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June 25, 2006

Greenland's ice sheet is slipping

The LA Times reports that Greenland's ice sheet is melting much faster than expected. Worse still, melting water is lubricating the ice sheets, causing them to slip. This, coupled with an increase in seismic activity poses a grave threat to the integrity of the polar ice, and by extension, to the world's climate.

The Greenland ice sheet — two miles thick and broad enough to blanket an area the size of Mexico — shapes the world's weather, matched in influence by only Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere.

[...]The ice is so massive that its weight presses the bedrock of Greenland below sea level, so all-concealing that not until recently did scientists discover that Greenland actually might be three islands.

Should all of the ice sheet ever thaw, the meltwater could raise sea level 21 feet and swamp the world's coastal cities, home to a billion people. It would cause higher tides, generate more powerful storm surges and, by altering ocean currents, drastically disrupt the global climate.

Climate experts have started to worry that the ice cap is disappearing in ways that computer models had not predicted.

By all accounts, the glaciers of Greenland are melting twice as fast as they were five years ago, even as the ice sheets of Antarctica — the world's largest reservoir of fresh water — also are shrinking, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Kansas reported in February. [LAT]

Al Gore discusses the implications of melting Greenland ice in an Inconvenient Truth.

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I make a point of _not_ reading right-wing propoganda, and I've had some difficulity avoiding alarmist propoganda when it comes to global warming. I suggest that you start reading the science, rather than second-hand reports of the science.

Excuse me? While not a climate scientist, I am a biologist. I guarantee that I have a much better understanding of the overall consequences of global warming than you do. But you just keep right on hiding in your fool's paradise. Disturbing it erally isn't worth the effort.

Well, I guess one way in which we differ is that I quite enjoy disturbing fools comfortably ensconced in their paradises.

BTW, is that guarantee backed up with hard cash -- does your confidence extend to your bank account?

Thank you Steve. It was shocking to me, watching An Inconvenient Truth, to reflect on the study: of just over 930 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, not one--not one--failed to conclude that human activity was responsible for the rise in C02 levels. Yet less than 60% of the articles about global warming in popular media admitted that we're responsible for the rise in atmospheric C02 levels.

Bob Koepp is right about one thing: let's pay attention to the science. The popular media has been lying to us, probably for political reasons, in suggesting that we're not responsible for global warming. Since that study has made clear the media's bias against science in the question of whether we're responsible for global warming, I'd also love to hear anything you or the scientific community has to say about its harmful effects. Bob has called for us to pay attention to what the scientists say about the harmful or good effects of global warming. I don't believe there will be a cornucopia of good effects, but he made a good suggestion nonetheless. And as you are a scientist, I'd like to hear your take on the likely effects of global warming, if current trends remain unaltered.

I've had some difficulity avoiding alarmist propoganda when it comes to global warming.

Perhaps because the situation is genuinely alarming?

People who'd rather be "contrarian" than right deserve nothing but contempt.

Well said, DJA. There'll always be a few bullshitters, paid or unpaid. But since we have one bullshitter and one scientist, and even the bullshitter asked that we pay attention to scientific thought, I'd still like to hear what the actual scientist has to say as well. Steve, I invite you to take Bob at his word: please give us your overview of the situation.

1984, it's too complex a situtation to summarize, and even some seemingly "good" things (eg. increased crop yields in certain parts of the US due to higher temperature and atmospheric CO2 content and, in some places, rainfall) may well be offset, or more than offset, by bad things inextricably linked to them (in the above case, greater flourishing of pests.) I invite you to go some googling with the keywords climate change consequences, and following up on the hits to reputatble scientific organizations only. There is also an excellent science blog, realclimate.org, though it focuses on climate itself rather than the consequences thereof. But as a general point, saying "the consequences are not completely understood, therefore we can take comfort in imagining that many will be positive" is a truly lame response to the reality.

1984... That "shocking" statistic is drawn from a literature review by N Oreskes purporting to demonstrate that there is a scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic global warming. Since her paper has received its share of criticism on methodological grounds, I recommend that you examine both her arguments and those of her critics, and then draw your own conclusions.

Darcy... There are also some people who would rather be right than well-liked; who would rather be held in contempt than embrace poorly supported hypotheses.

1984... That "shocking" statistic is drawn from a literature review by N Oreskes purporting to demonstrate that there is a scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic global warming. Since her paper has received its share of criticism on methodological grounds, I recommend that you examine both her arguments and those of her critics, and then draw your own conclusions.

Darcy... There are also some people who would rather be right than well-liked; who would rather be held in contempt than embrace poorly supported hypotheses.

Notice how Bob argues in the alternative, sliding from "there will also be positive consequences of anthropogenic warming" to trying in his last post to cast doubt on whether anthropogenic warming is really happening. These lawyer-like tactics are not what you get from someone who's genuinely interested in the truth.

Thanks Steve, that is true. I have at least read many, many "alarmist" reports that are, as DJA says, "genuinely alarming" because they issue from the scientific community. As ever, there is a small number of well-financed dissidents, many in the pay of the oil industry, who probably take comfort in the denial of those who live in fear that they might be called upon to change their comfortable lives. But those urging that we do nothing to change our ways will be those who squeal the loudest, when the disasters attendant to climate change force those changes upon us. Those who voluntarily change now, in a dynamic way, will be better prepared for the discomfort that climate change will cause.

(x-post) my last post refers to Steve's post of 3:38 p.m.

“While not a climate scientist, I am a biologist.”

Same here. Among the stuff that’s come across my desk just this morning is:

1- A note from the National Marine Fisheries Service about the first documented case of a green sturgeon in the Eastern Bering Sea. There have been a couple undocumented reports if green sturgeon there recently. The fisheries have been very well covered there for decades, it’s unlikely that the background presence of a large unmistakable fish would have escaped notice before. Range expansion of a fish normally living in warmer waters or just a chance stray?
2- An article in the journal Ecological Applications (June ’06 vol.16 #3) about ice cover and bowhead whales. The authors looked at ice cover in areas –Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean- where bowhead whales live between 1979 and 2002. They found a moderate decrease in average ice cover but a large increase in variability. The upshot for the whales is that modeling suggests greater prey availability with more open water but no one knows for sure.

One part of my job is to help with other people’s literature searches so I see article abstracts concerning climate change effects on biological/ecological phenomena all the time. It’s real folks. What’s scariest though, as in the two items mentioned above, is how little we really know. To take just the Bering Sea and adjacent waters as an example, bowhead whales might benefit, polar bears will certainly not. How it will affect commercial fishing there for pollack, cod, halibut, salmon, etc., is anyone’s guess. Industrial scale fishing operations will complicate any effects of climate change as well as vice versa. Add effects of pollution, and other anthropogenic and natural factors, and you’ve got a fishing industry that defies long term prediction. Do you invest in port facilities? Where? What kind? Which fisheries will thrive and which will not? What kind of investment should be made in canneries, fish meal/oil factories, boatyards and the like? Peoples’ lives will be made or broken by decisions made without enough information. The Bering Sea is already in trouble, sea lion, fur seal, and otter populations are crashing, the pollack industry isn’t what it used to be and there are way more questions than answers. To think that global warming is going to do much good there is being optimistic, probably unreasonably optimistic.

There are also some people who would rather be right than well-liked; who would rather be held in contempt than embrace poorly supported hypotheses.

Here's the thing reflexive contrarians don't get -- just because we don't like you doesn't make you correct.

Steve rather carelessly overstates things, asking you to notice what isn't there. If you can be bothered to actually look, I haven't endorsed or argued for _any_ substantive position vis a vis global warming or its consequences. Nor have I tried to "cast doubt on whether anthropogenic warming is really happening." Very unscientific of you, Steve, to so distort simple facts. All I've tried to do is get people to approach the issues with their critical faculties operational, to at least consider how well the available evidence supports various conclusions.

Oh -- I'm serious about being open to a bet regarding who has a firmer grasp of the science in question. That much, at least, ain't BS.

Oh, I suppose the word "purporting" in "That "shocking" statistic is drawn from a literature review by N Oreskes purporting to demonstrate that there is a scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic global warming" is strictly neutral in connotation. You're a very unskillful liar, Bob.

For the rest, DJA already replied for me.

Thank you cfrost.

1- A note from the National Marine Fisheries Service about the first documented case of a green sturgeon in the Eastern Bering Sea. There have been a couple undocumented reports if green sturgeon there recently. The fisheries have been very well covered there for decades, it’s unlikely that the background presence of a large unmistakable fish would have escaped notice before. Range expansion of a fish normally living in warmer waters or just a chance stray?

Caviar for everyone! You see?

Bob, you mentioned the holy "bank account." In the face of expert opinion, and what my web searches have turned so far, it doesn't look good for your point of view. It seems to me that you panicked when you heard that climate change might entail a change of lifestyle for you. As I mentioned, those most frightened at the loss of a few of their creature comforts, and those in denial about climate change, are likely to be the worst-prepared for the discomfort that climate change will bring.

Steve - tut tut. Ad hominem arguments are fallacious. It wasn't me who introduced the term 'shocking,' and 'purported' is exactly the right qualifier to use when subjecting a proposition, any proposition, to critical scrutiny.

1984 - What "seems to you" to be the case says more about your own assumptions than my motives. (My lifestyle isn't much threatened by climate change, since I've been working for several decades on devising a low-maintenance lifestyle.) Have you read the just released NAS statement?

Thanks Bob, glad to hear that you're developing a low-maintenance lifestyle. But why the comment about the "bank account" earlier, from you?

And great suggestion about the NAS article. Here's a link to it:

http://nationalacademies.org/onpi/06072005.pdf>http://nationalacademies.org/onpi/06072005.pdf

Here are some quotes from the NAS article: "It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities... human activities are now causing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases... to rise well above pre-industrial levels." "The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action." "The projected changes in climate will have both beneficial and adverse effects at the regional level... the larger and faster the changes in climate, the more likely it is that adverse effects will dominate." "Increasing temperatures could lead to large-scale effects such as melting of large ice sheets (with major impacts on low-lying regions throughout the world)." "Conclusion: We urge all nations... to take prompt action to reduce the causes of climate change,..."

>1984 - What "seems to you" to be the case says more about your own assumptions than my motives.

Also, if you're not worried about a financial cost in implementing the changes the NAS prescribes, then what on earth are you worried about?

I think there's enough snarky squabbling in the universe.

"...don't even think about trying to coerce anybody else into acting like they share your convictions."
We must decide on public policy and make laws which coerce people to act as if they shared the convictions behind the policy. Somebody in the boat may keep her conviction that drilling a hole through the hull is the thing to do -- after all, it would be in her section. But if boat policy is that you don't drill holes because, in the fallible consensus of the boat's scientific academy (contested by a few boat scientists, some of whom take money from the drill manufacturer), it will sink the boat, the drill may be taken away and the driller scolded. She enjoys a perfect right to her convictions, but may be restrained
from acting them out.
I'd like to see power mowers, snow mobiles, and OtRVs banned for a start.

Keen JuneQueenth!

1984 - The "bank account" reference was just a throwaway figure of speach, prompted by a proffered "guarantee" that I suspect is worthless.

I hope you will read the NAS report with care, and even delve into the background of the sometimes nasty disputes that have prompted it. It is much more carefully constructed than many public statements about climate change.

You want to know what I'm worried about? It's simple. I've been madly in love with science since I was a kid, because it impressed me as the best way yet devised to get at some truths about this world. I'm worried about how it gets distorted, both in substance and method, when people subordinate truth to other values -- then it ceases to be science and becomes propaganda.

Bob, I'm afraid your torrid affair with contrarianism has tainted your purported devotion to science and led you straight into Bizarroland, where industry-funded global warming deniers are "scientists," and every reputable climate scientist on the planet is a "propagandist."

Thanks Bob, then let me edit my earlier post to you:

Thanks Bob, glad to hear that you're developing a low-maintenance lifestyle.
And great suggestion about the NAS article. Here's a link to it:

http://nationalacademies.org/onpi/06072005.pdf

Here are some quotes from the NAS article: "It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities... human activities are now causing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases... to rise well above pre-industrial levels." "The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action." "The projected changes in climate will have both beneficial and adverse effects at the regional level... the larger and faster the changes in climate, the more likely it is that adverse effects will dominate." "Increasing temperatures could lead to large-scale effects such as melting of large ice sheets (with major impacts on low-lying regions throughout the world)." "Conclusion: We urge all nations... to take prompt action to reduce the causes of climate change,..."

So: the National Academy of Sciences article that you mentioned seems to acknowledge that we're responsible for climate change, and that urgent action is necessary in order to avoid a preponderance of adverse effects accruing from climate change. Therefore, are we in agreement that significant scientific thought leans toward curbing our human contributions to global warming? If not, I don't hold out much hope that any scientific authority will convince you. If that's the case, then I hope not to disrespect you, but I would consider you one who decries the distortion of science, while being primarily responsible for its distortion. I also will do everything in my power to remove your kind from power, so as to curb your adverse effects on the planet's ecology.

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