We have all heard about the Ice Age, if only in cartoon movies. A time when massive ice sheets covered the planet while mammoths and saber toothed cats roamed the frozen landscape. What is more, the cycle of interglacial-glacial-interglacial has happened over and over again during the past million or so years. During the last half a million years the cycle has repeated every 130,000 years, with the warm period we are now enjoying—the Holocene—just the latest interglacial respite from the icy conditions of the Pleistocene Ice Age. What most people don't know is that there were many areas on Earth that remained unchanged, even during the height of the last glacial period. The Sahara was hot and dry, and in the Amazon rainforests, though a bit smaller in area, looked much like they do today.
A lot has been written about melting ice caps and new mini-ice ages recently. Seems that science can't decide if we are going to drown in rising oceans or starve because summer will be a thing of the past. This leaves the layperson justifiably confused as to who to believe—the climate change alarmists who back rapid global warming or those who warn of a new glacial period. There is little certainty when it comes to science but one thing that can be counted on is our ignorance. Quite simply, scientists cannot predict with any certainty what Earth's climate will do next. If someone tries to tell you different they are lying.
The term “settled science” gets tossed around in the media a lot these days. Mostly by non-scientists, who know no better, and by some errant scientists, who should. In 2002, the U.S. National Research Council Committee on Abrupt Climate Change published its findings in a book entitled Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises. A new report in Science recaps the surprising discoveries made since then, and they are big. So big that ocean circulation models, integral parts of all climate models, do not accurately predict reality. The observed change in AMOC strength was found to lie well outside the range of interannual variability predicted by coupled atmosphere-ocean climate models. Sounds like circulation in the Atlantic Ocean is not so settled.
News media around the world have been all abuzz, with headlines declaring “Irreversible collapse of Antarctic glaciers has begun” and “West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse is under way.” The “rapid” collapse threatens to cause sea level change of 4 to 13 feet. Calamity will surely follow. “Collapse will change the coastline of the whole world” shrieked the UK's Guardian, always a good source for mindless rumor mongering. What they are referring to are a pair of new reports that say the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has pushed its way over a submerged ridge that had been impeding its forward progress, causing the ice sheet to become unstuck from the sea floor. The WAIS is now flowing more freely, and hence more rapidly, into the sea. What the alarmist headlines don't say is that any impacts from this change are centuries to millennia in the future.
One of the scary scenarios frequently trotted out by climate change alarmists is the possible shutdown of the ocean currents in the Atlantic Ocean. This would disrupt northern hemisphere climate, particularly in Europe. Indeed, one Hollywood disaster movie had frozen military helicopters falling from the skies in the UK and Manhattan buried under a tsunami of ice. We are told this could happen at any time, if the world gets too hot from all that CO2 our species is churning out. Now a shocking new paper in the journal Science implies that the standard view of a relatively stable interglacial circulation may not hold for conditions warmer/fresher than at present. Why? Because it happened before, over 100,000 years ago, without the help of man made global warming. Another catastrophic climate threat is shown to be totally natural and to have happened before our species began burning coal and driving SUVs.
Climate alarmists are constantly warning that Earth is going to warm up, driven they say by the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. To bolster their claims they point to the Pliocene, a time 4-5 million years ago, when the planet was 4-8°C hotter and CO2 levels were 400ppm or higher. This is the climate we are heading for, the global warming supporters say—but it that really true? Superficially it seems a plausible assertion, but as it turns out there is much more here than CO2 and temperature. It is not just the average temperature but the distribution of temperature at different latitudes, both over land and sea, that controls the climate. It is the temperature gradient that drives storms and affects weather patterns and it was much different during the Pliocene. Moreover, climate models do not generate a Pliocene like climate when run with higher CO2 levels, which means climate scientists are missing something important about the way Earth's climate system works.
Scientists have long suspected that the orbital cycles of our planet are responsible for the periodic climate variation that causes alternating glacial and interglacial periods. Milankovitch's theory of orbital cycles suggests that summer insolation at high northern latitudes drives the glacial cycles. Moreover, statistical analyses have demonstrated that the glacial cycles are indeed linked to eccentricity, obliquity and precession. Now, researchers have confirmed that a combination of two of the Milankovitch cycles conspire to start and stop ice ages. The 100,000-year eccentricity cycle amplifies the influence of the 23,000-year wobble of Earth's spin axis called precession. The new modeling also suggests that the great accumulation of mass by the North American ice sheet causes the abrupt end of glacial periods. CO2 is involved, but is not determinative, in the evolution of the 100,000-year glacial cycles say the scientists.
For some reason a lot of people have become fixated on Antarctic ice—is it waxing or waning, accumulating or melting. Climate alarmists have striven mightily to show that ice at the poles in on the decline, melting in the face of rising global temperatures. Antarctica, with the largest store of glacial ice on the planet, is the primary focus of attention. If Antarctica’s ice sheets were to melt it would be a calamity for mankind. Unfortunately, Earth's climate system contains many cyclic trends, operating on decadal and longer periods of time. In the past, what some claim are clear trends have turned out to be only short term in nature. A new report, just published online, concludes that it is unclear if changes in atmospheric circulation over West Antarctica during the past few decades are part of a longer-term trend. In fact, ice cores reveal a significant increase in the oxygen isotopes from precipitation over the past 50 years, but the anomaly cannot be distinguished from natural climate variability.
Gas prices, oil sands, fracking and the Canadian pipeline have all thrust energy back into the headlines. Politicians posture, eco-alarmists protest and those global warming fanatics continue to predict the end of the world as we know it. If you are tired of the hype and disinformation, if you really want to understand energy—where it comes from, how it works and how much of it the world has—then you need a copy of The Energy Gap. In this follow-on to The Resilient Earth, Hoffman and Simmons address the world's energy questions with the same wit and erudition displayed in their previous work. Even better, in honor of April 15th, tax day in the US, you can now download a copy of The Energy Gap for free from Amazon.
It's everywhere on Earth, on the other planets and moons of the solar system, and even in comets from deep space. It is the frozen form of water, commonly called ice. Something so ubiquitous and familiar, one would think that science knows a lot about ice. It turns out science knows less than we might suppose. In a commentary in the journal Nature, an ice scientist raises ten open questions about ice. For example, the article states: “We cannot predict with certainty when and where ice clouds will form in the atmosphere; areas of the sky remain humid when we would expect them to freeze.” Ice is a fundamental part of Earth's climate, yet these questions and others remain unanswered. How can climate science claim to predict the fate of the polar ice sheets or mountain glaciers when we do not really understand the substance that they are made of?
A newly released study from the Research Council of Norway has climate change alarmists abuzz. One of the things the alarmists have been pushing for is to halt warming at a 2°C increase at any cost (and they mean that literally). In the Norwegian study, much to the alarmists' dismay, researchers have arrived at an estimate of 1.9°C as the most likely level of future warming. The report also recognizes that temperatures have stabilized at 2000 levels for the past decade even though CO2 levels have continued to rise. Meanwhile, a reconstruction of the Eemian interglacial from the new NEEM ice core, published in the journal Nature, shows that in spite of a climate 8°C warmer than that of the past millennium, the ice in Northern Greenland was only a few hundred meters lower than its present level. This finding casts doubt on the projected melting of ice sheets and resulting sea-level rise.
Something happened this year that has become rare in recent times, much of the United States has had a white Christmas. As of December 28th, 64.4% of the US was covered by snow with an average depth of 6.2 inches (15.7 cm). This compares with last month's coverage of only 19.8%. My own town of Conway, Arkansas, received 10 inches on Christmas day and a winter storm advisory is in effect as another storm makes its way eastward. For Arkansas, this has been the snowiest Christmas ever, breaking the old record set in 1926, and the 7th snowiest day overall since 1875. But North America is not alone in feeling winter's bite—record cold continues in Siberia, while a vicious cold snap across Russia and Eastern Europe has claimed nearly 200 lives. What does all this say about global warming?
A new “comprehensive” report about the melting of Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets is being touted by climate alarmists as “grim news” but in fact says no such thing. This latest estimate, published this week in Science, combines data from many sources including 20 years of satellite data and 32 years of ice-sheet simulations to arrive at a mixed conclusion. It estimates that, between 1992 and 2011, the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets lost 1350 ± 1010 and 2700 ± 930 Gt of ice, respectively. That is equivalent to an increase in global mean sea level of 11.2 ± 3.8 mm, less than 1/2 an inch. Moreover, while some areas were losing ice mass others were gaining mass from snowfall. The East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), which occupies over 75% of Antarctica, experienced mass gains during the final years of the study.
Over the past 50 years or so, the Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost part of the mainland of Antarctica, has experienced rapid warming and the collapse of a number of ice shelves. A new temperature record derived from an ice core drilled on James Ross Island, has triggered a reassessment of what triggered the recent warming trends. This new core provides the best record of climate events on the peninsula going back at least 20,000 years, and may extend back as far as 50,000 years. From this new data a team of researchers has constructed the most detailed history of climate on the Antarctic Peninsula known to science and it has revealed a number of interesting things. Most important of these is the fact that this area undergoes bouts of rapid warming periodically and that things were at least as warm on the peninsula 2,000 years ago. So much for “unprecedented” warming on the Antarctic Peninsula.
There has been a wave of triumphal announcements by climate change proponents recently, almost giddy over the summer shrinkage of the Arctic ice sheet. “Lowest level ever!” they proclaim, thought that is not quite true. Nonetheless, The Arctic pack ice has been receding over the last decade or so, but that is only natural. You see, there is a well known, if poorly understood, linkage between the ice at the north pole and the ice in and around Antarctica—and the ice around Antarctica is doing quite well. Satellite radar altimetry measurements indicate that the East Antarctic ice sheet interior increased in mass by 45±7 billion metric tons per year from 1992 to 2003. This trend continues today, reinforcing recent scientific investigations into this millennial scale oscillation between the poles. According to studies, this is how things have been for hundreds of thousands of years.