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Ocean tells the story: Earth is heating up

 
Anonymous Coward
05/15/2005 01:57 AM
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Ocean tells the story: Earth is heating up
Ocean tells the story: Earth is heating up
Human activity, not variables in nature, cited as culprit

Carl T. Hall, Chronicle Science Writer

Friday, April 29, 2005


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New temperature readings from the deep ocean trace a clear warming trend that seems impossible to turn around any time soon, scientists reported Thursday, promising a steadily warming world and raising the odds of a catastrophic sudden change marked by rising seas and melting icecaps.

Researchers led by James Hansen, one of NASA´s top climatologists, looked at the planet´s "energy imbalance" -- the difference between the amount of heat absorbed by Earth and the amount radiated out into space -- and compared those results with predictions of leading climate models.

They concluded that the unusual magnitude of the warming trend could not be explained by natural variability, but instead fit precisely in line with theories suggesting that human activity -- the dominant "forcing agent" driving the computerized climate models -- is responsible.

"This energy imbalance is the ´smoking gun´ that we have been looking for, " Hansen said in a prepared summary of the study, which was published in the journal Science. "The magnitude of the imbalance agrees with what we calculated using known climate forcing agents, which are dominated by increasing human-made greenhouse gases. There can no longer be substantial doubt that human-made gases are the cause of most observed warming."

The Earth has warmed about 1 degree Fahrenheit on average over the past century, and the researchers argue that another rise of about 1 degree is "in the pipeline" for the next 100 years -- without any further increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Hansen, who is director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration´s Goddard Institute for Space Studies at the Columbia University Earth Institute, said if the trend is allowed to get out of control, there could be a 10-degree jump.

The delayed consequences of past or current greenhouse gas emissions is due to the "thermal inertia" of the planet, according to the scientists -- an effect most noticeable at the ocean´s edge when the morning sun begins to warm sand while the water remains seemingly unaffected. It takes more of the sunlight´s energy to penetrate into the water, particularly at its lowest depths, than it takes to warm a shallow bit of land.

Much of the energy Earth has absorbed from global warming has been trapped in the ocean -- and will only reveal itself over a long period of time.

But just how serious this problem might be, and what should be done about it, is still a matter of debate. The Bush administration has resisted international calls for tough limits on greenhouse gas emissions and has said more research is needed.

Kelly Redmond, a top regional climatologist for California and other Western states at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, said the latest findings do not erase room for debate on the magnitude of the changes -- and exactly what has caused those changes -- in the politically contentious climate field.

"How do you tell if it´s global warming when you´re standing in your backyard?" he said. "Is it global, or your backyard? That´s our dilemma, because although the Earth may be warming as a whole, it´s not warming uniformly."

In the West, for instance, complicating factors include the ocean currents prevailing in the Pacific, patterns that change seasonally as well as over longer time periods -- and have potent effects on weather and climate that can´t be easily separated from those caused by global trends.

Redmond, who was not involved in the study, serves as deputy director of the federally financed Western Regional Climate Center, which has been installing new arrays of data collectors to track the regional climate trends. Despite any short-term or local trends to the contrary, Redmond said the latest evidence does suggest, on the whole, an explanation for such warming signs as earlier springs and less winter snow for the region. A warmer West is already exhibiting those signs.

Hansen is "more outspoken on the issue than a lot of people," Redmond noted. "And he might turn out to be right. I´m a little bit longer to make up my mind, but I don´t see anything inconsistent with what he´s seeing and what we´re seeing in the western United States."

One key bit of new information incorporated into the new study, whose 15 authors included scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, came from a network of ocean-diving instruments known as the Argo system. The network is made up of hundreds of "profiling floats" that gradually sink and rise through the water, collecting data automatically from all levels to about a mile down -- providing many more measurements, from much greater depths, than ever before. About 1,800 of a planned 3,000 of these devices have been deployed.

About 10 years of ocean data helped make a compelling case, Hansen said in an e-mail exchange Thursday, that global warming is real, and allowed the scientists, for the first time, to calculate within an acceptable range of uncertainty how much the planet´s retained energy balance is increasing. By their reckoning, the "net forcing" works out to mean that about 0.85 watts per square meter is being retained by the Earth -- a seemingly tiny amount compared to the nearly 250 watts per square meter coming in from the Sun.

But the small number, Hansen figures, is big trouble. He calculated the energy retention could be eliminated only by halting all human-caused emissions of methane or by somehow removing half of all the carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere.

"A lot of implications flow from this," Hansen said, arguing that the long lag times involved in climate change now virtually lock in warmer temperatures.

"That is an unfortunate and challenging combination for policy makers who wish to stabilize climate," Hansen said.
Anonymous Coward
12/08/2005 10:16 AM
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Re: Ocean tells the story: Earth is heating up
Yeah, the earth is heating up from above and below the earth.
gooderboy
12/08/2005 10:16 AM
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Re: Ocean tells the story: Earth is heating up
Settle down now, lol... She´s just waking up is all.

w/luv,
just me
Anonymous Coward
12/08/2005 10:16 AM
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Re: Ocean tells the story: Earth is heating up
don´t hurricanes form when the temperature at the water surface gets too high? perhaps that run of hurricanes in florida last year is related to this?