1.18.2007

Beachfront Property? (the cold snap is just an aberration)

It's supposed to be cold in Vermont in January. It's entirely natural and expected. But things are changing, fast. I remember reading somewhere that the Inuit never had a word for "robin" because there were no robins in the Artic... until recently. These changes show up here in the form of shorter, milder winters, and fewer snowstorms and more sloppy mixed precipitation events with rain and ice.

The New York Times had an article "The Warming of Greenland" that discusses the rapid climate change in Greenland and the apparently unprecedented pace of the melting of the icecap:
The abrupt acceleration of melting in Greenland has taken climate scientists by surprise. Tidewater glaciers, which discharge ice into the oceans as they break up in the process called calving, have doubled and tripled in speed all over Greenland. Ice shelves are breaking up, and summertime “glacial earthquakes” have been detected within the ice sheet.

“The general thinking until very recently was that ice sheets don’t react very quickly to climate,” said Martin Truffer, a glaciologist at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. “But that thinking is changing right now, because we’re seeing things that people have thought are impossible.”

A study in The Journal of Climate last June observed that Greenland had become the single largest contributor to global sea-level rise.

Until recently, the consensus of climate scientists was that the impact of melting polar ice sheets would be negligible over the next 100 years. Ice sheets were thought to be extremely slow in reacting to atmospheric warming. The 2001 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, widely considered to be an authoritative scientific statement on the potential impacts of global warming, based its conclusions about sea-level rise on a computer model that predicted a slow onset of melting in Greenland.

“When you look at the ice sheet, the models didn’t work, which puts us on shaky ground,” said Richard Alley, a geosciences professor at Pennsylvania State University.

There is no consensus on how much Greenland’s ice will melt in the near future, Dr. Alley said, and no computer model that can accurately predict the future of the ice sheet. Yet given the acceleration of tidewater-glacier melting, a sea-level rise of a foot or two in the coming decades is entirely possible, he said. That bodes ill for island nations and those who live near the coast...

I live about 200 miles from the seacoast and at the top of small hill. Who knows? Perhaps at some point in the future I will have some prime beachfront hacienda?

I once went to a lecture on "peak oil" at UVM and the presenter used a slide like this that shows world population growth:


The chart zooms upward at the beginning of the industrial revolution and has been heading almost straight up ever since.

The next slide in the presentation was a graph of a yeast population in a sugar solution, and it looks exactly like the world population graph, except the population zooms upwards, reaches a zenith, and crashes precipitously as the yeast cells poison their environment -- the decline is an exact mirror image of the upward graph...the population falls just as rapidly.

The third slide in the sequence read "Are we smarter than yeast"? -- the answer is, I think, "probably not". Too many people consuming way too much stuff in a finite system. It will have consequences and probably sooner rather than later.

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