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Paper: Earth in Imminent Peril of Initiation of Devastating Sea-Level Rise

19 June 2007

The Earth’s climate is in “imminent peril” of the initiation of dynamical and thermodynamical processes on the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets that will result in a situation out of humanity’s control, such that devastating sea-level rise will inevitably occur, according to a open-access paper by six leading US scientists published in the peer-reviewed journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

Only intense simultaneous efforts to slow CO2 emissions and to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions and other forcings can keep climate within or near the range of the past million years, according to authors James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, and Gary Russell of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University Earth Institute; David W. Lea from the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Mark Siddall of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University.

Earth’s climate is remarkably sensitive to forcings, i.e. imposed changes of the planet’s energy balance. Both fast and slow feedbacks turn out to be predominately positive. As a result, our climate has the potential for large rapid fluctuations. Indeed, the Earth, and the creatures struggling to exist on the planet, have been repeatedly whipsawed between climate states. No doubt this rough ride has driven progression of life via changing stresses, extinctions and species evolution. But civilization developed, and constructed extensive infrastructure, during a period of unusual climate stability, the Holocene, now almost 12,000 years in duration. That period is about to end.

One critical feedback mechanism is this process has been the “albedo flip” property of ice and water.

Climate forcing of this century under BAU [business as usual] would dwarf natural forcings of the past million years, indeed it would probably exceed climate forcing of the middle Pliocene, when the planet was not more than 2–3°C warmer and sea level 25 ±10 m higher. The climate sensitivities we have inferred from palaeoclimate data ensure that a BAU GHG emission scenario would produce global warming of several degrees Celsius this century, with amplification at high latitudes. Such warming would assuredly activate the albedo-flip trigger mechanism over large portions of these ice sheets. In combination with warming of the nearby ocean and atmosphere, the increased surface melt would bring into play multiple positive feedbacks leading to eventual nonlinear ice sheet disintegration... An ice sheet response time of centuries seems probable, and we cannot rule out large changes on decadal time-scales once wide-scale surface melt is underway. With GHGs continuing to increase, the planetary energy imbalance provides ample energy to melt ice corresponding to several metres of sea level per century.

The authors explicitly disagree with the conclusions of the IPCC, which forsees little or no contribution to 21st century sea-level rise from Greenland and Antarctica. The paper’s authors argue that the IPCC analysis does not account well for the nonlinear physics of wet ice sheet disintegration, ice streams and eroding ice shelves, and point out that the IPCC conclusions are not consistent with the palaeoclimate evidence.

In the absence of realistic representations of the physics of ice streams and ice quakes in existing ice sheet models, the authors assert, it is better to rely on historical data.

That history reveals large changes of sea level on century and shorter timescales...We infer that it would be not only dangerous, but also foolhardy to follow a BAU path for future GHG  emissions.

Although CO2 is the largest human-made forcing, reducing the non-CO2 forcings are also important—especially given the difficulty in slowing the growth rate in CO2 emissions and stabilizing the atmospheric concentration.

The authors argue that it would better not to package all the climate forcings together into an interchangeable bundle for mitigation strategies.

Sources of different gases are usually independent and greater progress is likely from complementary focused programmes. However, in regulations of a specific activity or industry, the rules should be based on information about the effect of the activity on all climate forcings.

Since it seems likely that readily available oil and gas reservoirs will be fully exploited, it will be necessary to phase out coal use—except where carbon capture and sequestration is used—and to put the same constraint on the development of unconventional fossil fuels (oil sands, shale, CTL, etc.), they state.

In practice, achievement of these goals surely requires a price (tax) on CO2 emissions sufficient to discourage extraction of remote oil and gas resources as well as unconventional fossil fuels. Furthermore, the time required to develop fossil-free energy sources implies a need to stretch supplies of conventional oil and gas. In turn, this implies a need for near-term emphasis on energy efficiency.

We conclude that a feasible strategy for planetary rescue almost surely requires a means of extracting GHGs from the air. Development of CO2 capture at power plants, with below-ground CO2 sequestration, may be a critical element. Injection of the CO2 well beneath the ocean floor assures its stability. If the power plant fuel is derived from biomass, such as cellulosic fibres grown without excessive fertilization that produces N2O or other offsetting GHG emissions, it will provide continuing drawdown of atmospheric CO2.

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June 19, 2007 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (54) | TrackBack (0)

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I read an article, recently, in which it stated air pollution darkened the ice over the Arctic and thus was a major contributor of the shrinking (melting) ice cap. Much of the soot is from Asia (coal fired power and steel plants, among others).

allen:

I read the same article in Science Daily. Apparently the darkening of the ice it at least as influential as CO2. So one way to put the brakes on would be to restrict particulate emissions as much as possible.

"Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A." are you kidding me? We're supposed to take this seriously? Peer reviewed by philosophers, not scientists.

I guess that it is better to shut down industrial civilization, than it is to move to higher ground.

As alarmist as Hansen is, I can't recall him ever advocating a return to preindustrial civilization. There are some potential carbon-negative technologies out there (namely, Biochar/agrichar in agriculture) that would have substantial benefits in other areas. Agrichar sequesters carbon in the soil while also helping it retain water and nutrients, and the process for creating it also makes a bio-oil suitable for heating and chemical applications.

Alan: Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A is the oldest English-language scientific journal in publication. They started publishing it in 1665, when science was known as "natural philosophy," hence the name. Scientists such as Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, and Charles Darwin have written for that journal.

A few kernels of truth is buried in all the goo.

The two kernels of truth are:

1) Ice melting is not something that is going to happen by next Tuesday afternoon; they say centuries. Which is the first honesty I haver seen on that subject. The centuries would be the right measuring stick, but the measure is not a couple of centuries more like a couple millenia or 20-50 centuries. so you need not sell your oceanfront lot.

The second kernel of truth is that fooling around with the Albedo is dangerous. That is why I keep saying Solar Energy is damn dangerous, and polluting.

Solar Energy is NOT POLLUTION free, and these global warmig alarmists like Mr Hansen, now agree.

Solar collectors are darker than the darkest black, as they absorb and convert and move energy never coming into thermal equilibrium and never re-radiating as a perfect black body. Large scale use would alter the Albedo, making the globe warmer.

Alan,

Royal Society corresponds to National Academy of Science. Philosophy means also science in general, due to the historical position of philosophy in science. PhD = Doctor of Philosophy. The journal has been published since 1665.

"Each issue of Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A is devoted to a specific area of the mathematical, physical and engineering sciences. This area will define a research frontier that is advancing rapidly, often bridging traditional disciplines. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A is essential reading for mathematicians, physicists, engineers and other physical scientists."

The article itself should be taken seriously. At least their claims need to be investigated by larger scientific community - and fast.

The key here is that Hansen, et al, are expecting far more heating than even the IPCC.

"we have inferred from palaeoclimate data ensure that a BAU GHG emission scenario would produce global warming of SEVERAL DEGREES Celsius this century, with amplification at high latitudes."

Well someone is right! The last big IPCC report said sea level would go up roughly a meter a century. Quite tolerable depending on how long it persists. And agreeing with measurement.

Here they are arguing that soot and particles from the industrialized northern hemisphere are having a real effect in the Artic. Recent studies agree.

That makes sense, standard GHG models indicate both poles should warm equally. But they have not been so obliging.

Also note the sly BAU acronym - Business As Usual. No one expects nothing will be done. The questions are the classic set.

who, what, when, where, how?

"We conclude that a feasible strategy for planetary rescue almost surely requires a means of extracting GHGs from the air."

Since the greatest volume of GHG is water vapor - perhaps a giant vacuum to suck up the clouds would be a good step.

Stan,
Energy in the form of solar rays of amount X falls on a solar panel. Since it is black, let's assume that 95% of that amount is actually absorbed by the panel (this is very high), then 15% of the absorbed amount is converted to electricity (0,15*0,95*X = 0.14*X) and shipped off through the power cord. X*0,85*0.95 = 0.81*X is converted to heat that will be radiated off. This will probably create a local heat island. But solar panels would have to cover a very large land area before there would be any measurable effect on the earths albedo. I don't understand your panic about solar panels being darker than a perfect black body. That's physically impossible. A perfect black body is a theoretical physical concept, not something that actually exists.

Mr Hansen is a fine scientist, somewhat blinded by his advocacy position. I would delighted to spend time arguing the scientific merits of the theses in question. I think he is wrong, but that he is an honest critic.

At least he is an honest alarmist, not like some phony politicians who don't really give a damn except if it will get them into power.

Mr. Hansen posits that we will dump exponentially increasing amounts of GHGs into the atmosphere for centuries. We won't, as even the "Business as Usual" is patently not true. All the measures of GHGs and rates of change are going down or stabilizing, not increasing exponentially.

I argue that the changing solar constant is responsible for an unevaluated but substantial portion of the warming observed that everyone including the grudging acceptance of the IPCC alarmists now concede. Furthermore the Sun is now cooling, and is now trending downward ever since 2003.

I said we won't and we can't follow BAU.

"We Can't", Since there is some questions of limited availability, and I am not speaking for the "Peakist" frauds. The real cost of extraction and processing is increasing even without the rising artificial extortions by politicians dignifying their stealing by calling it taxes or saving their profits for them to spend in behalf of however they think the "people's oil" profits should be spent, by them. Fossil energy consumption cna't rsie forver and it isn't doing so now.

"We Won't", Price substitution is forcing changes even now, and it will be both cheaper and better to move away from wasting fossil hydrocarbons burning them. When there is adequate technology for Oil's big using industry, ground transport, its demand will collapse. Does any reader of these pages think that non fossil sources of energy for LDVs is not coming? That one use si 80% of oil demand and anothe r12% doesn't burn it but makes medicienes and chemicals from it. The residual is used for space heating, which can be and is being replaced.

Stan,

You say that Hansen is an honest critic and imply he is unlike some politicians. Here you have missed the point. Hansen is gunning for higher office. Not elected, but appointed. He has made the switch to political rather than scientific operative. He is *exactly* like some politicians because he is a politician. If the next president is a democrat in the US he will be nominated.
You are correct that he has the background that some scientifically phony politicians lack. But he is still blinded by both ambition and advocacy. Where is the science in that?

Well, I guess your credibility Harvey is so much more impressive...

stan ,
What do you think red roof tiles do for us , they just suck so
much heat and give no energy in return !

Marcus,

Harvey's credibility is not the issue. Just because he raises a valid point, to question the ambitions of those who published this report, should not make him the target.

Fickle alarmists come and go; in the 70's there was widsepread concern that we were accelerating the next ice age. Any one who questioned that theory was marginalized. Now that the man-made global warming is in vogue anyone who does not suscribe to this theory is ridiculed.

If you gave Al Gore's alarmist "Inconvenient Truth" message a chance, why not, in the name of good science, take a look at the other side of the coin?

Watch Martin Durkin's documentary: "The Great Global Warming Swindle"

From PrisonPlanet:
"This documentary highlights how elements of the scientific community exploit global warming hysteria in order to receive fast-track funding by simply tagging on a global warming aspect to their area of study. Scientists who attempt to obtain grants for research that could contradict the man-made explanation are shunned by the political establishment and further villified as akin to Holocaust deniers by the radical environmental left and elements of the media.

The hypocrisy of the environmental left in framing the global warming issue as big business against the people and their romanticisation of poverty was supremely exposed in making the case that the man-made global warming bandwagon has devastated Africa's development and is directly contributing to third world famine, illness and disease."

"Such warming would assuredly activate the albedo-flip trigger mechanism over large portions of these ice sheets. In combination with warming of the nearby ocean and atmosphere, the increased surface melt would bring into play multiple positive feedbacks leading to eventual nonlinear ice sheet disintegration... An ice sheet response time of centuries seems probable, and we cannot rule out large changes on decadal time-scales once wide-scale surface melt is underway. With GHGs continuing to increase, the planetary energy imbalance provides ample energy to melt ice corresponding to several metres of sea level per century."

While Stan may take comfort in such an assessment, many people would view these prospects as very serious. While it is only artificial alarmists that talk about humans going the way of the dinosaur due to warming, several meters of sea level per century is something that would have HUGE societal and economic impact.

"we cannot rule out large changes on decadal time scales"

Stan... do you know of some credible analysis that rules this out or do you merely believe it is less likely rather than more likely?

On a more scientific note, it is helpful to read three papers on Antarctic cooling and warming. These three studies published by credible scientists in "Science" and "Nature" magazines and commented upon here by the American Geological Institute's "GeoTimes" publication, show the West Antarctic ice sheet cooling and thickening in places and melting in other places.

I would add that Meg Rudolph the writer for "GeoTimes" makes an uncommonly presumptive statement:

"First and foremost, it is important to note that all of the articles and the scientists involved agree on one thing: 'We’re not saying anything close to ‘the Earth’s climate is not warming,’” as an animated Peter Doran of the University of Illinois at Chicago says. '"

Ms. Rudolph erroneously attributes a single scientist's opinion to that of the other scientists and their papers' conclusions. This is incorrect and indicative of the fast and loose editorial style employed by GW writers and editors. In this case Mr. Doran's opinion is his own and not that of the other scientists who might heartily disagree.

Empirically it seems that solar absorbent particulate matter might be a cause for some melting - yet there is clear evidence of ambient cooling in other Antarctic areas. One thing seems clear - the role of solar heating in the GW debate has been inordinately downplayed - to the detriment of good science we think.

http://www.geotimes.org/mar02/NN_antarctica.html

DiesalHybrid, the 1970s ice age thing, the swindle of a Swindle etc etc, all these dumb points have been dealt with to death. I am not going to bother. The bottom line is the scientific peer review process. This is what separates the crap you've listed from the kind of information that people should be taking seriously. If you want to believe tabloids over science go ahead but don't expect the rest of us to do the same.

Diesel Hybrid:

It does not make any sense to bring up the Global Warming Swindle documentary because it has been discredited by many reputable scientists. The scientists it uses in the documentary have either distanced themselves from the video due to misrepresentation of their data, are quoted out of context, or work for groups that are sponsored by the auto or oil industry.

Go ahead and not believe in Global Warming. That is your choice. Does that mean it is OK to drive gas guzzling cars at high fuel prices when more fuel efficient vehicles are available?
Does that mean that we should allow pollution levels to increase as more cars are added making it harder for people to breath and get lung illnesses?

The global marketplace is already deciding that it is important to listen to Global Warming threats.

Unfortunately Ethanol is a false solution and is motivated by political goals, in that it provides less miles per gallon than gas, and cannot supply the United States demand for fuel at E85 levels and just barely at E15 levels. Renewable energy sources that don't consume so much fresh water for irrigation will be more likely winners.

Nature has a way of averaging things out. Science calls this, regression towards the mean. The reason we are not all swimming in a bacterial soup is that bacteria is killed off by it's own waste products.

Man is a form of earth bacteria and we are in the process of reducing our own excessive population.

It's a good thing (?)

As my Uncle said in the February 1974 National Geographic, "You know, I realized very early that in nature all things are interrelated. Animals, trees, birds, plants, the very pollen blowing through the air - they all help build what I call the 'web of the wilderness.' All that is, except modern man. Man is a very poor spider!"

I was first aware of the term 'albedo' about the mid-70s when papers were published in Science concerning measurements in the Canadian Arctic. Albedo was decreasing but to my memory little was discussed as to why. Soot, and particulate aerosols obviously have big effects.

Wow- this is polarizing! What fun!

Marcus, I suppose all views opposed to your own are "dumb." It must be nice to have a monopoly on the truth.

Notice I never said that I did not believe in global warming- as JROJAI states. I simply suggested that we look at the GW issue from more than one side. Evidence points toward GW- but is it primarily a man-made phenomena? Good science demands we explore all possible causal factors.

Other than the infantile rush of making oneself feel better at the expense of others, why vilify those who present competing theories- as "The Great GW Swindle" (among others) proposes?

And, as can be surmised from my posts, I am vehemently opposed to waste in any form: be it from gas-guzzling SUVs, energy-intensive housing, transportation, high consumption lifestyles, frivolous government pork, unbridled military expenditures, the list goes on and on.

I suppose the message here is: put on a flame suit if you don't subscribe to alarmist theatrics- like those presented by the "academentia" who published this paper.

Hansen knows that sensationalism + controversy sells, as evidenced by the stardom of Howard Stern, Salman Rushdie, Al Gore, etc. Hansen may very well be trying to make a name for himself for further career progression.

It is ever so curious how given that GW may not be factually worthy of alarmist threats - some find it difficult to accept that climate change, population growth, industrialization and short sighted resource exploitation - is plenty of reason to bring about behavior modification.

Prudent policy and decision-making comes not from wringing hands and ganshing of teeth but from careful review of long term benefits, short term costs and present actions. Even if 100 percent of climate change was proven to be due to solar activity we still need to transition to clean, renewable fuels and energy resources.

Disaster headlines sell papers, TV news shows and certain agendas - they rarely make good science. The peer reviewed papers earlier referenced point not to disaster but to moderate temperature change in the bellwether Antarctica.

I believe we can bring about the changes necessary to promote a healthy environment without histrionics or the risk of getting caught fabricating inconvenience. In the new world engaging one's audience brings far better results than terrifying them.

DiesalHybrid, trying to reference the "Swindle" film as some kind of authority on the topic is - ok I'll tone it down - "naive" to say the least. Reference me some scientific articles backing a contrarian point of view and I will show no disrespect what so ever. In fact I will read them keenly with hope that they are accurate and true. Its not the diverging point of view that is the problem, it is the lack of understanding of the difference between published science vs dodgy docos/web sites/etc that pisses me off.

On what basis have you got to question James Hansen's research? Because there are alarming quotes from it? What would you expect from any reasonable person who's research leads them to the conclusions listed above? His paper is published in a reputable journal after peer review. If you can't fault it on scientific grounds and yet try and throw dirt on it then you deserve some dirt thrown back at you.

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