I took a cultural geography course in summer of 1970 at the College of San Mateo. The instructor frequently referred to a book entitled Hell is a Hot Place, as an example of geographical determinism. The title stuck in my head, especially since that summer I was working as a field hand in the commercial chrysanthemum industry, where my days were spent in very hot (and often hellish) greenhouses. My understanding of the "greenhouse effect" is very intimate and personal.
This has been month for revelations from the Arctic. September 19, 2007 the Agence France-Presse (AFP) released news from Greenland, where "The Jakobshavn Glacier, on Greenland's west coast, is melting twice as fast as 10 years ago and advancing toward the sea at 12 kilometres (seven miles) per year, compared with six kilometres (three and a half miles) before." The story along with interviews with researchers from summer 2006, was also featured on the Weather Channel last week. Video of raging rivers of ice melt water pouring into moulins in the ice sheet dramatically drove home the rapidity of change in Greenland.
Increases in the size and rate of ice melt from the Greenland ice sheet have direct consequences for populations in coastal areas (about 60 percent of the world's population lives within 100 kilometers of a shore line). The dramatic increases in ice melt in Greenland in 2006, suggest that estimates by the IPCC for sea rise and shoreline inundation may be far too low, since the report is based on research collected prior to 2006. The media responses to news from Greenland that I saw all showed the same level of dismay and concern about the impact of ice melt on sea level world wide.
The other news, that got more media attention, was the report from National Snow and Ice Data Center University of Colorado at Boulder that the minimal summer ice extent for the Arctic ocean this year (2007), was 1.59 million square miles, compared to 2.05 million square miles in 2005 the previous lowest amount recorded. Before one of you global warming deniers goes ballistic, of course I know that the satellite record only goes back to 1979 -- that how long we've had satellite capability -- it is also known by every climatologist and Arctic scientist who reports on this. However satellite records are not the only thing we have. As reported by CNN.com "scientists studied observable data for the same period [1953-2006], including shipping logs, aerial photos and satellite images, they discovered the actual figure for ice loss from 1953 until 2006 to be 7.8 percent." Which was more than twice what the climate change models had predicted.
And for pity sakes people, there's a huge difference between barely managing to scrape your boat through ice that constantly rubs against the hull and take 8 months to 3 years to get through the "northwest passage" to having an easily navigable ice free passage that any ordinary cargo ship could handle in routinely in less time than it takes to go through the Panama Canal. No that doesn't exist yet, but its appears from the data and the experience of arctic sailors a whole lot more likely now than any time in the history of written accounts of northwest passage voyages. Check out the YouTube from The Wall Street Journal -- not exactly a bastion of liberalism -- showing an sailors in the northwest passage in 2005 and 2007.
[My first attempt at embedding a YouTube video has not gone well -- so see the post above for the actual video]
I'm not sure which set of reactions to the news is most disturbing: the global warming deniers "ain't true, ain't true" chant, OR the industry/government "goody, goody now we can get the oil and gas" chorus.
The global warming denial approach, such as found on the Newsbusters blog, usually begin by reminding us that the "record" on Arctic ice only goes back to 1979 (see above). They especially like to trot out "Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer who successfully navigated the Northwest Passage on August 26, 1905." Never mind that Amundsen required two long stops to "winter over" and only finally broke through the final stretches of the Northwest Passage on August 30, 1906 (more than a year after his self congratulatory telegram to Norway)-- check out the PBS maps and details of the voyage). I was particularly interested in the fact that the Newsbusters blog post criticizing concerns about Arctic ice melting was soundly supported by commenter's adhering to the "young earth" theory of creationism. Sometimes I think one really should judge an idea by who supports it.
On the other hand there is the excitement of Russian and Canadian government over the possibility of being able to safely exploit petroleum and natural gas reserves in an ice free Arctic. "Russia, Norway, Denmark, Canada and the United States are among countries in a race to secure rights to the Arctic that heated up last month when Russia sent two small submarines to plant its national flag under the North Pole. A U.S. study has suggested as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden in the area." (Huffington Post)