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Urumqi and the Great Leap Forward

The Graun published a fairly bog-standard global warming scare story the other day. This time it's the melting of a glacier in Western China which is causing alarm, drought, despair and hyperactivity in small children.

The Urumqi No1 Glacier is so named because it was the first icefield to be measured in China. Since 1953, scientists have been monitoring its thickness and length, analysing traces of pollution and tracking changes in temperature at this 3,800-metre altitude. The results leave no room for doubt that this part of the Tian (Heaven) mountain range is melting.
According to the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, the glacier has lost more than 20% of its volume since 1962 as the temperature has increased by almost 1C. And the rate of shrinkage is accelerating. For the first time last year, it was so warm in the summer that rain rather than snow fell on the glacier. A lake formed on the top of the icefield, which is retreating at the rate of nine metres a year.


On a whim, your humble correspondent decided to surf on over to the NASA GISS and download the climate station record for Urumqi. Here it is:

Now, you don't have to look at this graph for very long to realise that what has happened in Urumqi is not the result of a gradual warming of the globe due to industrialisation, but a sudden change in the recorded temperature in 1961, whether caused by a change in station location or a some other factor. In fact, if you download the data, you can time the change in temperature even more precisely - to March 1961. This would suggest that it's a station move.

Secondly, Jonathan Watt's claim that the temperature in Urumqi has increased by 1oC since 1962 appears incorrect, since the temperature in 2007 is clearly about the same as that in 1962. He may mean 1961, which was 0.8oC cooler than 2007, but we should note that if you picked 1962 rather than 1961 you would say that current temperatures were lower than ones in the past. Someone who knows how to get the corrected data could perhaps put a trend line on the period 1961 to 2007 to get a more scientific take on what is happening. Using the eyeball method of analysis, you wouldn't say that there was a clear upward trend since 1961. If anything, the opposite.

Intriguingly though, the end of the 1950s and the start of the 1960s was the period of Mao's Great Leap Forward, the attempt to industrialise China over a single five year plan. So while the sudden jump in 1960 is probably to a station move rather than industrialisation, the thought occurs to me that study of  I wonder if closer study of Chinese temperature history might shed further light on the urban heat island adjustment. One for Anthony Watts to look at, perhaps.

Even more intriguingly, in the same Guardian article, we learn that the Chinese are looking to dismantle local smoke-belching factories.

There are few places in the world where the cause and effect of global warming are so closely juxtaposed. An hour's drive from the glacier, the road passes coal-fired power plants and factories that belch carbon and sulphur into the sky. They were built during the Cultural Revolution, when Mao Zedong ordered industry to be shifted into remote areas of the countryside so that it would be harder to target in the event of a war with the Soviet Union.


This "Third Front" policy is now viewed as an environmental disaster. A senior engineer at the Houxia concrete plant says the factory will close within three years because the government recognises the need to reduce emissions and pollution.

So, reading between the lines, could it be that the Chinese are recognising that the problem of glacier melt is caused by local industry rather than any alleged global warming?

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