Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Gamble of Evidence On Global Warming

You may remember a movie out last year called The Day After Tomorrow, about a sudden cataclysmic climate change overtaking the world, and plunging it deep into an ice age.

Turns out, the truth may (and I stress may) not be so far from fiction.

Is Europe Due For a Big Chill?
By shutting down ocean currents, global warming could actually cool things offBy MICHAEL D. LEMONICK

[L]ast week...scientists from Britain's National Oceanography Center reported in Nature that a component of the oceanic current system that drives the Gulf Stream has slowed by 30% since 1992. The likely, paradoxical cause? Global warming. While climate experts around the world caution that the data are too preliminary to be definitive, "the result," writes University of Hamburg climatologist Detlef Quadfasel in a commentary on the study that also appears in Nature, "is alarming."

It's also not entirely unexpected. Back in the 1980s, Wallace Broecker, a geophysicist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, was trying to understand why temperatures in Greenland had plunged dramatically several times over the past 70,000 years. His theory: fresh water, perhaps from melting glaciers, might have diluted the ocean's salinity, making it harder for cooling water to sink and return southward to pick up more heat. That could shut off the entire "conveyor belt" of water that keeps Europe temperate. It's hard to determine precisely what would have caused such a big thaw 70,000 years back, but we do know that today global warming is causing more meltwater to stream into the North Atlantic from glaciers and older sea ice, which is lower in salt. Could the conveyor belt stop again?

Climate experts are not sure--and some have serious reservations about the new paper--mostly because the observed change is happening too fast. Computer models predict that it should take at least 100 years to weaken the ocean conveyor belt. What's more, nobody was even measuring those currents before 1957. Says Broecker: "We don't know how much the flow bounces around normally."

Clearly, pieces are still missing from the equation, so even the scientists who wrote the study counsel against panic. Rather than be worried, says co-author Stuart Cunningham, "people should be more interested and concerned. The ocean seems to have changed in a large enough way to be detectable." It's something, in other words, to keep an eye on.
A 30% drop in less than 15 years. And things are only getting warmer each year, so that's probably accelerated since.

Now, Nature magazine is not some eco-terror organ, but is a bona fide referreed science magazine, which means that the research and the conclusions drawn from that research must pass rigorous vetting. Not to say they are always right, but that the experiments have been validated, the results have been vetted and the conclusions drawn are reasonable based on the evidence presented.

Kinda scary stuff, wouldn't you agree? This would put Europe squarely in competition for oil and natural gas and unlike us, they don't have a Canada or Mexico sitting right on the doorstep for supplies.

They'll need to go to the Middle East. Any wonder why they are not lifting a finger to assist us in Iraq?