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« If Israel is to survive, if peace is a goal, the Middle East must become a region of democracies | Main | The hurricane spin: Associated Press tells a tale of two Cubas »

October 28, 2005

Comments

jj mollo

There's an excellent article in the March 2005 issue of Scientific American by William F. Ruddiman which postulates that we are actually supposed to be in the middle of a glaciation right now. The reason we're not is that humans have been generating excess CO2 and methane for the last 8,000 to 5,000 years. It's also interesting to me that the end of that 900-1300 warm period and the onset of the Little Ice Age coincided with the massive human die-off called The Plague. Fewer people meant less CO2 for a while. I believe that it relieved the pressure on the environment sufficiently to recover.

Afterwards, when we got accustomed to the weather changes, agricultural innovations such as the introduction of clover, the four-field system of crop rotation, and new food crops and varieties such as oats, improved agricultural productivity to such an extent that there was less pressure on the environment for a while.

Unfortunately, we have gotten too greedy and are now burning oil way too fast for the environment to absorb. The CO2 will push the temperature up until the oil runs out. It would be nice to listen to people like Bjorn Lomborg who tell us what we want to hear, but big chunks of Antarctic ice are floating out to sea, and some parts of the Greenland Ice Cap are melting now that have never melted before. We are pushing ourselves into areas that are unprecedented. When the oil peak passes, the temperature will drop. So I wonder whether it will be fire or ice that eventually gets us.

jj mollo

By the way, there's no guarantee that global warming will have a predictable warming effect on the whole world. Alan Alda was interviewing ocean scientists on SciAm Frontiers tonight. There is apparently an opinion out there that increased north flowing precipitation and glacier melting will cause a plug of fresh water to stop the Gulf Stream from flowing north, effectively cooling the East Coast and Europe, while retaining more heat in the equatorial Atlantic. Could that lead to year-round hurricanes?

Frank Warner

I have the feeling that some of this global warming is due to more carbon dioxide and some is due to the reduction in smoke. It seems contradictory, but it seems true, too.

And sun activity might play a bigger role than we all understand.

By the way, not all scientists agree on those dates for the Medieval Optimum warming period (900 to 1300), and some argue it never really happened.

I wish the scientists would put together teams to regularly study such matters of controversy, and submit their conflicting results to public conferences. I think we'd all like to hear the debates.

Kevin

It is my firm opinion, based on facts, that you are wasting time an energy on a non-problem. The science predicting runaway greenhouse gases is problematic at best, metaphysical at worst.

As a chemical engineer, my knowledge of chemistry is woefully inept compared to a chemist. By the same token, an engineer can see the big picture a little better. But enough about me :)

Here's my point: When my father was an engineer, his calculations for air included 300 ppm for CO2. Mine, 40 years later include 330 ppm for CO2. I believe his number to be inaccurate for 1960, but let's go with that number anyway.

Holy cow! That's a 10% increase in CO2 in the atmosphere in 40 years! Is all life going to soon be extinguished? Are the greenhouse gases about to 'runaway' and send us into a Venusian nightmare?

It's not likely. Keep in mind, that 2 billion years ago, CO2 in the atmosphere was probably around 30,000-60,000 ppm, and life got along pretty well(closest link I could find quickly is here). Probably the most interesting part of this is that runaway global warming is, according to many media outlets, already begun! Even though we have 100+ times less CO2 in our atmosphere than we did halfway through life's evolution. Yes, there were polar caps back then too.

This does not even take into account when 4 billion years ago, CO2 and methane probably constituted 20-30% of the atmosphere (200,000-300,000) ppm, and yet life began, and temperatures didn't hold it back.

It is clear that CO2 levels in the atmosphere play a role in the avaerage temperature of the world. It is exceedingly unclear what the relationship is. If it was proportional to the CO2 conentration, why then was the temperature of the world only slightly higher when there was 100 times more CO2 in the air?

I am fine with people worrying about global warming. People like to worry it seems. Let's not try to make some law regarding it is all I'm saying.

jj mollo

It seems to me that the little Ice Age is more relevant to the Earth's present situation than the Pre-Cambrian. There is no need to assume that life began in temperatures that were similar to today's temperatures and there is no relevance to our present situation. You are right that life has survived, but I am much more interested that humans will survive and civilization will continue. Life has continued in spite of the loss of countless species over the ages. We survived and developed for any number of complex and unknown reasons, including good luck. There is no guarantee that those conditions will remain in place. It strikes me as sheer lunacy to allow the planet to depart from a known equilibrium that has sustained us.

Yes, forecasting possible changes is very iffy, very difficult, but it is necessary. It may well be that our best course is to go on as we have been, that the climate to come will be somehow better. I am, however, appalled by the idea that we can just let this happen. Most likely we are optimally suited, as evolution demands, for the current climate. I am strongly opposed to the possibility that we may have to evolve some more. Evolution is a nasty business. Any change colder or warmer is most likely to be at our expense.

Human induced changes in the planet have been and are now taking place with breathtaking speed. We don't know what the effects will be and we don't know at which point any of these changes become irreversable. We are like a ship full of curious boys with screwdrivers. We don't know where we're going or whether we want to go there. Most of us don't even know that we are going. We have no idea what the consequences of our inquisitive activities may be. Our bungling play is leading to more and more dramatic results, and there's no one to tell us not to light fires in the ball room.

Kevin

I merely used the pre-cambrian era's high CO2 content to disprove the idea of 'runaway' greenhouse gases. I was not trying to say that humans could have survived back then. Although I believe we would have survived equally well back then, it doesn't enter into my argument, so I'll leave it at that.

As a pro-environment, anti-environmentalist, I need data before I trust anything an environmentalist group says. When the ozone scare occurred, scientists presented data, and it was clear that they were right. so we did the right thing and banned Freon-12, a few years before real problems occurred. The world should be commended for this.

But this global warming scare strikes me as non-scientific. You may recall in the 1970's there was a global cooling concern (http://federalistpatriot.us/news/EarthDay1975.pdf>here's an earth day article from 1975. Pretty funny now).

If the temperature rises because of human activity over time, or if it can be proven that; a) It will rise and b) It will have a deleterious effect on life, then steps should be taken to fix the problem. Until then, trying to fix something that may not be a problem will cause more damage to the human condition than a couple of degrees Fahrenheit ever will.

Kevin

I thought you might get a kick out of this. It turns out a mini-ice age is on the way. And the cause? Global Warming!!! The NewScientist.com article basically says that global warming will cause a slowdown of the gulf stream, and bring less heat to the north. And lower northern water temps are proof. So I guess we won't have to worry about polar ice melting after all!


(I originally found this over at Wizbang.)

George

If you guy want a good look at the
global warming debate, check out
this site:
http://www.uoguelph.ca/~rmckitri/research/trc.html

The Mann et al. Study is the study
that is quoted by everybody. It
presented the global warming earth
temperature "hockey stick." It has
been cited countless times to create
new legislation and policies from
local to international levels.

Anyway, a handful of scientists
attempted to reproduce the results
of the study but couldn't. They
found gaping holes in the methodology
used, missing data, and duplicated
data. It has created a heated
debate but, no matter how you look
at it, these guys who challenge the
study have been meticulous and
transparent. The original author,
Mann, has been less than helpful,
and forced to print corrections,
and, last I knew, still had not
produced full disclosure that would
allow anyone else to reproduce the
same results given the same data.

Kevin

Yeah I'm totally not buying into there being any global warming crisis. I am confident that the theory is flawed and none of it's predictions will pan out. The hockey stick part on your link is the least likely of all.

Hah! Now the cold gulf waters crisis article made it to Drudge! Check it out if you are on at 11pm central. Drudge made it look very scary.

After this 'crisis' dies down, I'm going to start another one. I'll come out with a 'moderate world temperatures' crisis where, if nothing is done, seasonal temperatures continue as they always have, creating a stagnant, unchanging weather-quagmire. :)

Nicholas

Hmm, it's the first day of summer in the southern hemisphere and it's quite cold here!

So much for global warming :) Perhaps that theory about the ice age on the way is valid...

Frank Warner

I thought your Australian summer doesn't start until Dec. 21. No?

George

In Austrailia, is Dec. 21 the start of summer or winter? Globally speaking, is winter the season that starts on Dec. 21. or is it the coldest season of the year?

Another way to ask it is: does Austrailia have cold summers or cold winters?

George

Kevin:

If you are going to start a crisis, just be prepared to capitalize on it. Each crisis requires numerous, expensive research studies. One can usually find somebody in the U.S. government or at the U.N. to pay for these.

Then, of course, you will have a vested interest in "raising awareness" of the crisis.

Frank Warner

I assume winter is the coldest season of the year, and summer is the warmest, and the dividing line is the day of the year (either around June 21 or around Dec. 21) that the hours of daylight start to dwindle (or for summer, to expand).

In Australia, I would guess summer begins Dec. 21. But perhaps Dec. 1 is the unofficial beginning (the way our American autumn begins around Sept. 1 because that's when everyone goes back to school).

(And while I'm thinking about it, Australian toilets really do flush with a clockwise spin, the opposite of a Northern Hemispheric spin. These flushing spins are natural, related to the spin of the Earth, and the fact that each latitude south of the Equator has a smaller circumference than points to the north, and vice versa for the Northern Hemisphere.)

Nicholas

OK, I thought it was Dec. 1 but it might be Dec. 21.

Either way, it's usually darn hot by now and it just isn't.

I'm pretty sure when it's Winter in the northern hemisphere it's Summer in the southern and vica versa (also Spring/Autumn). However perhaps I'm technically wrong.

Frank, the coriolis effect is real but it's too small to affect the flushing of toilets. Water swirling in a toilet is either in the direction it's designed to go, or caused by eddies and currents that exist just before you flush. See here. What you've said is a myth perpetuated by science teachers among others. :(

Frank Warner

Hmmm... I'm curious.

Nicholas

About what - seasons or the Coriolis effect?

I wish I could find the excellent page where I read the explanations about it. They said that it IS possible to demonstrate the effect in a perfectly smooth, perfectly symmetrical bowl where one goes to extreme efforts to allow the water to settle and all eddies and currents to die out. Then you can show that the water does indeed swirl clockwise/anti-clockwise/not at all depending on which hemisphere you are in, or on the equator.

But under "normal" conditions, the effect is so small that local factors simply overwhelm it. Yes, if you make sure your toilet is symmetrical and such and perform 1000 flushes, you might find 600 in one direction and 400 in the other. But the fact that your toilet always swirls in one direction or the other is almost certainly because it's designed to cause a swirl in that direction due to the direction of the water jet.

Cyclones and tornados are much bigger and longer-lived phenomena and as such the effect does become dominant in determining the direction. In fact I'm not sure, but it may well be the Coriolis effect which causes them to happen in the first place.

It was some kind of "debunking science myths" page and I'm sure googling can find it :) I just wasn't able to with the quick effort I made...

Frank Warner

That wikipedia entry says:

"If one takes great care to create a flat circular pool of water with a small, smooth drain; to wait for eddies caused by filling it to die down; and to remove the drain from below (or otherwise remove it without introducing new eddies into the water) – then it is possible to observe the influence of the Coriolis effect in the direction of the resulting vortex. There is a good deal of misunderstanding on this point, as most people (including many scientists) do not realize how small the Coriolis effect is on small systems."

But wikipedia doesn't say the Coriolis effect has no influence on the direction of the toilet spin. So I'm not yet convinced.

Nicholas

Oh, it undoubtedly has some influence. The question is whether it's large enough to be measurable or practically noticable.

Most toilets, basins, etc. are not symmetrical enough to avoid covering it up, I believe. I bet you can find some where you can statistically notice the effect, but I would be very surprised if you found any household device which would reliably drain in different directions in different hemispheres.

The other page I found was a bit more convincing :)

Still, I think we agree that the "common wisdom" on the topic is at least exaggerated.

Frank Warner

Fair enough.

Kevin

I'm in the USA, and my toilet flushes clockwise. My sink also started off clockwise, but wit a wave of my hand through the water, it switched to the opposite direction. So I would guess that directional flow of the water can easily overcome the coreolis effect. I find it strange that they started out going clockwise on their own (in Louisiana), as I thought they were supposed to go counter-clockwise. Anyway, it certainly works on hurricanes :)

Environmentalists will not be happy with how much water I wasted determining this :)

Frank Warner

That surprises me. Well, I guess it doesn't always go down counterclockwise up here in the Northern Hemisphere.

Jaime

coriolis effect--!!What if Q!
Would the Coriolis effect be affected by a Polar Shift? Could hurricanes and storms etc rotate clockwise or move left to right (west to east) with a negative North Pole? or would the earth's (east to west) rotation win hands down!

jj mollo

Here's the Wikipedia explanation, which is a little challenging. My intuitive summary is that we should think of the mass of air as being in orbit, free to move about, but very loosely connected to the surface of the Earth. An orbiting satellite seeks the center of the Earth, but it always misses. The change of its path over a distance is just enough to keep it close.

Similarly, as low pressure areas are created by the constantly changing temperatures of the atmosphere, air mass seek to flow in toward the center of the low pressure zone. It also misses, but for a different reason. The air at the Equator is moving eastward at about 100mph. At the pole the speed is zero. As the air moves north from the Equator, it discovers that it has too much eastward speed, and so veers to the right, relative to the surface. As it moves south it must pick up speed, and lags to the West, seeming again to veer rightward. It keeps missing to the right, but the low pressure keeps accelerating it toward the center of the Low, resulting in the nasty sucking sound of our atmosphere being ejected into space along with the contents of the Gulf Coast. Then, because of gravity, it all comes tumbling down somewhere presently unknown to meteorologists (they call it the Chicago Triangle).

jj mollo

If the Polar Shift you are talking about refers to the magnetic poles, there would be no change. If your hypothetical involves the axis of rotation moving, then the whole weather system, including coriolis effect would move to accommodate the new axis of rotation. This, however, normally occurs very slowly. If you are reading Velikovsky, I would advise you to put it down very slowly and back away.

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