The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

1970s climatology textbook and global warming

How things have changed. My first exposure to the science of climatology was in 1980, when I took an upper-division Physical Climatology course at the University of Utah. I still have the textbook: Smith, 1975, Principles of Applied Climatology.

The picture is a scan showing just about everything the book said about CO2 and climate change.

A few thoughts:

1. Climatologists in the 1970s predicted that atmospheric CO2 would increase to 418–450 ppm by 2010 [the atmosphere just hit 400 ppm this past few months], and a doubling of atmospheric CO2 by sometime in the 21st century.

2. Climatologists in the 1970s predicted global warming of 2° to 3°C in the 21st century because of this increase of atmospheric CO2.

3. There was no discussion in the textbook about the implications of a global 2° to 3°C temperature increase.

4. I didn’t make any marks or notes in the section, so it didn’t make too much of an impression on me at the time.

climatology_textbook

Grace and Peace

©Kevin Nelstead/The GeoChristian

 

October 1, 2016 Posted by | Climate Change | , , | 7 Comments

Rush is wrong — Analyzing Limbaugh’s statement on God and global warming

On August 12, 2013, Rush Limbaugh made the following statement on his radio program:

“If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.”

This, of course, is utter nonsense. Unfortunately, millions of American political conservatives and Evangelicals believe Rush is right on just about everything, but Limbaugh is clearly wrong this time. The error of his statement is not in whether or not climate change is occurring, nor in whether or not observed changes are due to human activities, but in making a false connection between belief in God and whether or not human activities can affect the climate.

To start with, there is no connection between “believing in God”—or even more specifically being a Christian—and having a certain position on a scientific issue such as climate change. The Bible does say that the creation groans because of human sin (Romans 8:22), so we should expect there to be environmental consequences for our actions, but the Bible does not say what those consequences will be. Ascertaining the ramifications of our actions is part of the human task of understanding the creation, expressed in our age through science. Limbaugh’s statement is the theological equivalent of saying, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in genetics” (or chemical bonding theory, or plate tectonics, or general relativity, etc.).

Second, there are sincere and intelligent believers on both sides of this issue—scientists, Bible scholars, and laypersons. All of these have intellectual reasons—biblical and scientific—for holding their positions.

And finally and most importantly, the theological basis of Limbaugh’s statement is flawed. When I’ve heard this sort of statement before, it has been based on the premise that God has built sufficient robustness into his creation to offset or minimize the damage caused by humans. An illustration of this from climate science is the concept of a negative feedback. A good example of negative feedback is how the atmosphere responds to a global temperature increase. If the temperature of Earth were to increase, evaporation of water from oceans and other bodies of water would also increase, which would lead to greater global cloud cover, which would increase the albedo (reflectivity) of Earth’s atmosphere in regards to visible light, which would result in more solar energy being reflected back into space, which would result in a lowering of global temperatures which would offset the initial warming.  This is all good and true, but it isn’t easy to measure or predict the degree to which the increased albedo would offset the initial increase in temperature. But that is a scientific issue, not something to be decided by unsubstantiated theological pronouncements.

If we apply the same sort of reasoning to the human body—another part of God’s creation—the error becomes obvious. The human body uses negative feedbacks as well. If someone smokes a cigarette, the body responds in ways to offset the introduction of foreign material. If a person smokes just one cigarette in their lifetime, the chances that there will be long-term negative consequences, such as emphysema or lung cancer, are negligible. If a person smokes a pack of cigarettes a day over a period of decades, the odds become virtually certain that there will be negative health consequences. This is despite the fact that most of the air that enters a heavy smoker’s lungs in the course of those decades is the ordinary nitrogen-oxygen-argon mix of the atmosphere.

The Genesis creation account states that the Earth God made was good, and that he intended its occupants—human and non-human—to flourish. Once sin entered the picture, human management of the creation could still maintain (or even enhance) that flourishing to some degree, but now the possibility also exists that we can cause serious damage to the creation. It is clear that our activities can all too easily lead in the direction of harming the creation—its water, land, air, and organisms—rather than healing it. The “global warming couldn’t happen” position ignores the reality and disastrous consequences of human sin, and leads many to bury their heads in the sand in the face of potential environmental consequences of that sin.

When Christians enter into the climate change debate (or any other environmental or natural resources discussion) with an attitude of “humans can’t mess up the Earth all that much,” it is inevitable that they will come to conclusions like “global warming, if it is happening, couldn’t be caused by humans.” This is analogous to atheists starting with the assumption that there is no God, and then coming to a “scientific” conclusion that God is not necessary for the origin of the universe.

My short response to Rush Limbaugh’s statement would be:

“If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe that human activities have no environmental consequences.”

One who accepts Limbaugh’s philosophy towards the environment will automatically conclude that the idea of human-caused global warming is wrong at best and an evil Satanic hoax at worst. Scientific evidence will be deemed “good” if it supports their side, and “bad” if it does not. But there is no Biblical support for having this “it simply cannot happen” approach to the scientific question of climate change.

On the other hand, if one adopts what I consider to be a more biblically accurate approach—acknowledging that we do not know the limits to the consequences of our actions—then they can follow the evidence where it leads. Most scientists who are actually involved in climate change research, including Christian scientists, are presently convinced that the evidence points towards a significant human impact on Earth’s climate. That is not the end of the matter, but objectively, that is where things stand right now.

Grace and Peace

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The Christian Post has printed at least three guest columns which discuss Rush Limbaugh’s statement. The first and third of these are critical of Limbaugh; the second is in agreement. Here are some excerpts:

1. Climate Change: Evangelical Scientists Say Limbaugh Wrong, Faith and Science Complement One Another — by Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman, Evangelicals, and meteorology/climatology professors at Texas Tech and the University of Washington.

Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think we exist. In other words that evangelical scientists cannot subscribe to the evidence of global warming.

——————–

Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements. It is what their listeners expect and want to hear. But in this instance, Rush’s uninformed rhetoric is demeaning to Christians who care deeply about what humans are doing to God’s Creation and ignorant of the consequences that future generations will face if we don’t respond quickly to the challenge of climate change.

We are both atmospheric scientists who study climate change, having earned advanced degrees in our respective fields and having devoted our lives to increasing knowledge through scientific research. We know climate change is real, that most of it is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community. We are also evangelical Christians who believe that God created the world in which we live.

——————–

We were appalled at the ignorance behind Rush Limbaugh’s statement but we weren’t surprised. One of us had previously been dismissed by him as a “climate babe.”

This isn’t meant to invoke pity, but rather to highlight the absurdity of our public debate around faith and climate change. Rush Limbaugh has a very big megaphone but no expertise or formal credentials to be considered an expert on the changes in climate occurring all around us. He has no theological training or record of leadership within a faith community. He’s simply a radio show host willing to say controversial things, regardless of whether they are true or not.

2. God, Rush, and Global Warming — by Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation

Ironically, these climate scientists-Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman-acknowledged at the outset, “Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements ….” Why is that ironic? Because, having acknowledged that, they then took Limbaugh literally-precisely what one must not do with hyperbole-and castigated him for meaning something they acknowledge he didn’t.

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So, what was Limbaugh’s point when he said, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade warming”? Not that no theist can believe that human emissions of greenhouse gases can contribute positively to earth’s temperature. Rather, that it is difficult to reconcile belief in the infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, and infinitely faithful God of the Bible with belief that a minuscule change in atmospheric chemistry-raising CO2 from 27 thousandths of 1 percent to 54 thousandths of 1 percent of the atmosphere-is likely to cause catastrophic harm to human and other ecosystems. It’s that latter belief that’s encompassed by the shorthand “global warming.”

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Now I ask you, does an infinitely wise designer plan something to be so fragile that a proportionately tiny stress will cause it to collapse? Does a good architect, for instance, design a building so that if you lean against a wall, the rest of the building reacts by magnifying the stress of your weight until the building collapses?

But that’s what’s assumed in the theory of catastrophic, anthropogenic (manmade) global warming (CAGW): that a proportionately tiny stress can cause catastrophic consequences. The theory is that CO2’s rising from 27 thousandths of 1 percent to 54 thousandths of 1 percent of the atmosphere-which itself is a relatively tiny part of the entire climate system, which includes the oceans, land masses, all living things, and even energy from the sun and cosmic rays from stars in distant galaxies-will raise earth’s temperature so much as to threaten catastrophic harm to human and other life.

Such a result would come only from a design that made positive feedbacks vastly outweigh negative feedbacks. In other words, it would make the rest of the climate system magnify rather than offset the warming effect of CO2. Yet natural systems are dominated by negative rather than positive feedbacks-otherwise they’d all have collapsed long ago.

So God’s wisdom in designing earth’s climate system is hard to reconcile with belief in CAGW [Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming].

——————–

So, does belief in God make belief in CAGW utterly impossible? No. But it’s very difficult to reconcile the two beliefs.

3. Are Climate Skeptics Ignoring God’s Design? — by David Jenkins, president of ConservAmerica Education Fund (ConservAmerica used to be called Republicans for Environmental Protection).

Beisner writes “The Bible teaches that earth and all its subsystems – including the climate system – are the product of a God who is an infinitely wise Designer.” Nothing to quibble with there, but he then concludes – as Limbaugh has – that an infinitely wise designer would not create something so fragile that mankind can mess it up.

That view is at odds with both Biblical scripture and physical evidence.

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Just as God has charged us with the responsibility to care for His creation, he has also granted us the ability to harm it. Man has demonstrated the capacity to level mountains, foul the air and water, drive animal species to extinction, develop weapons capable of mass destruction, acidify rain and damage the earth’s ozone layer.

While nature is resilient over time, it is also intricate and fragile. The smallest bacteria or virus can kill the largest person or animal. A minute amount of airborne mercury can travel up the food chain and ultimately harm an unborn child.

Another climate-related viewpoint Beisner and others have expressed is that fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, are gifts that God wants us to dig up and use without limitation.

One must be careful when ascribing intent to God, especially when the claim appears to run counter to His design.

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Does it not then stand to reason that God, after designing the earth’s processes to sequester excess carbon, might prefer that we respect His design and look for other ways to heat our homes and power our cars?

Beisner and Limbaugh, in peddling the notion that God designed the earth and its atmosphere to be immune from mankind’s actions, are also implying that we can do anything we want to it without serious consequence.

Does that sound like something God would say?

Actually, it sounds a lot more like something the snake in the Garden of Eden would say.

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Notes:

I was alerted to Rush Limbaugh’s statement by Climate Conservative: Are Climate Skeptics Ignoring God’s Design?

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Christianity, Climate Change, Creation Care, Environment, Ethics | , , | 7 Comments

Around the web 3/22/2013 — The ice age only lasted 250 years, evaporites formed from magma, environmentalism is bad for us, and more

answers-ice-ageThere have been a number of articles on the web the past few weeks that deserve a long analysis, but some short notes will have to do.

THE ICE AGE (SINGULAR) OCCURRED BETWEEN 2250 AND 2000 B.C. — Answers in Genesis posted an article in February by Andrew Snelling and Mike Matthews entitled When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History? As usual, none of this is necessary Biblically, or workable scientifically.

Here is everything they want to squeeze into 250 years after their date for Noah’s flood (2350 B.C. on the accompanying map with timeline):

  • 2350 to 2250 B.C. — Antarctica becomes covered by forests, then gets covered by its ice cap.
  • 2250 to 2000 B.C. — Ice age on the rest of Earth.
  • approx. 2300 B.C. — First mastadons.
  • 2250 B.C. — first human tools in archeological record.
  • approx 2200 B.C. — First woolly mammoths.
  • approx 2200 to 2100 B.C. — Age of the Neanderthals.
  • approx 2150 B.C. — Humans migrate into Australia.
  • approx 2100 B.C. — Humans migrate into North America.
  • 2000 B.C. — End of Ice age. Abram born.

Again, the Bible says none of this! When Abram is born, he is born into a stable civilization on a stable Mesopotamian plain that isn’t much different than how it is described in Genesis 2. There has been no massive transformation of the Tigris-Euphrates valley!

But the geological problems with the YEC picture dwarf the biblical problems. Not only do they have to squeeze Antarctic glaciation, Neanderthals, the ice ages (there is plenty of evidence that glaciation happened multiple times), and human migration into Australia and the Americas into 250 years, one would have to throw in things like multiple eruptions of a number of “supervolcanoes” (e.g. Yellowstone, Toba, Long Valley), growth of other volcanoes (e.g. Cascade Range), growth of modern coral reefs, and deposition of in some cases many hundreds of meters of ice age sediments around the world. Add in a few biological marvels as well — hyperevolutionary adaptive radiation going from “elephant kind” to mastodons, woolly mammoths, and modern elephants; as well as dispersion of animals and humans throughout the globe.

Don’t teach this to the church or our youth as biblical truth or scientific apologetics!!!!

EVAPORITES (SUCH AS SALT) FORMED FROM MAGMA — YEC geologist Tas Walker has endorsed Stef Heerema’s magmatic model for for the origin of large salt formations. Heerema’s Journal of Creation article is here, and a more recent YouTube video is here. I am writing a longer response to this one, but for now I’ll say that this all shows that, despite YEC claims to the contrary, the Journal of Creation cannot possibly be a peer-reviewed journal.

ENVIRONMENTALISM IS A THREAT TO CIVILIZATION — So says Evangelical writer Cal Beisner, a spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance. There are some good things in the Cornwall Alliance’s Declaration on Environmental Stewardship, but…

Here’s what Beisner recently said about why humans could not be doing any catastrophic harm to the Earth by adding excess greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, as reported at Huff Post Green:

“That doesn’t fit well with the biblical teaching that the earth is the result of the omniscient design, the omnipotent creation and the faithful sustaining of the God of the Bible. So it really is an insult to God,” Beisner said.

Isn’t that sort of like saying that it doesn’t matter what we do to our bodies—smoking, excess alcohol and drug use, etc.—because God has designed us in such a way that the things we do could not possible cause us catastrophic harm?

THE DOCTRINE OF CREATION — The biblical doctrine of creation isn’t primarily about how old the Earth is. See Bigger Than We Think by David Wilkinson.

PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANITY CONTINUES — Iran puts five Christians on trial for their faithChristian protesters decry Muslim mob’s arson spree following blasphemy chargeChristians, churches dwindling in Iraq since start of war 10 years ago.

I want to write, write, write, but can’t keep up with it all.

Grace and Peace

March 22, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Around the Web, Christianity, Climate Change, Creation Care, Creation in the Bible, Environment, Geology, Nature, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Around the web 2/10/2013

THE “NOT SCIENCE FRIDAY” SHOW — From Christianity Today: Creationist Pastor Loses to NPR over ‘Science Friday’ Radio Show. Apparently the name of the radio program—Real Science Friday—was too close to NPR’s Science Friday program. It is now Real Science Radio.

THE LAW OF SUPERPOSITION IS WRONG? — At least according to the above mentioned radio program (the law of superposition states that newer sedimentary layers are deposited on older sedimentary layers).

Here’s a quote from Real Science Radio’s Liquefaction Made Most of the Paper Thin Fossils:

The “Law of Superposition” Is Wrong: As a general description of the world’s sedimentary layers, this alleged natural “law” wrongly claims that, “Sedimentary layers are deposited in a time sequence, with the oldest on the bottom and the youngest on the top.” In reality, a tremendous amount of sorting of minerals and fossils occurred underground when the continents’ mile-deep sediments were first deposited.

I guess they are trying to extrapolate from small-scale sediment liquifaction events (e.g. during earthquakes) to explaining large-scale features of the geological column. It appears that much of this is based on Walt Brown’s hydroplate theory, which is not promoted by “mainstream” YECs such as those at Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research.

TUNNELING TETRAPODS — Naturalis Historia has a note about Triassic Fossilized Animal Burrows in Argentina. In the YEC scenario, these were either formed by very busy terrestrial critters who somehow survived the Cambrian to Permian part of the flood only to dig sophisticated burrows during some brief respite before the Jurassic to Tertiary part of the flood, or they only look like animal burrows, complete with horizontal burrows, vertical burrows, and nesting chambers; accompanied by well-developed paleosols (ancient soil layers).

The original article is Large-Diameter Burrows of the Triassic Ischigualasto Basin, NW Argentina: Paleoecological and Paleoenvironmental Implications.

HOW MUCH DID IT SNOW IN THE WINTER OF 22,375 B.C.? — A 30,000-year ice core from Antarctica. The YEC response will once again be, “they only look like annual ice layers,” even though the older layers look just like the layers formed in historic times.

HT: Geology.com News

THIS STATEMENT IS FALSE — Stand to Reason has a post about self-refuting statements, such as:

  • “There is no objective truth.” (Is that statement objectively true?)
  • “It’s arrogant to assume you know the truth with certainty.” (Are you certain that is a true statement?)
  • “Science is the only way to determine truth.” (What experiment did you run to determine that statement?)
  • “Tolerance requires us to accept all views equally” (Except, of course, any view that doesn’t accept all views as equal.)

WHAT MANY DO WITH THEIR COLLEGE DEGREECNN Money reports that 1 in 4 retail workers, 1 in 6 bartenders, and 1 in 4 amusement park attendants have a college degree, and that “about 37% of employed U.S. college graduates are working in jobs that require no more than a high school diploma.”

THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT JACK — Clive Staples Lewis, that is. Go to 30 Things You Might Not Know About CS Lewis and you will probably learn something you didn’t know about Jack. I think I knew about 12 out of the 30 things; here are some that I did not know:

  • 3. He never learned to drive.
  • 7. He failed his Oxford entrance exam, twice.
  • 22. Mere Christianity never mentions the Resurrection.
  • 23. He read every single book from the 16th century.

Grace and peace

February 10, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Around the Web, Christianity, Climate Change, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thin ice and the importance of Quaternary geology

From NASA Earth Observatory:

2011 Sea Ice Minimum

From the description (emphasis added):

In September 2011, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean declined to the second-lowest extent on record. Satellite data from NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) showed that the summertime ice cover narrowly avoided a new record low.

[…]

Melt season in 2011 brought higher-than-average summer temperatures, but not the unusual weather conditions that contributed to the extreme melt of 2007, the record low. “Atmospheric and oceanic conditions were not as conducive to ice loss this year, but the melt still neared 2007 levels,” said Walt Meier of NSIDC. “This probably reflects loss of multi-year ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, as well as other factors that are making the ice more vulnerable.”

The low sea ice level in 2011 fits the pattern of decline over the past three decades, said Joey Comiso of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Since 1979, September Arctic sea ice extent has declined by 12 percent per decade.

“The sea ice is not only declining; the pace of the decline is becoming more drastic,” he noted. “The older, thicker ice is declining faster than the rest, making for a more vulnerable perennial ice cover.”

While the sea ice extent did not dip below the record, the area did drop slightly lower than 2007 levels for about ten days in early September 2011. Sea ice “area” differs from “extent” in that it equals the actual surface area covered by ice, while extent includes any area where ice covers at least 15 percent of the ocean.

Arctic sea ice extent on September 9, 2011, was 4.33 million square kilometers (1.67 million square miles). Averaged over the month of September, ice extent was 4.61 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles). This places 2011 as the second lowest ice extent for both the daily minimum and the monthly average. Ice extent was 2.43 million square kilometers (938,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.

Climate models have suggested that the Arctic could lose almost all of its summer ice cover by 2100, but in recent years, ice extent has declined faster than the models predicted.

A few years back, I blogged about a report that the Arctic Ocean may have been ice-free around 6000-7000 years ago, so this may be a natural cycle. Or it may be caused by human-induced global warming. I don’t know. I ended that post with the following:

I’m not a global warming denier, which bothers some of my friends. I do believe that human activities are affecting Earth’s climate. This does point out, however, the importance of geological studies of Quaternary (ice age to present) climate systems. Whatever is happening today, even if caused by humans, can only be fully understood in its geological context.

Grace and Peace

October 7, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Creation Care, Environment, Imagery, Nature, Why Earth science matters | , , , | 8 Comments

Antarctic ice cores: a window to ice age climate change

American researchers have completed the second deepest Antarctic ice core ever drilled. Analysis of dust and entrapped air bubbles give a picture of the Earth’s atmosphere and climate over the past 100,000 years.

From the National Science Foundation: Ice Cores Yield Rich History of Climate Change — Research project completes drilling for the year, reaching two miles below West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

On Friday, Jan. 28 in Antarctica, a research team investigating the last 100,000 years of Earth’s climate history reached an important milestone completing the main ice core to a depth of 3,331 meters (10,928 feet) at West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide (WAIS). The project will be completed over the next two years with some additional coring and borehole logging to obtain additional information and samples of the ice for the study of the climate record contained in the core.

As part of the project, begun six years ago, the team, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has been drilling deep into the ice at the WAIS Divide site and recovering and analyzing ice cores for clues about how changes in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have influenced the Earth’s climate over time.

Friday’s milestone was reached at a depth of 3,331 meters–about two miles deep–creating the deepest ice core ever drilled by the U.S. and the second deepest ice core ever drilled by any group, second only to the ice core drilled at Russia’s Vostok Station as part of a joint French/U.S./Russian collaboration in the 1990s.

“By improving our understanding of how natural changes in greenhouse gas influenced climate in the past, the science community will be able to do a better job of predicting future climate changes caused by the emissions of greenhouse gases by human activity,” said Kendrick Taylor, chief scientist for the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project.

The drilling site is about 966 kilometers (600 miles) from the South Pole, at an ice divide (which is analogous to a watershed divide) in West Antarctica, where the ice is flowing out to the sea in opposing directions.

“This location was selected because it is the best place on the planet to determine how greenhouse gases have changed during the last 100,000 years” said Taylor. Since it began, the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project has continuously collected ice from the surface down to a depth of 3,331 meters. The ice at this depth fell as snow about 100,000 years ago. The high annual snowfall at the site enables individual annual layers of snowfall to be identified and counted (much like counting tree rings) back to about 40,000 years. Below that, the layers become too compressed to allow annual layers to be resolved. Scientists hope for at least decadal resolution to this point, sufficient for the science goals to be achieved.

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The drilling ceased 100 meters (328 feet) above the contact between the ice and the underlying rock, to avoid contaminating a possible water layer at the ice-rock contact. The basal water system may consist of water-saturated, ground-up rock, and has not been exposed to the earth’s surface for millions of years. It may harbor a unique and pristine biological environment that the U.S. Antarctic Program does not wish to contaminate.

A few thoughts:

  • We cannot understand climate change—natural or human-induced—without understanding the geologic past. Quaternary (ice age) history gives us a baseline for understanding the present.
  • It may be bitter cold on the surface of Antarctica, but much of the Antarctic ice cap is warm-based, meaning that the ice-rock boundary is wet rather than having the ice frozen to the rock substrate. Just like anywhere else in the Earth’s crust, there is a geothermal gradient within the ice. The deeper you go in the ice, the warmer the temperature, and three kilometers of ice is plenty thick to go from way below zero up to the melting point of ice.
  • Young-Earth creationists try to explain the origin of the Antarctic ice sheet as a post-flood event within the past 4500 years. A thorough rebuttal is found at the Answers in Creation site.

Grace and Peace

February 17, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Geology | , , | Leave a comment

Around the web 1/21/2011

A few items from the many tabs I have open in my browser…

Credit: Tracy, Wikipedia: Woolly Mammoth

Mammoths in the meadows? — Japanese researchers hope to replace the nucleus of a fertilized elephant egg cell with the nucleus of a woolly mammoth, then implant the cell in an elephant’s womb to create a living woolly mammoth. This is much more feasible than the scenario in Jurassic Park, as we have what should be pretty close to intact woolly mammoth cells, recovered from frozen carcasses in Siberia. From Yahoo News/AFP: Researchers aim to resurrect mammoth in five years.

Moral blind spots — What things do we accept as normal that future generations will look at as morally reprehensible? Kwame Anthony Appiah asks that question on the Washington Post site: What will future generations condemn us for? Appiah comes up with the following list:

  1. Our prison system
  2. Industrial meat production
  3. The institutionalized and isolated elderly
  4. The environment

Amy Hall at Stand to Reason Blog comments, “I think Appiah misses the key element of these past atrocities [slavery and lynching]: they involved a denial of intrinsic human value in a particular group of human beings.”

What would I add to the list? Global poverty — Over a billion people without adequate food, clean water, sanitation, education, security, etc.

A missions leader I know recently wrote:

In a world that is cruel to the marginalized, where cycles of poverty keep generations in often hopeless circumstances, where basic needs like clean water, sanitation and a meal a day can be only dreamed of and where corrupt governments, officials and institutions deny basic justice we need to be reminded of the heart of God. The prophet Micah said it cogently: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Global Warming Trends — NASA reports that 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest year on record: Earth Observatory — Different Records, Same Warming Trend.

Diamonds do not form from coal — Geology.com addresses this common misconception: How Do Diamonds Form? (Somewhat related: a refutation of the young-Earth creationist assertion that carbon-14 in coal proves that the Earth is young can be found here: Carbon-14 in Coal Deposits).

Religious discrimination in academia — From The Evangelical Ecologist: Stars Shine on Christian Researcher — The University of Kentucky discriminated against astronomer C. Martin Gaskell because he is a Christian, and they left an e-mail trail as proof.

Cleansing the internet — I think this is a great idea: having the default internet service pornography-free. If you want porn, you would specifically have to ask for it as part of your internet package. This could happen in the near future in the United Kingdom. From Cranach: Default blocking of all internet porn. This would not be censorship, as a person who wanted access to pornography as part of their internet package could still request it. One reason I think it would be a great idea: young people in our society are exposed to way too much sexual content that they are not ready for, as in this news report: Calif school eyes accounts of sex by 2nd graders.

Grace and Peace

January 21, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Ethics, Geology | , , | Leave a comment

Operation World — missions and the Earth and environmental sciences

One of the most significant influences that directed me into missionary service (my family served with ReachGlobal—the international mission of the Evangelical Free Church of America—from 2002 to 2008) was when we purchased a copy of Operation World back in the early days of our marriage. This book is a day-by-day prayer guide to the nations. For example, April 4 is Chile, and June 19-July 4 is India. This book helped open our eyes to both the needs and opportunities to advance the Kingdom of God through evangelism and related ministries around the globe.

The 7th edition of Operation World came out just a few months ago, and God is using it to get me thinking more about missions.

The first section (January 1-11) contains an overview of what is going on in the entire world. As on the pages for individual countries, the section on the world begins with answers to prayer:

  • “The unprecedented harvest of new believers continues across Africa, Asia and Latin America, in contrast to the relative stagnation or decline in the rest of the world.”
  • “The concept of Christianity as a European ‘White-man’s religion’ is demonstrably a myth. Though sometimes small in number, all but concealed, or mostly members of a minority people group, there are now Christians living and fellowshipping in every country on earth.”
  • “Evangelical Christianity grew at a rate faster than any other world religion or global religious movement.”
  • “The gospel took root within hundreds of the world’s least reached people groups.”
  • “Give thanks for… A more holistic understanding of evangelical mission within the Church. Ministry that cares for orphans and widows, uplifts the poor, brings liberty to the oppressed and sets captives free reflects the heart of God.”
  • And many other answers to prayer: the growth of non-western missions, cooperation between missionaries from different countries and denominations, Bible translation (95% of the world has access to the Bible in a language they know).

Being that this is “The GeoChristian,” I want to draw attention to some ways that Christian ministry around the world is affected by the Earth and environmental sciences (and thus how Christian Earth and environmental scientists can minister to the world). Here are some Earth and environment-related quotes:

Increased levels of consumption, especially when adopted by the billions of people in Asia, may push the already-stretched resources of the world over the brink. The world must be weaned off its reliance upon fossil fuels and extraction economies (mining, logging, fishing, others), and more sustainable alternatives must be developed, especially as massive new economies in the Majority World push hard to catch up to the West.

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Threats to human health, including disease. HIV/AIDS has been the high profile disease of the past 20 years, but treatments, increasing awareness and changing behaviour patterns see infection rates declining. Cancer continues to take many lives all over the world. New, resistant strains of old diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, are spreading. HIV, SARS and H5N1 are examples of recent pandemics; fears abound of new ones, more virulent and deadly. Less glamorously, diseases associated with malnutrition, poverty, unclean water supplies and lack of sanitation are even greater threats to children—pneumonia, diarrhoea, TB and others. Included in this is malaria, which kills as many people globally as AIDS and has a similarly devastating effect on economies. Air and water pollution probably contribute to as many deaths annually as all of these diseases combined.

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Energy research is possibly the highest profile and most globally important area needing technological progress. Fossil fuels are highly polluting, nuclear power dangerous and alternative energies—such as bio-fuels, solar, wind and wave—are as yet inefficient and inadequate. More than ever before, finding efficient, safe, non-polluting, renewable energy sources is attracting greater research and investment. A breakthrough in energy technology would transform the world’s economy and ecology.

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Water will be among the world’s most crucial issues in the future. Given that sufficient fresh water exists globally to sustain humanity (even if the locations of water sources and human population do not match up well), the salient issues on a global level are more about ethics, equity, distribution and consumption.

a) Access to clean water. Already, around one in six people lacks access to safe drinking water; by 2025, it is estimated that three billion will lack access to fresh water. Additionally, nearly one in three lacks access to adequate sanitation, and this in turn contributes greatly to disease, malnutrition and mortality, especially among children.

b) Current wastefulness. The developed world uses more than 30 times more water per person than the developing world. And the vast bulk of water waste is through inefficient agricultural systems, which account for 70% of humanity’s use of fresh water. Even diets (such as high consumption of red meat) that require much more water are a source of inequitable water use; the aspirations of most of the world to Western lifestyles, consumption levels and industrial output will generate even more waste and place even greater stresses on water supplies.

c) Future societal and demographic changes. The large majority of future population growth will be in areas where safe water is in short supply. This, combined with ever greater industrialization (greater demands for water) and urbanization (population moving further from clean water sources), means that demands on water supplies will be even more intense in the future.

d) Over-exploitation of limited water resources is poised to become a serious problem in the USA, Australia, southern Europe, South Asia, China and much of Africa. Aquifers are overtapped and rivers are running dry. Water-rich countries such as Canada and Russia are moving to secure their own vast supplies of fresh water. Tension and even conflict already exist over:

i. The Amu Darya/Oxus of Central Asia.

ii. The Tigris-Euphrates (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran).

iii. The Jordan (Israel, Syria, Jordan).

iv. The Nile (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia).

v. The nations to the north and south of the Sahara Desert.

These factors combined spell out the inevitability of increasing tensions over limited water supplies, of greater pressure to reduce waste and make desalinization more efficient and of the drive behind massive levels of migration

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Demands for other natural resources, when combined with population growth and increasing levels of consumption, are at the core of what will make or break human civilization’s progress in the 21st century.

a) Energy consumption is still vastly dominated by non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. Until greener and more renewable sources can be developed to a level that makes them feasible alternatives, nuclear power might be the only other alternative.

b) Food production is another area where great changes are afoot. Genetically modified crops, the environmental impact of current agricultural systems and current trends in global dietary patterns all raise serious economic, environmental and ethical questions—from organic foods to raising cattle to fishing. The existence of food is not a problem for the world’s masses; at the heart of most problems are the amount of waste and the cost and difficulty of production and distribution. Growing crops for fuel, rather than food, intensifies these troubles.

c) Other natural resources are also being rapidly depleted. Some resources, such as old-growth hardwood trees, can be renewed, though not nearly at the speed demanded by consumption. Others, such as minerals, are non-renewable, yet they are being extracted and used at increasing rates.

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Climate change is now generally accepted as having a human causal component. Population growth, rapid industrialization and increasing consumption have an undeniable environmental/ecological impact. The negative implications of possible global warming are: desertification, soil exhaustion, greater frequency of natural disasters such as flooding and drought, water table salinization, flooding in low-lying coastal systems, massive loss of habitat for millions of species and unprecedented human migration. The staggering scale of waste and pollution—from plastics to pesticides to hormones and more—affects our water systems, our climate and even our biology. Despite the fact that humans still know little about these complex dynamics, green ethics have almost become a religion in themselves, the adherence to which is demanded in much of the developed world. However, it has also fostered in the Church the rightful and necessary development of a theology of Creation stewardship and compelled Christians to reconsider how biblical our lifestyles are.

Water, energy, food production, climate change. These are critical subjects that will effect the church and the entire world in the 21st century. Will Christians be right in the thick of research, action, and advocacy, or will we leave that to someone else (while billions suffer)?

Operation World can be purchased from Amazon.com and many other places. Buy it and pray for the nations.

Grace and Peace

January 18, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Energy, Environment, Ethics, Future, Geology, Health, Missions | , , , | 3 Comments

Pleistocene Park

From Yahoo! News/AP — One scientist’s hobby: recreating the ice age

CHERSKY, Russia – Wild horses have returned to northern Siberia. So have musk oxen, hairy beasts that once shared this icy land with woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats. Moose and reindeer are here, and may one day be joined by Canadian bison and deer.

Later, the predators will come — Siberian tigers, wolves and maybe leopards.

Russian scientist Sergey Zimov is reintroducing these animals to the land where they once roamed in millions to demonstrate his theory that filling the vast emptiness of Siberia with grass-eating animals can slow global warming.

Unlike “re-wilding” ideas in the United States (e.g. Montana), where most land is used for one thing or another, this one is along the Kolyma River (of gulag fame) in Siberia, which is about as isolated as one can get.

Isn’t this a little taste of what nature was meant to be, with the earth, sky, and sea “swarming with swarms of living creatures?” (Gen 1:20,24).

Grace and Peace

Related news: Leaking Siberian ice raises a tricky climate issue

November 27, 2010 Posted by | Biology, Climate Change, Creation in the Bible, Environment, Future, Nature | , , | 3 Comments

Bjorn Lomborg — the “skeptical environmentalist” is skeptical no more

From Yahoo! News: Noted anti-global-warming scientist reverses course.

With scientific data piling up showing that the world  has reached its hottest-ever point in recorded history, global-warming skeptics are facing a high-profile defection from their ranks. Bjorn Lomborg, author of the influential tract “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” has reversed course on the urgency of global warming, and is now calling for action on “a challenge humanity must confront.”

Grace and Peace

August 31, 2010 Posted by | Climate Change, Environment, Meteorology | 2 Comments

Melting glaciers, changing borders

Video from BBC News: Glacier melt changes Italian border. I can’t embed it, so you will have to go to the link.

This reflects a different view of borders than what we have in the United States. In the US, if a river that marks a boundary changes course (e.g. the Mississippi), then the border stays where it was. In Europe, it seems that if a glacier melts, then the international border can move 100 meters or so.

Grace and Peace

June 20, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change, Geography, Maps | Leave a comment

Creation Care and Climate Change

There is no inherent reason for a scientist to not be a Christian, nor for a Christian to care deeply about the creation.

From the Harvard Divinity Bulletin: The Greening of Jesus by Mark Pinsky.

Riding the train down to London last summer, after a two-week fellowship session on science and religion at the University of Cambridge, I noticed an article in the Independent newspaper about a new book which reinforced that notion of an increasingly irreligious Europe. It is true that outward signs of faith—apart from biblical passages emblazoned on London’s famed red double-decker buses by jesussaid.org—are difficult to come by.

But I found deeply felt Christianity alive and well in an unlikely setting: the academy’s scientific community. To many, this may seem counterintuitive. The evangelical theologian Alister McGrath told us he once believed that “science was the ally of atheism.” Yet among our other lecturers at the Templeton-Cambridge program were major figures in science, from cosmologists to biologists to particle physicists, who pronounced themselves believers. Of course, given the interests of the late Sir John Templeton, who endowed the fellowships, in the relationship between science and religion, this should not have been surprising.

Still, these towering figures—Simon Conway Morris, John Polkinghorne, Sir Brian Heap, Sir John Houghton—characterized themselves as evangelicals as well. Polkinghorne, author of Science and Theology, preaches at a Cambridge church on weekends. To be sure, these are evangelicals of a particular sort. By and large, they reject creationism and intelligent design, embracing the concept of “theistic evolution,” a God-created, billions-years-old universe. None numbered themselves among any of the apocalyptic American evangelical tribes of arrogant dominionists or fanciful premillennial dispensationalists of the “Left Behind” stripe.

[emphasis added]

The article goes on to describe the increasing acceptance of man-made global warming in the Evangelical community, led by Evangelical Christians such as Sir John Houghton, former head of the British Meteorological Office.

The Harvard divinity school is hardly a bastion of Evangelicalism, the article contains a good description of what is going on.

HT: Crunchy Con

Grace and Peace

March 7, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change, Environment, Meteorology | | 1 Comment

Climate change survey

From CNN: Surveyed scientists agree global warming is real.

The results of a University of Illinois survey of scientists include the following:

  • 90% of the scientists surveyed agreed that global temperatures have risen compared to levels from before 1800.
  • 82% agreed that human activity been a significant factor in this increase of mean global temperatures.
  • 97% of climatologists surveyed agreed with anthropogenic global warming (AGW).
  • At the other end of the spectrum, only 47% of petroleum geologists agreed with this.

The researchers chose scientists listed in the the American Geological Institute’s Directory of Geoscience Departments, 2007 edition.

Geologists in general have been more skeptical about AGW than have other scientists, though I’ve noticed a considerable shift on this in publications of the Geological Society of America and the American Geological Institute. Two reasons for this skepticism that have been proposed are:

  1. A deep historical perspective. Geologists know that Earth’s climate has fluctuated throughout its history by purely natural means, and that a number of factors have caused this, including changing brightness of the sun, changing oceanic circulation patterns, plate tectonics, and cyclical variations of Earth’s orbit. The Quaternary Period, i.e. the past 1.8 million years, has had an especially variable climate, with long glacial maximum periods, punctuated by interglacial periods, such as the one we live in now.
  2. The close association of geology to the fossil fuel industries. Perhaps there is something psychological here, with a denial that the oil, gas, and coal that we are so closely tied to are the cause of something bad.

I think it is significant that 97% of climatologists surveyed believe global warming is real and that humans have been a significant factor in this. But climatologists will continue to need the input of geologists to gain a fuller understanding of how Earth’s climate works, in both the short term and long term.

Grace and Peace

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change, Energy, Environment, Geology, Meteorology, Why Earth science matters | | Leave a comment

Global warming and solar cycles

If you are a regular reader of The GeoChristian, you know that I lean towards the validity of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), which is the idea that human activities are causing the Earth to become warmer. Much of the debate–on both sides–is driven by ideology more than science, but I have found the scientific arguments on the AGW side to be stronger.

The AGW proponents say that variations in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are the primary drivers of climate change at the present time. They acknowledge that the Earth’s climate naturally varies, and that greenhouse gases are not the only factors in climate change, but warn that the present changes in climate are outside of the natural range.

The Earth is an incredibly complex planet, and it is difficult to integrate all of the factors that go into something as complex as weather and climate. The issues involved include greenhouse gases, variations in the intensity of solar radiation; cosmic rays, ground cover, ocean circulation patterns, orbital variations, and others. Despite decades of intense research, it is still not possible to say with certain how much of the Earth’s natural greenhouse warming comes from the various greenhouse gases present, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane. (Don’t forget that the greenhouse effect itself is an extremely good thing; Earth would be about 30°C (50°F) colder without it).

The London Times has an article on the influence of solar activity and cosmic rays on climate: An experiment that hints we are wrong on climate change. The article examines recent experimental evidence that indicates that observed fluctuations in climate, both now and in the past, have been the result more of changes in solar output than greenhouse gases.

AGW advocates would say that we cannot wait for a couple more decades of research in order to take action. Overall, I agree, because many of the actions they say we must take are good whether AGW is true or not. Examples include increasing energy efficiency, simplifying our consumptive lifestyles, and developing sustainable, renewable energy alternatives.

Grace and Peace

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change, Energy, Environment, Meteorology, Why Earth science matters | , , | 2 Comments

Pliocene and Quaternary sea levels

Tying into a post from earlier tonight: global Pliocene and Quaternary sea levels, from the US Geological Survey.

The natural range of sea level for the past 3 million years is from a high of 35 meters above present sea level, to a low of 120 meters below present sea level:

sealevelchanges

The +35 m value is from the warm period that occurred during the mid-Pliocene, before the Earth plunged into the Quaternary cycle of alternating ice ages and interglacial periods (we live in an interglacial). In the mid-Pliocene, lowlands such as much of Florida and the lower Mississippi River valley were under water.

The -120 m value is from peak-glacial times, when large quantities of water were stored on the continents in continental ice sheets which were over 1000 meters thick covering millions of square kilometers. In this time, large areas of continental shelf were exposed, such as a wide area west of the current Florida coast, and the Bering Land Bridge that linked Alaska and Siberia.

The slight changes in sea level that have been observed during the past century (2-3 mm per year) are largely due to the expansion of sea water as global temperatures have increased. The wide range of sea level over the past three million years is mostly due to changes in the amount of water stored on the continents as ice. Because of the high density of human settlement and development along coastlines, even modest changes in sea level, on the order of 0.5 to 1.0 meters, could cause havoc in low-lying areas.

The geological perspective is: change is the norm in the Quaternary.

Grace and peace

December 9, 2008 Posted by | Climate Change, Geology, Meteorology | , , | Leave a comment

The Pliocene as a model for the 21st century?

The US Geological Survey has a news release regarding climate during the mid-Pliocene Epoch, between 3.0 and 3.3 million years ago: Getting Warmer? Prehistoric Climate Can Help Forecast Future Changes. Scientists used paleontological data (i.e. fossils) to reconstruct surface water and deep-ocean temperatures, as well as ocean circulation patterns. Here are some of the findings:

  • Global average temperatures in the mid-Pliocene were 2.5°C (4.5°F) greater than today. This is in the range of temperatures predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for later in the 21st century.
  • CO2 levels were only slightly higher than what is found today. This implies that the atmosphere currently has enough CO2 to cause a couple of degrees of warming. It could be the other way around: the higher CO2 levels could have been caused by the higher temperatures; either way, there is a correlation between high CO2 levels and higher temperatures.
  • Warming was much greater in the North Atlantic and Arctic than in other oceanic areas. While worldwide temperatures in the Pliocene were on the order of 2.5°C warmer than today, temperatures in the North Atlantic were up to 18°C warmer, bringing the average annual temperature in some areas from -2°C to 16°C, which is temperate rather than polar. This is radical–and in this case, natural–climate change. It is also consistent with computer models that predict greater warming in polar regions than in the rest of the world during the 21st century.
  • One of the conclusions was that “the likely cause of mid-Pliocene warmth was a combination of several factors, including increased heat transport from equatorial regions to the poles and increased greenhouse gases.”

Here’s a map showing the sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly for August, which is a comparison of the Pliocene SST with today’s SST. The dark blotch over the North Atlantic is the area that experienced the most extreme warming in the Pliocene compared to today. The yellow areas were about 2°C warmer than today. Note also  the warmer area off the Pacific coast of South America. This indicates an el Niño-like warming of the east Pacific surface waters in the Pliocene.

pliocenesurfacetemperatures

This study shows again the importance of a geological perspective when talking about climate change:

  • Not only is the present a key to the past, the past is a key to the present. By better understanding climate change in the Pliocene, we can get a better idea of the effects of warming in the 21st century. Being that the geometry of ocean basins has not changed appreciably since the Pliocene, the temperature and circulation patterns present in the Pliocene could be a good model for changes that could occur if global temperatures do increase by 2°C in the 21st century.
  • Geology gives us a context for climate change in the present. We cannot hope to distinguish between natural climate fluctuations and human-caused climate change if we don’t have a good grasp of natural climate change that has occurred over the past few millions of years.

Grace and peace

December 9, 2008 Posted by | Climate Change, Geology, Meteorology, Why Earth science matters | , | 1 Comment

The future ice age

Irregardless of what we do to the planet now, the long-term climate prospect for sometime a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of years in the future is cold: Earth may face freeze worse than Ice Age. This is nothing new to geologists, recognizing that Earth is presently in a short interglacial period (the Holocene Epoch), squeezed in between longer glacial deep-freezes. What may be new to many is the idea that it appears that each freeze is getting a little deeper.

If catastrophic global warming is occuring, it will hopefully go away in a few thousand years, sometime after we burn the last chunk of coal and oil shale. Then it could get really cold. Our few centuries of fossil fuel short-sightedness will just be a blip in history.

Our response: Be frugal, and don’t worry about an Ice Age. It isn’t going to happen for a while.

Grace and Peace

November 17, 2008 Posted by | Climate Change, Environment, Future, Geology | Leave a comment

Ice-free Arctic

I was watching CNN today (not something I normally do; I was standing in a line at the post office) and the story was about record melting of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. The prediction was that the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer within five years.

And I was reading Geology.com News today (which is something I normally do). There was a link to the Geological Survey of Norway, with an article by Gudmund Løvø entitled Less ice in the Arctic Ocean 6000-7000 years ago.

Recent mapping of a number of raised beach ridges on the north coast of Greenland suggests that the ice cover in the Arctic Ocean was greatly reduced some 6000-7000 years ago. The Arctic Ocean may have been periodically ice free.

The scientists studied ancient beaches along the northern coast of Greenland. Two distinct types of beaches were studied. Beaches formed when pack-ice is present tend to have an irregular character, formed when ridges of ice are pressed against the sandy shoreline. Beaches formed where there is open water, on the other hand, tend to be long and linear, formed as linear waves break along a long stretch of the shore. Shorelines from 6000-7000 years ago are of the linear type, suggesting that there was open water for a considerable distance northward from Greenland, perhaps even to the North Pole.

I’m not a global warming denier, which bothers some of my friends. I do believe that human activities are affecting Earth’s climate. This does point out, however, the importance of geological studies of Quaternary (ice age to present) climate systems. Whatever is happening today, even if caused by humans, can only be fully understood in its geological context.

Grace and Peace

October 23, 2008 Posted by | Climate Change, Environment, Geology, Meteorology | 1 Comment

Hot air and thin ice

One of the reasons I accept the idea that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, is contributing to global warming beyond the Earth’s natural rhythms is that I find most arguments given by the opponents of this concept to be faulty. This is especially true, unfortunately, in the conservative Christian media. In my daily web browsing this morning, for example, I came across an article on a widely-read, conservative Christian magazine site which had some really bad science on global warming.

The article was based on two recent news reports. The first of these was a report of record melting of Arctic sea ice, to the point that the North Pole might be ice-free for part of the summer this year. The melting of polar ice, of course, has been in the news frequently, and this thawing could have many consequences, environmental and political. The second report was that scientists recently discovered that the rate of volcanism along the mid-ocean ridge, deep on the floor of the Arctic Ocean, is much higher than had been previously predicted. The author of the article jumped to the conclusion that it is obviously the volcanism that is causing the melting of sea ice. After all, volcanoes not only release a lot of heat, they release carbon dioxide. This double-whammy, according to the author, was a sufficient explanation for the thinning of the ice in the Arctic.

There are two major problems with this argument.

First, the volume of the water in the Arctic Ocean is immense compared to the volume of lava extruded. The author of this article doesn’t realize that heating the Arctic Ocean by mid-ocean ridge volcanism would be like heating an Olympic sized swimming pool by occasionally lighting a match. In addition to the huge volume of water—the Arctic contains about fifteen million cubic kilometers of water—one needs to take into account the heat capacity of water. Heat capacity is a measure of how much heat it takes to increase the temperature of a substance. One of the important physical properties of water is its unusually high heat capacity, which means that it takes a tremendous amount of heat to make water change its temperature by a small amount. If one places an empty pan on a hot burner, the metal will heat up very quickly. On the other hand, if one places a water-filled pot on the same burner, it will take much longer to heat up (a watched pot never boils!). Likewise, the small amount of heat added to the Arctic by mid ocean ridge volcanism isn’t sufficient to have a measurable effect on the overall temperature of the polar ocean.

Another point of confusion in the article was the thought that the carbon dioxide released by these submarine eruptions somehow dwarfs CO2 that is released by human activity,  and perhaps even stays concentrated over the Arctic ice pack. This is part of the urban legend that floats around conservative web sites that says that the amount of CO2 released by a single volcanic eruption is greater than what humans release to the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels. The truth is that the carbon dioxide released by these Arctic eruptions is tiny compared to the CO2 released worldwide by volcanoes, and the amount of CO2 released by volcanoes is tiny compared to the amount of CO2 released by human activities. According to the US Geological Survey:

  • Annual volcanic production of CO2: 130-230 million metric tons
  • Annual human production of CO2: 27 billion metric tons
  • Therefore, human production of CO2 is at least 100 times greater than volcanic production

Additionally, the CO2 released by seafloor Arctic volcanism will either stay in solution in the water, or become evenly mixed and dispersed in the atmosphere.

The record melting of Arctic sea ice has absolutely nothing to do with seafloor volcanism. It is one thing to be skeptical of global warming, but the poor scientific reasoning expressed in this article does no one a service.

July 1, 2008 Posted by | Climate Change, Environment | 2 Comments

What scientists were really saying about “global cooling” in the 1970s

I remember hearing it too, back in the 1970s: “We’re heading into another ice age.”

Today we hear: “Why should we believe the climate scientists when they predict global warming? Back in the 1970s, they predicted the Earth’s climate was going to get much colder.”

But was “global cooling” really the consensus back in the 70s? The RealClimate blog reports:

During the period we analyzed, climate science was very different from what you see today. There was far less integration among the various sub-disciplines that make up the enterprise. Remote sensing, integrated global data collection and modeling were all in their infancy. But our analysis nevertheless showed clear trends in the focus and conclusions the researchers were making. Between 1965 and 1979 we found (see table 1 for details):

  • 7 articles predicting cooling
  • 44 predicting warming
  • 20 that were neutral

In other words, during the 1970s, when some would have you believe scientists were predicting a coming ice age, they were doing no such thing. The dominant view, even then, was that increasing levels of greenhouse gases were likely to dominate any changes we might see in climate on human time scales.

This was also reported in USA Today: Study debunks ‘global cooling’ concern of ’70s.

Grace and Peace

April 12, 2008 Posted by | Climate Change | Leave a comment