Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

A Few Thoughts on Melting Ice and Heating Water

December 11, 2018

Here’s a little known fact about all those melting glaciers and ice caps; the energy required to melt a kilogram of ice (basically going from -0˚C to +0˚C), uses up as much energy as it takes to heat a kilogram of water from 0 to 80˚C.

So, we really have no good idea when all the ice will melt, the caps and glaciers disappearing, but when they do, all that heat that wasturning ice to ice-cold water, maintaining a fairly stable 0˚C, is going to go into heating the same mass by 80˚C. One estimate says it won’t happen for 5000 years, but then, more recent articles seem to suggest that the melt rate is accelerating faster than expected. Time will tell.

One estimate (2005) states that there are roughly 30,000,000 cubic kilometers of ice on Earth that year. So, imagine that in some time X all that ice melts due to extra heat in the atmosphere. Fortunately, all that energy is being sucked up by the phase transition from ice to water. Unfortunately, in the next period X, all that heat is going straight into heating the 30,000,000 cubic miles of water up by 80 degrees Celsius. Not quite boiling, but close. If “X” equals 5000 years, we might be okay and reverse the trend. If “X” is 100 years, we’re screwed because a sizable fraction of our government is run by morons who see short-term financial gains and understand no science at all.

To put this into perspective for metric-challenged Americans, 80˚C is about 176 degrees Fahrenheit. A hot-tub at 110 degrees Fahrenheit is considered dangerously warm.

To add more perspective to the volume involved, all of North America is 24,709,000 square kilometers. This much 80˚C water could cover all of North American over 1 kilometer deep. I mean, it won’t, of course, it’ll just end up in the ocean where the heat will add to the rest of the heat accumulated over 5000 years in the rest of the ocean, and parboil all the life there, instead. You know, those tiny organisms that produce most of our oxygen.

Just sayin’, we should really get our act together and quit fucking around.



We Are The Meteor

July 20, 2013

Not that long ago I was reading an article by Robert Zubrin, called “Carbon Emissions are Good“, where he stated an oft-repeated mantra by those who think global warming, while real, is no big deal.

It generally goes like this; “Global Warming cycles have occurred in the past, life has dealt with it, and in some cases, done even better than now due to all the extra CO2 in the atmosphere.” Zubrin writes, “while it is entirely possible that the earth may be warming — as it has done so many times in the past — there is no rational basis whatsoever to support the contention that carbon-dioxide-driven global warming would be on the whole harmful to life and civilization. Quite the contrary: All available evidence supports the contention that human CO2 emissions offer great benefits to the earth’s community of life.”

Sorry, but this is a completely false statement, and apparently Zubrin neglected to read much of the “all available evidence” he mentions. It completely ignores one of the major components to the problem. As Brian Huntley puts it, “The rate of climate change forecast for the future is 10–100 times faster than the rate of deglacial warming.” His paper, “How Plants Respond to Climate Change: Migration Rates, Individualism and the Consequences for Plant Communities” in Annals of Botany talks about the critical issue; how fast plants and animals can migrate when an environment changes too much to support the plant life.

Herbivores can’t live without the plants they eat. Plants can’t migrate themselves except through a few very slow processes, including undigested seeds, wind distribution, sticky seeds, and water and mud flows. Given a thousand years of slow warming, the natural random distribution of seeds with these mechanisms might allow plant and animal species to spread to local environments that are more habitable. Given a hundred years, the slow random redistribution of seeds means that the old environment will die out before the new one has a chance to migrate or take hold; massive extinctions of the whole food chain will occur. Plants and animals have, indeed, evolved mechanisms to allow migration, but these depend on slow, natural rates of heating and cooling, rates that allow a slow peripheral migration, not the wholesale destruction of one habitat to be replaced by another more suitable 1000 miles away. There are barriers and thermal pinch-points that can prevent a species from migrating at all.

If you were in a room quickly filling with milk, and you had no exits, Dr. Zubrin would point out how healthful the milk is for you.

Rather than the slow process of deglaciation, a climate altering event more comparable to human global warming is a giant meteor strike, resulting in climate change that occurs in weeks and lasts for decades or longer. Sure, this is the other end of the scale, but we also know for a fact that such events are quite capable of wiping out 90% of the extant species. Species have no chance to recover from such an event, or migrate to more pleasant climes.

Unfortunately, we have become the meteor.