CHARLOTTE -- One of the world's foremost meteorologists on Friday called the theory that helped Al Gore win a share of the Nobel prize "ridiculous" and the product of "people who don't understand how the atmosphere works."
Dr. William Gray, a pioneer in the science of seasonal hurricane forecasts, spoke to a packed lecture hall at UNC Charlotte and said humans are not responsible for the warming of the earth.
His visit, arranged through the meteorology program at UNCC, came on the same day that Gore was honored for his work in support of the link between humans and global warming.
"We're brainwashing our children," said Gray, 78, a longtime professor at Colorado State University. "They're going to the Gore movie ("An Inconvenient Truth") and being fed all this. It's ridiculous."
Gray, whose annual forecasts of the number of tropical storms and hurricanes are widely publicized, said instead that a natural cycle of ocean water temperatures -- related to the amount of salt in ocean water -- is responsible for the global warming that he acknowledges has taken place.
However, he said, that same cycle means a period of global cooling will begin soon and last for several years.
"We'll look back on all of this in 10 or 15 years and realize how foolish it was," Gray said.
During his speech to a crowd of about 300 that included meteorology students from several Carolinas universities and a host of professional meteorologists, Gray also said those who have linked global warming to the increased number of hurricanes in recent years are in error.
He cited statistics, showing there were 101 hurricanes from 1900 to 1949, in a period of cooler global temperatures, compared to 83 from 1957 to 2006, when the earth warmed.
"The human impact on the atmosphere is simply too small to have a major effect on global temperatures," Gray said.
He said his beliefs have made him an outsider in popular science.
"It bothers me that my fellow scientists are not speaking out against something they know is wrong," he said. "But they also know that they'd never get any grants if they spoke out. I don't care about grants."
Global warming almost certainly will be felt in South Carolina and in some cases already is being noticed, experts say. Five ways in which global warming affects the state:
• Thinner beaches. Rising sea levels linked to global warming are eating away the coast, which threatens seaside resorts and wildlife. Parts of the coast have experienced a 9-inch rise in sea level during the past century, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
• Less seafood. Sea-level rise is expected to swamp salt marshes, where oysters, crabs and young fish thrive, experts said during a 2006 conference in Charleston.
• Dying trout. Increasing temperatures in mountain streams could further the decline of trout that need cold water to survive. Native brook trout are found today in only a quarter of their native range in South Carolina and Georgia, according to a 2006 Trout Unlimited report.
• Crop failure. Fruits, such as peaches, are especially adapted to South Carolina's climate and could suffer if the temperature rises too much.
• Disappearing wildlife. Some species of ducks have stopped migrating in great numbers to South Carolina each winter from the Midwest and Northeast. Experts say that might be because northern winters have been warmer, leaving little need for the game birds to migrate south.
-- Sammy Fretwell, (The Columbia) State