2006-05-26 / Columnists

Drawing On Science


Global Warming II: Facts In Support Of Global Warming by Stephen Yaeger

There are, of course, uncertainties associated with global warming, but there are physical laws and documented evidence to consider: Humans do alter the environment, in many cases it is altered to the extent where it becomes overly polluted; greenhouse gases trap heat warming the planet and they remain in the atmosphere for centuries; there is no doubt that a warming trend in the oceans is evident; receding glacial ice due to melting will be reaching a critical stage in the future; there is decreasing snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere; and studies indicate an increase in below ground warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that there was a noticeable human influence on Earth's climate. The IPCC also said that the observed global warming trend is "unlikely to be entirely natural in origin."

A study by Ohio State University members analyzed ice cores from deep within a Himalayan glacier more than 20,000 feet high. The cores revealed that the past 100 years have been the hottest period in the Himalayas in 1,000 years. It was also found that high elevations seem to be warming much faster than the global average temperature (1 o F) and that glacial water-fed rivers were experiencing declining water levels.

Ellen Mosley-Thompson, one of the research group members, says that the rivers will not flow year-round because of glacial loss and she asks, "...where will the river flow come from during the dry season?" Both the Arctic and Antarctic has experienced an increase of about 5 o F over the average global temperature in the past 50 years. The Arctic's sea ice has lost almost 250 million acres - the size of Texas, Maryland, and California combined! The Arctic is, itself, about the size of the United States. Fifty years ago Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Mt. Everest setting out from a glacier on the mountain. This same glacier, today, is three miles farther up the mountain. It has retreated (melted) due to global warming.

When an iceberg melts sea level does not rise since the floating iceberg displaces as much water as it can. But when a land glacier melts that's a different story. Where is all that water going to end up? You got it: the oceans. Coupled with oceans that are already warming up and expanding, the additional glacial melt water presents somewhat of a problem: an increase in sea levels. University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers say that melting glaciers are responsible for about a 9% rise in sea level over the last 100 years. This continuing increase in sea level will certainly flood low-lying areas. If the Greenland ice sheet were to completely melt sea levels would rise to 23 feet above normal. If Antarctic ice were to completely melt sea levels would rise over 215 feet!

NASA determined that 2005 was one of the hottest years in over 100 years. From 1980 through 1999 we experienced 19 of the hottest years on record and this warming trend may increase to a record high beginning around 2030 (see graph).

There appears to be a direct relationship between warming oceans and hurricanes. Since 1970 there has been an increase by a full degree in the temperatures of ocean waters. Worldwide studies have indicated that category 4 and 5 hurricanes have doubled. Not only have there been more of such hurricanes, but wind speed and duration of the hurricanes has increased by 1/2. This is obviously due to the warmer waters.

Then there's the " feedback loop ." When sunlight strikes the polar ice caps, 90% of the light is reflected back into space due to the ice's bright, white surface. The same percentage of sunlight, however, is absorbed by the oceans. This absorption of heat energy warms them up. The more heat energy water absorbs the warmer the water gets. This results in more polar ice melting. It is estimated that, as the water gets warmer, a mile of polar ice melts faster than the mile that melted before it. If the Arctic Ocean was to disappear then the warm layer of Atlantic's subsurface water (about 600 feet deep) will rise to the surface. Its heat energy will be conducted to the atmosphere and you can guess the result.

Global warming is already affecting the biological world also. The following examples may not overly excite the reader, but they are true facts (and keep in mind that humans, too, are subject to environmental changes). One research study of 2/3 of northern African and northern European non-migrating butterflies have shown that their ranges, normally in the southern parts of the regions, have shifted northward by as much as 150 miles. It seems that the temperatures have risen to an uncomfortable level for the insects in the southern parts. In Africa the Quiver Tree is dying out in its normal range close to the equator. Evidence has revealed that the tree may be adapting to more southern, cooler regions. Over 2/3 of the 110 species of Harlequin Frogs have disappeared from their habitats in Central and South America. There is some indication that climate change has affected the frogs' ability to withstand infectious diseases. Another study estimates that by the year 2050, a million species may be gone. Keep in mind that extinction is forever.

Trees in the Sierra Nevada are moving upslope. Research shows that the trees, 100 years ago, grew 100 feet lower on the mountain slopes than they do today. This upward movement is the result of higher temperatures and drought in the valleys. Unfortunately there is a limit as to how far up a tree will survive due to available land.

In the Arctic decreasing ice platforms and shores due to melting have resulted in dead Polar Bears. These bears are excellent swimmers, but they can maintain swimming only just so long between safe havens. When they become exhausted, they drown! The number of drowned polar bears has increased over the past years due to, as many scientists believe, the lack of ice platforms. Researchers at the Wellington School of Medicine's public health department found that dengue fever is spreading. In the South Pacific islands, where the research was done, their studies found that the spread of dengue fever is directly related to rising temperatures. So what is the global warming controversy about? It has to do with uncertainties: Scientists are sure human activity in the last 120 years had an impact on the environment, but how it affects the climate system, which we know little about, is uncertain. Scientists, too, are not quite sure what will happen in the future. It is these uncertainties that non-believers latch on to and milk to the fullest.

Questions/comments? E-mail Steve: Drawingonscience@ aol. com

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