Interview

With climatologist Dr. Kenneth Hare

June 13 1977
Interview

With climatologist Dr. Kenneth Hare

June 13 1977

With climatologist Dr. Kenneth Hare

Interview

Winters that are colder, summers that are hotter and a prairies drought that threatened a grisly replay of the 1930s dust bowl. Something is happening to the weather. In the 32 years since he arrived in Montreal from his native England, climatologist Kenneth Hare has pursued the mysteries of weather with a scientific passion that has earned him world renown. After a doctorate at the University of Montreal, Hare founded the Arctic Meteorology Group at McGill University in 1959. He and other scientists in the group pioneered studies of the middle atmosphere. Later he led a five-year study of the Labrador-Ungava region. Recently he completed a United Nations report on drought conditions throughout the world. Dr. Hare spoke with Toronto journalist Casey Baldwin shortly before leaving for London to receive the Royal Geographical Society’s Patron's Medal from the Queen. He received the award for his exploration work in Northern Canada.

Maclean’s: Canadian weather, and North American weather in general, has been very odd this past winter. Is this a general trend? Hare: I think it is. I think there is a trend toward greater extremes. At first this was only a hunch; we noticed these extremes but we thought it might be due to better reporting. to be honest, or the fact that the extremes have moved inland from the sea. But by now we’ve got some pretty good evidence that there is actually an increase of variability taking place in world climate and it has been going on for 15 to 20 years. What that means is that the hot gets a little hotter, the cold gets a little colder, the floods get a little deeper and the droughts get a little drier. The Japanese meteorological agencies have been counting the number of extreme temperatures events around the world and the number has been increasing for three decades. Some fellows at the Environmental Data Service in Washington have literally gone through the whole atmosphere and simply calculated the spatial differences of temperature, averaged them, and found a steady increase for the last couple of decades. Maclean’s: The current drought in the Canadian and American west is the worst ever recorded. If it doesn’t rain can fertilizer and new technology save us from a dust bowl this summer?

Hare: No. fertilizer alone couldn’t do it. You have to have the rain. It has rained of course in parts of the Canadian Prairies, and there have been patchy rains in the High Plains. There are still areas, however. of the western High Plains in the United States that are still very much at risk. But the rain could still come. This is the rainy season in the plains and 1 think it’s by no means certain that we will lose all our crops. Between now and the end of June the situation may be transformed, by a storm or something.

Maclean’s: But could there still be a dust bowl in the North American plains?

Hare: Oh yes, yes, it’s a very real danger, but it’s much worse farther west, in Cali-

We can’t do much to improve the climate but we can do, are doing, things to hurt it

fornia, Oregon and the Pacific states, where municipal water supplies are badly run down and where now the dry season is approaching. So from the point of view of crops and grass, it is naturally the Great Plains, the High Plains and the Prairies that are watched. But on the West coast there’s a threat to everything. It is a threat to forest fires, a threat to municipal water and sewage, fruit growing, groundwater table. It’s a very serious situation. Maclean’s: What brought it on?

Hare: Well, there has been what meteorologists call a long wave ridge off the coast. Now normally speaking, as the basic west winds of the hemisphere approach the coast they move a little north and then as they come inland they move a little south over the Great Lakes. This year they’ve been going farther north and farther south. Weather systems have been going inland across Alaska and the Yukon instead of going in across Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia as they normally do. And then they have been coming southeast across the continent, plunging farther down in the Middle West and southeast than they normally do. And the Middle West was in the peak of it. The worst area was the Ohio Valley where it really was, I think, the coldest winter ever. Just as in part of the mountain states, it’s been the warmest ever, for exactly the same reason. The correct next question is why? The answer to that is, we don’t know. We don’t know what it is that accentuates these wave patterns. The atmosphere behaves in at least as complex a way as the human body, and it’s full of feedbacks and regulating mechanisms or what the fancy boys call “homeostatic mechanisms.” I could tell you for example that it’s probably due to anomalies of sea-surface temperatures somewhere else.

Maclean’s: Well, let us pursue that.

Hare: Well, sea-surface anomalies are a very real thing, especially in the tropics. For months or years on end, parts of the Pacific, Atlantic, or Indian oceans will be as much as three degrees Celsius warmer than they usually are. And that means that those regions pump an enormous extra amount of water into the air and they heat the air because the sea has an enormously greater heat capacity than the atmosphere. The persistence of this anomaly is bound to produce effects downwind in the atmosphere and this is a well-established, wellunderstood phenomenon. The trouble is that it is so complex that you can’t use it for easy predictions.

Maclean’s: A re there any methods that you can employ to induce rainfall?

Hare: You can certainly, if you are lucky and find the right kinds of clouds. You are lucky when you can push certain kinds of seeding agents into the clouds which will produce an enhancement of shower rainfall, but this is really only a marginal thing. The real problem is to produce the cloud and we have no mechanism to do that and I don’t think we shall. At the moment I am pretty pessimistic about very large-scale deliberate, beneficial climatic modification. On the other hand we are able to do stupid and rather unnecessary things that conceivably might accidentally and inadvertently worsen the climate. But positive and deliberate intervention with a good objective, that’s a long way off. Maclean’s: So you don’t foresee any possible methods of really altering world weather in the future?

Hare: I didn’t say that. I said beneficial. It's a big difference. We are at this present moment altering the atmosphere by the use of carbon dioxide, Fréons and a variety of gases, and this is beginning to change the world climate. We believe that into the next century the combined effects of all these things will be to raise temperature to a really very large extent. But the point is that we don’t know what the detailed consequences will be. The estimate that is most widely accepted is that all these things will raise our temperature during the next 80 years somewhere between 1.5 and six degrees Celsius. And the point is that we can’t predict what that will do to world precipitation, the behavior of the Polar ice, and other effects in sufficient detail for it to be a safe thing. Before you start monkeying with the system you’ve got to be able to predict accurately what the outcome will be and at the moment we can’t do that.

Maclean’s: Could you give us a small example and say, for instance, what would happen to Atlantic Canada if the temperature went up five degrees centigrade?

Hare: Well, from their standpoint it would probably be beneficial. It would, however, initially unstabilize the forests and for several centuries the forests would be badly out of kilter because of those temperatures. It would take a long time for the natural vegetation to settle down in the new warmth. And the fish population oil' the coast would be fundamentally altered. Fish are extraordinarily sensitive to temperature changes and they migrate. For agriculture, however, it would probably be beneficial because their growing season is too short. At the moment most Maritime agriculture is marginal and has a very narrow range of crops. And although most of the land is potentially suitable for agriculture, it just doesn’t have the climate to support it.

Maclean’s: Is it possible the major powers might try to destroy an enemy’s crops by meddling with the weather?

Hare: Well, it has been discussed and there are international conventions that prohibit this, as we all know; but international conventions usually go out of the window. I think that in some subsequent conflict it may be tried. If I were going to set out to try to modify the climate of an enemy state in order to undermine its economy, I would feel rather like an amateur manufacturer of a bomb, afraid that it would go oil'in his own hands. You can’t predict the consequences of interference with sufficient skill, so you’re much more apt to hurt yourself.

Maclean’s: The United States has just banned all fluorocarbon aerosols because they diminish the ozone layer that protects us from harmful radiation. Canada’s fluorocarbon ban coming in 1978 is only partial. Should it be complete?

Hare: A slowdown is what is called for at the present moment, but 1 wouldn't go the whole way. For example, I wouldn’t want them to be phased out of refrigerators. They are too darn useful in refrigerators and air-conditioning systems. But certainly any spray can . . . for personal use; deodorants and things like that. I would certainly go for a total ban on them. Some damage is inevitable now because the stuff is in the atmosphere already ... all the fluorocarbons ever produced are sitting in the atmosphere right now waiting to diffuse into the stratosphere. It’s a good example actually of a sort of sleeper in technology, like thalidomide; something where the consequences only become apparent long after you’ve started using it. The same danger undoubtedly exists in a lot of other high technology chemicals.

Weather warfare? It’s much more likely that you’d end up hurting yourself

Maclean’s: Can this destruction of ozone in the middle atmosphere alter our weather? Hare: Yes. it probably can. This is one of the spin-offs of the Freon situationthatwas originally played down. Everybody started thinking about the skin cancer risk and the damage to the plants and animals. But if you lower the amount of ozone in the stratosphere, you cool the stratosphere and that may well mean that you will raise the tropopause which is the lid on top of the lower atmosphere, which in turn is the top of water vapor and storms and so on. And because it allows more room for it this will certainly change world climate. Maclean’s: Can you predict how long this long wave ridge that is giving North America such screwy weather will last?

Hare: Not at the moment, though I think we may be relatively close to it. There are two kinds of forecast domains, to use our jargon. There is the short-term weather forecast which is basically inertial, everything evolves from things as they are now. You just map the distribution of the weather and you watch it move. On a short term that’s how weather forecasts are made. The models do this; they simply push things along the way they’re going now. They remember what happened yesterday and the day before and they know the laws that are governing the motion and they simply push the weather system forward. But those systems don’t last for more than a few days; they disappear. And the models don’t predict accurately the creation of new systems. So, as soon as all the existing systems have gone, that technique of forecasting disappears. But out beyond, let’s say three weeks, there’s another domain which is the climate. We’re just beginning to look now at these long-term processes. Now that ridge over the Pacific coast did indeed last eight or nine months. Maclean’s: Is it still there?

Hare: Well, it has weakened, but even this spring it was more common than usual. So. since it lasts that long, the time scale is such that it’s a different ball game. The inertial assumption, i.e. that things will just evolve from the way they are now, is no good for that kind of thing. But the interaction between the sea and the air operates on that kind of time scale and it may be that all we need is to have a good way of linking information about the sea surface to the atmosphere to get real forecasts on this time scale. And that’s what we’re working on now.

Maclean’s: What about all this expensive gear that the United States has put up such as the Tiros weather satellite? Have they increased your knowledge?

Hare: Immeasurably. And they haven’t spent a fortune. They’ve been damn cheap. They ride on the back of other projects and the total expenditure on meteorological, or indeed on all geophysical satellites, except for the space shuttle which is expensive, has been a tiny fraction of the defense budget. What you get for it is the first genuine worldwide picture of the behavior of the atmosphere. If you take off in an aircraft from Toronto and fly to London the pilot will have a satellite photograph showing where the clouds are across the entire ocean. We used to have to do this by balloons. Well, we still are doing it by balloons, but we’re beginning to phase them out. And the cost of running that International Balloon Network with more than 2,000 flights a day is much greater than the cost of maintaining that satellite. Maclean’s: Are we spending an adequate amount in this country on weather research? Hare: No scientist ever thinks that his government is spending an adequate amount. This is a pretty good service and it’s had pretty high standards. The difficulty is that Canada has 23 million people, but it has 101/2 million square kilometers of territory. And they’re responsible besides that for a large chunk of ocean under international agreements. So that we actually look after 15 million square kilometers of territory. Now compare that to the British who look after around 300,000 (square kilometers) on a population basis of 55 million. We really have a problem. To provide adequate services over a colossal area, everything is diluted, everything is too far apart, everything is done on too small a scale for the job, really. But even so, it’s pretty good.

I would, of course, like to see more money spent by the government of Canada on all its environmental monitoring systems. Maclean’s: Why were you awarded the Explorer's Medal by Queen Elizabeth?

Hare: In the old days the Patron’s Medal was invariably given to explorers who went out and found new places. But now it’s usually given for discovery—in my case it was for discoveries in the Arctic. I mapped the interior of Labrador Peninsula 20 years ago. I’ve done a great deal of mapping of Arctic, atmospheric distributions . . . you see the point is that discovery has taken over from exploration. You know where places are, but there are still an awful lot of blank spaces on the map. When I was younger, I spent a lot of my time filling in the color on the Labrador Peninsula. Maclean’s: Canada claims sovereignty over the Arctic North to the Pole, yet at this moment the Russians have a research station floating around on an ice pan in our waters. Should wè harden our carefully vague claims to Arctic sovereignty?

Hare: It would be very hard to enforce. What the Russians are doing is landing stations on floating ice islands, thickened masses of ice, and I don’t think that you can sustain a claim to sovereignty over floating ice. For one thing it moves in and out of sectors. There is a regular circular movement of the ice in the Arctic Ocean, so that any one ice island moves out of the Canadian sector into the U.S. sector, into the Soviet sector and back again. There’s always been in practice an unwritten agreement between the three countries that they can man stations on the pack ice. so on the whole I’m not anxious to harden the claim up there. I really do believe in the international control of the oceans and the Arctic Ocean is an open ocean. It’s quite true that it’s full of ice but I would be sorry to see it treated territorially.

Maclean’s: The Russians have research stations, nuclear submarines and overflights north of Canada. They probably know more than we do about this part of the world that may become vital to us. Would you agree that perhaps we might do more northern research?

Hare: Oh yes, yes. I don’t think that it's feasible to exclude the Americans or the Russians from our Arctic waters beyond the 100 mile limit. Under the Arctic Boundary Waters Pollution Prevention Act we claim the right to discipline shipping within 100 miles off our coast. Now that extends pretty close to the Pole if you count the northernmost point of Ellesmere Island. But that still leaves a lot of the Arctic Ocean, which is a very big ocean. We’ve done some extremely good things in the Beaufort Sea and off the coasts of the western Arctic islands, but the state of our effort has been very small by comparison to the United States and the USSR. So inevitably, those two countries tend to see the whole polar basin as their scientific property. Obviously I would prefer that that situation didn’t exist.

Maclean’s: Could we build more icebreakers or research ships?

There is simply no safe way of drilling on the floor of

the Beaufort Sea

Hare: Yes, we could. I think this country should go all out to strengthen its marine technology, especially its low-temperature marine technology. It’s one of the things we’ve got most of. It always seems to me that we make the mistake in Canada of attempting to do the things that the Americans, the Germans or the Japanese do well, instead of looking at those situations where we have a clear advantage. Northern navigation is one of them. I don’t have to tell you that the payoff is enormous. If there is going to be any hydrocarbon development in the Beaufort Sea or the Labrador Sea or any other ice-infested region, we’re going to have to have the best technology going if we are going to safeguard it. It’s true, a lot of my friends would like to see this prohibited because of the dangers involved. And I. myself, think that there is no safe way of drilling in the floor of the Beaufort Sea. not with all of that ice about. If we go ahead, in spite of the advice of the environmentalists, and develop the floor of the Arctic seas, whether it’s the Beaufort Sea or the channels in the archipelago or the Labrador Sea or Baffin Bay or wherever it is, then I’m sure that sooner or later there will be an accident just because of Murphy’s law, which says that if anything can go wrong it will. And the North Sea is a good example. It couldn’t happen, but it did. And I think that the same thing will happen in Canadian waters sooner or later. There will be a bottom blowout if we drill. And for that we shall need the very best technology we can get.

Maclean’s: What about the current pipeline controversy; would you agree with the suggestion that it’s mainly for American rather than Canadian interests?

Hare: I'm not really privy to the most detailed estimates of reserves but my understanding is that there is not enough oil and gas yet in the Mackenzie Delta or Arctic islands to justify gas pipeline construction for purely Canadian purposes at this present time. Since we started getting frightened about gas, more gas has been turning up at shallow depths in Alberta than expected and the supply situation is not as bad as most people thought it was going to be. So I would say that from a Canadian demand standpoint, the case for construction down the Mackenzie Valley or on the west side of Hudson Bay is not very good. I think that Mr. Justice Berger is entirely right about the Americans. They have a desperate situation. If they get another winter like the one they’ve just had in the Ohio Valley there will be the very devil to pay for the people who run the pipeline system.

Maclean’s: Could you forecast our climate for 2077?

Hare: Yes, I think I could. I would visualize a world that was substantially warmer than it is today. And I think therefore there will be a lot of stress in trees, animals and fish upon which we depend for resources. I think agriculture will be drastically changed. I would visualize a possibly open Arctic Ocean, a melting of the Arctic Ocean.

Maclean’s: Could it make more of Canada habitable?

Hare: It might, but it might equally render some parts of it uninhabitable. The world with an open Arctic Ocean might well have a bigger dry belt in the west. I wouldn’t want to see the Canadian Prairies get a lot drier. I think our winters would be drastically different and our summers a bit different-milder and less stormy. You take the ice out and you get a fundamental difference—it would be nothing like as cold in the Arctic as it is now because the ocean would pump heat out—all our cold waves would be gone—and the energy that drives thé west winds, indeed the whole wind system, depends on it being cold in the Arctic and warm in the tropics. So all our wind and storm systems would diminish. And its likely to happen by 2077.