Blogtober 3rd – Ice

Birthday Canyon, Greenland ice sheet

This last month, Mark and I had a lot of interesting discussions in the studying of sea ice, glaciers and climate change. My family and I watched the NOVA film, Extreme Ice together and I have looked up several articles related to glacier melt. We are also taking a Geography class at this time and we were reading about the glacier melt in the Andes mountains as well. Everything seems to be fitting together and provides a lot of crossover material. This blog post is the result of some research I did for a Geology assignment.

In our class supplemental materials, I took a look at this article “Sea Ice and Heat: A Vicious Cycle”. I thought it was interesting that the author of the article said that melting sea ice doesn’t cause the sea level to rise. I didn’t know this. It’s an interesting point after the NOVA movie made a great deal of fuss over sea-level rise related to glacier melt. Land glaciers are not as susceptible to melting as sea ice.  So, even though sea ice doesn’t cause sea levels to rise, there has been much speculation and panic about this issue. Here is another quote from this article, which was written a year ago: “there may be no more sea ice left in the Arctic Ocean during summer within the next few decades.” This quote links to an article that makes this statement “Most computer models of climate change indicate the ice could disappear in summer in 30 to 40 years, said Lars-Otto Reiersen, head of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme.  “But there are models that indicate 2015 as an extreme,” he said. The concentrated reading on this subject I have done this month for 2 different classes has revealed a consistent theme in common, and that is that climate patterns and glacier melt are “poorly understood”. I read and heard this phrase or variations of it repeated by scientists when explaining what we know and what we don’t know. Even without this admission, the reality that we simply don’t know enough to make catastrophic predictions was apparent in these articles

1. Global Cooling: Record Return of Arctic Ice Cap as it Grows By 60% in a Year by David Rose, Mail Online

2. The Himalayas and Nearby Peaks Have Lost No Ice in Past 10 Years, Study Shows by Damian Carrington, The Guardian

3. Atlantic Hurricane Season: A Record Breaking Dud? by Tom Brown, Reuters

In the first article, the revelation of the return of a million miles of sea ice has delayed the release of a report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that was set to once again blame climate change and ice melt on manmade factors. The predicitions themselves affect debate and how nations spend their limited resources:

The disclosure comes 11 months after The Mail on Sunday triggered intense political and scientific debate by revealing that global warming has ‘paused’ since the beginning of 1997 – an event that the computer models used by climate experts failed to predict.

In March, this newspaper further revealed that temperatures are about to drop below the level that the models forecast with ‘90 per cent certainty’.

The pause – which has now been accepted as real by every major climate research centre – is important, because the models’ predictions of ever-increasing global temperatures have made many of the world’s economies divert billions of pounds into ‘green’ measures to counter  climate change.

Those predictions now appear gravely flawed.

In the second article, the zero net loss of Himalayan ice in a ten year period, was very unexpected:

“The world’s greatest snow-capped peaks, which run in a chain from the Himalayas to Tian Shan on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan, have lost no ice over the last decade, new research shows.

The discovery has stunned scientists, who had believed that around 50bn tonnes of meltwater were being shed each year and not being replaced by new snowfall.”

Finally,the 3rd article shows again how  predictions impact the way nations live and spend resources :

“Seven named storms have been spawned by the 2013 season so far, including Fernand, which killed 13 people in central Mexico late last month.

Most of the storms have been small, weak systems, however, proving an embarrassment to experts who had predicted an active season inreports that are eagerly awaited by the insurance and energy industries as well as many coastal homeowners.”

 The IPCC  has most recently released their updated report and chose again to ignore the evidence of NO warming and the blatant error in their prediction models. See this article at the financial post for a journalists suggestion on what to do with the IPCC. This issue has abandoned the realm of science and is largely emotional, most definitely political and ultimately financial. Following the money is the most scientific response when reading mainstream reporting on climate change. I’m afraid our textbook is shorter on data than it is long on speculation and assumption. Here’s an example of a most alarmingsection on climate change from our class textbook illustrating this principle of short on data and long on speculation is here: “If the heat trapped by carbon dioxide were proportional to the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air, the increased carbon dioxide would by now have caused sharply increased greenhouse-effect heating of the earth’s atmosphere.  So far, the actual temperature rise has been much more moderate; the earth’s climate system is more complex…Altogether, since the start of the Industrial AGe, global surface temperature has risen about 1.5 degrees F. Trivial as this may sound, it is already having obvious and profound impacts in many parts of the world…Early discussions of climate change related to increasing greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere tended to focus heavily on the prospect of global warming and the resultant melting of earth’s reserves of ice, especially the remaining ice sheets. IF all the ice melted, sea level could rise by over 75 meters from the added water along leaving aside thermal expansion of the water. About 20% of the world’s land area would be submerged.  Many millions, perhaps billions, of people now living in coastal or low-lying areas would be displaced, since a large fraction of major population centers grew up along coastlines and rivers.  The Statue of Liberty would be up to her neck in water.”  

In conclusion, I like to read data. I am drawn to the actual numbers and methods for obtaining those numbers. Emotional language and catastrophic predictions signal to me a need to carefully analyze the data. The articles above illustrate that prediction methods, computer models and “historic” tracking need to be reevaluated. I noticed that there was still some predicting taking place even after the reality and embarrassment of previous prediction failure. As a science student, I’m content to know that certain things are poorly understood. There is no embarrassment in simply stating what we know and what has already taken place, but when we are affecting the way nations use their resources to take care of their populations, we must be very careful how we use this data.


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