The glaciers of Alaska and northwestern Canada are a major contributor of fresh water to the world's oceans. They have long been considered important contributors to global sea level, but their remoteness has complicated efforts to measure changes in ice mass. As described in a new perspective article, published in the May 27 issue of Science, satellite measurements of Earth's gravitational field and improved on-site measurements have been used to generate global maps of water-mass variation, confirming the large role Alaska glaciers play in global sea-level regulation. Climate change advocates would claim that global warming will melt Alaska's glaciers, flooding low lying countries, but determining the rate at which the glaciers are melting is not a simple thing. Far from solving the puzzle, the new observations are revealing unexpected complexities in the magnitude and rate at which Alaska glaciers respond to climate.
Scientists have always thought that the vast majority of ice contained in the Antarctic ice cap was formed from frozen precipitation. Recent research has revealed that this is not totally correct. Over a large fraction of East Antarctica, the deepest part of the ice sheet contains ice that did not originate as surface snow but developed when subglacial meltwater was frozen onto the underside of the ice sheet. The amount of ice involved is much larger than the estimated volume of Antarctic subglacial lakes and may even exceed the volume of all glaciers on Earth outside of the two polar ice sheets. Current computer models predict that subglacial water escapes toward the ocean. These new findings indicate that water from areas of basal melting actually migrate to areas of basal freezing, something not accounted for by current ice sheet models. To scientists' surprise, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is getting thicker from the bottom up.
Fluctuations in surface melting are known to affect the speed of glaciers and ice sheets, while the contribution of glaciers and ice caps to global sea-level rise is uncertain at best. Much has been made of the “accelerating” loss of ice from the Greenland glaciers. Over the past decade, Arctic sea ice retreated substantially during the summer months, and some predicted that the ice loss could be irreversible, a tipping point that would boost global warming. A number of new papers in Nature, Geophysical Research Letters and Nature Geoscience, shed new light on these subjects, and the answers are not the ones usually heard in the media.
Time after time, the public has been harangued by climate change “experts” predicting all form of devastation due to anthropogenic global warming. The Greenland and Antarctic glaciers will melt, as will the sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean. Temperatures will rise by 2-6°C, perhaps more in higher latitudes. Weather patterns will shift, there will be droughts and torrential monsoon rains, cyclones will increase in intensity—where will it all end? Here's a thought, we might find the world a nicer place after a bit of global warming. In fact, given the general cooling trend seen over the Holocene (the period since the last glacial period ended around 14,000 years ago) and the Cenozoic (the time since the dinosaurs died, around 65 million years ago) human CO2 may be, in some small way, the only thing delaying another devastating ice age.
Much concern has been raised by climate scientists regarding ice loss from the world's two remaining continental ice sheets. Rapid loss of ice-mass from the glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica are cited as proof positive of global warming's onslaught. The latest measurements involve the use of satellite gravimetry, estimating the mass of terrain beneath by detecting slight changes in gravity as a satellite passes overhead. But gravity measurements of ice-mass loss are complicated by glacial isostatic adjustments—compensation for the rise or fall of the underlying crustal material. A new article in Nature Geoscience describes an innovative approach employed to derive ice-mass changes from GRACE data. The report suggests significantly smaller overall ice-mass losses than previous estimates.
Black carbon is generated from burning both fossil fuels and biomass. Black carbon aerosols absorb solar radiation and are purported to be a major source of global warming. A recent study claims that the extent of black-carbon-induced warming is dependent on the concentration of sulfate (SO2) and organic aerosols—which reflect solar radiation and cool the surface—as well as the origin of the black carbon. The ratio of fossil-fuel-based black carbon to SO2 emissions has increased by more than a factor of two during the twentieth century, and the portion of black carbon from fossil fuels has increased threefold. This could account for a 30% increase in global warming from black carbon, which may account for a quarter of the warming usually attributed to CO2. Even worse, black carbon may be causing millions of deaths among those who have to breath it. Far from being green, climate science's demonizing of CO2 is damaging the pursuit of sound environmental policy.
Desperate to put the bad days of Climategate behind them, climate scientists are pronouncing the matter over and done with. After all of the revelations and disclosures surrounding Climategate, and all of the public mea culpas, a change in attitude by those in the climate science community would be welcome. A turn to greater openness regarding methods and data, along with less overt political boosterism. But evidently, that is not in the cards. Starting off with an editorial titled “Climategate closed,” the journal Nature Geoscience presents a number of troubling statements from people involved with climate change. Though calling for scientists to “be humble,” the tone of the commentaries is that no wrong was really done and nothing has changed. The only change that needs to be made is making a greater effort to “inform” the public and skeptics. Clearly, climate scientists just don't get it—they cannot simply return to business as usual.
Driven by a constantly expanding need for electricity, Chile is considering building seven new dams and a transmission line through its southern wilderness. This isolated land of condors and monkey puzzle trees is home to the third largest reserve of frozen freshwater in the world—the Southern Ice Field. Critics say the environmental risks have not been fully examined, and the risk to southern Chile's unique ecosystems is unacceptably high. Proponents of the dam project argue that hydroelectricity is a clean source of energy, just waiting to be tapped. Chile needs the 3500 MW/yr of power to meet its development goals and lacks indigenous oil or coal reserves. Moreover, the electricity from the dams would displace dirty generation, greatly reducing Chile's greenhouse gas emissions. Give all the benefits, why are so many people, within Chile and without, so opposed to the dams—opposed to the point of preferring new coal plants?
March 20, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano began erupting after slumbering for almost 190 years. The eruption also brought a threat of floods and earthquakes, while the resulting plume of volcanic ash shutdown the European airline industry, costing an estimated $200 million a day. In the short-term, the volcano has been bad for Northern Europe and given a boost to Iceland's tourist industry, but there are larger questions involved. With tedious predictability, a number of climate change alarmists quickly claimed that the volcano was caused by global warming. A more likely outcome is a cool Northern Hemisphere summer caused by airborne ash—which could give the alarmists an excuse for the continued lack of global temperature rise.
There is a new report in the journal Nature that some climate change alarmists are saying repudiates criticisms leveled at the IPCC over the Glaciergate scandal. In the “news feature,” a reporter looks at the “clues” scientists have found regarding the fate of the Himalayan glaciers from ground- and space-based studies. Though the scientists quoted clearly state they do not have enough data to draw meaningful conclusions—only 15 of 20,000 glaciers were examined on-site—the article still misleadingly says the glaciers are in trouble. It still had to admit the Himalayan glaciers won't vanish by 2035 and that they are not receding faster than glaciers in any other part of the world, both claims made previously by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
One well accepted definition of the “Three Pillars of Science” lists the three as theory, experimentation and computation. For climate science this translates into climate theory, gathering climate data, and climate modeling. The three pillars are due an update in this post Copenhagen, post Climategate world. After reviewing the past year's crop of discoveries and disclosures, it seems that all three pillars are still wobbly at best—even without questionable conduct on the part of warm-mongering researchers.
In the run up to Copenhagen, global warming alarmists are spreading the word that climate change is progressing even faster than the IPCC has projected. But contradictory data from skeptics and open minded scientists continues to indicate that global warming has gone on hiatus and may not return for decades. This has sparked a noticeable drop in public concern over climate change and has led some climate change true believers to bemoan increasing public “Climate Fatigue.”
According to a flurry of recent reports by the BBC and other mass media, the glaciers in the Himalayan mountains are melting at a furious pace. Of course this is taken as proof that climate change is still taking place at an ever accelerating rate, despite the fact the global temperatures have remained flat for the past decade. What, then, explains the rapidly retreating Himalayan glaciers? Nothing, because the glaciers are not shrinking. A new report by a senior Indian glaciologist states that the glaciers remain frozen and quite intact, thank you.
One of the things that has been obscured by all the hand wringing and arm waiving about global warming is the existence of a threat to our planet that is very real and could arise suddenly. That threat is from non-planetary bodies within the solar system: asteroids, comets and other celestial wanderers. While the world's politicians and tree-hugging blowhards rail about the damage climate change might cause, a symposium was held in San Francisco to address a problem that actually could end life on Earth.
Despite recent attempts to revive the discredited “hockey stick” temperature graph, invented by Michael Mann and promulgated by the IPCC, new research on tropical glaciers has once again shown that supposed temperature history to be bogus. While the role of the tropics in climate change remains an open debate in climatology circles, new data suggests linkages between the tropics and the North Atlantic region. In particular, prominent glacial events and associated climatic shifts in the outer tropics during the early Holocene and late in the “Little Ice Age” period indicate that the LIA was indeed a global event.