Our Changing Climate : a summary review
Sometimes it seems to me that people have been misled by climate modeling computer software and consequently believe that climate change and global warming are problems that will develop over 50 or 100 years (and so you sometimes hear people talking about our 'responsibility to our grand children'). A mythology then develops that allows climate change to rapidly advance while many people remain unaware of the scope of the developing problems.
Our Changing Climate : a brief reviewSometimes it seems to me that people have been misled by climate modeling computer software and consequently believe that climate change and global warming are problems that will develop over 50 or 100 years (and so you sometimes hear people talking about our 'responsibility to our grand children' and there are frequently stories going around about how the climate will be different in about one hundred years). What strikes me as conservative, overly cautious computer programming would then be the source of a mythology that allows climate change to rapidly advance while many people remain unaware of the scope of the developing problems.
It is also probably just human nature to want to think that a situation remains hopeful, and if we are fighting to prevent climate change for the sake of our grandchildren, then certainly there is reason to be optimistic, and as well, debunkers have savaged any error made in attempting to make predictions in climatology and for this reason every scientific report on climate change is loaded with caveats, with ifs, buts, or maybes, since debunkers will beat a dead horse to a pulp whenever they can find one...
Another problem with this climate modeling software is that it is linear, rather than exponential, and thus predicts a slow gradual change in the climate, and it might also be insensitive (recent research indicates that more dramatic effects in the climate result from smaller stimuli than has been previously believed to be the case). A study of the history of the climate reveals that Sudden, rapid climate change is the historical norm. Certain dynamic, chaotic systems, such as the climate, have thresholds, below which a stimulus continues to build without much evidence of changes taking place, until the threshold is reached, and then sudden, exponential changes take place, with the entire system destabilizing, and becoming extremely sensitive from that time forward to even small increases in stimulus (certain chemical reactions behave like this, and a study of the past history of the climate reveals the same threshold behavior, with changes taking place suddenly and a new climate settling into place in as little as ten years). Never in the past has the climate ever changed slowly, in a linear fashion, over the course of 50 or 100 years, but given how little is understood about thresholds and the climate, the subject remains a source of controversy when it comes to modeling the climate with software, since it is regarded as speculative at present, rather than science, and thus there is a tendency to model the small changes of the past and then project forward in a linear fashion, thus resulting in projections of gradual change that would be true if it were true that the climate was a linear system (which history indicates, it is not).
Concurrent changesOne argument that can be used to suggest that climate change is taking place much more rapidly than had been anticipated is that in recent years the climate can be seen to be displaying the signs of a dynamic system which has crossed a threshold, and is now responding rapidly to stimulus, rather than showing a dulled response as would have been the case in the past.
Acceleration in the melting of the ice cap and glaciers
The image above shows the shrinkage of the arctic ice cap over the last two decades, as viewed from space. The data can then be entered into a climate modeling software scenario to predict that the ice will disappear in '50 to 100 years', which is what you often hear. However, during the latter part of the 1990s, the ice began to recede at a rate 20 times faster than was previously the case. During the beginning of this period there was anomalous warm water measurements of about one half a degree above average in the arctic, but in the last half of the 1990s there were measurements of anomalies of up to 4 to 5 degrees warmer water that appeared concurrent with this increase in the rapidity of the retreat of the ice sheets. As well warmer summers meant that water was also pooling on the ice sheets, which absorbs heat, rather than reflecting it as ice alone would do, and the water also opens and widens cracks in the ice, which also accelerates the process. See the page Arctic ice melting much faster than previously thought. Robins also began nesting in the high arctic for the first time in the late 1990s (the Inuit of the region had no word in their vocabulary for 'robin', having never seen one before) and at the same time this anecdotal evidence was confirmed by scientific studies which were revealing what Robins somehow also discovered, in the form of higher than expected arctic ocean temperatures.
Warm water anomaly in the arctic for sept. 7th, 2004
At the same time as this accelerated rate of change in the arctic was taking place tropical glaciers were melting with greater speed. South American glaciers in the Andes retreated at a rate 32 times faster at the end of the 1990s than they did in the previous three decades, and if this accelerated rate of melt continues (and if we assume that further acceleration does not take place - linear thinking once again) they will be gone sometime between 2010 and 2020. These glaciers provide the only source of drinking water for millions of South Americans, many of whom are very poor, as well as feeding rivers and streams and lakes that are vital to animal life and the entire ecosystem.
Retreat of the SaharaAnother concurrent change in the global climate which was taking place at the same time as this rapid acceleration in ice melt was the beginning of a remarkable retreat in the Sahara desert. Climate modeling software had been predicting that a rise in the temperature of the North Atlantic would result in a retreat and eventual disappearance of the Sahara desert, and as the warm water anomalies began to strengthen in the Northern Atlantic in the late 1990s, this predicted change began to manifest in the Saharan region.
The images above are vegetation graphics which show the effects of increasing rainfall which has pushing northward from the Sahel since the late nineties, another change that began concurrent with the changes noted above in the arctic and in the mountain glaciers. Blue is the thickest vegetation, while green is 'fair' and red is desert.
In the image above I have used a red line to show where the boundaries of the desert were in 1990 as compared to where it was in late 2003. (See the page Africa's deserts are in retreat according to New Scientist Magazine.)
Sahara, November 2000, September 2003
Last year exceptionally heavy rains created flooding right into the Sahara itself, soaking the region, following a pattern that emerged in the late 1990s (a year of record breaking rains, and correspondingly good harvests, followed by a stable year, followed by another year of record breaking rains, and so on (an oscillating pattern which I interpreted as a sign of instability in the climate). Last years powerful monsoons created the heat wave in Europe and is also responsible for this years formation of what looks to be a giant plague of locusts (with more locusts reported on the ground during the start of this plague than were present during the peak year of the previous plague in 1988). So far a rain pattern which has pushed storm systems into the Sahara has kept the locusts breeding on the Southern Sahara
Flooding in China, Failed Monsoons in IndiaAnother disturbing pattern that has emerged over the last few years, concurrent with the changes above, is year over year increases in the rainfall in China, resulting in increasingly bad flooding, with a corresponding decline of rainfall and monsoon failures in India.
The image above shows the vegetation graphic for India and the deterioration taking place due to repeated monsoon failures. The FAO is instituting a program to help India's drought stricken farmers., since the drought has only increased problems caused by deforestation and bad land use..." inappropriate land use practices and depleted vegetation have made farming increasingly unviable under low and uncertain rainfall conditions". Meanwhile climate modeling software has come under fire as the monsoon fails since the software predicted good rains, and now is being replaced. Indian farmers continue to commit suicide this year a wide spread behavior pattern that is the result of 5 years of successive drought, and failing monsoons.
While this is going on, the opposite problem has been developing over the last few years in China, where the rain keeps increasing every year, bringing worse flooding each time. "Seasonal rains wreak havoc across much of China every summer, and with the amount of rainfall increasing each year the problems are only likely to grow worse, Sparrow said. "You cannot build defenses in concrete and steel against flash floods and a changing climate," he said. "We must invest in community level disaster preparedness."
America's worst drought in recorded historyAt the same time as the Sahara began its rapid retreat, the monsoons began failing in India, China began flooding, the arctic sea temperature rose and ice melt accelerated, and the glaciers began a rapid melt, the the American west was plunged into the worst drought in recorded history. These drought conditions have been shown to be linked to warming in the North Atlantic, the same warming that has been predicted by climate models to result in such things as the retreat of the Sahara (not to mention the melting of the polar ice caps).
Other changesOther changes that have been taking place include the decline of the Great Lakes, which have been dropping by a foot or a foot and half a year, this rate of decline also accelerating over the past few years, with barge traffic on the Mississippi carrying only half loads to avoid scraping bottom, just some of the symptoms of what could become a water crisis due to reduced snow pack and shrinking lakes and rivers. Satellite imagery has shown that snow pack on the North American continent has been retreating northward on an annual basis. And it would appear that some particularly nasty hurricane seasons may be upcoming in the future if this year is any indication of what to expect. This month's issue of National Geographic Magazine features global warming. " The devastating impacts of global warming are examined in depth in this issue of National Geographic. "Diseases spread, snowpacks decline, precipitation increases, winter loses its bite, lakes shrink, sea levels rise, droughts linger." These are among the alarm bells ringing with increasing intensity. The magazine shows how every part of the world is affected by climate changes - glaciers rapidly melting in Peru, ice retreating in Alaska, coral reefs and other marine life dwindling in all the oceans and a dramatic spread of drought-stricken areas."
Summary conclusionGiven the conservative nature of the science of climatology, and the tendency of scientists to introduce caveats and 'await further confirmation'. I thought I might introduce this argument from concurrence as an attempt to be 'scientific' in discussing our changing climate. (When I read about such things as an unexpected rise in the temperature of arctic oceans, the scientists who did the study introduce a caveat, by stating that they do not know if that is just an unusual passing phenomena, and therefore more years of research are required.) This sort of caution and conservatism is just in the nature of science, a discipline in which intuition is taboo, and I think that it does expose a certain weakness in the scientific method, when science is incorporated as a total world view, rather than simply as another tool, an just one way of looking at the world, which can itself be subordinated to other ways of experiencing our world and our environment (rather than being considered supremely pre-eminent). After all, farmers on the Sahel were up planting crops in what were once desert areas unsuitable for planting, a year or two before the scientists described by New Scientist magazine showed up to do a scientific survey on the retreating desert, and similarly, while scientists await more evidence that the arctic is actually warming as much as the unexpected results indicated, Robins decided that the warming was here to stay and moved into the high arctic. (In both these cases, the Sahelian farmer used his intuitive understanding of his environment, which is obviously what the Robin does as well, to make a determination not based exclusively upon the scientific method). This is not intended as a slam against science, but at the same time it seems to me that science is actually lagging behind everyone else on this one, and this episode could be useful in exposing the limitations of this scientific methodology, not in a laboratory, where such methods have their place, but as a totalistic world view, and as the sole guide for public policy to the exclusion of all else.
Nevertheless, even with all this being said, it still seems suitable to me to patch together a quasi- scientific argument (based upon the concurrence of all these events) to suggest that it would seem logical to assume that the climate is in fact a dynamic system, with thresholds, and that the rapid changes we have been seeing in recent years are an indication that some type of rapid climate change is already underway, and that in the future we cannot simply expect linear change of the type I am convinced is wrongly predicted by those climate computers (thus leading to a false sense of complacency and an inappropriate sense of urgency in dealing with the immediately ongoing impacts of a changing climate)>
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