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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Global Climate Change: solving the jigsaw


With the attention on the "Global Warming" phenomenon, most people will be attributing this as the reason for "freak weather" and recently unpredictable climate changes (as the weather is not changing seasonally as it has been in the past century.)

Like most discussions on the topic, the illustration here jumps to explaining "cause." However, actual Global warming itself is an average increase of global temperature by 1 degree Farenheit. This would mean that the effect, despite specific points in the globe having upto 12 degrees Farenheit increase, the overall temperature average remains less altered. It is therefore too judgmental to pin massive climate changes on global warming itself.

Read on for a deeper explanation of how and why the massive weather changes occur ...


Water World

To understand why "global warming" itself is not a good indicator of massive weather changes, we must recall the fact that the earth is covered by 70.8% of water and only the rest is land. With polar ice-caps melting, this number could change by a dangerous 5%, which is enough to sink 15% of all land.

Africa, Asia, Australia (with North America and the much larger landmass of South America out of the picture) - are all easily encompassed by the mighty Pacific ocean. Of course betwen Africa and America there's the Atlantic ocean too. Enveloped by Africa, Asia and Australia is the Indian ocean.

The size of the Pacific ocean is daunting to most of us. The images to the right are from "Google Earth" - showing you the relative size of the oceans. We must also remember that the North Pole is entirely an icecap with no landmass below it. Antarctica can be counted as a landmass, that would be the reason, polar ice-cap melting would only result in 15% of land-cover (in comparison to present land-cover) disappearing if the ice-caps melted in total. Yet, no unprecedented event excepting the very change of the earth's crust can completely submerge or remove all of earth's continents.

Heating of the oceans does little help to massively affect global temperatures, thereby reducing the actual impact of global warming to 1 degree Farenheit. Most geologists would tell us that we are actually experiencing an 'ice-age', and within the context of the ice-age, we are in an interglacial period (where there is much lesser ice-cover) on the planet. 

The periods outside the ice-age are much warmer and less conducive to the "warm-blooded" life-forms, while cold-blooded life-forms would find it easier to use external heat for survival. 

To put this in context, our Jurassic predecessors (reptiles) thrived in such a climate much better where the average temperature was much higher (also accounting for a larger number of life-forms) to have inhabited the oceans. This temperature was 5 degrees Celsius warmer throughout the globe - in context, the world would have been 41 degrees Farenheit warmer. A mere 1 degree F rise in world temperature is extremely disturbing to us, a 41 degree F change would easily wipe us out. The good news however is that the earth has been cooling since 200 million years ago, and reached the first icy land-mark about 65 million years ago - with a total of five ice ages following. Ice age glacial temperatures are also on an average 40 degree F lower (globally) - which would put the peak change on surface temperature at Antarctic levels. 

"Essentially global warming in an interglacial period is a good thing." The onset of the next glacial period which is long overdue (by about 5,000 years - the interval is usually 10,000 yrs, but this inter-glacial period that has allowed humans to dominate is already 15,000 yrs.)

Warmer Land

Temperatures on land are also regulated both by wind currents and ocean currents. Land has a tendency to reach a maxim faster and a minimum faster (which is effected by the sun) and the 'solid' nature of the land cover. That would mean average increases in land temperature are not the right indicators. The proper indicators that would show us "global climate change" would be daily changes in Maximum and Minimum temperatures surface air temperatures over land - which presently even in the tropics is becoming closer to continental climate where this number is high.

Maxima and Minima data for land air temperatures
This scale is in degrees Celsius and is indicative of a much larger change than degrees Farenheit (should we convert) and also shows us that the impact on land is much higher. This is why we are feeling the 'heat' in our cities.

[ update: (Energy Consumption...) section added on 21-Nov-2013 ]

Energy Consumption Ratios

There has been accurate measurment of radiative energy absorption imbalance across the earth. WIth the 70:30 (water:land), one should expect an energy imbalance. However the imbalance is much higher than projected by statistical deviation.

The oceans, atmosphere and ice cover, strip away 97% of the (solar) energy received by the earth. That leaves land with a capability of receiving only 3% of the solar energy from the Sun.

Even 1% of Solar energy is significant enough, however logic would indicate that harvesting energy from the reductionist source, however efficient, is unlikely to yeild results. This has become the main reason for solar energy to take a back-seat in the search for non-conventional energy source alternatives.

Harvesting energy from Ocean depths on the other hand needs to be done with better understanding as our present knowledge of marine ecosystems is insufficient. This is other daunting part of the puzzle, where water in the ocean, with higher specific heat capacity can retain the energy for a longer duration.

Albedo Effect

The most direct ways in which we affect the earth's temperature and therefore weather, consequently climate is observed in the "Albedo Effect."

The reduction of polar ice-caps increases rentetive heat and therefore higher night-time temperatures in both land and sea. This would be the first major player in what we experience as freak weather. 

This is also compounded by "deforestation" (forests have lower albedo [whiteness] as compared to concrete or arid land or roads.) White reflects heat, while darker colors absorb heat. Now this doesn't balance actual global heating as the land surface cover is too little. Hence all discussions end up with "greenhouse gases" - the chief of which is not increase in CO2 levels, but rather increase in "water vapor" (a far more dangerous green-house gas.) The more adverse weather we have, the feedback loop increases as water (H2O) has a high 'heat capacity' than any other gas on earth. Worse yet, H2O (as vapor) is a lighter gas than CO2 and can rise up the atmosphere worsening the heating. 

Hence those living in tropical regions are the first to experience dramatic increases in temperature, as opposed to those living in much closer to the Arctic or Antarctic circles (where the opposite effect is observed.)

The kickstarter: Ozone Layer depletion

Ozone hole covering Antarctica
The real bad news is that the Ozone layer is for the most part responsible in warding of radiant heat, and the Ozone hole is currently converging into the Antarctic region. This would mean that the South pole ice-caps would melt much faster, exposing the land in the Antarctic (which unlike the ocean) will have higher temperature deltas (once the ice-cap is totally removed.) Such a process might take many centuries, but will increase rather geometrically (than linearly.) 

The "green-house" effect is merely a compounding effect to this. The continued attempt to use CFCs as parts of cooling equipment, including Air conditioners, Climate Control systems and Dispersal agents is sufficient enough to compound the danger. The Ozone holes split in two about two decades ago, but these have converged into one ozone hole.

Ocean current changes

Ocean currents are like large seasonal wind/monsoon systems within the oceans. These are movements of channels of water under the sea between warm and cold regions. The cold regions are kept this way by constant saline content, while the warmer regions are kept this way by varying (usually decreasing saline content.) The ocean currents therefore flow between these two regions. The chief ocean currents that affect the earth are the "El Nino" (literally 'little boy') and "El Nina" (literally 'little girl'.) Contrary to their name, these are possibly the largest ever ocean currents recorded. The circumpolar cold currents are the ones that are being depleted presently. Desalination of water, will result in the shutting down of entire ocean current systems. These systems affect similar currents, although much faster and violent in the earth's atmosphere. 

Atmospheric Currents

The atmospheric currents, despite their faster nature have so far been affected by solar radiation and therefore have been heavily dependent on seasons. These directly give rise to seasonal weather systems we are aware off. These currents have been disrupted, but not to an effect that is yet far too severe. The bad news is, changes in atmospheric currents can only get worse.

The first to be hit are the equatorial doldrums, whose change has resulted in temperate super-storms or super-cyclones that have been occuring with far more intensity than we have experienced in the past. Gradually the Polar ice currents close to the arctic circle will also be disrupted. This would then send the entire planet into a climate change where the maximum and minimum temperature differentials would be almost 40-100 degrees Farenheit on land. That would be sufficient to give rise to unprecedented severe weather, newer diseases, reduce human immune system efficiency (which still requires stable atmospheric temperature despite our warmblooded capability.) 

The K-Wave

In a rather accidental attempt to gauge changes in world economy, the Russian Scientist Kondratiev discovered a much larger cycle. Since his original research was to gauge only economic and socio-economic changes, the K-wave observation has been a critical piece of the puzzle. There are sub-harmonics and super-harmonics of the same wave that coincide with the 65 year 'Sirius cycle' (as astronomically observed) - which is usually the period of climatic cycles. Any larger harmonics of this cycle are still being researched as we require more paleoclimatic data.

Solar cycles, Electromagnetism and Atmospheric anomalies

Incidentally Kondratiev landed on a cycle that is synchronous with the Earth's sunspot cycle (11.5 years) and the Sun's magnetic field reversal which is a 22-23 year cycle. Each time the Sun's magnetic field is affected, the earth's magnetic field consequently is affected and changes to the electromagnetism of the atmosphere result in further weather changes.

Independently electromagnetic atmospheric changes have a rather static effect on the weather we experience. However, in combination with the ozone hole, adverse temperature effect, the electromagnetic atmospheric changes also contribute intensely to processes such as photoelectric heating and cooling at the level of the ionosphere. This results in the formation of newer upper atmospheric currents that were originally non-existent. 

When India was being hit by the Cyclone 'Phailin' and the Cyclone 'Nari' had first hit the Philippines, the northern Jet-Streams (two powerful Atmospheric Jet streams across the Atlantic) were disrupted so badly that instead of crossnig the Atlantic, they curved and ended up in the Arctic circle. This resulted in the onset of cold weather into tropical regions of the American and European continents. The worse news is that the super-storms including 'Nari', 'Thirty', 'Haiyan' and 'Phailin' originated as weather systems in the Western Pacific. 'Phailin' became a storm only after having crossed the Thai coast, while the rest have been storms prior and have crossed Philippines, Indo-China and reached India (though Philippines has faced the worst brunt of the storms.) The massive oceanic body of the Pacific is generating larger storm systems than we have ever experienced and these are causing havoc across the globe. 

Putting together the Global Climate Change Puzzle

It would be imperative to connect these pieces of the puzzle and layout the actual reasons for global climate change in the present. I am listing them in the order of their impact on weather and thereby climate itself.
  1. Inter-Glacial period reaching a maxima possibly due for the next Ice-Age
  2. Ozone layer converging on the Antarctic
  3. Albedo Effect on Land
  4. Polar ice-cap melting disrupting Ocean currents increasing atmospheric water vapor
  5. Disruption of Atmospheric Currents
  6. Solar cycle (usually referred to as the Sun-Spot cycle) affecting Earth's Magnetic field
  7. Earth's Massive water cover - especially the Pacific ocean
Interestingly the "greenhouse gases" don't even count as there have been ice-ages with larger volumes of greenhouse gases present. However water vapor as the chief greenhouse gas contributing to the climate change is indirectly related the Ozone layer depletion. The Sun also has the capability to wipe out the Ozone layer (without any human interference), while the earth's electromagnetic belts are much too thin.

In another, small, but definite way, the extreme usage of electromagnetic radiation (radio waves) for communication) disrupts the earth's already thin electromagnetic cover. This would permit "gamma radiation" and "cosmic background radiation" to reach the earth faster - further depleting the ionosphere (not just the Ozone layer.)

Conclusion

As humans, we have accelerated these weather changes to the earth. In simplicity faster industrial production, use of EM communication, submarine communication, deforestation are all accelerators to weather change. The disruption of ocean currents has resulted in destruction of deep-sea ecosystems causing the death of many deep-sea creatures including squids, octupuses, whales, dolphins. We have merely accelerated a process that has been referred to as the Holocoene extinction. While the process did start about 12,000 years ago with changes in weather becoming conducive at first to mammals, humans and other primates - we have accelerated the extinction process to the rate of 140,000 species a year. This rate is just climbing, and we must remember that we merely sit at the top of the food-chain. If the chain below disappears, we disappear along with it. Therein lies the true irony of our own destruction. No synthetic or artificial alternative would bring back the biosphere to a level of stability to support all forms of life that we have known. 

Yet, believing that all life on earth may become extinct simply because of the Holocoene extinction is an overstatement. Such extinctions have occurred in the past only to be followed by another life-creating process nicknamed the "Biological Big-Bang. [PDF]" An older group of species of life is replaced by an entirely new group. Perhaps one of the most violent extinctions that we are aware of in Earth's geological history is the Cretaceous extinction (also labeled the K-T or K-Pg event.) Although the dominant Sauropods (and dinosaurs) were almost wiped out in entirety, the balance of life shifted to the warm blooded night-predators (mammals, marsupials and the like.) 

Hence, we are just lining ourselves up for replacement, unless we manage to find a way to "control" Earth's climate soon enough. This possibility was proposed by the Physicist Michio Kaku. He considers that for any intelligent species to thrive long enough to expand into larger parts of the universe, they must first reach a level to control Planetary climate (and thereby derive [or develop] the capability of Terraforming.) If you are a student or scientist reading this, you know well that the immediate care of humans is to model climate more accurately by identifying all variables that affect it and thereby devise methods to control climate and stabilise the biosphere. If not, our extinction would be even swifter than the Neanderthals in the scope of geological timescales.