Back to the ice:
Something over a year ago I gave a gloomy prediction about the ice cap.  I have now learned a couple more things, so I thought I’d bring it up to date.

There is a new book out, A World Without Ice, Henry Pollack, Avery, 2009.  I have not yet read it, but there is a review “Freezes, Floes and the Future,” Johannes Oerlemans NATURE vol. 462 no. 7273 December 3, 2009 page 572. 

The book apparently has an attitude similar to my own: the world’s ice is going away and that might be a bad thing.  It is not news. 

As a child I saw a series of photographs of an Alpine glacier spaced a few years apart, and it was quite evident that it was shrinking dramatically over a period of, I believe, less than a century.  My father told of the Grasshopper Glacier in America, which was melting and dropping grasshoppers, and it was quite clear that no grasshoppers were being imbedded into glaciers at that rate nowadays.  And as a teenager I saw a lecture which included a slide of what looked like a causeway for a two lane road about eight or ten feet above an ice field.  The lecturer explained that it had not been built.  It was simply a path that a snowplow cleared regularly.  Being kept smooth, the road reflected light better and now stood proud of the rest of the ice field which over years had melted away for some feet on either side. 

So the ice is going away.  The reviewer indicates that only about 1% of the albido, of the earth, its ability to reflect away sunlight, is due to ice.  If the Arctic Ocean is less than half of that, the warming of the earth that is a result of Arctic ice vanishing is somewhere around a degree or two Fahrenheit.  That might, as the reviewer suggests, not be a lot to worry about in a world full of worries.  However to me that is beside the point.  The temperature at the North Pole itself should become higher than it is anywhere else over water.  The resulting climate change in the rest of the planet is what did and does concern me.

Then the reviewer let slip his real news.  He suggests that between six thousand and nine thousand years ago the Arctic Ocean was ice free every summer.  That is not what I thought I had heard.  If we managed to survive it before, I suppose we can survive it again.  But he does say “probably.”  So I remain open minded.  Will that ocean become a summer lake and a handy route for travel between the Atlantic and Pacific?  Or will the tundra dry out and die, enormous amounts of methane be released (which would really warm up the climate; it’s far more potent at doing so than the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide) and the peat moss burn giving us a high altitude smog that either raises or lowers the temperature depending on how you think the physics works?  Volcanoes do seem to produce cooling of the climate, so that is where the smart money is.

My point then was, and remains, that the future is uncertain.  If we do not recognize now that a large randomly mating community cannot survive, it is doubtful we will realize it when some true catastrophe distracts us.

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