Letter: Climate scientists were not accurate
I have to admit that climate science fell behind reality not too long ago. The effects of the manmade global warming that over 97 percent of us who are scientists acknowledge (note that I say “acknowledge” rather than “believe in”) were underestimated.
Scientists are careful people and it is no real surprise that they were too conservative. Recent findings have told us that the situation is much worse than anyone expected. The effect of greenhouse gases is being amplified greatly as methane is being released from the melting permafrost and Arctic ice.
Permafrost comprises 24 percent of the land in the Northern Hemisphere, and stores massive amounts of carbon. As a result of climate change, permafrost is melting, releasing the stored carbon in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, which are powerful heat-trapping gases. In addition, permafrost is structurally important, and its melting has been known to cause erosion, disappearance of lakes, landslides, and ground subsidence. It will also cause changes in plant species composition at high latitudes. As it melts, trapped methane gas is released and methane has been estimated to be up to 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. This means that warming will accelerate and cause even more methane release. This is what is known as a “positive feedback loop” where a cycle of effects reinforces each other and produces accelerated growth of a process. More and more climate scientists are reevaluating their models based on these new events. The result is not good news.
The possibility that we have passed a “tipping point” is being discussed with great concern. If we have, there is no way we can hope to reverse not only the effects but also the acceleration of the growth of the effects.
A number of other effects of manmade global warming are tied to this. The oceans are involved in a number of ways. First of all, they are warming. As they warm a number of things happen. The warming water expands. This adds to the sea level rise due to melting of on land ice. Hence predictions of sea level rise are increasing in magnitude and time of onset.
More dissolved carbon dioxide raises the acidity of the ocean water with effects harmful to life of many forms and we see coral reefs in danger as a result.
It is important to recognize the difference between climate and weather especially where we live. Global warming has produced another unexpected change, this one in climate that affects our local weather. The jet stream has been destabilized because it is driven by the temperature gradient between Arctic air and air below the Arctic. Global warming has a greater warming effect on the Arctic than elsewhere so that the driving gradient is diminishing.
As a result, the jet stream has begun to meander and we have experienced the result as cooler Arctic air visits us more often. The same set of pattern changes has resulted in drought in the West and overall record high average temperature on the planet.
It is hard to blame climate scientists for being too conservative as they are attacked by deniers who are paid by the titans of the fossil fuel industry. More care by the public would have been useful, but the media is not as free as we often imagine and money talks, so to speak. It is time to get this whole denial scenario over with for we have to act soon and to do it effectively. It is not a matter to be left to partisan politics, especially now that money has amplified its influence.
The future of our children and of future generations is at stake. No other issue we face can be as devastating to their future as this.
Donald C. Mikulecky, PhD