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Planet Earth Under Threat

We're on the Ice!

  • Julian Hector
  • 14 Jun 06, 06:44 PM

iceburg

Hello everyone. We've had a certain amount of difficulty logging on, but I'm on-line now sitting over looking the Tasiilaq Fjord in East Greenland. I'm here with Gabrielle and Beatrice to see the Arctic melt back for real. One of the most important discoveries for me here is the nature of ice in all it's Arctic forms. The picture here is us [G & B above] and Norwegian ice expert Ola Johannessen from the Nansen Environmental & Remote Sensing Center in Bergen, Norway.

Check out this simply amazing picture Ralph Raynor took last Sunday. We all flew north in the East Greenland area to the Helheim Fjord. This fjord is a glacier - a river of ice being pushed down by the simply vast expanse of Ice sheet.
glacier-resized.jpg

You can see the ice sheet (polar ice cap) as the clear icy background on the horizon of the photo. Greenland is bigger than Australia and this ice sheet covers most of it. The ice sheet at its highest/deepest is over 3000m. This phenomenal weight of ice (second only to Antarctica) flows down and generates tongues of ice (glaciers). Look at the picture and see the very jagged ice that makes up the glacier. This massively scarred river of ice is this pattern, we're told by Ola, because it is flowing quicker. It's flowing quicker because of global warming Ola tells us. It's a bit confusing isn't it - we're hear a lot about glacier recession. The recession of the glacier front is visible when it has off loaded its ice bergs. The river of ice flows until it meets the sea and great chunks fall off and float in the East Greenland current, some for many years. We're standing on one of those above. So, you have ice sheet, ice bergs and glacer ice - all the same "source" -ultimately generated from show falling on the ice sheet. Now look at this picture.
sea-ice-resized.jpg
This is us standing on another ice berg, looking at sea ice. Sea ice (fast ice, pack ice, ice flows) is formed when the sea freezes. In winter this forms a skirt around the Arctic. It's this sea ice - which can either be annual or can last for years - that is proving to be so sensitive to global warming. Quick to form, quick to melt - this is the miner's canary. Ola tells us the sea ice is disappearing fast. And it's the combination of the ice sheet off loading more ice bergs and the melting of the sea ice that is causing concern. We'll write more very soon. But hey, the last photograph. That's me on the left with the silly hat on, Beatrice next to me, then Ola and Gabrielle on the right.
cheese-on-burg-resized.jpg
Standing on an ice berg - that was one hell of an experience and we've got some amazing stuff for you to listen to.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 10:21 PM on 14 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Does it matter if the Greenland sheet and glaciers melt?

If global warming does that, it will also result in increasing ice cover on the Antarctic (which we are already seeing), and even the IPCC concedes that these two effects would cancel each other out.

What's the problem, exactly?

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  • 2.
  • At 12:21 AM on 15 Jun 2006,
  • julian Hector wrote:

Hi Euan - I have just been talking to Ola who is the best source I have right now. If the whole of the Greenland Ice Sheet were to melt global sea levels would rise 7m. That's a lot...it it could happen in the next 500-1000 years. But, the a 1 m rise could occur a lot earlier. The effects of this on land and property are hard to predict, but presumably London would have to be re-located and many coast linbes around the world re-drawn. It seems also the global conveyor belt could be effected. I heard a nice analogy of that today...rather like putting the plug back in a draining bath, stopping the flow. Stop the flow of the Conveyor and warm water from the tropics fails tor each us...esentially the Gulf Stream stops or shifts away. I have the Technical Summary of the IPCC 4th Assessment on my lap right now. It says here "The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are likely to be shrinking at present" It says they are thickening at the centre, but offset by increased metling at the edges. Hope this helps. Julian.
ps I'll blog tomorrow.. we have an extraordinary story up here about a new ecosystem forming - A Blue Arctic.

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  • 3.
  • At 07:16 AM on 15 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

If global warming was sufficient to melt the Greenland sheet, the increase in temperatures would not be enough to melt the one in Antarctica, because the southern temperatures are much lower. In fact, warming would increase atmospheric moisture in the south but since the temperatures are lower this would only reselt in increased snowfall, and hence an expansion in the Antarctic ice mass. Part of the southern ice sheet is currently breaking up due to changes in ocean currents, but most of it is actually increasing and the net effect is an increase.

On the thermohaline circulation, it's true that a shutdown in the North Atlantic Conveyor would reduce temperatures on sea and land in western Europe, but the effect of this would be be increased ice formation which in turn would increase the salinity of the sea. It might even restart the THC.

As for doubling CO2 levels, it is extremely dubious that CO2 is sufficient to have much overall effect on global temperatures. During the period of massive glaciation some 480 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels were TEN TIMES present levels, but the planet was wrapped in ice. Certainly on the basis of physics, doubling CO2 levels has a minimal effect on temperature due to the logarithmic effect of added CO2. Where's the connection?

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  • 4.
  • At 07:19 AM on 15 Jun 2006,
  • james wrote:

Hi,
Please keep the global warming coming! I read an article in one the the major irish broadsheets a few months ago. It said that the temperature rise associated with global warming would offset most of the effects of a shift in the gulf stream of mexico ( the conveyor belt). Therefore if we cant stop the shift of the conveyor belt we have to keep up this global warming. The increase in temperature from global warming will be much the same as the decrease in temperature if the conveyor belt stops.

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"If global warming was sufficient to melt the Greenland sheet, the increase in temperatures would not be enough to melt the one in Antarctica, because the southern temperatures are much lower."

And you accuse others of simplistic views! What about the methane feedbacks occasioned by melting tundra? There are no linear relationships in these systems, as you well know, and even note in the logarithmic CO2 response.

And if the THC stops, the results may well restart it in the medium term, say a millennium or two, as in the Younger Dryas. Never mind, I'm sure our ingenuity will see all our billions through...once we get to higher ground.

Vaya con Gaia
ed

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  • 6.
  • At 01:33 PM on 15 Jun 2006,
  • Paul Isemonger wrote:

Hi,
It really gives a scale to things to see you standing on an iceberg, but it also underlines the massive task to reverse, or at the very least halt global warming. I am sure I am not in a minority to feel daunted by the task. What do you feel the realistic chances of making a difference are? Apart from the obvious domestic household changes, what can the individual do to help?

Great photos

Paul

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  • 7.
  • At 07:12 PM on 15 Jun 2006,
  • Trefor Jones wrote:

Greenland is not the same size as Australia. It is approximately a quarter of the size, evidently the poster does not know the difference between square Kms and square miles. Australia is 7.7 million square Kms and Greenland 2.4 million square Kms ( 850,000 square miles). A rather drastic omission.

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  • 8.
  • At 10:11 AM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • julian Hector wrote:

Many thanks Trefor, you are right I am wrong. Greenland is the worlds largest island I'm told by an authority here in Greenland. Somewhere in there I mixed up the data. Very pleased you pointed this out. Julian

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  • 9.
  • At 10:57 AM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Ed, the temperature increase would have to be very much larger than even the IPCC forecasts to have an adverse effect on Antarctic ice coverage. It would have to be much larger than CO2 could possibly provide - recall the 10 times CO2 levels with a global freeze, too - and the effect of methane would have to be larger than expected.

So how does the anthropogenic global warming assumption address global freeze combined with 10 times greater CO2 levels?

Could it possibly be that CO2 is simply not as big a factor as some people think? Could it be that, after all, the solar cycle is really the key to it? Aren't anthropogenic warming advocates simply...wrong?

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Euan,

You continually make unsubstantiated assertions. I see no reason to comment further.
Vaya con Gaia
ed

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  • 11.
  • At 12:06 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Neal Saferstein wrote:

If the sea levels rose 7m goodbye New York City. We would be underwater. I wonder if anyone in the United States would then pay attention.

Neal Saferstein

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  • 12.
  • At 12:21 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Ed, it's in the IPCC report you keep citing, so I don't see how you're saying it's unsubstantiated. You say you've read the whole report, so I assume you've seen the bit where they say that it's entirely possible that ice loss in the north could be cancelled by ice gain in the south, the reason being the large difference in mean temperatures.

Is it not rather that the real "inconvenient truth" may be that the global warming crowd are just plain wrong and you find it hard or impossible to counter the case?

Does not the global freeze with 10 times CO2 levels more or less utterly demolish the anthropogenic warming thesis? Isn't that just a bit embarrassing and impossible to answer?

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Euan, I have searched the entire document and can only find the following with reference to the antarctic. If you can substantiate your remarks, please do so.

"Northern Hemisphere sea-ice amounts are decreasing, but no significant trends in Antarctic sea-ice extent are apparent. A retreat of sea-ice extent in the Arctic spring and summer of 10 to 15% since the 1950s is consistent with an increase in spring temperatures and, to a lesser extent, summer temperatures in the high latitudes. There is little indication of reduced Arctic sea-ice extent during winter when temperatures have increased in the surrounding region. By contrast, there is no readily apparent relationship between decadal changes of Antarctic temperatures and sea-ice extent since 1973. After an initial decrease in the mid-1970s, Antarctic sea-ice extent has remained stable, or even slightly increased...."
http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/vol4/english/083.htm

Vaya con Gaia
ed

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From the US National Science Foundation:

"Ice sheets covering both the Arctic and Antarctic could melt more quickly than expected this century, according to two studies that blend computer modeling with paleoclimate records. Led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Arizona, the studies show that by 2100, Arctic summers may be as warm as they were nearly 130,000 years ago when sea levels rose to 20 feet (6 meters) higher than they are today.
...."

"Recent studies have also found
accelerated rates of glacial retreat along the margins of both the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets."
http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=106798&org=NSF&from=news

xx
ed

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  • 15.
  • At 01:09 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Try looking here:

href="http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/418.htm

Money quote is:

"In summary, the static sensitivity values suggest a larger role for Antarctica than for Greenland for an identical local temperature increase, meaning that the polar ice sheets combined would produce a sea level lowering, but the spread of the individual estimates includes the possibility that both ice sheets may also balance one another for doubled atmospheric CO2 conditions"

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  • 16.
  • At 01:14 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

It doesn't matter that there is increased ice retreat in the western Antarctic, given that the rest of it is increasing. Western ice retreat is actually due to a shift in ocean current patterns in the area, not rising temperature.

Also, the reason you don't see the decadal variations in ice extent in the south corresponding to rising temperatures is that the higher temperature is still too low to cause significant melting. The higher temperature instead result in increased precipitation, which at the low temperatures means snow, which in turn means more ice.

Now, I'd really like the response to my question about global freezes with CO2 levels 10 times higher than at present. How do you explain this, if CO2 is so deadly?

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Euan,
Your quote is for 'doubled CO2' (Save us!) and is followed by
"For CO2 increasing according to the IS92a scenario (without aerosol), studies by Van de Wal and Oerlemans (1997) and Huybrechts and De Wolde (1999) calculated sea level contributions for 1990 to 2100 of +80 to +100 mm from the Greenland ice sheet and about –80 mm from the Antarctic ice sheet."
i.e. net rise of 0 to 10mm.
And in 11.5.4.3
http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/435.htm
"A main conclusion is that the ice sheets would continue to react to the imposed climatic change during the next millennium, even if the warming stabilised early in the 22nd century. Whereas Greenland and Antarctica may largely counteract one another for most of the 21st century (Section 11.2.3.4), this situation would no longer hold after that and their combined contribution would be a rise in sea level."

xx
ed

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  • 18.
  • At 02:00 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Ed,

The report clearly shows the huge range of uncertainty and, frankly, speculation that drives the "findings" which aren't often particularly well supported by what we see in reality, and which certainly are absolutely not borne out by the record of geologic history. It's basically a guess.

Within that guess is the possibility that the north and south caps will cancel each other out. How long that may last is also a guess, and one can have little to no confidence in speculative guesses about what may happen over a period of a century to a complex system we don't understand terribly well, particularly when the whole guess is based around some political (rather than scientific) assumptions about man's impact, and particularly when it contradicts the geologic and historic records and follows very closely trends in other systems which we cannot control.

Given all that, the most one can say is that the caps *might* both melt, or one *might* cancel the other, or one *might* overcompensate for melting in the other. It's still speculation. And it's political speculation, because it focuses on things man can change at the expense of what clearly seems to be the true cause which man cannot influence.

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  • 19.
  • At 02:00 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Now, how about the 10 times greater CO2 coupled with a global freeze? Any answers?

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Euan,

"Western ice retreat is actually due to a shift in ocean current patterns in the area, not rising temperature."

and what lies behind the shift in circulation? Chickens and eggs, no doubt. As to your 10x CO2, remember none of these systems are linear or single-variable. There are multiple factors at work and humans are an increasingly large factor, having tripled in numbers in less than a century, and increased our per capita impact by an even larger multiple.

xx
ed

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  • 21.
  • At 02:19 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

I don't know about you, Ed, but I cannot get particularly excited by a potential 10mm increase in sea level coupled with a possible 2 degree temperature rise over the space of a century, and I certainly cannot see this as adequate justification for condemning billions to enduring poverty.

Can you?

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"I certainly cannot see this as adequate justification for condemning billions to enduring poverty."

"Dam my rivers and I'll salt your crops;
Cut my trees and I'll flood your plains.
Kill 'pests' and, by God, you'll get a silent spring!
Go ahead -- save every last baby's life!
I'll starve the lot of them later.
When they can savor to the full
The exquisite justice of truth's retribution.
..." -- Garrett Hardin, 1975
http://home.btconnect.com/tipiglen/capacity.html
and
http://www.esva.net/%7Eleo/carrycap.html

10mm or 5m, I'm OK at 10m above HWMOST, are you?
xx
ed
"Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." --Kenneth Boulding

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  • 23.
  • At 04:41 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Phillip wrote:

"As for doubling CO2 levels, it is extremely dubious that CO2 is sufficient to have much overall effect on global temperatures. During the period of massive glaciation some 480 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels were TEN TIMES present levels, but the planet was wrapped in ice."

This is an old, tired and discredited argument. Research published 18 months ago showed that the Ordivician ice age (the one you are talking about) began 10 million years earlier than previously thought, at a time when CO2 levels were very low. There is no inconsistency here. (See January 2005 edition of 'Geology').

Phill

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  • 24.
  • At 04:46 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Yes, I'm ok with 5m - I live about 100m above sea level. But it isn't going to happen, and even if it did it's going to take decades, more likely centuries. We can cope.

The thing is that all these environmental scares over the past decades, even going back as far as Malthus in the early 19th century, have been shown to be bunk. Why would this be any different? The evidence contradicts the politics. It's not even called global warming any more, just in case the environmentalists are caught out when it doesn't get particularly warmer. Now it's climate change, but the climate ALWAYS changes, which is somewhat unfair since the environmentalist can point to virtually anything as say "we told you so" when in reality they are just guessing.

Poetry isn't a good enough justification, either, by the way.

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  • 25.
  • At 04:48 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Phillip wrote:

I should have given a better reference for my comment on the timing of the Ordovician ice age. You can see the abstract of the relevenat paper here http://www.gsajournals.org/gsaonline/?request=get-abstract&doi=10.1130%2FG21219.1 and a comment from Ohio State University here http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/earlyice.htm

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  • 26.
  • At 04:48 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

It's not at all discredited. The plain fact is CO2 simply does not have all that much warming effect.

It's swamped by solar output. Care to explain why global temperatures do not track CO2 levels but do track solar output levels? Why should this be?

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  • 27.
  • At 05:06 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Phillip wrote:

Euan, I cannot but agree with you that there have been too many 'scare stories' dreamt up over the years by people keen on 'environmentalism' as some sort of 'new age' paradigm. But this isn't the case if you look only at the views of scientists themselves; that is, those with work published in peer-reviewd journals concerned with the key topics being discussed.

In late 2004, Naomi Oreskes of the University of California, San Diego, undertook a study of 928 scientific papers published between 1993 and 2003 and containing the keywords 'global climate change'. She found that 75% of these agreed with the consensus view that "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise". The other 25% of papers dealt with methods of analysis or palaeoclimatic issues and took no positions on modern anthropogenic climate change. Not one paper disagreed with the consensus view.

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5702/1686

You can't tar everyone who thinks AGW is a fact with the same brush, we are not all 'new agers'. I am an earth scientist and I think the evidence is strongly in favour of the IPCC's conclusions that the last 50 years observeable warming is largely down to human activity. I'm also strongly in favour of a greater reliance on nuclear (fission) power generation as a means of reducing GHG emmissions and i believe we should be investing in industrial technical fixes to alleviate some of the potential consequences.

This debate over whether AGW is real and is a danger should be long over and we should be moving on to what we are going to do about it.

Phill

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  • 28.
  • At 05:09 PM on 16 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

CO2 levels in the Ordovician fluctuated between 4,500 and 4,000ppm. Even if you take the "low" point at the boundary between the Ordovician and the Silurian, it's still 3,000ppm. It's WELL above current levels. It didn't fall to levels like todays until well into the Carboniferous.

In geologic time there have been several big freezes and ovens. Not one of them tracks CO2 content. In more recent times, all of the global temperature variations track closely variations in solar output and not one of them tracks CO2 levels.

What I'd like to know is why this should be the case, considering the anthropogenic warming thesis blames it all on energy and carbon. This is plainly not true, so why the discrepancy?

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"Poetry isn't a good enough justification, either, by the way."

Ever the Philistine, eh, Euan?

Phill, it seems you and I are on same and opposite sides. I think AGW is a by-product of energy over-use, which as many other by-products, including deforestation, overfishing, salination, etc. We have set up systems which through food surplus have resulted in a booming population with exponential addiction to extrametabolic energy.

The proof of addictive behaviour is the general willingness to accept virtually any sacrifice in our desperate search for energy to replace dwindling fossil sources.

AGW is a fact, as is Energy addiction. Fission, fusion, hydro/tide/wind/wave/fairy-dust are simply new ways to feed the addiction, not solutions. Who'll need a clean or beautiful world when we've all moved indoors to avoid the heat (or cold)?

Vaya con Gaia
ed

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  • 30.
  • At 04:47 PM on 18 Jun 2006,
  • Euan Gray wrote:

Ed,

Nothing to do with Philistinism. Actually, I enjoy poetry, just as I enjoy baroque music, a nice glass of wine and Russian literature. My point is that aesthetic sensibility is not a good enough justification for severely disrupting human civilisation and giving mankind increased poverty, rationing, squalor and disease.

Anthropogenic global warming is most certainly *not* fact. It is pretty much fact that we are in the midst of a warming, but it is no more than supposition that man's behaviour has anything to do with it - my own view is as stated before that the link between industrialisation and warming is one of coincidence and not causation. I have yet to see any credible evidence that this is not the case. As has been pointed out repeateadly by me here and by many others elsewhere, warming and cooling trends on Earth seem unrelated to variation in atmospheric composition - indeed, it seems quite often that increased CO2 level *follows* rather than causes increases in temperature. Temperature variation does seem to follow remarkably closely variations in solar output, which no amount of sanctimony about lifestyle can possibly influence. Perhaps that's why it's ignored. If someone would be good enough to post a plausible explanation of why in the past it has been warmer with lower CO2 levels and colder (often much colder) with higher (often much higher) CO2 levels, then we might get somewhere. Ignoring the question doesn't make it go away.

Also, there is no frantic scramble for alternatives to fossil fuel as general use energy stores or sources. Nuclear power is established, far safer and cleaner than most environmentalists concede (indeed, far more so than most of the general public think and frankly a lot cleaner and safer than fossil) and has the capability to provide large quantities of energy for a considerable time. Hydrogen is a handy storage system for portable power, and again this technology is well enough known and shown to be workable. In some cases, wind, wave, solar or some combination of them is practical for fairly small scale generation in certain circumstances - again, known and workable although not feasible on the large scale.

The only reason for mad scramble and panic would be because environmental activists poison the body politic against progress, and if it causes problems in the future it will be because of and not in spite of environmentalist alarmism and pseudoscience.

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  • 31.
  • At 11:29 PM on 14 Jul 2006,
  • Thuy wrote:

Euan,

Yes, CO2 is not the ultimate factor in temperature changes. It is only one of the many greenhouse gases, along with CH4, N2, NO2, etc. With the massive increase in population, agriculture, and industry in the past centuries, the other GHG have gone up exponentially. I don't have the data for the historical levels of other gases, but knowing that many of these gases are produced industrially, these levels have to be much higher now than in the past. So just because CO2 levels were higher at a colder period is not proof that we have no effect on global warming. CO2 is not the only gas being increased.

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  • 32.
  • At 12:28 PM on 20 Jul 2006,
  • charles read wrote:

I would like to signpost you to a website on alternative energy that could lessen the impact of climate change.www.newmediaexplorer.org/sepp/2003/12/27/the-whispering-wheel-electric-d...
As well as an extremely relevant brief that came out a few weeks ago.
www.ieer.org/reports/insurmoutable risks ;; around climate change and nuclear energy in its current form.

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  • 33.
  • At 05:47 PM on 21 Sep 2006,
  • L. J. Montieth wrote:

Here is a spanner in the works...

I do not think it is intrinsically temperature which is causing problems.
Rather it is a contribution of a number of variables like deforestation, pollution (mankind animal and plant); all of which can attribute to but sometimes negate the greenhouse effect.

Aircraft produce vapour trails.

On 9/11 no aircraft were able to fly.
Temperature graphs for this period shows a large incease in temperature.

Aircraft vapour trails seemably helps keep temperatures down.
(However these will also reduce evaporation of the oceans by inhibiting photons).

Rainforest plants naturally evaporate a huge amount of water in equatorial regions.

Deforestation of huge areas is bound to reduce the amount of moisture that would normally fall outside (south and north) of these areas.

Clouds help keep planet earth stable cooler in daylight and warmer at night.

It is clouds that cause snowfall which in turn causes glaciers and global cooling.

Mankind are unwittingly delaying the onset of another ice age FOR THE MOMENT

The politics of Climate Change are monetarily related in raising taxes and political jobsworths will not redress the true causes... nature.

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