Thursday, June 19, 2008

Arctic Sea Ice Melting Even Faster than in 2007

Earlier this year a Norwegian scientist predicted that the Arctic sea ice might completely disappear as early as this summer. With the Arctic covering a larger area this winter compared with the previous winter this prediction didn’t look too good but a recent report that the Arctic ice is melting faster this year than last year suggests that prediction may yet have a chance of being on the money. The BBC reports that scientists from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado have found that even though there was a greater area of ice this year the area is now down to where it was last year when records for sea ice loss were broken indicating that it is melting faster. A scientist from the NSIDC predicted that all the ice would be gone within a decade. Whether all the ice disappears this year, by 2012, or by even by 2018 this seems to spell big trouble. The article quotes Ian Willis from the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, England.

This is a positive feedback process. Sea ice has a higher albedo (reflectivity) than ocean water; so as the ice melts, the water absorbs more of the Sun's energy and warms up more, and that in turn warms the atmosphere more - including the atmosphere over the Greenland ice sheet.

Not only would the Greenland ice sheet affected, which if completely melted would raise sea levels over 20 feet, but as was described in my previous post, the vast permafrost in the Arctic region would be affected which could release enormous quantities of the greenhouse gas methane and thereby set off another positive feedback process. It doesn’t seem to take too much imagination to realize how this whole global warming thing can get completely out of hand.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Melting Arctic Ice a Threat to Melt Permafrost

The vast stretches of permafrost in the northern hemisphere could start to melt at three times the anticipated rate because of increased warming due to the shrinking amount of ice in the Arctic which results in a reduction in reflected light from the sun and increased absorption of heat. This possibility was discovered from computer models run by scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. A member of the research team, David Lawrence, told The Independent that about 30% of all carbon stored in soils is stored in soils in the Arctic region. Melting of the permafrost could release huge amounts of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from the soils which could have a drastic effect on climate.

Since many scientists believe that all of the Arctic ice will melt in the summer within the next few decades if not sooner no matter what actions are taken to stop global warming this looks like a situation where we just have to cross our fingers and hope for the best. However, it is not comforting that computer models seem to often underestimate the effects of warming rather than overestimate the effects. In fact, the speed at which the Arctic ice is melting had been a great surprise. As has been the speed that glaciers are melting. All in all this has so far been a bad century for global warming optimists and the worst might still be ahead.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Carbon Dioxide Scrubbers Proposed as the Answer to Global Warming

With efforts to reduce the burning of fossil fuels floundering the recent announcement of a technology breakthrough for proposed devices that would pull carbon dioxide out the atmosphere provides some hope that catastrophic climate change can be avoided. The breakthrough involves a way to drastically reduce the amount of energy needed to remove the gas from the material, or sorbent, used to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. According to an article in the Guardian the US patent application shows that the reduction in energy needed to remove carbon dioxide from the sorbent involves changes in humidity.

Before anyone thinks the global warming problem is solved and stops trying to prevent the building of coal-fired power plants it should be noted that some serious problems would remain even if a prototype device, which should be functioning within 2 years, meets all expectations. One of the problems is what to do with the captured carbon dioxide. The storage problem remains to be solved. The article says that the research team, led by Columbia University physicist Klaus Lackner, is working on a solution. Another problem might be cost. Although each device is expected to initially cost only a couple hundred thousand dollars there will be a need for millions of the devices to be operating. A total cost of over a trillion dollars seems possible.

This proposal may turn out to be a dead end in the effort to limit global warming but then again perhaps not. At this point it seems a better bet than the world leaders agreeing on how greenhouse gas emissions can be meaningfully reduced. That effort appears to be going nowhere.