Recently, a study of water levels along the Northeast coast of the United States revealed that there has been a dramatic rise of 3-5″ in 2009 to 2010. This sea level rise has already caused some localized flooding even without higher than normal tides or storms.
But that isn’t the big story. The big story is the reason why the water is rising in the Northeast. That’s because the Gulf Stream has slowed down by a remarkable 30%.
Why should you care about how fast the Gulf Stream, also called the Great Ocean Conveyor, is running? Because it affects weather throughout the entire planet.
The GOC moves warm water up into the polar regions warming the air around it along the way and gradually losing heat. Up in the arctic regions, the water becomes cool enough, and thus dense enough, to sink. Far below the surface, the GOC runs the other direction carrying cold water back toward the equator, where it will rise, pick up heat and wend its way back north again. The GOC is a heat engine, it helps distribute heat from one part of the globe to the other, as heat energy tries to find equilibrium.
When the GOC slows down, the heat has to find another way to move around. The next logical candidate is air, but since air isn’t nearly as good at carrying heat as water is, a lot more air has to move in order to distribute a given quantity of heat energy. That means heated masses of air moving around, which is what creates storms.
But why is the GOC slowing down in the first place? That’s another thing the media keeps leaving out.
The GOC is slowing down because the melting of the glaciers in Greenland and the rest of the world, is adding a huge quantity of fresh water to the sea. Fresh water isn’t as dense as sea water. That means it takes longer for the water in the arctic to sink, slowing the flow of the GOC.
See: http://www.grida.no/climate/vital/32.htm for more information on the Great Ocean Conveyor.
Why are the glaciers melting?
Because the overall temperature of the atmosphere is rising. While not all glaciers are melting – because they are heavily influenced by local conditions – most are. Not only are they melting, but they are melting really fast, far faster than anyone would have predicted 30 years ago. But most scientists agree that the primary cause for the melting is the increase in atmospheric temperatures.
Why are atmospheric temperatures increasing?
The temperatures are rising Because every year we add nearly ten billion metric tons of Carbon to the atmosphere, primarily in the form of Carbon Dioxide, or CO2. Carbon Dioxide is what we call a greenhouse gas. It is transparent to sunlight, but it soaks up infrared light, meaning it traps heat, just like a greenhouse does.
It seems like the world is so big and the atmosphere so vast that it would be impossible for us to affect it, but 10 billion tons of carbon every year adds up. Back before the Industrial Revolution, say about 1750, CO2 concentrations were about 280 parts per million, or ppm. Recently, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere passed 400 ppm.
Check out this page for more info: http://www.grida.no/climate/vital/32.htm
Now it may seem hard to believe that a change of 220 ppm can really be that big a deal, so lets look at it another way. It took about 300 million years to create the vast amounts of oil and coal that we have nearly used up in only the last 100 years.
Here’s another way to look at it: the lethal concentration of botulinum toxin in your body is estimated to be about 5 parts per trillion. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much of a bad thing to wreak havoc.
But, you say, Carbon Dioxide is plant food!
It’s true that plants use sunlight to convert CO2 into starches and sugars that are used for energy. So it’s natural to suppose that by adding CO2 to the atmosphere, we’re simply giving plants a free buffet.
But there’s a problem with that argument, too. First of all, the most efficient converters of CO2 to plant mass are trees, and we’ve been cutting down trees and an incredible rate. The entire Brazilian rainforest is in peril. So while we’ve been increasing the supply of CO2, we’ve been destroying the very organisms that would help sequester it.
Another problem is that plants don’t use up the CO2 permanently. When they are eaten, decay, or burn, they release the CO2 back into the atmosphere. The natural way to sequester CO2 is to turn it into Coal and Oil.
This is a real problem. It’s one that we’re likely to be affected by, one that is probably already affecting us. This winter has likely been exacerbated by climate change.
The good news is that since this is a human-made problem, there are things we can do to fix it. We just have to stop arguing about whether it’s happening or not, and get to work on solutions. That won’t be easy, because there are lots of people with vested interests in keeping things just the way they are, and most of them are old enough that they won’t have to deal with the mess they are creating.
So, do your part. Turn off the unused light. Turn down the thermostat. Drive less. Get a fuel efficient car. Use LED lights instead of incandescent. But above all, elect brave men and women who are willing to face our problems and deal with them.