Wednesday, May 30, 2007

This is the way the world ends

Tonight I saw the pioneering 1951 science fiction epic When Worlds Collide, which made quite an impression on me when I was a kid. The film is an antique -- dated, obvious and occasionally laughable -- yet it maintain a hammerlock on the psyche. Slasher flicks stopped scaring me ages ago, but Armageddon still has the power to unnerve.

If you want to know real fear, take a look at this piece. NASA says that we have fewer years than previously thought before the most severe effects of global warming kick in:
With just 10 more years of "business as usual" emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas, says the NASA/Columbia paper, "it becomes impractical" to avoid "disastrous effects."

The study appears in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Its lead author is James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

The forecast effects include "increasingly rapid sea-level rise, increased frequency of droughts and floods, and increased stress on wildlife and plants due to rapidly shifting climate zones," according to the NASA announcement.
The NASA research also reasserts the importance of the disappearing Arctic sea ice and snow, whose reflectivity has helped cool the planet by bouncing warm sunlight straight back into space.

The disappearance of that bright sea ice and snow is uncovering more and more dark water and bare ground -- creating another dangerous feedback loop.

These feedbacks all produce more heat, thus all reinforcing each other, leading to evermore thawing -- and thus releases of natural greenhouse gases (including CO2 and methane) in a viciously accelerating circle.
The study says that "only moderate additional climate forcing (which would mean only moderate additional warming from such emissions) is likely to set in motion the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet" -- dubbed WAIS by polar scientists.

Many scientists say a disintegration of WAIS would mean catastrophically rapid sea-level rise.
At the beginning of When Worlds Collide, a scientist presents the doomsday scenario to the United Nations. The delegates prefer a more comforting analysis presented by a professional harrumpher. The leaders of the world miss their chance to rescue a larger number of human beings because they choose the science they prefer over the facts.


Anonymous said...

This post reminded me of a recent episode of South Park about an outbreak of head lice in the school. Trust me it will have you shake with fear and laugh your head off at the same time.

Anonymous said...

if WAIS (the size of mexico and up to a mile thick) goes, then the sea level goes up-- but nearly as much as if EAIS goes (size of continental usa and just as thick) ...but those can get some help, there are active volcanos under the WAIS so you can imagine how they will behave if allathesudden the ice is gone... will climate change be the next Y2K?

Anonymous said...

I ain't no rocket scientist or nothin but wouldn't the only ice melting that would matter is the ice that is over the land and NOT the ice that is in the water ?
I mean does your glass get fuller as the cubes melt ?
Or hasn't the ice in the water already displaced all the water it can.
Just wondering.

Anonymous said...

most antarctic ice IS on land.

one factor most people forget is that sea level rises aren't just from melting ice. What happens to unfrozen water when it warms up?

It expands.

Extrapolate to planet. Hello Kevin Costner.

Anonymous said...

Sorry icerat but when they're talking about the portion of the Antarctic Ice shelf melting and raising sea levels dramatically, they are talking about the ice in the water, expansion is negligible.
In other words, I do not think the scientists are correct on this one, a Y2K if you will.
Self supporting, nonstream fed lakes with average rain/snowfall do not flood during the freeze and thaw cycle over winter, do they ?
So Kevin Costner yourself.

Anonymous said...

Forget the Costner part of my comment icerat, I was glancing at yours and it appeared to me at the time that a flame war was brewing, jus read it wrong,
Sorry. ;)
BTW, I'm still up in the air about WAIS melting and flooding everywhere, I just don't see it happening, now Greenland/ Iceland I can see, especially the part that Thom Hartmann talks about when the "Great underwater Conveyor" stops moving from all the Greenland/Iceland melt de-salinating the water at the north end of the conveyor, preventing the cooled water from dropping back down to the bottom of the ocean.
But the quandry is...that will stop the warming due to the slowed migration of the warm water north and start a new ice-age ?
Natural cycle ?
I'm still not quite there yet