Friday, August 19, 2005

Global Warming=Waterworld? Maybe Not

If you've been thinking that your property in Pittsburgh will have an ocean view in a few years, you may be surprised at the results of a new study.

Instead, the NASA-funded study indicates that global warming will have different effects in different parts of the world. Surprisingly, it was found that though some regions will experience glacial melting, others will experience the opposite.


A new NASA-funded study finds that predicted increases in precipitation due to warmer air temperatures from greenhouse gas emissions may actually increase sea ice volume in the Antarctic's Southern Ocean.

Dylan C. Powell, co-author of the paper and a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County:

"However, findings from our simulations suggest a counterintuitive phenomenon. Some of the melt in the Arctic may be offset by increases in sea ice volume in the Antarctic."

In addition to prior methods, satellite data was utilized for the first time.

The researchers used satellite observations for the first time, specifically from the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager, to assess snow depth on sea ice, and included the satellite observations in their model. As a result, they improved prediction of precipitation rates.

By incorporating satellite observations into this new method, the researchers achieved more stable and realistic precipitation data than the typically variable data found in the polar regions. The paper was published in the June issue of the American Geophysical Union's Journal of Geophysical Research.

The linked article explains at some length the process that will result in thicker Anarctic sea ice. Only the final part is below.

Typically, warming of the climate leads to increased melting rates of sea ice cover and increased precipitation rates. However, in the Southern Ocean, with increased precipitation rates and deeper snow, the additional load of snow becomes so heavy that it pushes the Antarctic sea ice below sea level.

This results in even more and even thicker sea ice when the snow refreezes as more ice. Therefore, the paper indicates that some climate processes, like warmer air temperatures increasing the amount of sea ice, may go against what we would normally believe would occur.

Of course, the computer modelling is subject to real world verification.

"We used computer-generated simulations to get this research result. I hope that in the future we'll be able to verify this result with real data through a long-term ice thickness measurement campaign," said Powell.

So the message here is that we are never fully cognizant of the results of our actions.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Reaction To The Dueling Repugs (Global Warming)

Reactions to the events giving rise to the Dueling Republicans Global Warming diary (see 7/26/05 story below) were stong, to say the least. In summary of the prior events, a 1998 climate change study by 3 researchers was the subject of an inquiry by Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Commerce Committee. Rep.Barton requested hundreds of documents from the research, a study that analyzed tree rings, glacial ice and coral layers. The scientists were given a generous 18 days to produce the documents.

The study had revealed a dramatic rise in temperatures in the last 50 years compared to the last 500 years. (A subsequent UN report utilized this study as one source and confirmed that the 1990s was the warmest decade in 1000 years.)

Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), chairman of the House Science Committee, lashed out at Rep.Barton in a public letter, warning him that the inquiry was outside of his committee's jurisdiction and that the purpose seemed to be intimidation of scientists. Hence the earlier story titled Dueling Republicans.

The demands included funding information (Washington Post Op-Ed):

PDF Link

Barton's letters to the scientists had a peremptory, when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife tone. Mann was told that within less than three weeks, he must list "all financial support you have received related to your research," provide "the location of all data archives relating to each published study for which you were an author," "provide all agreements relating to . . . underlying grants or funding," and deliver similarly detailed information in five other categories.

Reactions around the country were swift and strong.

PDF Link

Barton's goal wasn't scientific clarity but political intimidation. That was the conclusion of Rep.Sherwood Boehlert, a New York Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, which also claims jurisdiction on climate change issues. He wrote a blistering July 14 letter to Barton: "My primary concern about your investigation is that its purpose seems to be to intimidate scientists rather than to learn from them, and to substitute Congressional political review for scientific peer review. This would be pernicious." He added that the precedent set by this effort "to have Congress put its thumbs on the scales of a scientific debate" was "truly chilling."

The Houston Chronicle offered that the standard means of fact-finding was abandoned in favor of a unfocused approach.
PDF Link

Barton is right that global warming is a pressing and controversial issue — and tracking the use of federal funding is a worthwhile endeavor. In his indiscriminate mining for documents, however, Barton ignores the first steps of fact-finding: hearings, discussions with the scientists and reading the peer-reviewed and published papers in the field.

The Rutland Herald (Vt) had saw the spectre of McCarthy in the proceedings.

PDF Link

There is a long tradition of using congressional committees as instruments of intimidation, going back to the McCarthy era when Congress made a practice of dragging people before committees to ferret out supposed communists.

These days the bullying powers of Congress are being deployed against scientists who have helped us understand the vast and complex changes of global warming. ...

Barton is among the Republican lawmakers who oppose mandatory curbs on gases that are creating the greenhouse effect and global warming. To admit the reality of global warming is to acknowledge the need for serious steps to head off global catastrophe. ...

The intended effect of Barton's request, no doubt, is to make climate scientists nervous. Nobody wants to have to devote weeks of work compiling documents for the needless investigation of a congressional committee. Nobody likes having his or her life's work subject to an inquisition even if one is fully confident of one's work. Barton's probe also raises the possibility that federal funding of important scientific work might be jeopardized. ...

Of course, resolving a scientific dispute is not what Barton really has in mind.

The Houston Chronicle makes it all clear. Rep.Barton has a heavy debt to repay.

PDF Link

Given his indebtedness to the oil and power industries — from 1989-2004 he received more money from these industries that any other House member — Barton seems to be acting on motives other than a thirst for truth. This is a disservice to the nation. Harassing scientists is the wrong way to find answers to environmental questions that affect us all.

So, must Rep.Barton reveal sources of his funding too?

Friday, August 12, 2005

More Global Warming

The Pasterze Glacier, the longest of Austria's 925 glaciers, runs for 5 miles down and away from Johannisberg mountain. The 11,362 foot peak is located in Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Hohe, Austria.


A cable car built some 40 years ago to run right down to the glacier now stands a considerable distance apart. The glacier loses more ground each year.

"It's going down from four to eight meters a year," or about 13 to 26 feet, said Mr. Trojer, who grew up in this valley. "In the early 1960's, they used to have a ski race every spring from the top of the Grossglockner to the bottom of the glacier." The Grossglockner, which looms above the Pasterze, is, at 12,460 feet, Austria's highest mountain.

"They can't do it anymore," Mr. Trojer said a bit sadly. "It's warmed up, and there isn't enough snow."

Glacier shrinkage is not a phenomenon unique to Austria.

It's a worldwide phenomenon. One Chinese expert on glaciers, Yao Tandong, director of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has said that the glaciers in the Himalayas shrink annually by an amount equivalent to all the water in the Yellow River, Agence France-Presse has reported.

The impact on ski resorts is a matter of such concern that dramatic artificial means have been employed to slow the losses.

In Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, some ski resorts - Ischgl, about 100 miles west of here, is one example - are so eager to retain the glaciers that they are covering them with vast sheets of white, sun-reflecting insulation in order to save them.

Other concerns run to a more basic nature. These include earthquakes and flooding.

Two European geologists, Andrea Hampel of the University of Bern and Ralf Hetzel of the University of Münster, wrote in the journal Nature earlier this year that the retreat of glaciers could cause an increase in the number of earthquakes.

Other scientists have warned that lakes forming in the back of glaciers because of melting ice could burst through cracks in the glaciers and cause tsunami-like devastation to towns down below.

The Pasterze glacier's reduction would likely have occurred even without the activity of humankind. But those activities have quickened the pace.

But they say that even without the impact of human activity the glacier would probably be shrinking anyway, as glaciers have always done in response to the earth's long cycles of relative warmth and cold.

"If you go back in history, there have been very large temperature changes," Mr. Minor said. "And now we are having a temperature change most likely influenced by man, and that accelerates the shrinkage. It's definitely the case that human action has an influence."

The glacier has been such a popular attraction that it has sown the seeds of its own undoing.

On a recent Thursday, there were so many visitors that the immense multistoried parking garage at Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe (Emperor Franz Joseph's Heights) was full, and people in cars on the road below had to wait up to an hour for a space.

The more people the glacier attracts, the more cars that will be needed to carry them. And more greenhouse gases will be discharged into the atmosphere hastening the glacier's demise.