Geoengineering — Part 2: Climate Science and Climate Change

In a blog devoted to 21st century technology why are we discussing climate change? Because if climate is changing, and the evidence strongly suggests that, it will impact the planet in this century and beyond. Our response to climate change will play a critical role in determining new technologies that we apply to counter changing sea levels, altered precipitation patterns, melting polar and mountain glaciers, and rising temperatures.

For those reading this blog who are skeptical about the science of global warming let’s quickly review what we know from history and what evidence we have today to support the conclusions that climatically we are dealing with the global impact of our technical society on our planet.

Taking the Planet’s Temperature

Humans have been recording earth’s atmospheric temperature only recently. The first temperature recordings date to the 17th century in Europe. By the mid-19th century with colonial expansion, European scientists were faithfully keeping temperature records all across the planet. Prior to the recording of daily temperatures we have no direct statistical evidence of temperature variation on Earth. But we do have lots of historical records mentioning weather phenomenon dating back several thousand years as well as physical evidence drawn from a variety of sources including: tree rings (hundreds to thousands of years), ice cores from glaciers and the poles (thousands to hundreds of thousands of years), sampling of soil cores, rock and fossil records (hundreds to hundreds of millions of years). We also have observations from astronomy to help us “acclimatize.”

Celestial Impacts on Climate

From astronomers we have learned about the Earth’s wobble. If this is not familiar to you let me explain. Our planet tilts on an angle as it orbits the Sun. Sometimes it tilts more and sometimes it tilts less. Each wobble cycle takes 20,000 years.  The tilt variable is 22 to 25 degrees. Today we are around 23.5 degrees. When the tilt is less it changes the amount of solar energy that hits each hemisphere as the planet orbits the Sun. The greater the tilt the higher the amount of solar energy absorbed by whichever hemisphere is in its summer phase. The less the tilt the opposite.

In addition our orbit around the Sun is not circular. It is elliptical. Sometimes, therefore, we are closer than the 149,600,000 kilometers (93 million miles). The distance varies by about 5 million kilometers. When the northern hemisphere tilts toward the Sun and we are closest to the Sun, about 147,166,000 kilometers, solar radiation in the hemisphere is more intense. The opposite is true when we are further away at 152,173,000 kilometers.

Scientists have also studied the Sun and been able to determine that its output varies over time. There is a correlation between the solar radiation output and sunspots that cyclically appear on the Sun’s surface. More sunspots means a more active and warmer Sun. Fewer sunspots, a less active and cooler Sun.  When the Sun is cooler global temperatures drop.

What the Geological Record Shows Us

Our current continental configuration, that has the bulk of our continental masses in the northern hemisphere, also impacts climate. With large land masses in the north and ocean in the south, the climate in these areas reflects the different energy absorption levels of land versus water. Of course we are talking about continents that move between 1 and 10 centimeters per year and it’s hard to think about any immediate impact from plate tectonics on 21st century climate change. But in terms of geological time the position of continental plates has changed weather.

Our geological and geomorphological science has convincingly shown us that the recent history of our planet has included extensive periods of glaciation with much of the northern and southern extremes of the planet covered in continental glaciers and sea ice. This Ice Age has been cyclical in nature with extensive ice sheets appearing over land areas far more extensive than the remnant ice we see in Greenland and Antarctica today. The cycles of the Ice Age seem to coincide with the planet’s proximity to the Sun and the wobble.

Glacial growth and melting has interesting impacts on the most visible feature of our planet, our oceans. I’ll give you an example. When the last major advance of ice occurred in North America it peaked around 21,000 years ago and as it began to melt it formed an enormous freshwater lake where the current Great Lakes exist. Called Lake Agassiz, this lake’s main outlet was south through the Mississippi river system. An ice sheet dammed up the St. Lawrence River valley so the water couldn’t flow into the Atlantic. When that dam melted and broke Lake Agassiz emptied northeastward into the Atlantic flooding it with fresh water on a colossal scale. What did this do to the Gulf Stream and its companion North Atlantic Drift? The cold fresh water being lighter than the salt water of the Ocean formed a surface layer and completely disrupted the flow of warmer water from the south impacting Europe’s climate. That extra water also raised sea levels by 1.5 meters submerging coastlines and altering plant and animal habitats. You can imagine how disruptive these catastrophic changes could be to weather patterns, precipitation, and habitability.

What Historical Clues Tell Us

For Europeans there is a more recent historic example of climate change. We know that climate from 800 to 1300 A.D. was largely benign compared to a period that followed from 1300 to 1800 A.D. The former has been labelled by climatologists as the Medieval Optimum. Temperatures in Northern Europe appear to have been warmer with feudal Europe enjoying population growth, the emergence of cities, bumper harvests and much more physical evidence pointing to a fairly benign climate. The Vikings of Scandinavia flourished in this period and expanded their range from Northern Europe to Greenland, Iceland and Vinland (Newfoundland and Labrador). While Europe enjoyed a relatively warm and benign climate, evidence from North America shows persistent drought leading to the collapse of the Anasazi and Mayan civilizations in the Southwestern United States and Central America. We know about the drought conditions in North and Central America through tree rings and ocean sediments.

But something happened to the climate starting around 1300 A.D. and we can turn to historical written records to begin to understand what this period, known as the Little Ice Age, was like. We are fortunate that the science of astronomy arose during the period in question. Both in Europe and China solar observations indicated no or little sunspot activity throughout the period.  We also have hard science to support these historic observations because we can track the absence of radioactive elements that are byproducts of solar radiation through ice cores where bubbles give us samples of what the air was like when the ice was laid down. The absence of these radioactive elements confirms a cooler Sun.

Since 1800 we have seen a rise in global temperatures generally. Those who are skeptical about global warming often point to the historic evidence that warming and cooling seem to be cyclical and that the 500 years of warming followed by cooling is the norm. That means we are in the natural warming period that will end by 2300 before we plunge back into another little Ice Age. But unlike any earlier period of warming and cooling we now have the rise of our technical society, the Industrial Revolution, and the exploitation of fossil fuel energy and its atmospheric output. This is so recent a phenomenon that we cannot look to historic and geological records to easily find answers. What makes those records valuable to us is that they show that climate is a variable, not a constant and that the physical world impacts climate in a big way.

Burning Fossil Fuels Creates Disequilibrium

In David Archer’s “The Long Thaw” he describes the science behind global warming. Whereas weather beyond a few days is very unpredictable, Archer states that climate is not. Climate science on the other hand is tough work. Archer states, “The state of the warming forecast for the entire globe encompasses so much information that no one human mind could hold it all at one time.” Because of this scientists who study the atmosphere, ocean, biology, forestry, soils, and other disciplines formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC’s latest conclusions are unanimous.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide measured over the past 50 years has steadily climbed from 310 parts per million (PPM) to 380 PPM. Much of that increase is coming from human activity – burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. Fossil fuels contribute 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. That represents 1% of the biomass of the planet and is 20 times greater than the carbon represented in all human life on this planet. How does that number compare to the natural carbon cycle within the atmosphere? It is about 1/20th of the total amount of carbon cycled in the normal exchange between atmosphere, ocean and land annually. And while the Earth has found a balance in handling natural exchanges of carbon it is this injection of carbon from fossil fuels, carbon buried in the past, that is upsetting atmospheric equilibrium.

Soaking up this extra carbon is something that the natural world may not be able to do. There is only so much capacity to handle carbon and since the Earth has been doing it without human intervention up until now, through human intervention we will have to try to deal with the difference.

Consequences of  Climate Change

1. Local weather will change.

I live in Toronto, a relatively benign climate by Canadian standards. What will happen in Toronto over the next century may make the city more temperate. Our summers will be longer and warmer. We will hit 40 degrees Celsius on many summer days. We’ll run more air conditioning for longer. We’ll probably be able to grow plants we once thought of as exotic and they will survive our winter hibernation period. We’ll see some of our native wildlife vanish and new species from farther south arrive on our doorsteps. We’ll see the spread of insects that normally would have died because of our winters. We may experience variable precipitation and certainly atmospheric disturbances more akin to those that now happen in the U.S. Gulf and Mid-Atlantic states. That will mean greater incidents of tornadoes and severe weather.

That’s the picture of the local weather in Toronto. What will it be like in Greenland? Back in the time of the Viking colonization during the warming period between 800 and 1300 A.D., Greenland could support herds and crops. Today it has only limited capacity to support agriculture. But within this century agriculture on a larger scale will be possible on Greenland.

There is a greater problem with rising temperatures over Greenland and that is the melting of its glaciers. If summertime temperatures rise by 3 degrees Celsius Greenland will melt and we have no climate models to go on today that can predict what that will mean in terms of loss of ice mass. Will it be all of the ice or just some? What we do have right now is the evidence that the ice is melting faster than any of our previous predictions.

2. Polar and mountain glaciers will melt.

In Toronto we will be “getting off easy” compared to Northern Canada where the sea ice is shrinking with longer melts each summer. Greenland’s ice sheets will shed more icebergs as the melt increases glacial fluidity. The added fresh water to the North Atlantic will affect shore currents, fish stocks and the ocean flora and fauna. The permafrost, a contraction that means permanently frozen ground, will no longer exist.

In places like the Andes Mountains of Peru the mountain glaciers that feed the Amazon will vanish changing the dynamics of that river system dramatically. Similarly, the Himalayan glacial water sources for the great rivers of Asia will disappear with the same results as in the Amazon.

Antarctica will see a dramatic decrease in the thickness of its glacial cover. Today Antarctica is less impacted by the warming atmosphere than the Arctic largely because it is surrounded by water with the water acting as a heat sink reducing atmospheric warming. But nonetheless, Antarctica will warm up.

Our current climate models are based on observations of the behaviour of ice in stable climatic periods. We have never witnessed the end of an Ice Age. We may not be able to anticipate just how quickly glaciers can melt.

3. The seas will warm, sea levels will rise and the chemical composition of oceans will alter.

How much warmer? How much higher? How chemically altered?

By 2100 scientists predict a rise of between a half and one meter with the greatest impact on low-lying coastal areas. What is interesting is that not all the rise will be because of meltwater. The ocean is a heat sink and when the air above it warms the surface ocean picks up that heat. Warm water has greater volume than cold water so the increased warmth will contribute to rising sea levels as well.

Who will be impacted? The majority of humanity lives within 160 kilometers (100 miles) of seacoasts. So that means almost all of us but you can quickly name a number of countries and locations where sea levels will have dramatic impact: Bangladesh will virtually disappear, as will Florida, many island nations in the Pacific and Indian Ocean, and Holland. If New Orleans experienced the flood post-Katrina, imagine the consequence of a storm surge accompanied by rising sea levels on that City.

Warming will not stop in 2100 and sea levels, therefore, will continue to rise. So this is just the beginning of a much bigger problem.

In addition to the rise in sea levels, the chemistry of the ocean will change. The ocean is a carbon sink today but increase the amount of carbon and you acidify the ocean impacting life that uses calcium carbonate. All shelled creatures will be affected.

Add to this the potential for methane upwelling from “permanently” stored methyl hydrates that found in ocean sediments. Methane releases into the atmosphere represent another greenhouse gas to add to a warming atmosphere.

4. Permafrost will melt.

The Canadian and Siberian tundra has thousands of square kilometers of permanently frozen ground. This permafrost is not so permanent. We know that permafrost contains quantities of methane and should it melt even more methane will enter the atmosphere further exacerbating the warming.

Why are we concerned about methane? Because there is geological evidence of methane spikes in the atmosphere going back 55 million years when there was a significant change in the Earth’s flora and fauna resulting from a rather rapid warming of the atmosphere.

Are We Doomed?

Sounds hopeless doesn’t it. But it’s not. We are a technical society. We understand the scientific method and how to interpret results of scientific investigations. We have the means to communicate the challenge of a warming planet to all humanity. We may lack the political will at present but as our planet warms we will increasingly recognize the peril we face and implement policy and technologies that can limit the impact. Of course we could be like the frog sitting in a glass pot unaware that he is being boiled to death slowly. But let’s not go there. So in subsequent blogs we’ll look at solutions to climate change.


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...

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  • Ask why is it so?

    I have so many questions and I’ve been searching the web but when you have specific questions the answers just aren’t there. You seem to know a lot about global warming/climate change and I thought you might be able to help.
    How does the CO2 molecule increase the temperature of the earth?
    In all the graphs CO2 goes up what makes it go down?
    If CO2 drives temperature up what makes the temperature go down?
    Wouldn’t the air temperature in Antarctica have to be above 0 before the surface ice will melt?
    How do the molecules in the atmosphere increase the temperature above the temperature produced by Solar radiation to increase the warming of the planet?
    If CO2 is heavier than air and in a cold environment like Antarctica a higher concentration of CO2 would be closer to the surface than would be in a tropical environment, wouldn’t the data on CO2 concentration collected from the ice core data be exaggerated; and by that CO2 concentrations in the past over the whole planet were considerably less than now?
    If this is a possibility wouldn’t that alter all computer modeling of future temperature?
    When an Ice Core is taken and brought to 1 atm from 1+ atm is the pressure differential taken into account when the data is collected?
    As Ice has the maximum reflective ability to Solar radiation, is it air temperature produced by CO2 that is considered in climate modules that will melt the ice?
    Do you know the maximum radiation absorption/re-emission ability of CH4, H2O and CO2 molecules in the atmosphere?

    • In answer to your excellent questions I will try and explain this from a layman’s perspective. I am not a scientist but am an avid researcher and so I hope that what I say provides clarity.

      How does the CO2 molecule increase the temperature of the earth?

      CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases include Methane, Ozone, Nitrous Oxide, water vapour and a number of Noble gases. These gases have the ability to absorb infrared radiation at higher capacity rates than oxygen and nitrogen, the two dominant gases of the atmosphere. It is the atomic construct of these gas molecules that makes them effective absorbers of solar radiation. Air molecules such as oxygen (O2) and nitrogen (N2) are not a combination of two elements. When infrared interacts with these molecules little energy is transferred. But when solar radiation encounters a gas molecule consisting of a combination of elements as in CO2, solar energy is absorbed. Hence a higher absorptive heat transfer rate. There are other gases in the atmosphere that consist of multiple elements. Carbon monoxide (CO) is one. But CO quickly breaks down in the atmosphere and therefore doesn’t have the same impact as the more stable dual element gases.

      In all the graphs CO2 goes up what makes it go down?

      There are lots of graphs that show changes in CO2 both up and down. Our planet Earth actually breaths and there is an annual CO2 cycle in the atmosphere. In the summer plants absorb CO2 and graphically this is represented by a down spike. In the winter CO2 levels go up. Because the northern hemisphere has a larger continental mass than the southern, a graph showing CO2 concentrations displays lower CO2 levels in the northern summer and higher levels in its winter. More biomass in the north means less CO2. But I think you are asking if there is within the geological record periods of time when there was less CO2. And there is strong physical evidence of many periods of lower CO2 just as there are periods in the recent geological record (the last 55 million years or so) when CO2 levels are higher than today.. From ice, sediment and rock cores we can trace the rise and fall of CO2 levels corresponding to glacial and interglacial periods.

      If CO2 drives temperature up what makes the temperature go down?

      CO2 is only one element in a complex of many elements on this planet. We know that water vapour is a greenhouse gas but cloud cover which consists of water vapour as clouds decreases the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth’s surface. So although water vapour and higher humidity increases heat capacity, cloud cover reflects sun light and reduces the amount of solar radiation striking the earth. Ice such as in the glaciers of the Antarctic and the sea ice of the Arctic are highly reflective so that solar radiation bounces back into space. Deserts reflect solar radiation while forests absorb radiation. Deserts may be hot during the day but they chill down dramatically at night because the sand has very low heat capacity.

      What else can make the overall temperature go down? Less greenhouse gases because these gases have higher heat capacity than the dominant atmospheric gases and change the overall heat capacity of the atmosphere. We can little to alter the natural carbon cycle of the planet but we can do something about the industrial carbon cycle that increases CO2 and other greenhouse gases in sufficient quantity to change our climate.

      Wouldn’t the air temperature in Antarctica have to be above 0 before the surface ice will melt?

      Antarctica is a very interesting case. Since the continental plate moved to its present position some 35 million years ago it has become an isolated land mass completely surrounded by ocean. This has contributed greatly to its glaciation and it has been pretty much ice bound for much of those 35 million years. Today Antarctica seldom sees 0 as a daytime temperature. But increasingly we are seeing temperature spikes and sustained daytime temperatures above 0 in some areas of Antarctica and the areas in question are close to ice shelves like the Larsen and Ross. When these ice shelves begin to break up because of the increasing warmth of not only the air above but the water below, heated by air, then we alter the nature of Antarctica’s ice system which consists of reasonably stable ice shelves on the edge of the continent holding back the movement of glaciers that form from the snow pack on the continent itself. Without the ice shelf to hold the glaciers back they become more unstable. There are some recent NASA images that show how the ice flows on Antarctica and at what rate it flows from the centre of the continent. We don’t have models complex enough to predict what may happen across Antarctica but one thing we do know. The ice is changing at the ice shelves first and when the shelves go the flow pattern of the glaciers may change. Warmer air, warmer oceans, less sea ice, Antarctica will be altered. Will it be ice free? Probably not for a very long time.

      How do the molecules in the atmosphere increase the temperature above the temperature produced by solar radiation to increase the warming of the planet?

      See my previous answer about how the CO2 molecule increases the temperature of the earth.

      If CO2 is heavier than air and in a cold environment like Antarctica a higher concentration of CO2 would be closer to the surface than would be in a tropical environment, wouldn’t the data on CO2 concentration collected from the ice core data be exaggerated; and by that CO2 concentrations in the past over the whole planet were considerably less than now?

      This is a very good question and one that gets asked by those who feel that climate change is a canard. There is a certain logic to what you ask. When we look at the atmospheric composition of trapped air within ice is it only measuring a sample that reflects local atmosphere or is it measuring a global sample? I think that really is your question. The atmospheric engine moves from the equator to the poles and back on a simplistic level. This is like a giant conveyor belt. So air samples trapped in ice reflect global atmospheric conditions not local ones. I think it is important to understand that ice cores are collected not only from Antarctica but from alpine glaciers and Arctic glaciers. If all show a similar pattern of rising levels of CO2, and they do, I think it brings into question the notion that Antarctica has a special relationship with CO2. I think it is worth looking at some of the science behind ice core sampling. A good site to visit is: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Paleoclimatology_IceCores/

      Your other observation related to the heavier nature of the CO2 molecule has no real bearing on the measuring of air trapped in ice. Heavier or lighter the composition of trapped air should reflect general air composition.

      If this is a possibility wouldn’t that alter all computer modeling of future temperature?

      Computer modeling is not the issue. Measuring is. We are seeing rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. In parallel we are seeing a rise in average temperatures. We are also witnessing a similar rise in methane. The correlation between these rises and the burning of fossil fuels is pretty compelling.

      When an Ice Core is taken and brought to 1 atm from 1+ atm is the pressure differential taken into account when the data is collected?

      Let me refer you to the website I provided earlier on the science of collecting ice core samples and the reading of the results from these samples.

      As Ice has the maximum reflective ability to Solar radiation, is it air temperature produced by CO2 that is considered in climate modules that will melt the ice?

      I’m not sure I understand this question. Ice reflects solar radiation. So this radiation tends not to be captured within the atmosphere. But CO2 molecules do capture infrared radiation and have absorptive properties that qualify as a greenhouse gas.

      Do you know the maximum radiation absorption/re-emission ability of CH4, H2O and CO2 molecules in the atmosphere?

      I know that when I pose this question in Google I get lots of chemical charts showing absorption capacity for every one of these gases. As much as I know scientists can skew data out of self interest, the IPCC represents hundreds of the best science institutes and minds focused on the issue of climate change and atmospheric warming. There are numerous publications dealing with the chemistry of the atmosphere and the absorptive and adsorptive rates of greenhouse gases.

      Keep asking questions. But better yet look for solutions from within our technical competence as humans. Because that’s what this blog is exploring – solving human problems through the application of 21st century technologies.

      • Ask why is it so?

        Thank you for your prompt reply to my questions and for your answers. My concern is that with the ever increasing urban sprawl we humans are altering the absorption/reflection ratio of the planet and this will cause increased global warming. I have been looking at how much radiation is reflected and absorbed by different colours and found at one site a record temperature recorded was 70+ degrees C in Lut Desert in Iran. The reason for the extreme temperature is because the desert is covered in black lava rock. I look at a bitumen road and think of the Lut Desert. We erect buildings without any consideration how the structure will affect the temperature. New building estates are reducing the exposed grasslands and reducing them to bricks, concrete and bitumen. I do not know the absorption/reflective abilities of the materials but if more is absorbed and less is reflected the temperature will go up. Well that’s what I believe. Thanks again for your answers and I will have a good read of the Ice Core Site.

        • There is no doubt that different surface materials have different heat capacities. Black materials are non reflective and therefore more heat absorbing. I always remember the lyrics “paved paradise and put up a parking lot” when I think about micro-climate heating. Cities are enormous heat sinks in the summer and even in winter. They are to heat and temperature what a planet and star are to gravity fields. But they are a creator of micro-climates. They overall do not reflect the larger climatic picture. Deserts such as you have described have a larger impact on temperature and the atmosphere. The Sahara region of Africa and the Gobi in Mongolia are today major players in our atmospheric engine. But as CO2 increases in the atmosphere we may see these areas playing more significant roles as drought prone regions enlarge. The extremes you talk about in terms of temperature may be even more exaggerated with more CO2 present.

  • A newly published CERN study indicates just how much we still have to learn to understand our atmospheric engine and what impacts it. Climate change isn’t just about greenhouse gases. Clouds play a significant part in atmospheric cooling and the CERN study suggests that cosmic rays have a part in cloud formation.

    You can read about the implications of the study at http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/Home/Archive/Cern_study_gives_insight_into_cloud_formation.html?cid=30994792. The study, aptly named CLOUD, standing for Cosmics Leaving Outdoor Droplets, shows that cosmic rays play an important role in the formation of aerosol particles in the upper troposphere. If you are unfamiliar with the term, troposphere, that is the near earth atmosphere where we humans and all other air-breathing life on the planet spend most of the time. How significant are cosmic rays in cloud formation? That remains an unknown. We do know that clouds are seeded by aerosol particles. That’s the theory behind cloud seeding that led the Beijing Olympics to deploy thousands in an action to keep rain away from the opening ceremonies for the Games in 2008.

    The CLOUD experiment revealed that chemicals such as ammonia, sulphuric acid and water when combined with cosmic ray bombardment from space, do not sufficiently explain observations of aerosol formation in the atmosphere and that human-generated pollutants may play a far more significant role in cloud formation.

    For climate change skeptics the CLOUD experiment fuels the anti-change debate. After all if our climate is controlled by cosmic rays then what do greenhouse gases really contribute? Climatologists recognize the role clouds play in moderating atmospheric temperatures and that climate models need to take cloud formation into consideration. Nevertheless, the overwhelming evidence shows that greenhouse gases, whether naturally produced by the planet’s carbon cycle, or industrially produced by our human civilization, are the main drivers of temperature change, and as a result, the main concern.

    • The CLOUD experiment abstract states the following: “A striking correlation has recently been observed between global cloud cover and the flux of incident cosmic rays. The effect of natural variations in the cosmic ray flux is large, causing estimated changes in the Earth’s energy radiation balance that are comparable to those attributed to greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution. However a direct link between cosmic rays and cloud formation has not been unambiguously established.”

      The study was meant to look at aerosol nucleation in the atmosphere and not make pronouncements on which was more important to rising atmospheric termperatures, cosmic rays or greenhouse gases. Instead the data has been interpreted to support a theory that cosmic rays, cloud formation and climate are linked. and are the dominant driver of climate change. According to the study “the basic purpose of the CLOUD detector … is to confirm, or otherwise, a direct link between cosmic rays and cloud formation by measuring droplet formation in a controlled test-beam environment.” The study within that context is valid. However, the study does not show that cosmic rays are actually responsible for some part of the recent atmospheric warming. For the study to be validated it would need to show that there was actually a decreasing trend in cosmic rays bombarding the upper atmosphere in recent decades. Unfortunately for climate change skeptics, the evidence shows that no such decrease has occurred.

      Sometimes scientific results get spun to support a political objective. The CERN CLOUD study is a good example of this. For more information read http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/08/the-cerncloud-results-are-surprisingly-interesting/

  • Greenland is melting! It sounds a little like the Wicked Witch of the West but it’s not a movie. On MS-NBC today, September 1, 2011, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44353322/ns/us_news-environment/#.Tl-U-Wrw-vM, there is an article describing the breakup of the Petermann Glacier from summer 2009 to summer 2011. The Petermann is located in Northern Greenland and it has lost 5 meters (16 1/2 feet) in height over the last few years and calved sections of the glacier into a fjord. These bergs are as big or bigger than Manhattan Island. The pictures at the site are stunning. An ice shelf that was 20 kilometers across (about 12 miles) has completely vanished.The breaking off of ice from the glacier is the largest seen in 150 years.

    The loss of Petermann ice was seen as extreme when compared to other areas of Greenland but the larger pattern of ice loss throughout Northern Greenland can be traced to rising temperatures over the land mass.Greenland’s glaciers have collectively lost more than 1,500 square kilometers (592.6 square miles) of ice between 2000 and 2010.