Ozone, Ice Caps and Unintended Consequences
One of the central points presented in The Resilient Earth is the fundamental immaturity of climate science and how unreasonable it is to ask for accurate predictions working from the current state of both climate theory and available data. We used the formulation of the three pillars of science—theory, experiment and computation—as the framework of our argument. As an example why we take this stand consider a recent article in the journal Science.
A new study, appearing in the June 13th issue of Science, has found that the healing of the ozone layer, which is projected to occur sometime in the second half of the 21st century, may significantly affect the climate in Antarctica, and therefore, the global climate. The study was led by Columbia University researchers in addition to researchers from Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, MD), the National Institute for Environmental Studies (Tsukuba, Japan), the National Center for Atmospheric Research (Boulder, CO), the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, MD), the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Sciences at ETH (Zurich, Switzerland), the Physical Meteorological Observatory (Davos, Switzerland), the University of Toronto (Toronto, Canada), and the Meteorological Research Institute (Tsukuba, Japan). Its purpose was to gage the effects of reduced chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) emissions on Earth's ozone layer.
Ozone (O3) is a highly reactive molecule comprised of three oxygen atoms. Ozone is formed naturally by radiation from the Sun striking Earth's atmosphere. Earth's ozone layer is located in the lower stratosphere, which begins at about 12km above the planet's surface, and filters potentially damaging ultraviolet light from the Sun, preventing it from reaching the ground. As many suntan lotion commercials have told us, ultraviolet rays can be harmful, causing premature aging of the skin and even skin cancer. Until late last century, widespread usage of household and commercial aerosols containing chlorofluorocarbons lead to a significant and rapid depletion of stratospheric ozone creating the famous “hole in the ozone layer” over Antarctica.
The Montreal Protocol, signed by 191 countries, helped phase out CFC production worldwide by 1996. Observations over the past few years indicate that ozone depletion has largely halted and is now expected to fully reverse. The ozone hole over Antarctica is closing and the climate of the Southern Hemisphere may change as a consequence, reversing the cooling trend seen there over the last 20-30 years. How does this help prove our case that climate science is immature and not able to provide the confident predictions of impending global warming and climatic disaster put forth by the IPCC and other pundits?
CFCs are powerful greenhouse gases, having an effect on the atmosphere similar to CO2 or methane. Basically, CFCs should cause the atmosphere to warm but, by destroying part of the ozone layer, they have had the opposite effect on Antarctica, causing that continent to cool instead. And now, because reducing CFC emissions is allowing the ozone layer to reform, removing CFCs is projected to cause more warming—exactly the opposite effect that was expected. So here is a linkage between chemical compounds in the atmosphere that had not been previously understood. In other words, the theory was incomplete. But that is not all.
The projections from the measured data, the experiment pillar, does not provide a clear picture of how fast the changes will take place or how significant they will be. In their prediction of future climate, many IPCC models did not consider the expected ozone recovery and its potential impacts on climate change. Other models that try to model the ozone changes predict that the Antarctic ozone hole will achieve full recovery in the second half of this century, which may have profound impacts on the surface winds and on other aspects of the Earth's climate, including surface temperatures, locations of storm tracks, extent of dry zones, amount of sea ice, and ocean circulation. The data are inconclusive and the models disagree.
“Our results suggest that stratospheric ozone is important for the Southern Hemisphere climate change, and ought to be more carefully considered in the next set of IPCC model integrations,” said Seok-Woo Son, lead-author of the study and a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). Meaning that the current IPCC models, the ones that all the global warming predictions are based on, are not correct. You can read more about this from the Science Daily website here.
As a result of this paper's findings we can say that climate theory was found to be incomplete, the data were inconclusive, and the various climate models don't agree but need to be updated to reflect the new findings. And as often happens when dealing the the complex system that regulates Earth's climate, the result of one human action seems to be having an effect opposite from the predicted. This points out a final point about predictions made by scientists—no computer model can predict the unforeseen, unintended consequences of future human actions. Many times an action is take (eliminate CFC emissions) in order to achieve a result (save the ozone layer) and ends up having an unexpected side effect (warming Antarctica). Now consider that there are thousands of papers published in scores of journals every week—what new gaps in our understanding will be uncovered next? Do you still think that the IPCC can accurately predict what Earth's climate will do over the next 100 years?