Frozen in Time
Apr 18, 2008
A Round Up of Climate Studies from This Week’s Science Magazine

By Paul Biggs,

Greenland Ice Slipping Away but Not All That Quickly
Almost 6 years ago, a paper in Science warned of an unheralded environmental peril. Melted snow and ice seemed to be reaching the base of the great Greenland ice sheet, lubricating it and accelerating the sheet’s slide toward oblivion in the sea, where it was raising sea level worldwide (12 July 2002, p. 218).

A new study has confirmed that meltwater reaches the ice sheet’s base and does indeed speed the ice’s seaward flow. The good news is that the process is more leisurely than many climate scientists had feared. Glaciologist Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University in State College says, “It matters, but it’s not huge.” The finding should ease concerns that Greenland ice could raise sea level a disastrous meter or more by the end of the century.

Coral Adaptation in the Face of Climate Change
In their review, “Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification” (14 December 2007, p. 1737), O. Hoegh- Guldberg et al. present future reef scenarios that range from coral-dominated communities to rapidly eroding rubble banks. Notably, none of their scenarios considers the capacity for corals to adapt. The authors dismiss adaptation because “reef-building corals have relatively long generation times and low genetic diversity, making or slow rates of adaptation [relative to rates of change].” We think the possibility of adaptation deserves a second look.

In the absence of longterm demographic studies to detect temporal trends in life history traits, predicting rates of adaptation, and whether they will be exceeded by rates of environmental change, is pure speculation. Indeed, where such data are available for terrestrial organisms they demonstrate that contemporary evolution in response to climate change is possible. See this story in the Herald Sun, Scientists find corals flourishing on Bikini Atoll. Some corals are again flourishing on Bikini Atoll, the Pacific site of the largest American atom bomb ever exploded, a 15 mega-tonne bomb a thousand times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima in Japan in WWII. It vapourised three islands, raised water temperatures to 55,000 degrees, shook islands 200km away and left a crater 2km wide and 73m deep.

Ms Richards said she did not know what to expect when she dived on the crater but was surprised to find huge matrices of branching Porites coral - up to eight metres high - had established, creating thriving coral reef habitat. “Throughout other parts of the lagoon it was awesome to see coral cover as high as 80 per cent and large tree-like branching coral formations with trunks 30cm thick. “It was fascinating - I’ve never seen corals growing like trees outside of the Marshall Islands.’’ The healthy condition of the coral at Bikini today was proof of the atoll’s resilience and ability to bounce back from massive disturbances if the reef was left undisturbed and there were healthy nearby reefs to source the recovery.’’

Read more here.

Apr 17, 2008
OSU Climatologist Vacates Hot Seat

Interview with Chris Lydgate, Sustainable Life


Sustainable Life: Do you believe in global warming?

George Taylor: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. The temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere varies. But I also believe in global cooling. The Earth’s temperature changes on a variety of time scales. Over a period of months, years, decades, centuries or millennia. So to say it’s warmer or cooler depends on the starting and ending points.

SL: Will it get hotter in the future?

Taylor: It depends on the time scale you’re talking about. In Oregon it will get warmer in the next four months, but it will almost certainly get cooler in the next 5,000 years. We are now enjoying an interglacial period - a period between two ice ages - and these are typically shorter than the cold periods. We came out of the last ice age about 15,000 years ago, and based on what’s happened in the past, it’s logical to conclude that the warm period will terminate in the next 5,000 years.

SL: What about the next hundred years?

Taylor: To answer that, you have to understand what causes climate change. I believe the climate changes as a result of several factors, some natural, some human. Human factors include greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, but also a host of other effects - deforestation, urbanization, emission of aerosols. Carbon dioxide gets all the headlines, but frankly, I think it is overemphasized. There are also natural factors. Changes in solar radiation, for example - there’s an 11-year cycle, a 20- to 27-year cycle, a 95-year cycle, a 210-year cycle, a 1,500-year cycle, and several more known as Milankovitch cycles, which last tens of thousands of years. Another big influence is the ocean, especially the tropical Pacific. The tropical Pacific is the biggest source of heat for the atmosphere - it has a dominant effect on weather and climate. Volcanic eruptions generate huge amounts of dust that have a profound effect on global temperatures. And then there are things whose role we don’t understand, like clouds - they are usually ignored by climate prediction models. They don’t know how to include them, so they ignore them. Same with El Nino and La Nina.

SL: Even if the models aren’t perfect, shouldn’t we cut carbon emissions now, before it’s too late?

Taylor: Look, if we reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, that will tend to lower the temperature, all other things being equal. The question is how much, and are the other things equal? Those are tough questions to answer. When I look at precipitation, temperature and snowfall in the Northwest, I see stronger correlation with natural factors than with greenhouse gases. So I have concluded that the influence of natural factors on climate is more significant than that of greenhouse gases. 

SL: How much more significant?

Taylor: I hesitate to put a number on it. But it’s a lot more than 50-50.

Read more about George vacating his position at OSU and the rest of the interview here.

Icecap Note: Oregon and OSU are the big losers here. But thankfully George now will be able to speak out freely and Icecap would welcome his blogs and papers and bring them to you whenever we can.

Apr 15, 2008
The Icecaps are Growing

By David J. Ameling

There is very little precise data when it comes to climate change. Are the Ice Caps growing or are they diminishing? Accurate measurements are hard to obtain. The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) provides very precise data that can answer this question. The IERS calculates leap seconds. Just like leap years add days to keep our calendar in sync with the actual amount of time it takes for the Earth to orbit the Sun, leap seconds are used to keep highly accurate atomic clocks in sync with clocks based on the Earth’s rotation. The Earth’s rotation has slowed down. To keep the clocks in sync leap seconds will have to be added at a constant rate. If the Earth’s rotation continues to slow down leap seconds will need to be added at an increasing rate.

The IERS determines the rotation of the Earth. Data only exists from 1972 to the present. From 1972 thru 1998 (26 years) 21 leap seconds were added. From 1999 to the present (9 years) only 1 leap second has been added. This means since 1999 to the present the Earth’s rate of rotation has increased. There are two possible (but not mutually exclusive) causes for this.

1. Some of the Earth’s mass has moved closer to the Earth’s axis of rotation similar to a spinning skater bringing his arms closer to his sides, and thus spinning faster. For the Earth this would occur when some of its ocean water is moved to the polar ice caps to form snow and ice. Satellite data shows the Earth’s atmosphere has been cooling since 1998.  This would cause a build up of snow and ice at the polar ice caps and thus increase the Earth’s rate of rotation. The time lines for the increase in the Earth’s rotation and the atmosphere’s cooling match. The Ice Caps are growing.

Mass could also have been moved closer to Earth’s axis of rotation by geological methods, but these would require more time. Read more here.

David Ameling has a BA in physics from UCLA. He had a career in computer software with large-scale real-time scientific systems including work with with military satellites. He has always been interested in climate.

Apr 14, 2008
Algae: ‘The Ultimate in Renewable Energy’

By Marsha Walton, CNN

Texas may be best known for “Big Oil.” But the oil that could some day make a dent in the country’s use of fossil fuels is small. Microscopic, in fact: algae. Literally and figuratively, this is green fuel."Algae is the ultimate in renewable energy,” Glen Kertz, president and CEO of Valcent Products, told CNN while conducting a tour of his algae greenhouse on the outskirts of El Paso. Kertz, a plant physiologist and entrepreneur, holds about 20 patents. And he is psyched about the potential algae holds, both as an energy source and as a way to deal with global warming. “We are a giant solar collecting system. We get the bulk of our energy from the sunshine,” said Kertz.

Algae are among the fastest growing plants in the world, and about 50 percent of their weight is oil. That lipid oil can be used to make biodiesel for cars, trucks, and airplanes. Most people know algae as “pond scum.” And until recently, most energy research and development projects used ponds to grow it. But instead of ponds, Valcent uses a closed, vertical system, growing the algae in long rows of moving plastic bags. The patented system is called Vertigro, a joint venture with Canadian alternative energy company Global Green Solutions. The companies have invested about $5 million in the Texas facility.

“A pond has a limited amount of surface area for solar absorption,” said Kertz. “By going vertical, you can get a lot more surface area to expose cells to the sunlight. It keeps the algae hanging in the sunlight just long enough to pick up the solar energy they need to produce, to go through photosynthesis,” he said. Read more here.

Kertz said he can produce about 100,000 gallons of algae oil a year per acre, compared to about 30 gallons per acre from corn; 50 gallons from soybeans. Using algae as an alternative fuel is not a new idea. The U.S. Department of Energy studied it for about 18 years, from 1978 to 1996. But according to Al Darzins of the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab, in 1996 the feds decided that algae oil could never compete economically with fossil fuels. The price of a barrel of oil in 1996? About 20 bucks! Read more here.

Apr 14, 2008
Cold Temperatures Freeze Gardening Season

By Mark Geary, Reporter KCRG-TV, Cedar Rapids, IA

All of this cold weather is freezing the start of the gardening season. Now, outdoor fans are eager for a warm-up. “I’m 71-years-old and I’ve never seen spring come this late,” Robert Ciesleck said. Ciesleck and his family look forward to gardening together every spring. This year, they’re not sure when they’re going to be able to get their hands dirty. “When it starts getting into mid-March and April, then things should change fast, but not this year,” he said.

On a typical Sunday afternoon, the Culver’s greenhouse would be packed with people, but the recent cold temperatures scared away a lot of customers. “All the plants are right here. All you can do is come and look for now. I’d hate to take any home quite yet, but it’s getting really tempting,” customer Rhonda Kaczinski said.  Cold temperatures aren’t the only problem. This winter’s snow and ice storms drenched the soil and left it soggy. If you can pick up a handful of soil and still wring moisture out of it, it’s too wet to plant,” Culver’s employee Sherri Baldonado said. Even though it might be too cold for flowers to take root, Culver’s employees recommend buying plants now and storing them in a warm place like a garage.  Read more here.

Icecap Note: To put in into perspective, Cedar Rapids and the surrounding Midwest has been consistently colder than normal since December. In Cedar Rapids, December averaged 3.0 F below normal, January 1.9 F below normal, February a whopping 8.3 F below normal, March 4.9 F below normal and so far in April 4.4 degrees below normal.

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