Climate Change and Global Warming are two terms used interchangeably in common conversation. In truth, Global Warming is but a subset of Climate Change, but at the moment the most threatening subset. Three recent reports highlight the reality of the threat.
In a report scheduled for release on Tuesday December 4th at the Doha, Qatar, international climate talks, scientists will warn that the melting permafrost in the Arctic is releasing huge quantities of methane, the most potent of greenhouse gasses. As the permafrost melts, buried forests and marshes begin to decompose, releasing the first scouts of tens of billions of tons of greenhouse gasses now trapped in those wet and rotting forests. Those billions of tons of gasses simply dwarf the millions of tons available for industries and governments to manage. One scientist involved in the study has said that a “tipping point,” a point at which the released gasses will create enough continuous warming to create a feedback system and preclude shutting down the cycle, may have already been reached.
If that point has been reached, the present rate of melting of the Arctic and Greenland glaciers, already as much as sixty percent faster than predictions just a couple of years ago, may begin to increase exponentially. A new study of ice thickness at both poles has provided much more detailed measurements than were previously available. The bad news is that both poles have lost much more ice than anybody thought before this data came in. The good news is… nonexistent. The rate of melt has been increasing. It has tripled at both poles since the late 1990s, and the rate of increase is increasing. Since 1992, the two poles have contributed 0.4 inches of sea rise, two-thirds from the Arctic and Greenland and one-third from Antarctica… and that’s the good news. The bad news is that 0.4 inches is only twenty percent of the total rise. The remaining eighty percent comes from the seas expanding as they absorb warmth from the atmosphere.
Which leads to the third point, to wit, sea levels rose sixty percent faster than the 2 mm annual rise projected by the IPCC. The IPCC does indeed appear to be biased… to the low side, which means that their projections of future rates of increase in sea level rise are most likely also biased low.
Far from being the scaremongers they are portrayed to be by denialists, the IPCC climate scientists actually seem to be somewhat timid in their vision of the effects of Climate Change-Global Warming on the future of Earth’s oceans. They had earlier estimated a range of seven to twenty-three inches of sea rise in the twenty-first century. But that IPCC report did not factor in acceleration of polar ice sheets. In fact, they assumed the Antarctic ice sheets would grow enough to compensate for the Greenland melt when in fact, the Antarctic sheets are melting too. Worse, floating sea ice at the ends of glaciers is calving off in state-sized pieces, allowing land-based glaciers held back by the weight of those floating ends to increase speed toward the ocean. Finally, it did not consider the effects lack of reduction in the rate of increase of carbon dioxide production in industrialized nations, much less the effects of massive amounts of methane release. A more realistic estimate seems to be twenty to thirty-six inches and possibly more. A new IPCC report coming out in March 2014 promises a much more quantitative understanding of sea level rise, including an entire chapter on the topic.
The question hovering over all of this is, “Will all this information, scary as it seems, result in any real action on the part of the governments who are the only actors who can effectively combat global warming?”