Thursday, March 22, 2012

Oceanograpy: Climate Change


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(Earthquakes and tsunamis are part of the Japanese psyche. Living as they do on islands floating on the grinding of the Pacific tectonic plates, both are common occurrences. Mystical explanations helped explain the apparently random and frightening events. This image shows the giant catfish, Namazu, whose wiggling tail causes earth tremors and giant waves. Namazu is mostly kept under control by the god Kashima. But when Kashima is tired or distracted, Namazu flicks his tail and rattles the earth.)

I may have more bile than I need this morning. It is quite a remarkable thing to have a once trusty appendage suddenly collapse on you. It defies all experience, suddenly looking up from the floor. But I think it will get better. 

I hope so- it is remarkable to feel so good one moment and then be writhing in pain the next. There must be an explanation for it.  I am inclined to think it might have been the flicking of Namazu’s tail that catapulted me into this strange alternate reality. 

You heard about the tornedo in Dexter, Michigan, last week. It was horrendous, though thank God no one died. My buddy Muhammed lives in Ann Abor, not far from the epicenter of the activity. He said: “We got good hail out of it.   Dexter had a lot of damage, probable F3 Tornados.  Weather is wild here!”

It hit 75 and humid here today, what a contrast. Really awesome to see Nature at work! When the atmosphere, the ground (being mined and drilled), the thoughts of people are out of balance. Then, things get put back in balance.   The weather guy calls it physics.  Maybe it is.” He concluded with the observation that he thinks “it is Spirit at work.”

As you know, it is easy to "dis" religion. But no one I have ever seen or talked to thinks about Science when a possible Tornado approaches,  people pray.  It works.  Let's just say I was not standing on my front porch doing Physics problems 60 minutes ago.”

I was thinking the other day that hurricanes have diminished in number and intensity, even though our ability to track them has increased measurably. An early Spring here- with the usual attendant savagery of the change of season- is matched by a late and record-breaking winter in Alaska, and snows in Europe that range as far south as North Africa. 

Is it La Nina? Sunspots or the lack of them? The regular precession of the wobbling earth? 
I liked this explanation this morning, and I try on belief systems. As you know, the earth's orbit around the sun is not quite circular. The closest approach of earth to the sun is called “perihelion,” and it now occurs in January, making northern hemisphere winters slightly milder. This change in timing of perihelion is known as the precession of the equinoxes, and occurs on a period of 22,000 years. 
11,000 years ago, perihelion occurred in July, making the seasons more severe than today. 
Add in the fact that our planet is not round. Our earthly hotel has an orbit that varies on cycles of 100,000 and 400,000 years, and this affects how important the timing of perihelion is to the relative strength of the seasons. 
The combination of the 41,000 year tilt-cycle and a 22,000 year precession cycle affect the relative severity of summer and winter, and may control the growth and retreat of ice sheets. Cool summers in the northern hemisphere, where most of the earth's land mass is located, appear to allow snow and ice to persist to the next winter, allowing the development of large ice sheets over hundreds to thousands of years. 
Conversely, warmer summers shrink ice sheets by melting more ice than the amount accumulating during the winter. 
That is the Milankovitch Theory, anyway, which was thought up by a Serbian scientist named Milutin Milankovitch back in 1920, which means he does not have a dog in the current argument about Anthropomorphic Global Warming, or its cousin, Catastrophic AGW. 

The legion of things we do not understand about how climate and weather work- they are of course not the same- and whether the current theory on CO2 emissions is correct is something else. There are Greenhouse gases, of course. But what exactly is it they do? We have Dr. Mann's hockey stick graphic. How does that work with everything else?

I listened to Dr. Michael Mann flacking his new book the other day on NPR, and he spent precious little time on anything like science. Apparently he solved all this stuff a long time ago, and he has moved on mostly to policy recommendations, something that the Ivory Tower has always prided itself on. 

I am no “denier,” as the current vituperative discourse goes. Of course the climate is changing, and of course the greenhouse effect has been known for a long time. Look at the evidence: Global temperatures- to the extent that we have them without resorting to pine cones and buried logs from Siberia- have increased almost a full degree (Celsius) since 1840. 

Dr. Mann says there is a tipping point, we may have hit it already, and urgent action is required. I got an idea of what that might be in the form of a thoughtful piece by a fellow named Gary Stix. He laid it out in the pages of Scientific American this morning. He is wrestling with some heavy stuff. He is calling for immediate and massive social change. 

"Global prosperity now depends on our species' success at a totally unfamiliar assignment: to "fit" our many billions of people on this small planet, with its finite resources and finite capacity to withstand pollution. The job will be very hard and will require sustained focus…

Behavioral economics and other forward-looking disciplines in the social sciences try to grapple with weighty questions. But they have never taken on a challenge of this scale, recruiting all seven billion of us to act in unison…. In principle, species-wide alteration in basic human behaviors would be a sine qua non, but that kind of pronouncement also profoundly strains credibility in the chaos of the political sphere....How do we create new institutions with enforcement powers way beyond the current mandate of the U.N.? Could we ensure against a malevolent dictator who might abuse the power of such organizations?"

Sounds like fun, but "Whoa," I thought. “Of course not. The only inevitability in this warming or cooling globe is that the over-arching ego of the human species won’t change. The most powerful emotion is not that of reproduction, but to tell others what to do. 
Oh, BTW, Gary is not a climate scientist, according to the home page of Scientific American. His job is to: "Commission, write, and edit features, news articles and Web blogs.... His area of coverage is neuroscience. He also has frequently been the issue or section editor for special issues or reports on topics ranging from nanotechnology to obesity.”
More help from another quarter- a neurological approach to AGW. Let's get cracking, shall we?
Oh, yeah. What does the Milankovitch Theory say about future climate change? That good doctor claimed that orbital changes occur over thousands of years, and the climate system may also take thousands of years to respond to orbital forcing.

Is this urgent? Could it be that AGW actually fending off the next ice age? I dunno. 

Dr. Mann and Gary Stix seem pretty worked up about it, and I guess I am, too. I am thinking that that pesky Namazu is working up for a quiver of his tail. Maybe we should all run to the other side of the tilted earth's axis?

Copyright 2012 Vic Socotra

Click here for a video on the climate change debate, click on the return arrow in the upper left corner of the YouTube tool bar.

1 comment:

  1. This was a good explanation of the many natural causes besides human industrial activity that can cause climate change, some very rapidly. It seems to us that climate change, especially relatively rapid climate change, is not a question of if, but when. It's not even a question of how we can cause it, because nature doesn't need us, to create drastic and sudden climate change.

    While we shouldn't neglect attention to reducing humankind's carbon foot print, the real question that governments should be asking themselves is how to plan to minimize negative consequences when the inevitable happens. Arctic marine transport is an immediate naval and merchant marine issue of the moment, but as drought and temperature change, governments and agrabusiness, and municiple authorities need to be thinking about food security. We have the technology today to produce vast quantities of fruits and vegetables in a factory like setting in highly urbanized areas. If governments including municipal governments were to encourage such production cities would be more secure if large areas of agricultural production were to lose a crop.

    When NASA looks at space colonies their ideas of self sustaining production of animal protein don't include cows. NASA looks at aquaculture, and such small meat producing species as quail and rabbit. These sources lend themselves to indoor production. This article points to the many ways that climatic disaster may befall us and has befallen our ancestors in the long ago past. We have the technology to not have to slip back into the stone age. We have the technology to avoid massive die offs of human beings. What we lack is a plan and a committment to act based on the very realistic expectation that no matter waht is happening now, be it simply periodic natural change, or human activity induced change, climate change will happen at some point and may be sudden even if we produced an emission free industrial world. All it takes is sun spots, orbit wobble, extensive volcanism, or a meteor strike or any combination of the above. We should be planning and acting now on the firm belief that it will eventually happen.