Global Cooling – What The Scientists Said

March 18, 2012
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By Paul Homewood




It is well known that there were many articles in the likes of Time Magazine and Newsweek back in the 70’s, which sensationalised the ice age scare. Warmists tend to write off this episode as just media hype.  But what were the scientists saying at the time?


HH Lamb was one of the leading climate scientists at the time and founded the Climatic Research Unit at the UEA. In 1973 he wrote an article, “Is The Earth’s Climate Changing?”, for the UNESCO magazine, “The Courier”. It was a special edition devoted to climate issues and in it, HH Lamb covered a number of issues.


Early 20th Century Warming

  • Computations in the United States from surface air temperature observations all over the world show that from the 1880s to some time after 1940 the Earth’s climate was becoming generally warmer. The global warming over those years amounted to about half a degree Centigrade, but in the Arctic it was much stronger and amounted to several degrees between 1920 and 1940.
  • The ice on the Arctic seas decreased in extent by about 10 per cent and decreased in general thickness by about one third. Glaciers in all parts of the world were receding, opening up new pastures and land for cultivation.
  • The greater warmth increased the length of the growing season by two to three weeks in England. The wild flora and forests, the cultivation of various crops, and the ranges of seasonal migration of birds and fish, all spread to new regions under the increasingly genial conditions.
  • Moreover, the longest temperature records available in various northern countries from the early eighteenth century (in England from the late seventeenth century) showed that the previous warming had a very long history, traceable from the beginning of the record through various shorter-term ups and downs. This meant that the warming began before the industrial revolution and could not be altogether attributable to the effects of human activity


Post 1940 Cooling

  • For the past 25 to 30 years the Earth has been getting progressively cooler again. Around 1960 the cooling was particularly sharp. And there is by now widespread evidence of a corresponding reverse in the ranges of birds and fish and the success of crops and forest trees near the poleward and altitudinal limits.
  • The decline of prevailing temperatures since about 1945 appears to be the longest-continued downward trend since temperature records began. [This period of cooling lasted about 30 years, about 5 years longer than the recent period of warming].


Effects of The Cooling

It is perhaps here that things become most interesting. According to Lamb, among the effects of the changes of climate in recent years, which have given cause for concern are:-

  • a renewed increase (especially since 1961) of the Arctic sea ice, which has created difficulties on the northern sea routes in Soviet and Canadian Arctic waters and has produced some bad seasons on the coasts of Iceland and Greenland.
  • a substantial rise, also since 1961, in the levels of the great lakes in eastern equatorial Africa and, more recently, of the Great Lakes of North America.
  • some 200-year extremes of temperature in individual cold winters in various parts of the northern hemisphere (and probably also in the warmth of summer in 1972 in northern European U.S.S.R. and Finland).
  • The most serious effects, however, have probably been the long-continued droughts and deficient rainfalls in various parts of the world associated with shifts of the world’s anticyclone belts.
  • The subtropical anticyclones associated with the desert belt were displaced somewhat towards the equator, and the equatorial rainbelt seems to have been restricted in the range of its seasonal migrations. In consequence, rainfall increased in Africa close to the equator, causing the lakes to rise, while drought began to afflict places nearer the fringe of the desert belt, no longer reliably visited in summer by "equatorial" rains.
  • Rainfall at eight places in northern India, the Sudan and at 16 to 20°N in west Africa averaged 45 per cent less in the years 1968-72 than in the 1950’s. In all these areas people have been driven from their homes by the continued failure of the rains, and in the Cape Verde Islands at the same latitude in the Atlantic an emergency was declared in 1972 because of the last five years of drought.
  • There are indications that corresponding shifts have taken place in the anticyclone and cyclone belts of the southern hemisphere and that the droughts affecting Zambia, Rhodesia and parts of the Transvaal in recent years are essentially part of the same phenomenon. [An indication that Southern Hemisphere temperatures were also falling].
  • At the same time, the shifting positions from month to month, and from one year to the next, occupied by the main anticyclone centres in this belt have introduced an abnormal variability of temperature and precipitation. A similar development may explain the sequence of droughts and floods in different parts of Australia in 1972-3.


Drought over Africa

In another article in this issue of The Courier, Jean Dresch, Professor of Geography at the University of Paris and a “leading authority” on the world’s arid zones, writes in more detail about the African drought that Lamb touched on.

  • Famine threatens millions of villagers and herdsmen with their decimated flocks, today forced into an unprecedented migration in search of food and water, in all the West African countries to the south of the Sahara, from Mauritania to the Sudan. Its cause is drought, a prolonged decline in rainfall that has been recorded as far as central Asia, throughout the periphery of the arid zone, extending from the tropical desert of the Sahara to the continental deserts of temperate Eurasia.
  • A sequence of dry years is remembered in 1910-1914, when they caused a real famine. 1941 and 1942 were no better; and dry years have been succeeding one another since 1968, whereas the decade 1951-1960 was wetter. But there is no cyclical rhythm from which to predict disasters.


Drought and Floods

Jerome Namias, “one of America’s leading weather scientists”, comments in another article, “Long Range Forecasting of Drought and Floods” :-

  • We are all aware of the ravages of natural events of the recent past, the devastating Russian drought of 1972; current drought in sub-Saharan countries, especially Mali, Mauritania and the Upper Volta, which seems to have persisted and become aggravated in the last few years; the occasional seasonal droughts in parts of India and Australia and the "Seca" or" drought which occurs in some years in northeast Brazil.
  • On the wet side,we have the eastern U.S.A. floods in June, 1972, associated, in part, with hurricane Agnes the most costly storm in U.S. history, and we remember the 1966 tragic flood of Florence. These are but a sample of spectacular events from the climatological record.
  • From time immemorial there have been occasions when nature "goes on a rampage" and makes it appear that the climate is changing. Why does nature do this? Unfortunately man does not yet fully understand the causes of these events, and therefore he is unable to predict them reliably. [He obviously did not know about the all powerful influence of a minor trace gas].


Final Word

Were they worried about what the future would bring? They might not have talked in the apocalyptic language of Time, but there was certainly concern. I will leave the final comment to HH Lamb:-


All these events have raised an anxious demand for ultra-long-range forecasting of climate, which calls for intensified effort towards understanding of the atmosphere (and its interactions with the ocean) and for further reconstruction of the facts of the past climatic record.


The full edition of The Courier is here.

  1. March 18, 2012 8:42 pm

    Wonderful article and I need that edition of Time!

  2. Dave N permalink
    March 18, 2012 10:48 pm

    You missed Schneider; he was one of the more vocal ice-age alarmists. The “In Search Of..” TV series devoted a whole episode to it featuring Schneider as one of the doomsayers.

    It certainly wasn’t just media hype.

    • Richard Keen permalink
      March 19, 2012 5:29 pm

      Schneider’s doomsaying was in the journals, too – check out the abstract at:
      You have to pay to see the entire article on Science, but the last sentence of the abstract:
      “If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease over the whole globe is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age”
      says it all.

  3. March 19, 2012 6:43 am

    Global cooling is now imminent, is unstoppable, will be severe and the media have put a complete blackout on the waning Sun. The cause if this cooling!
    The Earth’s climate will continue to cool during the next 20 years and enter a new Little Ice Age!

  4. Bob permalink
    March 22, 2012 6:46 am

    Lamb is just one scientist. Why does your title use the plural?

    • March 22, 2012 10:46 am

      The Newsweek article quotes several others. Also the Courier has articles by Dresch and Namias, which I have quoted.

      • Bob permalink
        March 24, 2012 9:42 pm

        Yes, there’s that, but those few articles are but a few among the many scientific reports to the contrary. Better to use “Some Scientists” in the headline: it’s more scientific.

  5. cptwayne permalink
    March 24, 2012 2:36 pm

    We need to pay more attention to the length of the solar cycles: Longer solar cycles have been shown to result in less heating 9-11 years later. A series of short solar cycles in a row will cause more frequent heating and the PDO and AMO will both turn positive or warm at the same time causing more global warming. Also, when there are a series of longer solar cycles with lower maximums you get extended global cooling . The effects of atmospheric CO2 appears to be negligible compared to these larger natural cycles and will always be dwarfed by them. See: “Do Latest Solar Studies Confirm Upcoming Global Cooling?”

  6. Ted permalink
    March 24, 2012 4:08 pm

    If you do a count of peer reviewed studies from the 70’s you actually find that most say the climate is warming by a count of about 10-1, basically then, as now, the media does not report science correctly.

    • March 24, 2012 5:45 pm

      Any references for this, Ted?

      • Bob permalink
        March 24, 2012 9:27 pm

        10-1 sounds exaggerated. 6-1 would be more like it. Here’s a piece by the American Meteorological Society:

      • March 24, 2012 10:52 pm

        I see William Connolley was one of the authors!

        I am not denying that plenty of climate scientists were forecasting global warming caused by CO2. Even Lamb himself recognised this as a possibility.

        I am not aware, though, of any at the time who denied that the planet was cooling.

      • Bob permalink
        March 25, 2012 5:34 am

        You asked a pretty simple question, Paul: “But what were the scientists saying at the time?” Most of them were saying that the earth was warming.
        Some were saying it was cooling. Pretty much the same as today.

  7. Ted permalink
    March 25, 2012 2:09 am

    I made a mistake, posted the ratio before checking, actual numbers are: 7 for cooling (not ice age) 44 for warming, a copy of the paper is here, The paper covers most points raised here.

    • March 25, 2012 12:42 pm

      I think we need to differentiate between scientists who believed that GHG would, in theory, lead to warming and those who observed that the planet was cooling.

      (Many of course held both views)

  8. March 25, 2012 12:37 pm

    I’ll leave the last word to Hubert Lamb.

    It soon became clear, however, that carbon dioxide was not the whole story. Despite increasing production of this gas, with more and more industrialization and the ever increasing burning of oil and other fuels, the temperature trend reversed.

    Thus, quite recent climatic trends have forced us to recognize that climatic changes and fluctuations are forever going on, even in our own times, and that we have to reckon
    with changes brought about both by natural causes and the actions of Man.

    The decline of prevailing temperatures since about 1945 appears to be the longest-continued downward trend since temperature records began.


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