‘Berg Business

March 5, 2011

Due maybe to the horrendous fact there’s so much weird, threatening news happening near-constantly, every day, day-in-day-out,  a small blip on the event radar from last August couldn’t even register on the memory scale.
On Aug. 5, according to satellite-photos from NASA, an enormous chunk of ice, roughly 97 square miles in size (one of the biggest such things, ever), broke off the Petermann Glacier, along the northwestern coast of Greenland.
And for awhile, some observers were afraid the “unstoppable” ice island would be carried south by ocean currents down into highly-trafficked waters off Newfoundland — dotted with oil platforms along with the international shipping lanes.
Fortunately, the iceberg apparently kind of shattered into a load of smaller pieces, and crisis a-la-strange was once again averted.
Why did such an event occur in the first place is the real story here.

(Illustration found here).

Frozen stuff will melt if its environment  is changed/warmed, fairly basic — the perpetual ice-cube dropped and forgotten on the kitchen counter, for instance.
Hence, it shouldn’t be such a shock climate change/global warming is quickly-accelerating the melting process of all kinds of things, like glaciers in the US and South American, Tibet, and the ice sheets, cornered at the top/bottom North and South polar regions — even consider the melting away of moisture in the Amazon River Basin, as if ultimate end of melting would be drought via desertification.
And as plenty of climate/weather events are happening right now, even so-called “scientific models,” created to forecast and predict shit, have been made complicated by shifting situations on the ground — i.e., the disclosure just this past week the ice sheets might be freezing not only on top, but underwater, and freezing, melting, then freezing again, and again, and again.
Scientist Robin Bell told msnbc.com (link above): “This matters to how fast ice will flow and how fast ice sheets will change. It also means that ice sheet models are not correct,” she said, comparing it to “trying to figure out how a car will drive but forgetting to add the tires. The performance will be very different if you are driving on the rims.”

Whoa — Ms Bell pitched a hard-cross-genre analogy, but the effect is startling as it would most-indeed be a horrifying ride.
In other words — beyond the rimless-Road Warrior image — is that nobody knows nothing for sure, other than the trip’s going to be shitty.
Two years ago almost to the day, scientists gathered at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science warned of “a future climate that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in climate model simulations” and because of those damnable self reinforcing feedback mechanisms in global ecosystems, the whole sum-total is really just near-about unpredictable at this point.
And then there’s the literal at-the-whim-of-the-winds routine, an erratic pattern of cause and effect.
A good synopsis of this can be found at Climate Central in a post on Bering Sea water now cooling after warming up like most of the world’s oceans the last few years.
So thusly, climate change might be by far the biggest, nastiest shit-storm ever to face humanity, at least anytime in the last several-thousand years; a bona fide, horny-toad and horrifying dilemma.

In attempts to keep current, Jeff Masters, at Dr. Jeff Masters’ Wunder Blog, is a great source for climate-change-weather-related shit like tornadoes, hurricanes, and other such fun things.
In a post yesterday (Friday), Masters discussed at great, interesting length (with charts, graphs and maps) the “unstoppable” chunk of ice and the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet as per civilization.
A couple of snips:

Greenland’s climate in 2010 was marked by record-setting high air temperatures, the greatest ice loss by melting since accurate records began in 1958, and the greatest mass loss of ocean-terminating glaciers on record.
That was the conclusion of the 2010 Arctic Report Card, a collaborative effort between NOAA and European Arctic experts that comes out each year.
Was 2010 the warmest year in Greenland’s history?
That is difficult to judge.
We know it was also very warm in the late 1920s and 1930s in Greenland, but we only have two stations, Godtahab Nuuk and Angmagssalik, with weather records that go back that far.
Godtahab Nuuk set a record high in 2010, but temperatures at Angmagssalik in 2010 were similar to what was observed during several years in the 1920s and 1930s.
Marco Tedesco of the City College of New York’s Cryosphere Processes Laboratory remarked that last year’s record warmth and melting in Greenland began when an unusually early spring warm spell reduced and “aged” the snow on the surface of the ice sheet, so that the snow became less reflective, allowing it to absorb more heat from the sun.
This accelerated snow melt even further, exposing the bare ice, which is less reflective than snow and absorbs more heat.
This feedback loop extended Greenland’s record melting season well into the fall.

The major concern with a warming climate in Greenland is melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which currently contributes about 25% of the observed 3 mm/year (1.2 inches per decade) global rise in sea level.
Higher sea levels mean increased storm surge inundation, coastal erosion, loss of low-lying land areas, and salt water contamination of underground drinking water supplies.
Greenland ice mass loss is accelerating over the long term, according to independent estimates using three different techniques, with more mass being lost each year than the previous year.
According to Rignot et al., 2011, ice mass loss is also accelerating in Antarctica, and “the magnitude of the acceleration suggests that ice sheets will be the dominant contributors to sea level rise in forthcoming decades, and will likely exceed the IPCC projections for the contribution of ice sheets to sea level rise in the 21st century.”
As I discussed in a 2009 blog post, How much will global sea level rise this century?, the IPCC in 2007 estimated that global sea level would rise 0.6 – 1.9 feet by 2100, but several studies since then predict a higher range of 1.6 – 6.6 feet.

Again that accelerated, near-unpredictable aspect of the weather business nowadays.
And again, as if in an ironic joke with a gibberish punchline: For the second time in two years, a rocket glitch sent a NASA global warming satellite to the bottom of the sea Friday, a $424 million debacle that couldn’t have come at a worse time for the space agency and its efforts to understand climate change.
And this means…? Ruth DeFries, the Columbia University professor who co-chaired the 2007 National Academies of Science panel, said in an e-mail that this matters for everyone on Earth. “The nation’s weakening Earth-observing system is dimming the headlights needed to guide society in managing our planet in light of climate change and other myriad ways that humans are affecting the land, atmosphere and oceans,” DeFries wrote.

And a major hurdle to combating climate change…? Regrettably, politics trumps science among House Republicans, who recently voted to zero out this country’s extremely modest $2.3 million annual commitment to the IPCC. The bill also slashes spending on a half-dozen domestic programs that study the causes and effects of climate change.

Truly, the business of the ‘bergs.

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